Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where He Leadeth...

These last couple weeks have not been easy, in fact they have probably been the hardest 2 ½ weeks of my life, but I finally feel like I’m over the worst of it. Have my circumstances changed? In some ways, yes, in others, not at all; yet something has shifted. My heart, my perspective, my priorities…I know it’s maybe a little premature to go on about how much this trip has changed me, but I have been humbled deeply - I see and feel evidence of that daily - and I have come to a better understanding of what it means to trust. My dear friend, Patty, said it perfectly when she expressed that it is “such a growth experience to not rely on feelings but on His precious Word”. I am an emotional person and I have made the grave mistake of relying on my feelings time and time again. If I had continued to do that here, I would have crumbled, I would have lost hope, I would have let bitterness grow in my heart. The situation made it such that relying on His Word, His grace, His compassion, His sovereignty was imperative…it was all that I could do. I feel stronger and I feel that I have a deeper understanding of what it means, not only to trust, but to display the love of Christ in all circumstances because that is what I’m here to do. This is not about me. That’s maybe the biggest lesson of all.

As I’m writing, this song just came on (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfy2JVLaCTw&feature=related). I’ve sang it in the past with another dear friend of mine, David, and I forgot how wonderful it is. My heart sings along now…gosh, I will miss leading God’s people in worship while I’m here.

Notable events from this last week? Well, we’ve had two new volunteers come; one from the States, one from the UK. The latter came on Friday; her name is Georgina and she likes Top Gear so we’ll get along just fine J. It’s been really great getting to know her actually and I’ve loved playing tour guide in Jinja.

I have a bad head cold that’s kept me from spending much time with the kids these last 4 days…arg.

I saw my first monkey.

Nam ate a bird. Let me explain...16 year old Nam (http://ekisainternational.blogspot.com/2011/08/beauty-in-broken.html) is very pregnant (it’s been any day now since I got here) and has been having the usual cravings; in this case, meat. So when a little sparrow-like bird flew into the outdoor kitchen, she utilized the moment. She caught this little bird, killed it, plucked it, roasted it, terrorized the mzungus (white people) by waving it in their faces (unfortunately I was in the shower and missed all this) before literally biting the head off and eating it in front of everyone. I am learning to expect anything here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

T.I.A. - This Is Africa

Power outages are common here. Random times, maybe 1 hour, maybe 12. There have been 5 or 6 power outages since coming and I have had two nights so far that have been carried out with candles, flashlights and the greatest invention of all, the headlamp. One such evening, the girls and I were all making dinner for ourselves in the kitchen. The stove runs on gas so, fortunately for us, a decent dinner can still be made. Jessica and Emily W had purchased a batch of Chapatti (like naan bread) from a street vendor and had used a large pot and an inch or so of oil to reheat and crisp them. This has been done before without incident but we believe that at some point, oil must have spilled down into the burner because what came next was rather dramatic, even by Africa standards. After allowing a pot of water to boil on the same burner, I made my way over to turn off the stove and make myself a lovely cup of hot chocolate. The stove is such that the flame increases as you turn towards off, and as it happened, in this case, a sudden increase of heat on already hot oil caused a rather significant combustion: a large flame coming off the burner and smaller, but still significant flames coming out from the knob I had just turned. As a side note, I believe the lack of light in the room made this event just that much more intense. I jumped back and simply stood there staring, whilst muttering repeatedly “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh”, waiting for someone to tell me what to do as given the nature of this place, I thought this may have happened at least once or twice before. But, fortunately for me, just as soon as it happened, Aaron, the night guard appeared from behind me and started whacking the flames with a dish towel while Emily stood yelling, “Aaron, turn off the gas, turn of the gas!”. Given the chaos of the moment, this did not register with Aaron and he instead grabbed a large bowl off the counter and threw sweet sugary high calorie milk into the flames and all over the floor. This did not extinguish the fire completely, but upon finally turning off the gas, the drama at last reached an end. What was left was a sticky mess, a lot of laughter and everyone relaying what was going through their heads at that fateful moment. Emily H coyly admitted to have thought nothing of the children and was in that instant quite ready to simply flee the house.

On Saturday afternoon, Becky, Rachel and I went to Bujagali Falls. Though not far, the road conditions make it a little risky on a Boda so we hired one of the Emily’s trusted drivers. We arrived in perfectly hot sunny weather and wandered around a bit taking pictures before accepting an “invitation” from a local Ugandan man to take the short boat tour around the river, a common tourist attraction. We agreed on 20 minutes for 35,000 shillings. The boats were rudimentary; wood, patched to the nines, made slightly more glamorous by the addition of a tarp canopy up on four wooden poles. We were asked to join a lively group of Libyan men in another boat that was taking off at the same time, but as we had already made a deal and I was already in the boat, we decided against it. There were three people in the boat besides us; the driver, our guide at the front and a young Ugandan boy whose sole purpose was to bail out the steady stream of water that was seeping in through the rudely sealed up cracks on the boat floor. And no, mom, we did not have life jackets. Our 20 minute boat ride turned into a 45 minute boat ride as we made a stop to shore and made the hike up to a view point that is also the location of the king’s son’s home, stopped at another point of shore to drop off a few beers to some random Greek men and took a quick jaunt through some very mild rapids all the while getting a running commentary including info on the birds, the country, the falls and the dam that’s currently being built a few miles downriver. I do love adventure but due to the fact that it was clear we were past the 20 minute mark and we had no clue what their intentions were, I was slightly relived to, at last, return to our starting point. No sooner had we touched ground that it became apparent that the intimidatingly dark clouds that had formed in the distance were heading straight our way so we decided to have lunch in the small outdoor café/bar near the shore that at least had a coned thatch roof for cover. The rains came slow at first but within the time it took to order, raindrops the size of marbles brought the earth to life as the dark red soil began to dance upon impact and small red rivers began carrying the soil down towards the river. The sky became dark, thunder rolled and the café became shelter for what seemed like a never ending stream of Ugandan men who seemed to prefer crowding around our small table and set of three low cushioned chairs than spreading out amongst the tables. We waited for what seemed like forever for our food to come and were forced to sit awkwardly amidst the towering crowd of people and even found ourselves shifting from time to time to avoid the leaks that were slowly forming as water leached its way through the thatch. We were optimistic in thinking it would pass by the time we had to make our way up to the car so when he called to say he was waiting we made a run for it. We ran as fast as we could, leaping to avoid patches of mud and small rivers and up a crudely made set of stone and earth steps up to the parking lot. I actually managed to stay rather clean as I was wearing shoes but as the girls were wearing flip-flops and found themselves slipping, they ran most of the way barefoot. We arrived in succession, throwing ourselves into our awaiting ride wet and invigorated. But we were not out of the woods yet. Due to the rain and its inevitable effect on the already bad road, Abdula, our driver, had us meet him earlier than scheduled and his fears were not without reason. We did make it home without incident due to his experience and diligence but not before pulling over to keep out of the way of a couple mid-sized buses that slid past us a little sideways down a particularly precarious inclined stretch of road. TIA…

P.S. If you want to call to say a quick hello or tell me to log onto Skype, or if there is an emergency (as long as it’s not between the hours of 1pm and 10:00pm, your time), you can call my cell at 00-256-777672407)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Patience is a Virtue

Given the last line of my last post, what follows may come as a surprise. I would be lying if I said this last week and a half have been easy and I’ve been a fool to think it was going to be. My time here has successfully pointed out my pride, my insecurities, my pride, my impatience, my pride, my mistrust in God’s plan for my life, my selfishness and my pride. I think I actually thought I’d come here with all my experience with kids with special needs and my keener-like willingness to help out any way I can and they’d greet me at the door and hand me the keys to the place. It’s horribly self-centered, I recognise that, but how else do you explain that after only a couple days here I started to become disheartened by the fact that I wasn’t best friends with everyone and still just an average volunteer hanging out with the kids, not being asked to take on this or that. It’s been a crazy, stressful, difficult week for the girls due to circumstances and the continual, daily challenges that have arisen which, I suppose, hasn’t helped with the relational aspect of things either. I suppose part of me wants to justify my feelings and say I’m just yearning to take some of the load off their shoulders, but if I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I think I’ve gotten used to feeling like a key player within my job and my community and here, I am not...pride. This has all been compounded by the fact that this huge life changed has made me incredibly emotional so highs are high and lows are terribly low. I just flat out haven’t been myself since I got here which hasn’t helped with the loneliness, since feeling a sense of community essentially entails being known and I don’t yet feel as though people know me. I don’t know how many times I’ve repeated to myself, it’s only been 5 days, a week, not even two weeks and I’m embarrassed to say I have actually considered throwing in the towel in the midst of those low lows. Pitiful, pitiful me. J

It’s so easy to be grateful for the refinement my dear Jesus sees fit to put me through after the fact; during…not so much. I am grateful, though, because I can see a purpose in the hardship and it’s forcing me to seek Him, to lay my burdens at the cross, to pray with tenacity, because to sum it up, I have come face to horrible face with my weaknesses…and they are many. But this is just the absolute worst parts and there have been many wonderful moments and experiences throughout which I will begin to start writing about soon. And it has been getting better, slowly, but surely. I can’t say the funk doesn't and won’t return from time to time, but God is faithful and I can see a future where I feel at home and truly part of the family.

Two things to look forward to: we have two new volunteers this week and tomorrow I get to start organizing the medical cabinet. It’s a disaster and I’ve wanted to take that job on since I got here.

To my friends, thank you for your little notes and encouragements; I feel your love and it has blessed me indescribably.

A little teaser for the stories to come: Power outages, a small kitchen fire, torrential downpours, a leaky boat and some rather sketchy road conditions.

The resort we spent last Sunday afternoon at...just beautiful.

A rather distorted perspective, but you get the idea. I will post a tour soon as well.

Across the "road" from our house.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Saturday did not start well as my screwed up internal clock woke me wide awake at 3:30am without hope of further sleep. This may not have been the end of the world under normal circumstances, but my circumstances are not normal and nighttime has a way of intensifying emotions. Due to the fact that I was still feeling unsure, alone and fearful of my 10 month commitment, that gave me about 3 ½ hours to dwell, fixate and turn mole hills into big giant mountains. I was in a sad state by morning. My negative mood was only compounded when I opened my computer to find an email from my mom. I sat there on the floor, a blubbering fool, going on about my woes in what was, in retrospect, quite a pathetic reply. In my defense though, I hadn’t shed a tear since leaving my mom and my sister at security at YVR and as I am quite an emotional being, it was very well stored up inside me waiting for such an occasion. I closed my computer, composed myself the best I could and wandered into the kitchen to find Zeke sitting at the table looking rather forlorn. I sat down beside him and he pulled himself onto my lap, wrapped his legs around me and laid his head against my chest. I couldn’t help but tear up again and he looked up at me with a mixture of confusion and concern leading me to attempt to assure him in a language he didn’t understand that I was ok. Zeke reminded me why I was here and suddenly things didn’t seem so daunting. From that point on, my day only got better and better and that momentum carried on through Sunday.

After lunch, Jessica, Becky, Rachel and I hopped on boda-bodas and made our way into town. I’m no stranger to the back of a bike, but I’m used to the security of having my arms fastened tight around whoever’s driving, but this is not common practice due to its intimate nature, instead using a small metal handle attached to the back of the bike. When I first got on, I half-jokingly asked the driver if he would mind if I felt the need to grab onto him. He found this quite funny and agreed that would be no problem, but to my relief and delight I found such a thing completely unnecessary. The only thing I would have done differently would have been to avoid lubing up my hands with sunscreen immediately before boarding as that made holding onto the smooth metal handle a little precarious. I loved it…the passing scenery, the wind in my face…the element of danger… Town was hot, but not terribly overwhelming. We made stops at the bank to get out some much needed local currency, some basic personal food items from the grocery store, a data stick so I had complete control over my own internet usage and stopped at a common café on main street called The Source for a quick refreshment before taking the 6 or 7 minute ride back home. I have a feeling I will be making the trip often.

Sunday is a day off and we definitely made the most of it. Morning was an improvement for me as I didn’t wake up until 5:30, and although I would have rather been sleeping, I did enjoy hearing Michael W. Smith’s Open the Eyes of my Heart and Brooke Fraser’s Desert Song drifting into my bedroom from the radio the night guard uses to keep himself awake throughout the night. The morning started slow but our first stop was church. It was a missionary church called Acacia Community Church and it’s held outside at the home of the pastor; everyone sitting on lined up plastic chairs under the stippled shade of some beautiful African trees. The pastor was going on about marriage and divorce so I had a hard time paying too close attention due to the fact that the subject matter isn’t something I currently relate to, but I could have just sat there enjoying the community atmosphere, the breeze, the birds and watching the hundreds of little ants crawl up and down a nearby tree trunk. And I especially enjoyed the first introductions to a few of the people in the direct social circle of the Ekisa family and whom I will surely have the pleasure of knowing better in the future. We came home and I barely had time to change before Emily H (the British one) asked if I’d like to go to town, so we set off to run a few errands involving the bank, the market and the grocery store where I was able to do a much more substantial shop due to the fact that we’d driven. This was incredibly important as my breakfasts up until this point have been a piece of toast with Nutella, lunch has been rice and beans (I don’t do well with bland food so I was never able to eat much) and dinner has been Matoke (ma-toke-eh), an even blander concoction that is made with a kind of banana that tastes like potato mixed with a oatmeal-like, blended nut mixture. I was able to eat even less of that. In other words, I’ve been hungry for about 4 days. I wouldn’t have been able to keep that up much longer with the serious risk of losing weight; something I am consciously trying to avoid. I now have fruit, cheese, yogurt, pasta, and some other staples that will keep me from fading away completely. I have to say, the orange that I bought and consumed after my typical rice and beans lunch that afternoon was pretty much the best tasting, most amazing smelling little miracle and I savored every bite. As if that wasn’t enough for one day, after lunch we headed to a nearby resort to swim and read our books pool-side while the Nile drifted by behind us and topped off the evening with a night out at the Black Lantern, a rather upscale restaurant, to celebrate Emily H’s birthday with some of her friends. I am actually quite shocked at how many young British/Canadian/American women there are in Jinja who are fostering or actively adopting children; some who have committed to living in Jinja for the 2-3 year timeframe that is necessary if you’re anything but American. These amazing women humble me.

Each day just gets better and better.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Impressions

A 3 1/2 hour treacherous drive through Ugandan cities, towns and country side is a little overwhelming to take in all at once; especially given the driving style of the locals. I’m not a nervous passenger but there were definitely a few moments where I was sure there would be contact made between car and car/car and bike/car and leg… We were even pulled over by a traffic cop on a motorbike. The reason, you ask? Totally bogus based completely on the fact that there was a white passenger in the front seat; in other words…money. I asked Job, our driver, point blank if we were getting picked on because of me and he admitted it so. His first ticket in 32 years…as driving people around is what he does to care for his wife and 8 children, there was no way I was letting him pay for that ticket.

I wasn’t supposed to take this picture. As we were about to leave, the policeman on the left saw me holding my camera in my lap and asked if I’d taken any photos. I acted as though I didn’t understand the question as I could see that Job was just getting ready to pull away and after he said something quick in Lugandan, we did just that. In hindsight, it may not have been the wisest thing to do.

This place is wonderful and crazy. After just a minute of sitting with the kids, I had one attached at the hip and those that could speak very quickly adopted the appendage of “auntie” to my name as they do for all the workers here and even those that showed a certain degree of shyness were soon vying for my attention with their calls of “Auntie! Auntie!”; it’ll take some reminding before they have a solid grip on my name, though. There are quite a few “mommas” who also take on the roles of cook, laundress and house cleaner which gives the place such a laid back atmosphere. The volunteer guidelines specified particular hours that we were expected to work, but that was just a guideline. If we’re particularly tired and need to lie down, need to make a phone call or whatever, there’s no judging. As long as you’re involved and carrying your weight, that’s all that’s required. And that afternoon nap the kids all take provides the couple hours of quiet time that make the absolutely craziness that happens after dinner a little easier to deal with.

I’m sharing a room with the three other volunteers that are currently here. Jessica from Georgia, who’s been here a month and is planning to be here for 3 more and Rachel and Becky from Cambridge, England who are 4 days into a two week stay. All three are wonderful along with all the house staff and the two Emily’s that established the orphanage.

My first full day was as expected, comfortable but a little uncertain. Nam (see http://ekisainternational.blogspot.com/2011/08/beauty-in-broken.html) bought us all raw sugar cane which was promptly and efficiently stripped of its bark and quartered using rather large sharp knives that caused bits of sugar cane to fling about around us as the raw cane was hacked. It’s enjoyed by chewing on the soft, yet crunchy inner part of the cane so to extract all the sugary juices. It was quite wonderful to all sit around, children, staff and volunteers, enjoying the treat together.

And just in case I made it sound too cushy with all the staff and the laid back atmosphere, let me share with you a few not-so-glamorous aspects to my African home. There are bugs everywhere, even in my toothbrush (I always look before putting it in my mouth), there isn't a proper seat on the toilet (always a frightening situation), the toilet sometimes needs to be flushed with a bucket of water (sometimes we just don’t bother), certain faucets in the house (especially the shower) give off a pretty good electric charge when you grab them and it’s been known to come through the water when your showering (something to look forward to), and even though the mommas do 99% of the diaper changing, due to the use of cloth diapers, I get peed on at least once a day (there's a fan in our room so I just turn it on and stand in front of it for a few minutes).

Today was my first trip on a Boda-Boda into town, but I’ll save that for my next entry.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Safe and Sound

The good news is all my flights were on time and my luggage was waiting for me at the end of a long journey along with the driver who would take me to Jinja. The bad news? I wouldn’t say it went off without a hitch. I was so tired when I landed in Amsterdam (1am, Vancouver time) that the thought of going into the city, reading my book or even watching Top Gear on my computer was just too much. I wandered the airport for a bit, just exploring, and happened upon a couple clusters of loungers placed in a dim, quiet corner of the airport; that was all the invitation I needed and slept on and off for a couple hours. That’s when things went horribly wrong. My stomach began to tell me things I did not want to hear. The only thing that I can think of that would have caused what came next is bad airplane “food”, because, my gosh, that stuff was horrendous. The next few hours of my day were spent holed up in an airport bathroom stall throwing up. So, there I was, curled up in the fetal position on the floor of a public bathroom stall, my head leaned against my backpack trying to sleep between bouts of vomiting…isn’t travelling romantic? The only thing that made it tolerable was how grateful I was that I did have such a long layover (12 hours) and that this situation wasn’t played out in a much smaller bathroom stall 20,000 feet in the air. Once I came out of the bathroom, I was still back and forth numerous times, just with lesser frequency and by the grace of God, the last time I threw up was about a half hour before the gate opened for my next flight; a red-eye to Nairobi. As much as I did not enjoy Amsterdam, there were two little gifts that came with my next flight that made everything else easy to forget. First, I had a window seat and the seat beside me was empty, affording me an extra pillow and much more room so stretch out to sleep; the second is a wonderful new friend named Sabia. We ended up beside each other walking through the gate and I struck up a conversation given that she was a young women travelling alone, as was I. We had the same connecting flight to Entebbe as well, affording us a chance to get to know each other between flights. She’s 24, from New York, in the midst of a 27 month term with the Peace Corps and is working in a village about 4 hours from me. We’ll both be here for the next year or so, so we exchanged emails and parted with the intention of visiting one another sometime within that time frame.

Stepping out of the plane in Nairobi, I was hit with a memory that the 7 years since Namibia has done nothing to diminish…the unmistakeable smell of Africa; earthy and sweet. Throughout my flights, there were definite moments of sadness, fear, uncertainty, but the strange thing was that after reaching approximately the halfway mark, it really felt less like getting further from home and more like getting closer to home. In fact, for the first 15 or so minutes of the crazy drive into Jinja, I found myself unconsciously repeating such a sentiment in my head…”I’m home…” Well that, with the addition of Bob Marley’s One Love weaving randomly in and out of my thoughts.

I am literally falling asleep at my computer as I haven’t slept much since Monday night so I will save my first impressions of Ekisa and conclude with a few things that have astounded me, amazed me or were simply too interesting not to share.

The speed of an airplane (8??-9?? Mph)…How small and insignificant you feel in an airplane…How gassy people are (realized after such a prolonged amount of time spent in a public bathroom)…African road rules, or lack-there-of…finding a pile of postcards my friends had written encouraging notes on and my roommate had stuffed in my suitcase; I have amazing friends…and finally…monkey road kill.