Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas...What a Week...

These last couple weeks have been crazy. It took a pretty significant amount of time for it to start feeling like Christmas for me, given the warm weather and the lack of familiarity, but it came. I was doing a big market shop with Emily H midweek and I was saying how I felt like I’d gone through the stages of grieving to get to a place where I was excited about Christmas; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. I guess once I accepted the fact that Christmas is a celebration, not a season, I started feeling the Christmas cheer. Of course, receiving care packages from Natasha, my lovely roommate and my parents within the week before Christmas didn’t hurt, either.

The Sunday before last, during church, a woman named Sandy made an announcement that they still needed more singers for Christmas at the Keep, the second annual evening of music and dance at the restaurant, The Keep, attended by a good chunk of our church congregation. Of course my ears perked and with the added encouragement of Chalice whacking my leg, I resolved to speak to her after the service. In a matter of hours I went from not being involved at all to singing two songs (Mary, Did You Know? on the keyboard and Rose of Bethlehem with a track I speedily purchased from iTunes) and leading two carols. The big night wasn’t until Wednesday but I went to Sandy’s house on Monday afternoon and then to The Keep on Tuesday evening to run over things and through that process, I was able to make some new friends: Sandy, one of the guys from Bible Study who was also involved and another missionary family whose keyboard I used. There were other things that contributed to this which I will get to, but all-in-all, it was just a really great week of building my own community here; something that has come slowly, but that I am continually grateful for. The evening went really well, but man was I nervous; I guess it’s been a while since I’ve done anything like that apart from church…I think what did it was that this was more of a first impression so I felt more pressure than usual to do well.

On Thursday, we piled 16 people into a rented 14 passenger mutato (all us Ekisa girls plus another 8 friends) and went to Kampala for the day. We started off at Le Petite Village to get the good cheese at the deli and chocolate croissants at the bakery; a necessary stop any time we venture into the big city. From there, we split up as some, including myself, were going to see Sherlock Holmes at this really nice theater in Garden City and some were going bowling. Those of us seeing the movie were on a time constraint and traffic was bad, as it typically is, so we chopped our travel time by 90% and took bodas in order to make it one time. I now understand why people get that look on their face when they talk about taking bodas in Kampala, except the weird thing is that instead of being terrified about driving between lanes, slinking through three lane, clogged up traffic circles and weaving through cars (sometimes within a few inches of our legs), I just kept on thinking, I should be scared…but I’m not; I guess I’m officially desensitized. I’m still debating whether to post that video as it’s rather long and it might freak out my mom.

After the movie, we all met up and continued on to see the infamous Christmas show at Watoto Church. We waited in a line up for a good half hour, not knowing what was going on before being led to a holding area with hundreds of other people and being told that the 5:30 show was full and we could wait for the 8pm show. People were not happy and were even less impressed that people (including us) were standing at the door trying to see if we could wrangle our way in given how far we were from home. At one point a lady who was particularly (and not without reason) perturbed, worked up the crowd and we suddenly heard a commotion behind us followed by a large mob of people standing up and pressing up against us; not going to lie, mob mentality is a frightening thing and I have to admit to being a bit unnerved. At that point, a lovely gentlemen came out and explained calmly that they were trying to make room and requested that everyone take their seats and wait patiently. So we did, and decided that we would wait 10-15 more minutes to see what would happen but then call it a night and head home. Then something remarkable happened; that same gentlemen came up and announced to everyone that there was a group that had come all the way from Jinja and asked that everyone be gracious and allow us to go in ahead. We all looked at each other, shocked, then slowly got up and made our way towards the front. No one made any objection, but the few hundred pairs of eyes that followed us towards the door did not feel particularly friendly and we may have made a few “friends” along the way as people pretended to be a part of our group. The place was packed and so hot but the show was pretty spectacular (see quick clip here). It was a fabulous day.

How to sum up Christmas…Friday, we had a Christmas party for the kids thanks to a donation from a grade 1 class in Nashville that had two stipulations: they wanted the kids to decorate cookies and have a day they’ll never forget. So, what do you do in Uganda when you are in a position to be indulgent and want to give kids a day they’ll never forget? You rent a huge bouncy castle, of course. We invited our friends to bring their kids too and everyone had an absolute blast. I think one of the funniest things I’ve seen to date is one of the mommas (Momma Rehema) going “a** over tea kettle” down the blow-up slide; skirt billowing, screaming all the way… (See Chalice's video here)

was for us. Emily H killed the turkey first thing in the morning (to see the video of her trying to catch it, click here) and we had it plucked, gutted, seasoned and in the oven by 10:30. Preparations went on throughout the day and included a lot of singing and impromptu dance sessions in the kitchen and that night we had a group of guy friends over for dinner and enjoyed some incredible turkey, mashed and roasted potatoes, bean casserole, carrots with a brown sugar and mustard glaze, stuffing, homemade rolls and gravy. We outdid ourselves, for sure. The night ended with a gift exchange and the first half of A Muppet’s Christmas Carol before no one could keep their eyes open anymore. Good day.

Sunday, we took almost all of the kids and mommas to church - 7 bodas and two trips with the car later. Nap time gave us a chance to put together and hang the stockings and prepare for the mayhem that ensued during the gift opening portion of the day. We had a huge dance party (click here to see a video), Aaron dressed up as Santa and handed out gifts, we drank hot chocolate and put the kids in front of a Christmas movie. That afternoon, we took a trip out to the hospital to pass out stuffed bunnies to the kids there (a little project put together by Chalice). The place was pretty deserted as they discharge everyone over Christmas, sick or not, but those that were there were precious and grateful in a way that almost makes you feel bad given the insignificance of what’s being offered. Our last stop was the maternity ward: a long building with one center aisle, lined with beds along each side. It was rather full; some brand new babies, some a couple weeks old, women in early labour and some clearly in the grips of contractions. As we were leaving, they were just carrying out a women (four men each holding a corner of the blanket that she lay on) that had just had a C-section; a nurse stood nearby with her brand new baby and we all got a peak before heading out the door. We hadn’t actually planned on visiting this particular ward and didn’t put much thought into the fact that our friend, Bobby, who was with us to take pictures would be uncomfortable by all the labouring and topless women; but we all got a good laugh in after finding him outside, around the corner, with a shell-shocked look on his face as we were leaving.  

Tuesday was a sad day: Erika and Chalice went home. They are the second and third girls to come and go within the time that I’ve been here and they surely won’t be the last. Erika is a nurse and will be coming back in a few months as she has plans to stay for a year, but I truly hate having to say goodbye. As you can imagine, there were many tears, but I’m resolved to not guard my heart in any way while I’m here. It can be emotionally draining, for sure, but I’m going to love every person that comes through the door, regardless of how much it hurts to say goodbye. I realize that it is customary for the person that is leaving to receive a gift, but in Erika’s case, she gave something pretty great to me. She guided me through my first I.V., offering herself as the test dummy.

Let me explain: Since beginning my job working with a student with high physical and medical needs at a high school, I have developed an interest and have really enjoyed doing a lot of nursing-related things. Coming here has only increased that interest and has provided much more opportunity to learn as we do as much as we can here at the house given the state of care in any of the local hospitals. For example, one of our mommas got a really bad third degree burn on her leg from falling off a boda and for the last couple weeks, I’ve been changing the bandage. As the only way to learn is to do, we have no choice but to practice on each other and I really wanted to try on Erika first given that she’s a nurse and she could direct me; plus she had the easiest veins of anyone in the house. I am very proud to say that my first go was a huge success and I got the vein first try, no problem. Next step? Tackling Emily’s rolling veins and Bridget’s thick skin.

And finally, another boda first; I had a little mishap yesterday. We were coming slowly down the skinny dirt road towards the house just after a rain storm, which made it pretty slippery, and the driver started skidding out. As we started tipping and the back end was swinging out from beneath me, I simply planted my right foot on the ground and lifted my left leg as the bike continued to slide. I stumbled slightly, but was left standing looking down on the boda and the driver who wasn’t so fortunate. He asked if I was ok, I reciprocated the question and then promptly passed him the 2000sh he was owed and walked the final 20 feet to our gate leaving him to look over his boda for any damage the wreck may have caused. I’m glad to say that my first (and hopefully only) “wreck” was as minor and humorous as it could have possibly been.       

It’s my birthday today, but today will most definitely have a post to itself. 

Merry Christmas, from my momma and pops (the Celine Dion disc was for Aaron)

Doing a cute art project with Erika and our newest, 5 year old Zuena. What a gem she is; gives the best kisses too. Actually, we had a rough start; for the first week, she gave me the evil eye like no ones business for no apparent reason, but we've worked it out.

Decorating Christmas cookies with Debra

Never thought I'd see this...all the way from Kampala...

Another addition to the day they'll never forget...getting ambushed with Silly String. I think I enjoyed this more then the kids.

Momma Sarah and I gettin' crazy during the dance portion of the afternoon on Christmas Day

Santa Clause (aka Aaron, our friend & night guard)

One of the babies at the Children's Hospital; with his bunny, of course

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grief, Fear and Driving...

I had a bit of a scary experience last week, the same day I was officially put in charge as both Emily’s were in Kampala. While taking a boda back from Bujagali Falls after dark with Chalice on a road that’s a bit sketchy at the best of times, we came upon something terrible. There were a lot of lights ahead; bodas, bikes and cars pulled over, bits of tree branches strewn across the road (still not sure where they came from), people milling around. Clearly something was going on. My first thought was accident, but after travelling slowly along, making our way through the commotion without seeing anything of the sort, I started to relax…right then something in the middle of the road caught my eye…a raised arm. As we neared the spot, we could clearly see a young man lying there, a puddle of deep red blood under his head. We yelled at our boda driver to stop, not sure of what we could do, but unwilling to just drive on past without, at least, offering. It was hectic; I was calling out and contemplating the logistics of getting him on our boda, Chalice was calling out to see if there was anyone taking responsibility for this man. As everyone was speaking in Lugandan, we had no idea if anyone was doing anything to help besides watch and speak frantically to each other. It seemed like longer, but it was probably only a minute or two before a boda came to a screeching halt beside him and a man, who we were informed was a friend, wrapped his arms around the injured man’s waist and hoisted him, moaning and crying onto the awaiting boda before heading off towards town and, most likely, Jinja Main Hospital. The sight of his limp body and the sound of his cry are still fresh in my mind and I cringe even now at the memory. Once he was on his way, we hopped back on our boda and informed our poor, confused boda driver that we could go home. Chalice put her hand on my shoulder and said a prayer for this man but it was little comfort to me then as I am unfortunately aware of the quality of care at any of the local hospitals; or lack thereof.

To be truthful, it wasn’t the blood or the experience itself that was so intense (it took hours for my hands to stop shaking), it was the fear that settled on my chest; it was the smack-in-the-face reality of the dangers of being here. Boda accidents are common due to the amount of bodas on the road and though most people get away with a few scratches and bruises, the results can be devastating and it’s not like home; no ambulance, no healthcare. That man on the road was completely dependent on the kindness of others as to whether or not he would get any medical care at all; and who knows what kind of internal injuries he may have had and how much damage was done by how he was so abruptly picked up from the ground and thrown on the boda.

The boda ride I took first thing the next morning to meet a friend for coffee was the most nail-biting ride I’ve had to date and it took a couple days to feel totally comfortable on a boda again…especially at night. I suppose that that night, and a number of times since, I have just felt a certain sinister nature to this place that I wasn’t fully conscious of before. As with any intense experience, I am certain my feelings will fade over time and Jinja will again be the harmless, quaint little town as I viewed it before.

Over the last few days, I read a book called “Choosing to See”, by Mary Beth Chapman (wife of Steven Curtis Chapman) written after and about the tragic death of their 5 year old daughter, Maria; she passed away after her brother accidently hit her with his car. This book ripped me apart and I sobbed through a good chunk of it. I finished it early Tuesday morning and proceeded to borrow Erika’s mp3 player to listen to the CD that Steven Curtis Chapman wrote and put out after her death as a way of healing. I listened to the whole thing while I helped the mommas do laundry which was a big mistake because there I was, hanging the kid’s laundry on the line, tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. After I was done with the laundry, I just collapsed in my top bunk and listened to the few remaining songs and just cried my eyes out. Basically, I was a wreck all morning.

I can’t say that I've experienced a huge amount of death in my life (my grandma, my uncle Ralph, Selina…) so I was rather surprise as to which degree I was effected by this book, but what I came to realize is that there are other forms of grief and the things that we grieve are certainly not limited to the death of a loved one. This realization occurred as more and more past hurts crept up from somewhere deep and hidden. I suppose it was cleansing, but still painful. The other thing that hit me was just how unnatural death and suffering are; these things were not God’s intention for us. That is why it can be so crippling, but at the same time, the way that God shows Himself faithful and present during those times is just proof of His love for us. It is a book worth reading as you will most certainly be as staggered as I was by that family’s faith and the hope that they have clung to since that day; the hope of new life, the hope of seeing their daughter and sister in heaven. If nothing else, it will stir your heart to love better.

More firsts: On Monday, I drove the car twice to town without “Emily supervision”; once in the afternoon with George, and then again that night by myself. Actually, it only occurred to me when I got home that it was the first time that I’d driven at night with or without supervision…that truth had not occurred to Emily either until I mentioned it to her the next morning. To be honest, it meant a lot to me that Emily trusted me so quickly to go out on my own; little did I know that my desire to be trusted to run errands in town was just around the corner. George graciously held my camera the whole drive into town to document this life-changing moment: Click here (complete with the ever-so-triumphant Braveheart theme)  

A few pictures:

Nam, pretty excited about her little treat: nope, not vomit, cow intestines.

The leather factory where DeAnna and I had Aaron take us to see if we could purchase some leather; actually, it was so DeAnna could buy some leather…I had no intention of walking out with anything, yet I left with a beautiful piece of brown suede in my bag…just because the price was too right. Any ideas on what to do with it?

At the school for nursing & midwifery…just because…was there to look into taking some classes…

A few pictures of the stunning sunset at Bujagali Falls before we came upon the accident. Since the dam began functioning, there is no trace of the raging river it used to be; they should change the name to Bujagali Lake.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Place to Call My Own

A few more firsts: Took a big kid on a boda; not all that exciting, but super cute how Jason held onto the boda driver. I had to hold his shoulders because he kept trying to peer around. But that was nothing compared to my first driving experience. I’ve driven twice now; once to church and once all the way into town. After three months of observing, the strangest parts of driving here seemed surprisingly natural…driving on the left side of the road, honking and passing anything going at all slower then me (love that), being cut off by anything bigger than me. Feedback? Bridget couldn’t get over how calm I was and Emily said I did a great job. I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time before they trust me to run errands on my own.

One more thing…I got MAIL! A couple pictures and a note; Thanks Oma, love you! And to answer your question, yes, that video was taken while I was sitting on the boda.

Now for the real purpose of this post: 

Sorry for the weird fading...trying to fix...

This is the only space in this entire house that it is entirely mine: A top bunk and a four tiered shelf. I thought about pulling up the quilt and making it look neat and tidy, but let’s be honest, does that even happen? No.

First, the quilt: hand made by local Ugandan women and gorgeous; especially nice lately as the nights have been quite chilly. Cost? About $40.

The painting: I had this painting done by a local artist named Dickson. He’s the brother of Angela, the lady I know who lost her baby a couple months back. His studio is behind the shop where Angela worked (she’s across the street now as they’re all owned by the same person and the ladies who “man” them move around a lot) and from the moment I saw his work on the walls, I loved them. This painting is based on another one of his pieces; I just had him adjust some of the colours. Cost? About $48...and it’s HUGE.

See the little pouch tied to my headboard? Made that from some local fabric to hold things like my book, internet stick, headphones,'s extremely handy.

The necklaces: I am obsessed with African bead necklaces and already accumulated quite a few. They’re beautiful and it’s easy to justify getting one in every color. Total spent on all of them? About $15…lucky if I can get one decent piece of jewellery for that much back home. Bought a couple purses too…$5 each.

Finally, this isn’t that important, but I bought my own power bar (you can see it at the end of my bed) so my computer cable isn’t stretching up from the floor right in front of George’s bed and to be honest, one power bar gets filled up pretty quick when we have power and there are 6 girls with computers, phones and iPods, so it’s pretty nice to have my own.

Speaking of power, a BIG issue in Uganda right now. There have already been some riots in Kampala and Entebbe, but things have been peaceful here so far. Today has been the first day in weeks that we have had power all day. For the last couple weeks especially we’ve been lucky to have a few hours of power in the afternoon. They call it “load shedding”. A nice way of saying, the dam in Bujagali is a failure and we don’t have enough power for everyone so you have to take turns. We’re not sure how this will turn out, but Umeme (the power company) has given us a schedule for December: alternating 3 days of power with 3 days of none. Days with no power: December 6-8, 12-14, 18-20, 24-26 (yes, all of Christmas…), 30-31 (…and New Years). We should have had power the last three days but Emily thinks they were screwing up and had us on both alternating schedules because we’re right on the cusp of two districts. She thinks they realized last night that they were totally gypping us because the power came back on at about 10pm last night (a really odd time) and has been on ever since. We’ll see…funny how something I used to take for granted seems like such a luxury. Hot showers, a functioning laundry machine, a fridge that stays cold…count your blessings all you North Americans. J I say that but to be honest, the only thing I really don’t like about it is the fridge; not being able to buy yogurt, feeling stressed every time I have to open it to get something out and let the precious remaining cold air out. Everything else is pretty easy to work around and live with.

That’s the summary. Things have been really good, busy with all the administrative stuff I’ve taken on, having a blast with the girls. I’ll be going to the bank tomorrow to start working on getting Ekisa a Ugandan bank account and will probably get the girls their own personal accounts as well. I love having a job, a niche, I suppose; a sense of purpose besides just loving the kids and filling a need that really needed to be filled. It’s good…especially being here for so long. I am happy, I am content…besides, it’s Christmas time.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Keep the Good Times Rollin'

Due to a broken camera and an ancient data card (I don’t feel like elaboration), I’ll have to wait to share pictures and the story of the day at the Entebbe zoo, but there has been plenty of excitement to share in the meantime.  There have been some boda firsts: riding side-saddle (just don’t look down), taking Tasha on the boda, wrapped up tight against my chest (took her to get her hair shaved off in town; the ladies at the salon were hilarious) and finally, squeezing three of us girls on the back of a boda coming home late from dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Ling Lings …just for fun; this made all the more ridiculous given the fact that DeAnna had a boda to herself.

Another quick anecdote: We’ve been having issues with the back door of the RAV 4 not latching properly and swinging open randomly if it’s not locked. The other night, Emily H and I stopped off at a gas station to pick up some TP. As Emily pulled out onto the road (a very busy road full of large trucks and taxis just before the bridge to Kampala), the door swung open and a very large bag of toilet paper tumbled down the street, stopping traffic and causing a rather significant disturbance. Emily pulled over and I hopped out and ran across the road towards a policeman in blue fatigues (they always hang around that strip of road) who had picked it up off the road for us. He was quite amused and tried to make light, flirty conversation, but I just took the bag, thanked him and ran back across the road; still laughing about that one.

American thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night: On Wednesday we bought a 10lb turkey and first thing on Thursday morning, Emily W cut its head off the same way we killed the chickens…it was nasty. Aaron plucked it and pulled the guts out and Emily and I rubbed it down with butter and spices before, literally, stuffing into the oven (last year at Christmas, when they still had the crappy little oven, Emily cooked it at a friend’s house and took it home on a boda).  The afternoon was a frenzy of kitchen activity and the final product included mashed potatoes, bean casserole, homemade stuffing, dinner rolls from Ozzies, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple crisp and sangria. We put the two long benches from the kitchen table together in the living room, covered them with a sheet and candles and put down cushions on the floor Asian-style and enjoyed the most amazing late night candle-lit thanksgiving dinner together. Due to the fact that we had to wait til the kids were in bed, it was about 9pm when we finally ate and it was so great to just chill out after on the floor, too full to move, talking and getting to know each other better. And if you weren’t already impressed, we lost power at about 3pm and didn’t get it back until yesterday at about noon so all of our prep was done by candle light too; such a great night.

At 9am Friday morning, Job (one of our drivers for hire) picked 5 out of the 6 of us volunteers to take us to Kampala for the day (Bridget got in a boda accident on Thursday and was too sore to endure the 2 ½ hour treacherous trip each way). Our first stop was a mall called Garden City. It was the strangest thing…it looked and smelled like a North American mall. We wondered around for an hour or so, checking out some clothes stores, some souvenir shops and a bookstore before heading to our next stop, the Friday craft market. From there, we headed for lunch at the deli/bakery that I talked about in my last post about Kampala. Erika and I, instead of getting one of their sandwiches on a long French baguette, we got a handful of sliced ham and salami (the real stuff, not the processed deli meat) and a bunch of slices of cheddar cheese. We then headed to the bakery and bought a loaf of amazing doughy bread and had it sliced so we could put together our own sandwich. I realize I have probably already spent too much time describing it, but I cannot even tell you how good this tasted. Real cheddar cheese, are you kidding me?? I almost cried it was so good.

Our last stop before heading home was this magical place that I had heard much about…a walmart-type store called Game. As if the mall wasn’t shocking enough, here I was faced with bright lights, numerous aisles and choices. It was great, as I needed a birthday gift for Erika and found the perfect item, but I admit to feeling a bit of culture shock last night. I was not prepared for that and hadn’t considered that I might feel that way. It scares me a bit, to be honest, because I feel like it’s just a mild preview of how it will feel to be back in Canada…but I can’t think of that now. 

Driving was especially nuts; traffic was bad and hectic and included a number of funnels where cars squeeze in just inches from each other. It’s almost unreal sometimes; just sitting back listening to music, relaxed and peaceful while Job’s going 0-50 and back every 30 seconds and there’s total chaos happening around us. I kind of love it.

We pulled in at about 9:30pm, exhausted from a long day and so glad to be home. 

Oh, and finally, Saturday morning provided a unique experience: roasted grasshoppers. Bridget and I put two of the critters together in a toast and tossed ‘em back. Salty and not half bad at first, but after a little chewing, the fishy flavor came through and I wasn’t so keen any longer…     

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What a Week: Part 2

Day two: Thursday

I won’t spend too much time on details and I don’t have any photos, but on Thursday morning, Emily H, George and I got picked up at 8am by Job, one of our hired drivers, and began the 2 hour trip into Kampala to visit a couple of boarding schools for kids with special needs that were recommended to us. I have heard so much about the horrible institutions that you find here that I truly did not know what to expect. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. The first one was The Ugandan School for the Physically Disabled and it was a wonderful place. The kids were happy and well taken care of and the staff seemed to genuinely care for them. They also had a huge priority on giving these kids the independence to provide for themselves by teaching many vocational skills like leather making, beading, horticulture, etc. And, maybe, one of the best parts of this visit was that we were able to get our hands on the curriculum that they developed for their school, which is based on the British P1, P2 system but has been adapted specifically for kids with special needs in Uganda. This will come in very handy when we start up school at Ekisa…still a work in progress.

For lunch, we stopped at this little deli that has become a favorite for the Emily’s based on the fact that it has legit cheese and sits next door to the French bakery where we get chocolate croissants, among other things. I was sceptical about the cheese because most of the cheese in Jinja tastes like stinky feet but they had samples on the counter for the skeptic and I admit to doing a bit of an honest to goodness happy dance when I tasted it.

After lunch we headed to the Kampala School for the Deaf and were shown around by a woman from Canada. Canadians are few here, so that was kind of exciting. The place could actually be described as magical. The grounds were gorgeous; lush and beautifully laid out with many different buildings for the various skills they taught the children. There was also something about the signing; it’s beautiful to watch and created such a peaceful atmosphere. And to top it off, the three of us were given sign names by one of the teachers who worked with the deaf/blind kids after one of her students insisted on learning our names. Run your thumb and index finger down along the bridge of your nose…you have just signed my name.

All in all, a wonderful day.

Day three: Friday

I did something on Friday that I didn’t ever think I could do and there’s no reason to be poetic about it: I held down a live chicken with my feet, sawed its head off, plucked it and cut it up into the appropriate pieces…under Aaron’s tutorage. There were four of us and I was the last. The first one I could hardly watch, then the second wasn’t as bad, then I watched the third and by the time Aaron insisted that I do the last chicken, I think I was desensitized just enough and it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; actually, Aaron said I did “real” good.

I have put together a bit of a presentation, but it is not for the weak of heart as it includes a full video of the actual deed. Click here…if you dare… J P.S. If you are wondering what I was listening to in my headphones…Christmas music.

This day was capped off by a coffeeshop-style concert at The Keep featuring recording artists Josh & Tasha Via. They are friends of Pastor Terry and his wife Debbie and are in Jinja pending the adoption of their little girl. Josh shared a couple of songs with the church on a Sunday morning a while back and we were clamouring to find out who he was so we were super excited to hear that he was available on iTunes and that he’d be putting on a more formal performance with his wife accompanying him on violin. We got great seats on the couches, ordered some desserts and just chilled out to a combination of original music and familiar worship songs. It was such a great time of relaxation and fellowship and everyone agreed that the evening had a definite rejuvenating quality.

Part 3 coming soon…the zoo…         

Monday, November 14, 2011

What a Week: Part 1

Day one: Monday (there are too many amazing pictures from this day to attach to a blog, so there will be a link to a YouTube video on the bottom of this post)

Monday morning started slow with the plan of Aaron, the night guard, taking DeAnna, Chalice and I to a “village” at about 10:30. We were under the impression that this village was a relatively short boda ride away and would only take a couple hours, but that thought was quickly dispelled as we were walking towards the road to grab bodas and Aaron mentioned the necessity of a boat ride across Lake Victoria and another boda ride to get to our destination. We, of course, were stoked about the idea, so after a quick stop in town to meet Aaron’s brother, Job, and get some cash, we hailed down 3 bodas and took the 10 minute trip to a small community on the shore of the lake to grab a boat. Aaron and Job took care of making the arrangements (Ugandans always give better deals to fellow Ugandans) so after a short wait, the 5 of us piled into an awaiting boat just like the one we took at Bujagali falls, were joined by a handful of other Ugandans and headed off across the massive expanse that is Lake Victoria.

The trip was beautiful; the sun glistening off the water, the friendly chatter between us and between those who had joined us, the gentle hum of the motor and the sound of the water as the boat sliced through it. We had no idea where we were going but in no time at all, the driver ran the boat ashore and the group of us awkwardly climbed over sacks of flour and crates of soda to jump off the furthest tip of the boat, just narrowly avoiding the water itself. As it turned out, Aarons idea of an island was more of a peninsula, but I was immediately enchanted. As we walked up the skinny path from the water, the bushes and trees thinned out to reveal a network of rudimentary dirt paths that weaved through a neighbourhood of thatch huts and small brick homes. This punctuated by beautiful trees, flowering bushes and ground cover, the waves and greetings from the adults who were milling around the homes and the constant cries of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as the children would run out to meet us. After about a half hour, the path intersected with a “main road” lined with shops and we found 3 more bodas to take us on the next leg of our journey; a 20 minute ride up to the highest point of the peninsula where we would find the small school that we now knew was our destination. This trip would have been more suited for a dirt bike or ATV (the boda that Chalice and Job were on tipped over at one point, pinning the driver beneath it) but it was a blast and as we neared the top, the corn stalks thinned to reveal the most incredible view of the lake and the lush vegetation that surrounded us. It was stunning.

Upon arriving, we found a group of young children being taught under the shade of a tree, in front of one of the two small shacks that house the other children while they’re learning. The next hour or so was spent meeting the teachers, the students, getting a tour of the two “classrooms” and sitting down in the head teachers tiny office, which consisted of a table and a few plastic chairs, to learn more about the school. Genesis Pre-Primary School; run by almost all pastors since earlier this year after one of them received a vision about serving this particular isolated community by giving these kids the chance at an education.

After our meeting, in which we were informed that their greatest need at this time was pencils, we piled into one of the classrooms with all the staff and students to hear a few songs and have the chance at the head teacher’s request to each say a word of encouragement to the kids through Aaron, acting as our translator. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this place the second we stepped onto the shore, but there was something about watching these children, looking into over a hundred pairs of little eyes as we sat on the bench they had brought in for us to sit on that, I believe, left an impression on each of. This school gives them a hope and a chance at a future and we could not ignore the need for us to come alongside them, so there is now a plan to purchase pencils, textbooks and other supplies in town to bring back to them some time in the next couple weeks.

Us girls assumed we’d be going back the same way we came, but it became very clear that that wouldn’t be the case as we followed Aaron and began a rather treacherous decent down the side of the mountain towards the water. We had about 8 kids in tow (the youngest ones who were finished school) who didn’t need our help as they did this hike daily from the fishing village we were headed to, but Aaron and Job were gracious and offered their hands to us girls through the steeper, rockier portions of the trek; I questioned the wisdom of wearing flip flops many times during the hour it took to reach the village. It was a charming place, at the very least. Mukene (little fish) were laid out to dry in the sun, likely to be shipped off to Jinja and other towns to be sold in the markets, and the shore was lined with numerous long fishing boats; one of which we would be hiring to take us back to Jinja. All of us were starving at this point and were informed that we had two choices: go straight back to Jinja or stop at an island off in the distance that we were told had a restaurant. Not wanting to pass up any opportunity for adventure, we quickly decided to head to this unknown island to see what we could find. It turned out to be a bird sanctuary/resort called Samuka Island that housed a restaurant and a handful of little cabins. The place was deserted. We were greeted by a woman upon arriving and were told that the restaurant had no menu and, essentially, no food, but they could scrounge up chicken and chips for each of us if we chose to stay and wait. 

About an hour later, after a considerable amount of silliness due to hunger and sun exposure, we had the best chicken I’ve probably ever tasted. Part of this silliness involved singing some rather bad harmonies to worship music care of Aaron and his guitar that ended up getting us a job offer from the manager of the resort to entertain his guests, but we’re pretty sure he just wanted us to come back and bring our friends for the benefit of his business.

After lunch, we returned to our awaiting taxi boat and enjoyed the half hour ride across the lake as the sun was beginning to go down. This boat ride included a whole lot more craziness from the three of us girls and, we’re thinking, took away any doubt the Ugandans had that us Mzungus are just plain crazy.     

We docked, rather awkwardly, at the edge of Jinja in an industrial part of town which included a leather factory and the foulest smell I think I’ve ever encountered, but we had the chance walk through the community where Aaron grew up and met a couple members of extended family on the way. As a side note, Aaron became a Christian in his late teens and it was a choice that got him disowned from his immediate family.

On our way, we made a quick stop at market to buy veggies and chapatti for some homemade salsa and DeAnna and I’s boda ran out of gas on the way, but we made it home; exhausted, a bit burnt, but incredibly grateful.

I hope this post doesn’t read too much like a point form description of the day, because it was incredible. There were so many moments that we just looked at each other and asked, is this real? I have always said that Epupa Falls in northern Namibia was the most beautiful place I had ever been, but this place, this part of Uganda comes very close. In Aaron’s own words, “This is the real Uganda.”

Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's a Staggering Thing (continued...)

Remember the story I told about Walter chasing the volunteers with a chicken...??

Thursday, November 03, 2011

It's a Staggering Thing

It’s gotten to that point where enough time has gone by that I’ve been procrastinating and it’s hard to know where to start. I’m doing well. I continue to learn, to laugh, to struggle with my sinful nature, to grow, to deal…but generally speaking, things just continue to get better.

Nam returned home shortly after my last post and is doing well, but the illness situation in the house got a whole lot worse before it got any better. Last weekend, all the volunteers and Emily W came down with the stomach bug that I had had the previous weekend and most of them got it way worse than I did. On top of that, we were dealing with malaria, mumps, pneumonia and typhoid and up until a couple days ago, I was still having to administer Tylenol to many of the kids but it seems that maybe, just maybe, we are done with all these fevers. By the end of it, I was pretty much gauging on touch as none of the thermometers we had were giving accurate readings anymore. Honestly, the day that I went out (as usual) to take all the kids temperatures (with the fancy new thermometer that Renee gave us) and they all fell within the normal range, I could have cried with relief. Once Zak is on the mend, it seems there might be some normality returning to this house.

A couple weeks ago, both Emily’s went to Kampala to pick up a new addition to the Ekisa family from a place there that I can’t really talk about because it could come back to bite us. His name is Paul, he has CP and I think he’s about 9. He had spent, I believe, at least 4 years there and the conditions were less than sufficient. He was extremely malnourished and had typhoid when we got him but his face is filling out and he’s getting a little belly; the rest of him will follow suit over time. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. It was about 9pm, the power was out and I was just getting back from an afternoon shift at Al-shafa. He was on the couch with George, surrounded by Emily W, a couple other volunteers and the glow from the candlelight. He was wrapped in a blanket having just been smothered in cream to sooth his cracked and dry skin and was drinking milk slowly from a cup all the while being spoken to in soft voices about how beautiful he was and how loved he was. I went to him and said hello and he reached out his hand, greeting me with the most beautiful smile. Moments like that will never cease to bring me to tears. The knowledge of where he came from and where he is now…being loved, nurtured and cared for…the degree to which Ekisa has changed his life…it’s a staggering thing.

Paulie,a couple days after we got him.

There have been other moments in the last week; Walter walking by behind me as I sat sorting clothing donations and stopping to lean down and kiss my cheek…just because. In addition to that, I witnessed a tender moment between mother and daughter that might have never happened had not a grandmother chosen to bring her little granddaughter to us. This little girl’s jaja showed up at our gate about a month ago carrying this little skin and bones bundle named Mercy. She had CP and had been left in the care of her grandmother due to her mother’s disinterest, but the grandmother was struggling to care for her…a fact that was very evident due to how malnourished she was. The Emily’s agreed to take her in temporarily to help nurse her back to health under one condition…that her mother come to stay to be the one to care for her under the guidance and supervision of Emily and the mommas as Mercy would have to be fed every 2 hours initially to get her weight up. So a day or 2 later, mom showed up to relieve the jaja and took up residence with Mercy in one of the buildings out back. This was the first time she had seen her daughter since last December and was non-to-happy to have been pushed into this scenario. In the beginning, she made this quite clear by her mood and attitude towards Mercy and the mommas, mostly keeping to herself, but over time, her pretence began to melt away and joy began to take its place. She began smiling, laughing, socializing with the mommas, helping with laundry even though she was not required to do so and, most importantly, bonding with her daughter. The moment that encapsulated this, the moment I will never forget, happened just a couple days before she left us to go home with Mercy; she was on the porch sitting amongst the kids and the mommas seemingly in her own world as she cuddled Mercy, kissing her little head; clearly in love with her daughter…another staggering thing.       

Yesterday, in itself, was a day to remember: Halloween. I had an early start, getting up at 7:15 to go to market with Emily H, as we do most Mondays, to stock up on matoke, beans, rice, milk, veggies and anything else that’s needed for the week ahead. By the end of these shops, there is usually just enough room for me to squeeze into the passenger seat as this isn’t your average trip to the supermarket. We usually get 4 or 5 bunches of matoke (like a banana but with a more potato-like flavor), each about the size of a 6 year old child and weighing about 20-30 pounds, a 100lb sack of potatoes, the same sacks full of rice and beans, at least 3 boxes of milk and assorted veggies and supplies stuck in the foot wells, including my own. This particular morning, we made a stop at Ozzie’s for breakfast (my favorite; French toast with cinnamon sugar and syrup, a side of scrambled eggs and a cup of tea) before carrying on to our final stop before home: a chicken vendor. You can buy frozen chicken from the grocery store, but it is not the cheapest or the freshest option. No, we were doing things the Ugandan way. Emily pulled over, agreed to a price of 17,000 shillings per and 5 live chickens were tied together by their feet and thrown into the boot with all the matoke. One of the funniest things to date was the drive home and how Emily would duck her head every time we would go over a speed bump and the chickens would start flapping around in the back. Another one of those wonderful, never-did-I-think-I-would, moments.

As soon as we got home, we began preparations for our Halloween party. We bought a couple green pumpkins which we painted orange to make things feel a little more like home but bought 10 little watermelons to carve as the squash was much too difficult to cut through. Myself and a few other volunteers made a huge batch of sugar cookies and different colors of icing for decorating, we made a “Happy Halloween” garland and cut out construction paper pumpkins and bats for coloring. After the kids woke up from their naps, we got them all dressed up in costumes, painted their faces with orange paint and cycled them through the stations - pumpkin carving, cookie decorating and coloring – while Michael Jackson played from the iPod stereo. They had an absolute blast, but I think the highlight came just after when we all went outside for a huge dance party which was somewhat overshadowed by the rather entertaining game of catch the chickens that the kids decided to play. They tormented the poor creatures, I’m not going to lie, but the sight of Walter picking them up by the tail and chasing after the couple volunteers who were less-then eager to be close to them, was far too hilarious to care. After dinner and bath time, we each took a few kids and went around to different rooms throughout the house and had them knock, say “Trick or treat!” (if they were able) and receive a little bit of candy from whomever we had stationed behind the door. Halloween is completely unknown here, so the whole experience was a first for all of our kids and I am absolutely certain that we did it justice. Explaining the holiday to the mommas, though, was somewhat of a struggle…I have just resolved myself to the fact that they all think that white people are mulalu’s (crazy people). 

Walter, getting his face painted





Walter, chasing Jessica with a chicken

I had hoped to be part of the slaughter and preparation of the chickens the next morning, but didn't make it out in time. I did take a moment to document this, though…    

Now, a couple randoms: first, our dog, Pippen; my sister’s been bugging me for a photo. Second, last week, in the midst of all the sickness, we were down a few mommas so George and I spent the morning helping with laundry. There is a staggering amount of washing to do every day and I admit to enjoying this little change of pace quite a bit.

George, wringing things out by hand

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fevers, Fevers, Go Away!

Nam is still in the hospital, so every couple days I’m there on a morning, afternoon or night shift. She’s been stitched up again and seems to be doing well, so hopefully she’ll be home in a couple days. Along with that, we’re still dealing with constant fevers as all of the kids have had it once and a few of them are on their second bout. Checking temperatures a couple times a day has become habit and I’ve been dishing out children’s Tylenol like it’s going out of style. It’s been very frustrating and draining and I pray that soon, these fevers will finally be over and done with.
The other night, I realized just to what degree the things with Nam, Selina and the kids have affected me. I was out in the living room waiting for Fred to arrive to pick up some things on his boda and bring them to the hospital for us when Emily H came in rather swiftly and said, in a way that I interpreted as distressed, that she had just received a text from Emily W. My heart dropped and instantly I was prepared for some horrible news. It was only a moment later that she informed me that Emily was just texting to say that Fred would not be coming due to the rain, but by the time she said that I was already on the verge of panic. I laughed, relieved, and told her, through my nervous laughter, that she’d nearly given me a heart attack. It was a good 15 minutes before I was able to unwind and no longer feel like I could just sit down and cry. I hadn’t realized until then how on edge this place had made me. I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually but for now it seems that after 29 years of living in a place where people don’t just pass away on you, it’s not easy to adjust to a place where they do.
I have been somewhat expecting to get sick here at some point due to the fact that I got really sick in Haiti, as it’s just something that seems to happen when you travel to a third world country. So, I suppose I should be glad that I had a whole month and a half before it hit me. On Saturday night, we went to this guy Bryce’s house from Bible study for a bonfire and some social time, which was great, but I wasn’t feeling all that well. Long story short, that night I slept on the couch with a bowl nearby so I didn’t kill myself climbing in and out of my top bunk and no one had to hear me throwing up every hour or so. Not fun, for sure, but it was pretty much over by morning and I spent most of Sunday sleeping. I know it’ll take a couple days to get my energy back, but besides that I’m good to go.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My House, My Town

Welcome To My Home

Welcome To Jinja!

Here are some of my favorite spots to eat and hang out...

Biasara Market
(where I do most of my grocery shopping)

Ozzie's Cafe

The Source

The Keep


The "courtyard" behind Flavours

Church, in the pastor's yard

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

The title of this post is based upon that fact that I was not fully prepared for the stress that would go along with truly becoming part of the family here. Taking on ownership and responsibility for the kids - being depended on – has its difficulties; especially with the week that we’ve had.

Around the time of Selina passing, some of our kids started getting fevers. At first we thought malaria, but that was disproved after we had CBC’s done on all of them. One particular night we were discussing the possibilities and checking symptoms with the help of Google…bad idea; we all went to bed feeling a little nauseous with words like typhoid and yellow fever going through our heads. Fortunately, with the light of day, a little logic and typhoid being ruled out due to one of our sicker kids getting tested at Al-Shafa, we were assured it was most likely a nasty bug and a run of antibiotics would do the trick. As a side note, we believe this may have been what ultimately caused Selina’s death as her little body was just too weak and stressed to deal with it. In the midst of our yellow fever fears, earlier this week, Nam (who’s been staying in the living room with baby with one of us on the couch to keep an eye on them) spiked a particularly high fever. It was during the time of day when all the kids had had their baths and were playing in the living room and while the Emily’s were checking her out, she became slightly delusional from her fever and illness and started flipping out. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, as we were rushing the kids out of the room, Mweru (our exceptionally spirited, 9 year old, autistic boy) stepped on baby Grace as he slept in his basinet. It was one of those, “really?...really?...what next?” moments. Well, to answer that question, one of the mommas came up to me and said, “Aunty Stacy, aunty Stacy, we need you!”. I rushed behind her into the girls’ bathroom to find it flooded and a large amount of water spewing from the pipe behind the toilet. Naturally, I grabbed the knob and started turning it off, only to realize why the momma’s hadn’t done it themselves…I received a rather large jolt of electricity through my hand and up my arm. Momma Christine chose just that moment after to inform me of that particular problem. I grabbed a towel, turned it completely off and left them to soak up the mess soon after realizing that my help was not needed.

Nam eventually calmed down and agreed to go to the hospital and Jessica and DeAnna brought Grace to the hospital just to be certain. Grace was fine, Nam is not. She came home that night with the antibiotics needed to treat the infection she’s developed from her incision. The last couple days have been busy, a good portion of my day taking the temperatures of each of our kids every few hours and divvying out children’s Tylenol as every single one of them has had a fever of 101° – 104° sometime in the last few days. Although, gratefully, for the most part the bug has not included vomiting and diarrhea, there was one day that I returned to the house after helping feed the youngest and most needy kids with pee on one pant leg and vomit on the other; the joys of cloth diapers and sensitive stomachs.

Things were truly looking up until last night; Nam’s incision started bleeding. The Emily’s rushed her to Al-Shafa yet again to discover that she had developed sepsis and that her infection had gotten much worse and that she will need to be in the hospital for up to 7 days. I had the morning shift today and had the pleasure of standing over her as the doctor came in to clean her incision. They had to reopen the incision, creating a giant gaping wound, to clean out the infection and stuff her abdomen with gauze soaked in iodine. I stood with my hand on her arm while the doctor pulled out the old nasty gauze, cleaned her incision by digging her fingers past an inch of fat into Nam’s belly and stuffed it with fresh gauze before replacing the dressing. Surprisingly, I wasn’t at all grossed out by all this; it was just one more thing that left me wondering, am I really seeing this?

I apologize for these long posts, but there is one more thing I need to share. There is a Ugandan woman, named Angela, whom I met in town the first week that I was here after wandering into the curio shop she works at. After a brief conversation (and the purchase of an adorable set of book ends) I discovered that she was an acquaintance of Emily W. She was incredibly sweet and incredibly pregnant and I suppose we established a connection that day because we have since exchanged cell numbers and I’ve made a habit of stopping in on her almost every time I’m in town. Last week she called me to say that she’d had pain in her stomach but I went to see her a couple days later and she told me the doctor had just given her some pain medication and sent her home. Then a couple days ago I received a text to say that she was having labour pains and to please pray. Yesterday I received a call…an emotional Angela informed me “I’ve lost my baby, Stacy, I’ve lost my baby.” She should have been given a C-section, but they left things too long and a half hour after they could no longer find the heartbeat, she delivered a lifeless baby girl. She asked me to come see her, which of course I agreed to, so this afternoon she sent her young sister on a boda to come meet me at a popular cafĂ© across the street from her shop and bring me back to her home. After an initial emotional greeting, I was introduced to her three sisters (Joy, Peace and Sharon), her mother and her niece, treasure. We sat together for over an hour while she shared a small picture album and spoke of her life and her family. They were incredibly kind and gracious, insisting that I chose a soda to drink and refused payment despite their modest living, even though it had to be purchased at a small stand just down the road from where they live; they would have fed me too had I not just had lunch in town and declined, respectfully. Her baby, as yet unnamed (though I suggested she name her), has gone with her boyfriend to his family’s village to be buried and they are planning to have a memorial in a month or so when Angela returns from her own mother’s village for some respite. Her boyfriend’s village is a far distance away, but I have assured her I would like to be there for her so I will likely be joining the two of them in a taxi early in November for that little adventure. It was an incredible blessing to be welcomed to her home, though, and I am sure that I will be there again in the future and our friendship will only grow deeper as time goes by.

I could not help but be aware of the fact that the two main parts of my day, though astounding to most, seemed like the most normal things in the world. First, this morning getting up before 7 just as the sun is rising, having a quick bite to eat, making my way through the heavy metal gate, hopping on a boda with a strange man laden with my computer, my bag of things and another bag with Nam’s request of a papaya and a thermos of hot water and riding into town to relieve Jessica from her night shift at Al-Shafa. Then, getting picked up by a young girl on a boda, having no idea where I was going and being welcomed into the home and life of this wonderful Ugandan woman whom I literally met on the street.

What a day.

Angela and her home; just the far right portion of the house.

Some randoms...

Chocolate cake from "The Keep", where we went for lunch. Before...