Sunday, January 29, 2012

Truckin' Along Too

There have been a handful of random experiences and anecdotes that have occurred over the last few weeks that I deem worth telling, so here goes:

I took the car to Amber Court (just down the street from us) one morning to get some documents printed out. I had been there just long enough to have a gentleman tell me “You are from Kimaka, from the orphanage…” and have him challenge me on the fact that we only care for children with special needs (as if there wasn’t enough regular orphanages in Uganda…) before hearing a strange sound. It was clear immediately that the sound was electrical in nature, but there was no questioning that fact as a rather thick power cable came crashing down onto the road, having broken off the pole that stood just 10 feet from where I was standing. There was a moment of being stunned before I began looking around to see if anyone was seemingly on their phone notifying the power company, which there wasn’t and watched as bodas, cars and people continued to go by as though nothing was out of sorts. There were people who stepped up to holler at anyone who came near and the guy from the printing shack placed his wooden sign at the end of the cable, but as I did not have the number for Umeme (the power company) and I was not interested in seeing anyone die that day, I got back in the car, drove over the cable and sped home as quickly as possible. I ran into the house, grabbed the power bill, called multiple times before getting through and was reassured that something was, in fact, being done; as confirmation, the power in our house was cut the second I hung up the phone. Emily was sceptical that it would be handled efficiently but the two of us went into town about an hour later and, thankfully, there was no sign of the cable.

I had to go back to the local chairman to have another letter signed a couple weeks ago expecting the same experience as the first time I went to see him. Aaron came with me again, we drove over (because it was too hot to walk) and found him sitting on a wooden bench against one the brick homes. His demeanor was completely different. As he asked why I was back, questioned me about whether or not the bank had given me proper guidelines, criticized the letter and demanded signing fees, I began to question myself whether or not this was really the same person. I kept glancing at Aaron, looking for some explanation as the LC took his time and the group of children around us continued to stand and stare and laugh every time I glanced their way. Once we had the signature I needed, we headed back to the car and I was able to ask Aaron out loud what the heck was going on. His answer? He was drunk. It was flabbergasting to me the extent of the contrast in his behavior; so much for having a friend in high places.

There was a fire in town recently; a plastics factory just at the end of Main Street. Emily W and I had gone to market in the morning and made a stop at The Keep to grab a coffee before heading home. It was as we were leaving The Keep and turned out onto Main Street, we saw the huge amount of smoke coming from the end of town. Market is on the same side of town, so we were grateful it started just after we were done our shopping, but that didn’t stop us from taking a “detour” in order to get a closer look. As we were nearing the end of the road, we heard an explosion that to both of us sounded like a gun releasing some kind of a canister and witnessed a crowd of people start running towards us; there was no question that a swift u-turn was in order and we headed straight home. The next day, I did a little search for any kind of news coverage on the fire. The article I found ended with a small paragraph about how the police fired tear gas to deter looters which subsequently caused a moderate stampede; thus confirming what we`d seen.

Recently a little league baseball team from Langley, BC made the trek all the way here to play against a local team in Uganda. The quick story is that this was the first year that the Ugandan team made it far enough to play teams from other countries, in this case, Canada. Not surprisingly, the team could not afford to fly to the BC, so the Langley team got involved and some pretty heavy fundraising started on both a private and corporate level to get the kids to Canada. But when the time came for them to head out, due to sketchy or non-existent passports and identification, they were not allowed to leave. So Langley came to them. I was aware of it, but was under the impression that everything was happening in Kampala, but one morning, I got a text from a friend (who got an email from some Canadian lady) to say that they were playing here in Jinja. After some mis-information and confusion, I tracked them down at a secondary school a bit out of town. Though I missed the game, I caught them as they were settling down for a sandwich lunch and struck up a random conversation with the first adult that I saw. Throughout the 15-20 minutes that I hung around, I met a couple people that had graduated from DW Poppy (The high school where I work) and another few people with whom I shared some significant mutual acquaintances. It was nostalgic, to say the least.   

Other notable events and occurrences? Emily W and I trying to learn to krump via a YouTube instructional video, a really great bonfire night at Brice`s house, watching a boda drive straight into the back of a mutatu and then watching the mutatu reverse over the front of the boda (don`t worry, no one was hurt), a lizard that was hanging out on the ceiling peed on my foot and Emily W and I accidently started a wee fire on top of her book shelf. Actually, Emily started a wee fire on her bookshelf by placing a candle in a plastic cup. I was lucky enough to be there to help put it out by first throwing a cup of water, then emptying out a water bottle and then yelling at her to “Get over here! “ as I was too short and kept missing the actual fire.   

Emily, George and I are on holiday right now; I`m actually writing this as I sit outside our little cottage on Lake Bunyonyi, in Kabale near the Rwandan border. We left on Wednesday and will be heading home first thing tomorrow morning, so my next post will be all about it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Truckin' Along

Something felt wrong right from the get-go. My boda driver couldn’t get the bike started and once I had mounted, his initial start ended in a rather dramatic lurch and a stall. I momentarily entertained the thought of getting off, but shrugged off my feelings and stuck with it. It didn’t take more than 15 feet before it became evidently clear to me that my life was in the hands of a man who was either just learning or incapable of driving a motorcycle; his starts were rough, his shifting was atrocious (consisting of high revving and bouts of bunny hopping) and he seemed intent on avoiding slowing down to the point of needing the clutch, nearly stalling on a number of occasions. This went on for some time and I went against my better judgement, choosing to white knuckle it and pray to Jesus instead of getting off. At about the halfway mark, soon after turning onto the main road to and from town I began to consider what was ahead (a turnabout and a series of speed bumps that require a certain degree of finesse to navigate safely) and decided that though there are times when it is appropriate to put your life in the hands of God, there are also times when it is appropriate to trust that he has given us common sense and gut feelings for a reason. I went with common sense. I had him drop me off and ended up walking a good chunk of the way until I got too hot and grabbed another boda at Amber Court. Honestly? Probably the most terrified I’ve been since I got here; I’m talking cold hard fear. Lesson learned: listen to my gut.       

And another boda story: Erika, Chalice and I needed to get to town from church (which is halfway between home and town) and didn’t want to get two bodas. We’ve fit three on a boda before but this time there was an added challenge; Chalice was wearing a skirt and needed to sit side saddle. Our solution? Erika sat nearly beneath the driver, Chalice sat sideways and I sat on her lap with her arm around my waist like a toddler. People’s reactions were mixed; some just stared at us as we drove by, some laughed, some gave us the thumbs up. We didn’t make it all the way to town as we were all in various degrees of discomfort and sliding off, but we made it and saved…nothing really because we paid him well considering he was nearly sitting on the handlebars and the back tire kept scraping over the bumps, due to the added weight, the whole way into town.

My week has been incredibly productive so far. On Monday, I was finally able to go see one of the local chairmen of Kimaka (he was in the village for a few weeks over Christmas) to get him to sign something that I needed to open a bank account for Ekisa. Aaron (our night guard) came with me and we walked down the dirt road about 15 minutes from our house through a village, of sorts. The women looked up from their washing and cooking to greet me graciously as I traipsed through their “yards” and the children came running, yelling “mzungu, mzungu” and stuck close, never taking their eyes off me the whole time I was there. We found the LC in his office; a thatch hut with a wooden table and bench. He was incredibly sweet and thankfully didn’t insist on a “token of appreciation”, like most do, because I had no money with me, completely forgetting about that little quirk regarding African politics. In fact, he asked who wrote the letter to which I replied that I had (thought it would be easier than trying to explain what I needed and having him write it himself) to which he replied that I was a very good secretary and that maybe I should come work for him. I have no intention of getting into politics of any kind, but I did say that if he ever needed help with something specific, that would be happy to assist. I may have no intention of getting involved, per say, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places. J

That afternoon, I went with one of the mamas to her home after her shift, just a 10-15 minute boda ride from our house. I have been to a couple of our other mama’s homes in the village before and seen their modest living (though they still insisted on feeding us soda and snacks), but mama Akullu has a small house that she has built with her husband and lives there with him and her three (almost 4) children. When we got there and had settled on the couch, she had each of her girls come in and say hello; they each took turns kneeling down in front of us and taking our hand in both of theirs, greeting us and welcoming us to their home. George and I sat and visited with her for an hour or so before she got up to fix a snack. An hour later she came out with potato omelets, tomatoes on the side, and a smoothie that she whipped up with avocado, lemon, passion fruit and a little sugar. Looked scary, but was surprisingly good. I have not been to one single home yet where I was not greeted and welcomed with the utmost grace and generosity. There are definitely some aspects of Ugandan culture that leave something to be desired, but on the subject of hospitality, they are second to none. I still have standing invitations to visit the homes of a couple more mamas and an open dinner invitation from the auntie of one of my favorites, Mama Christine. She was staying with her aunt in Bukaya during her time off and as I have been tending to a nasty burn on her leg for the past month or so, I went there a few times during the week to bring her supplies and check on her. Her aunt was so sweet and grateful and always insisted I stay, but I appeased her by saying I would come back for dinner at a later time. Christine will likely be going into labour sometime in the next few weeks and will stay with her aunt for the first month or so, so I will probably wait until then so I can have some quality time with auntie, mama and baby.

 Mama Akullu and I in her home.

Tuesday, was overhaul day. Emily and I did some significant organizing and moved the furniture around in her bedroom. That afternoon we went into town to inquire about getting some pallets made to size to put together a pallet couch (that Emily saw on Pinterest) to fill in some of the space we’d opened up with the new furniture arrangement. We went to a place on a sketchy road a few streets down from Main Street where someone we know had seen some pallets. We talked to a guy, gave him the measurements, negotiated a price (25,000sh, down from 70,000; go Emily…) and got a call 25 minutes later to say that they were ready for pick-up. This place has its perks.

It has been really hot lately (high 30’s, low 40’s), so yesterday afternoon I went to the pool, something I need to do more often and have resigned myself to doing once a week, if only for the much needed exercise. It was quiet, nearly deserted and the pool was a glorious reprieve to the heat. And if the sun, the surroundings, and the beautiful, wispy, ever-changing clouds that were simply mesmerizing to watch weren’t enough, we had the added joy of watching 8-12 monkeys play fight and chase each other through the trees and around the pool, knocking over chairs in the process. Honestly, it was heaven. 

Our view from our recliners...

A zoomed in view from our recliners...

Of the few people at the pool, I ended up chatting with a couple from Holland who were in Jinja with their adopted son for a vacation. Funny thing is, they were at the keep the night of the Christmas event and had noted that my last name was Dutch…

Love these little guys...

And today? After my visit with the LC, and having the Emily’s sign a huge amount of paperwork, I finally had everything I needed to open the bank account; they didn’t even need to come in. It was a process, let me tell you: passport photos, LC letters, proof of residence…I spent hours waiting and had to go back to a guy three times here in Jinja to get our constitution and registration forms certified (side note, after waiting in line for nearly two hours, he informed me that had I just walked in, he would have done it for me straight away; but I don’t regret waiting because I don’t exactly feel comfortable with the fact that I would have gotten special treatment simply because I’m white). I spent a good hour at the bank this morning and was hoping to have it squared away, but I will need to go back to the LC this week (if I can get a hold of him) to have him sign another letter. The annoying thing is that had I worded the original letter slightly differently, it would have been fine. But on the plus side, I do have account numbers and everything we need to get Emily’s dad to get things set up for a bank transfer state side…no more atrocious bank charges sucking away our much needed funds!

Currently? I’m hanging out at my favorite spot…a restaurant called Gately on the Nile, getting some things done and spending some much needed time alone. 

My little table...

Unfortunately, they are moving in a couple weeks and even if the new eating area is as beautiful, it will be reservation only; no more stopping in for a good ‘ole cup of orange pekoe tea; sorry for me.   

Things are pretty fantastic here in Jinja. I am happy, healthy, busy and productive and truly feel like this is where God wanted me. I doubted it in the beginning, trust me on that, but I have since filled a hole in the organizational, accounting, administrative department that was just my size and have developed some pretty fantastic friendships; some close, some on the acquaintance level, but all contributing towards that most wonderful sense of community that I have so frequently talked about. Seriously, I’m hardly ever in town without bumping into at least one person I know…case in point, bumped into Brice at the bank this morning. Next project (besides the ongoing accounting stuff), besides putting together a bunch of lyric books for Bible Study so everyone can better sing along, I’m currently working my way through Grant Writing For Dummies. I’m particularly excited about this because it’s something I can continue to do from home.

I don’t have the slightest idea of how many people are actually reading this, but just know that I am forever grateful to those of you that have been following me and have supported me as I continue on with this incredible adventure in this incredible place called Uganda, Africa.   

A few randoms:

On a market shopping/lunch date with the wonderful, Jackie. There's this great little Ethiopian restaurant in town with some pretty great goat pilaf. This plate costs 5000sh (about $2.00) and is more then enough for two people.  

Young love...Zuena and Jojo (with my Tasha in the background)...these two are too cute for words...

 Lindsay's go-away dinner at The Mezzanine during sunset; gorgeous place.  

A picture I forgot to add before of us market shopping for our awesome New Years outfits. Everything in this pile was 1000sh (about $.40).

And finally, the Ugandan version of advertising. A huge truck with massive speakers (notice me in the forefront plugging my ears) and a bunch of guys on stilts and rollerblades holding up traffic and being a general nuisance.

Monday, January 02, 2012

30 and Lovin' Life

December 29th, 2011 - Sleeping in is pretty much always out of the question due to the noise level in our house so I was up at the usual 7:30am. I hadn’t been up for long (checked email, got dressed…) before Emily H came in carrying a large tray of French toast, syrup, powdered sugar and tea. It wasn’t technically breakfast in bed as she intended, but eating French toast - that I didn’t have to make - on the floor while doing a crossword from an African newspaper with George is most definitely not a bad way to start the day.  I made no rush of the morning, but shortly after breakfast made my way to my absolute favorite place to relax, a hotel called Gately on the Nile. Lindsay came with me and we hung out for a few hours on our computers, drinking tea, munching on fries, chatting and just enjoying a beautiful morning. When I got home, I found this…

The girls, God bless ‘em, put together probably the most thoughtful gift I have ever received. On top of receiving a skirt that I had been eyeing in town and a few cards filled with incredibly sweet and encouraging words, they put together a box with 30 individually wrapped gifts, both practical and thoughtful in nature, including highlighters, post-its and paper clips (for all my administration duties), a fabulous party hat (complete with typos: Happy Brthday), chocolate, a mix CD, tea, a handful of IV cannulas (for practicing) and an envelope entitled “Reasons we love Stacy…” filled with 30 little pieces of paper. My favorites…You drive like a boss in Uganda, you’re hilariously inappropriate at times J, you don’t mind if we ugly cry in front of you, you use the word “Skookum” in everyday conversation, you’re the best mama Stacy I said, most thoughtful gift ever.

Yea, I.V.s!!

The plan for the evening was 9-hole mini golf and dinner with friends at a place called Two Friends and it was during the gift opening that I mentioned my plan to put together a sweet little golfing outfit for later, but that I was lacking a good hat. Emily H promptly offered to fashion a visor out of my amazing party hat…complete with ribbon, stickers spelling my name and googly eyes.

Conquering the final hole...notice the sweet outfit? Knee socks, visor...

The evening couldn’t have turned out better; mini golf was a gong show (no one kept score, there were some creative variations to the game, we met a random Australian couple who guessed it to be my 20th) and dinner was full of laughter and conversation. All in all, everyone had a great time and that may have been the best gift of all. 

We got home fairly late, but the girls made me a cake as a late night snack, insisted on the whole candle and birthday song and we pigged out (no plates needed, just forks) while watching Easy A; frequent outbursts of “I’ve got a pocket, got a pocket full of sunshine…” have since become a common occurrence but you’d have to had to seen it to understand why.

To say that I’m grateful would be an understatement, for sure. True, I didn’t go bungee jumping or rafting like I intended (darn whiplash has been acting up and I didn’t want to risk further injury) but besides that fact that I would have been satisfied with less than French toast for breakfast, a quiet morning on the beautiful Nile River, amazing gifts and a great night with some incredible new friends, how many people can say they turned 30 in Africa?    

December 31st, 2011 - The plan was fairly simple: Bonfire at our place, kids everywhere, crazy outfits and illegal fireworks bought from a random spice shop in town (accessed only by speaking a code word to the “skinny guy” behind the counter). Saturday afternoon we all piled into the car and made our way to main market…the clothes section. We spent hours rummaging through piles of “previously loved” clothing from current styles all the way to some pretty incredible gems from the 60’s and 70’s. We left with a huge bag of fantastically horrible dresses (along with a few legit treasures including some t-shirts for cutting and a comfy flannel cover-up) all costing between 1000-7000sh; I have become a true fan of clothes shopping in market. Once we got home, it was a rushed couple hours of chopping veggies for a huge batch of fresh salsa putting together our outfits, complete with dated hair styles and crazy makeup and we opened the night with an awesome dance party with our kids who the mamas (gotta love our mamas) dressed up in some pretty great costumes. The dance went on for some time and the dance floor got more and more crowded as people arrived and joined the party and besides the fact that the “police” showed up at our gate to inform us that illegal fireworks are only allowed at midnight (?) forcing us to put the kids to bed and relocate to Katie’s house, it was a hugely successful evening. Once we finished off the fireworks at Katie’s, we still had an hour to kill so we spent our time drinking champagne and playing 20 questions but midnight came quick and, though low key, it was a sweet end to a wonderful and crazy week here in Jinja.   

Dance party; Emily wearing a fantastic seafoam dress...
sorry the pictures aren't great...

Notice Bridget's gorgeous pant suit and Emily's get up in the background?

Paul gettin' down...

George and Jane...yes, that jacket and those shirts both came from market...

This would potentially be an appropriate time to reflect on the last year of my life, but I will spare those of you reading this from another novel of a post. Instead, I will just say that I am immensely grateful for my life, trials and all, my friends and my family and my Heavenly Father for being relentlessly faithful through it all. Happy New Year everyone!