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.