Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neurotic, As Usual

I realize I have spent a lot of time sharing and writing about events and experiences, but it has been some time since I have expressed anything of a deeper nature. I suppose, because for the last 5 or so months, I have been generally quite contented and at ease, I haven’t felt the need.

I will be leaving this place in 2 months and though that is still a good chunk of time, compared to the time that’s past, it feels to be flying by at an impossible speed. Instead of feeling a healthy combination of excitement and apprehension, it feels like more of a combination of joy, longing and fear with a bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure.

I have no doubt that this tension has been compounded by a long series of cloudy mornings which, in turn, keeps the kids undercover and screaming outside our bedroom window by 7:30am each morning and the fact that the time I’m spending to write this is the first I’ve spent on my own since I got back from Zanzibar. All of this conflicting emotion has left me extremely contemplative, nostalgic and a little run down. I’ve been picking apart my relevance here, the contributions I’ve made… Have I made an impact? Left a mark? Has this time been worth something? I’ve been examining myself… Have I changed? For the better or otherwise? My relationships… Have I made a good enough effort to maintain my friendships from home? Should I have put more effort into deepening the friendships I’ve made outside of our home? Is there even a point anymore? I’ve been looking to the future… Will I struggle to adjust? How long will it take? Do I want things to be just how they were before? And the big one… Will I be back?

Regardless of the answer to that question, it will be good to be home. It is certainly draining to live in a transient home/community where you’re regularly either going through the first stages of knowing someone or saying goodbye to someone you’ve grown to care for deeply. It’s draining to live in a dorm room with 2-5 other people no matter how well you get along. It’s draining to fear the lack of adequate medical care, not so much for myself as I have peace in the fact that my life is in the hands of God, but for our kids. It’s hard to know that some of them have medical conditions that are serious and unpredictable and have the potential of going bad very quickly and we’d be powerless to provide the level of care that is needed. Selina is a perfect example of that and that is not something I am eager to experience again. It is also draining to fear the corruption, the lack of justice and the atrocities that take place so close to our home.

There are days when I feel the compassion and kindness that I’d hoped would be fostered and grown within me has been replaced by a bitterness and cynicism that scares me.

For one, this place has shattered my views on adoptions but I can hardly go into that without it turning into a 3 page diatribe that would shock anyone with a feeling heart. All I will say is that if you feel that by adopting internationally, we are somehow “saving” these children or that a child in an orphanage is there because they have no one else to care for them, then we need to have a conversation. I have seen firsthand the acute damage this type of thinking can cause. It is saddening to me that the reality and truth I’ve been exposed to has caused me to recognize that we have perverted yet another thing that God intended for good. Instead of integrity, there is selfishness; instead of compassion, there is greed…instead of humanity, there is human trafficking.

Secondly, the amount NGO’s and resources in Jinja makes it very unnecessary for children to beg in the streets and not only do they know it, but giving them money actually perpetuates the problem. So when a child approaches me and says, “Auntie, I’m hungry…” and puts out their hands, do I feel love and compassion for this child? No. I feel annoyance and impatience. Given that a good number of these kids aren’t needy at all and just don street clothes and puppy eyes to take advantage of the tourists - and I’ve had more than one occasion where a refusal has been answered by a harsh word or a rude gesture – I suppose I should give myself a break, but it still doesn’t feel good to be so hardened.

And to round it off, there is the pettiness I have seen within the community here and the added joy of recognizing prejudices within myself that I find both puzzling and disgusting; like the absurd idea that Ugandans somehow don’t love their children the same way we do. It is certainly not for me to judge conduct especially given that a parent’s desire to give away a child with special needs often has more to do with a lack of resources, finances, and deep-rooted superstition and a mother’s ability to carry on after the death of a child is a necessity for survival; as is the general resilience in the face of immense suffering that is so evident here…we don’t know suffering, so I suppose that makes it easy to mistake strength for indifference.

This all is not in any way a summary of my experience here; it is just an explanation of why there are days when I am simply tired; this is just half of the story. My time here has also been filled with daily joy and laughter and I have seen an abundance of love and compassion shown and received and God has been his usual faithful self. He has been answering general prayers as well as the continual prayer that he establish within me a spirit of humility and a confidence in who I am. It seems I have difficulty balancing those two attributes as when I am confident, I am proud and when I have been humbled, I second guess myself constantly.

I suppose I can expect that these things will never quite resolve as my personality has me constantly examining myself but one of the most encouraging and foundational things that I’ve learned is that humility is not about simply feeling differently…you will never just suddenly be someone who is completely unaware of yourself and those things that nurture your pride. It’s about choices. If I am serious about wanting to serve God with a humble heart, I will make choices daily to do so. This means I will apologize first even when my pride tells me I should not be the one to do so, this means I will choose to clean up a mess when my pride tells me it’s not my problem, this means I will choose to love and bless and pray for someone even when I am annoyed or when my pride says they don’t deserve it; and all this without bitterness. I feel that if my pride has hardened my heart like a stone in my chest, each time I choose love over pride, I am choosing a chisel and hammer over a rag and polish and allowing God to take care of the rest. I look forward to the day when this conflict is no longer a driving force in my life.

So, how am I? I suppose I am in a state of preparing my heart to leave and trying to keep myself from spending time picking apart every last moment and feeling guilty about the things I wish I’d done more or less of. That is far from productive, I know that. I am also trying to be conscious of not shutting down or hiding away as a way of protecting my heart because that is wasted time and I would regret it. So, for now, I will just continue doing what I’ve been called here to do and do my best to take advantage of every last moment.

One last thing: A couple days ago Emily H came into our room and nonchalantly mentioned that some boys had been to the gate trying to sell us a baby monkey. I dropped what I was doing and ran outside, hoping I hadn’t missed them and laughing as I ran given that Emily had called out behind me that if I brought it in, she was moving out. It was starting to rain and the boys were heading off to find cover, but I selfishly delayed them and got to hold the little guy. He gripped his little arms and legs around my hand and wrist and let me stroke his furry head. I know it seems ridiculous to compare this to seeing Zanzibar or the birth of a child, but it was definitely up there on my list of cool experiences. 

Just some random photos:

At church. It's been quite rainy one should be surprised at this photo...

Dance/dress-up cute...and yes, Jason is wearing a sparkly dress...

Just a shot out the front window of Job's car on the way to Kampala...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Friend, George

My friend, George, arrived at Ekisa just after I did.
My friend, George, was sent to me by my loving heavenly Father who knew I needed
          a good friend to weather those first couple months with.
My friend, George, kept me from completely losing my mind.

My friend, George, was my bunk mate and travel buddy.
We went to Kabale & Rwanda, explored Bujagali & Galama and spent endless hours walking
          around town.
My friend, George, was always up for an adventure.

My friend, George, is quiet when you first meet her…but just give her some time.
My friend, George, has a fantastic sense of humour and just the right amount of weirdness.
My friend, George, has a great laugh.

My friend, George, has been a constant companion, encouraging and supportive,
My friend, George, listened so graciously to all my ranting and rambling.
My friend, George, understands hardship, empathized with mine and comforted me
          without judgment.

My friend, George, has more strength and more courage than she gives herself credit for.
My friend, George, loves in her own way, but loves well.
My friend, George, is one of the most caring people I know.

My friend, George, has gone home to England.
I will miss her talks, whether a heart to heart or just a few words spoken in a whisper at
          night from our bunks…
- “George, I smell kaka…”, “So do I…”, Ok, good…” –
I will miss her popping her head up from below my bunk just to say “hi”.
I will miss so many things, but most of all, I will miss…
My friend, George.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Zanzibar - Part III

Jambiani & Stone Town -

By 10am, we were on our way, all the more happy to be changing locations as the men that wandered the beach selling trips and curios had a tendency to linger and it only got worse the more familiar they became with us; especially in the evening as based on one particular experience (with a guy that called himself “Captain G”) where I noticed the distinct smell of alcohol, there was the added element of intoxication.

When we first arrived at Mbuyuni Beach Village in Jambiani, Laura and I were a bit unsure given that, besides the man that met us at the entrance, we didn’t see another soul until about 20 minutes after we’d arrived. By the end of the day, we’d concluded that we were sharing that incredible place with a staggering 7 other people; another 10 points for low-season. Besides the one single downfall of the ocean having severe tides that made the water rather unreachable at certain times of the day, the place was superior in every way; the rooms, the food, the service, the layout, the general atmosphere and even the tides were far made up for by the availability of a small, clean, saltwater pool. Additionally, everything – the pool, the restaurant/bar/lounge area, the hammocks, the beach – was a 30 second walk from our room.

For those 2 and a half days, I split my time between the pool and a comfy fabric hammock looking out towards the water and there were hours of time at each location that I was completely alone; especially on that first day. The only sounds I’d hear would be the birds, the distant rolling of waves with just the odd whisper of conversations and laughter drifting by to remind me that I wasn’t, in fact, entirely alone. It was complete, consummate and unparalleled relaxation.

I spent more time alone that first day as Laura wasn’t feeling well and was nursing a rather severe sunburn, but the times we were together were just as relaxing, they were just infused with sporadic comments and conversation that usually involved a lot of laughter.

We didn’t eat dinner in the sand like the first place, but with the tide up, the water was 10 feet from our table and it was dim enough that we could see the incredibly clear and star-filled sky. I know it’s easy to get an idea in your head about how ideal a place will be and it’s easy to be disappointed, but I was not. Especially at Mbuyuni, my expectations were exceeded.
The second day, a few more people had arrived, including a young Canadian women named Nadia, who was travelling alone on a short break from her job in Belgium. Naturally, we befriended her and within a couple hours it was as though she’d been with us all along. The morning before we left, the two of took a long walk out on a sand bar to get to the water and it was a great time with easy conversation and plenty to talk about. We also picked up a random Russian girl on the beach who was vacationing alone; she came with us part way until she stumbled and got her bag wet, which unfortunately contained her iPad. Nadia has plans to visit Vancouver someday soon and as I have already offered a place to stay with me, there is a chance we might meet again in the future.       

Truth be told, I did not want to leave Mbuyuni and the fact that going back to Jinja carried with it a bit of the sense of returning to “hum-drum” regular life, I’m just that much more concerned about 3 months from now when I return home.

We left Jambiani at about 4pm and we got back to Stone Town just as the sun was beginning to set. We spent our last evening in Zanzibar grabbing sweet bananas in market for an early breakfast the next morning, heading back to the boardwalk to watch the sunset and the grandiose display of the local boys and their friendly diving competitions and grabbing another dinner of fruit and bread at the night market. That and the final couple hours in our room spent chatting and having Sudoku competitions, was really the perfect way to end our week together. 

It was a fairly long day getting back to Jinja; first flight at 8am to Dar Es Salaam, then another at 9:30 to Entebbe (with the stop in Kilimanjaro) followed by a private hire to the taxi park in Entebbe, a matatu to Kampala, another matatu to Jinja and finally a boda home. I had to negotiate with the taxi driver and he cracked me up pretty good when we’d set off and he found out that I had already been here for 7 months, responding with a smirk and “So you know our ways…”, or something of the like. He was basically admitting that he was trying to rip me off because he thought I didn’t know any better. Getting to Kampala was an adventure all on its own as the traffic was atrocious because of some political summit of sorts. After 80% of the matatu randomly cleared out in the middle of a traffic circle, I asked the door man if we were heading to the taxi park. He didn’t understand what I was saying so the woman beside me (1 out of the two other people that remained) started asking him in Lugandan. I have no idea what was spoken between them, but she subsequently turned to me and said, “Come, you follow me.” I proceeded to chase behind her, struggling to keep her pace, as she periodically glanced behind to see that I was still following. About 3 blocks later, we entered the taxi park and she insisted on bringing me directly to the sign that says Jinja despite my insistence that I was fine and she needn’t waste her time; sweet lady that she was. Because of the traffic, underneath the sign stood a small group of people where a matatu should have been; something I have never experienced before. As the group slowly grew it was hard to say who had come first, so when the ride did come, it was just a rush of bodies; I didn’t scratch or bite, but I held my ground and got the last seat. It was bloody hot and the taxi park is chaotic so although it wasn’t any cooler inside the vehicle until we hit the open road 30 or so minutes later, I was extremely grateful. The rest of the drive went smooth and besides a quick stop at an African “drive thru” (20 or so people with a selection of food and drinks shoving their products through the windows and waving them in your face), resulting in a snack of beef on a stick, we made good time.

Any reluctance I had about returning home was eradicated the moment I entered the gate. Within seconds, two of my favorite mommas, Sarah and Rehma, ran towards me yelling, “Auntie Stacy, welcome back!” They each proceeded to hug me, pick me up and spin me around and if that wasn’t enough, sweet Zuena, who sat on the mat eating her dinner, started laughing and doing her own version of a happy dance when I came near to give her a cuddle. I hadn’t thought much about it, but it was a particularly wonderful reception.

For those 5 or so days, it felt as though I had entered the pages of a travel magazine advertising dream getaways and tropical paradise vacations and I can honestly say that it was both of those things. Besides Laura not feeling well, there was hardly a hitch to this trip and to say that I feel incredibly lucky to have seen that beautiful island is an understatement. I still get a rush of excitement and gratitude just to get to fly, so experiencing paradise on earth brought on a distinct sense of undeserving. But I will not over-analyse that and will choose to instead be eternally grateful for this life I am living; a life that is real and complicated and at times difficult, but is none-the-less and maybe most predominantly, charmed. 

Click here for slideshow.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Zanzibar - Part II

Kendwa -

The next morning, just after breakfast, the four of us headed to Kendwa. Trevor and Wendy came along as they wanted to spend their last couple days on the beach and it just made sense that they benefit from our research and planning. We had made reservations at a place called Toits de Palme but when we arrived, we liked the neighbouring White Sands Beach Hotel much better as the rooms, the beach and the restaurant were much more appealing; plus I was able to haggle a bit and got us both air-conditioned rooms for less than we were going to pay for a room with a fan next door. One of the great things about low-season is prices are negotiable, especially when you pull the “Well, we already have a place next door so…” The normal price for the room we wanted was $80usd and at one point during the negotiations, I said to the manager, “I want to pay more like $50…” to which he responded with a sly smile, “You are a business women, yes?” Without words, I subtly tipped my head back and raised my eyebrows; a common Ugandan gesture used as “yes” or “I agree”, but in this case I feel I effectively translated a more straightforward, “damn right, I’ve been in Uganda for 7 months negotiating prices on a daily basis; don’t mess with me.” We paid $55.

We set down our stuff in our room, sweating profusely, and didn’t waste any time getting changed and finding a spot on two wood and thatch beach recliners underneath a square, four post thatch hut just a handful of feet from the shore. Another benefit to low season: quiet, no competition for chairs and shade and just the right amount of people so that you don’t feel quite alone.

The next couple of days were spent reading on the beach with classical music playing softly from my iPod with a good breeze blowing through, accented by the sound of gentle waves while locals wandered by selling wraps, jewellery and excursions and responding cordially with “Hakuna Matata” when we’d shake our heads to say we weren’t interested. The sand was soft and plenty, a beautiful shade of opal beige, clean but with plenty of shells to collect and wooden canoes in clusters near the water waiting for the best tides for fishing. The water was calm and ranged from light blue to a deep turquoise depending on the time of day and where you were standing.

Besides the peacefulness and the beauty of those two days, a couple highlights were dinner on the beach on small tables with candles and torches in the sand and snorkelling with Trevor. It was the one activity I was determined to do as I had never done it before. The second morning during breakfast, Trevor and Wendy walked by our table and Wendy mentioned that Trevor had wanted to go, but that she was too congested. Given that Laura also had a cold, had gone before and was also nursing a decent burn from the day before, she was only going to go for my sake so as we were finishing our meal, I approached them and asked my friend, Trevor (as I had begun to call him) if he would like to join me. We went just after breakfast that morning to catch the low tide and to avoid the hottest part of day. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how I would handle the snorkel but it only took a few minutes to get over the “panic breathing” and then suddenly the ocean floor was mine to behold. It was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. The goggles didn’t fit great and I had to hold them to slow the water seeping in, but it was so incredibly freeing and peaceful as the level of buoyancy required no effort from me to stay afloat. The coral was beautiful and I set my eyes on many different fish including, but not limited to, angel fish, ones of similar size in the most amazing shade of blue and schools of smaller black and white stripped fish that were more inquisitive of me then fearful. At the end of the hour and a half, I was satisfied and quite content to head back as the goggles were bruising my face and I had rinsed out my nasal passages with plenty of salt water.

The other highlight was sunset when time just seemed to slow down as though the sand in the proverbial hour glass had been turned to honey. The temperature would become more tolerable and the water would take on the appearance of blinding white shattered glass when the reflection of the falling sun would lay across it. Though the usual sounds could hardly be considered intrusive, the sounds of the waves, distant music, the local boys playing soccer on the beach and conversations in languages I didn’t understand took on a particularly muted tone. As the breeze would pick up, we’d start pulling our chairs back, chasing the shade, and enjoy the feeling of the cool air on our sun-scorched skin; taking inventory of which parts of my body had been spared from the harsh effects of the sun and which parts I had failed to adequately protect. In those last moments, the sky and the sun would take on a deeper and deeper shade of orange and Laura and I would compete to see who could get the best photo of the traditional dhows, with their canvas sails silhouetted as they’d pass between the borders of the suns reflection. Those moments brought with them a particularly fantastic sense of contentment.

Trevor and Wendy headed back to Stone Town that second evening to catch an early morning flight back to the mainland and ultimately home to Australia, but we exchanged info and I was assured I’d be receiving a rather fantastic photo of me in my snorkel and flippers. We were sad to say goodbye to our surrogate Tanzanian/Australian parents and were grateful for the ways we were able to help each other out; not only did they insisted on buying us desert that first night for letting them tag along, but Wendy left me her sunscreen as my supply was greatly decreased by airport security. 

Those two days were, no doubt, amazing, but we were excited about the next day when we would be making our way down to Jambiani on the lower east coast of the island for some more of the incredible beauty that Zanzibar had to offer.

Part III to follow...with slideshow...