Thursday, November 21, 2013

Furry Fruit

A week or so after we got back from safari, Alicia, Keanne, Erika, Brecklyn and myself went to a place called The Hairy Lemon. It’s a beautiful little island about 1 ½ hours journey from Jinja (not too close, not too far for some time away). It was a bit of a whirlwind trip as we left on a Monday morning and came back the following afternoon, but it was still long enough to enjoy the peace and quiet. Not only was it extremely relaxing, we were also able to spend some time swimming in the Nile and had the pleasure of sharing the island with a couple British guys who had us laughing late into the night while we hung out and played random games.

The current was really strong in the river which made it really hard to just relax so Erika and I had the great idea to walk up river and ride the current back to where we were stationed on the beach. This turned into an absolute fail as we both underestimated the depth of the water and spent a good 30 seconds caught in the current getting pulverised by rocks. I’m sure Erika looked graceful and poised throughout the entire ordeal, I on the other hand probably looked as helpless and desperate as I felt, floundering and gasping while I tried to get my feet back underneath me.
Tuesday morning, we were woken up by monkeys using our tin roof as a trampoline and spent the day lounging, reading, swimming and just generally soaking up the beauty of the place. 

Because of a connection we have with one of the local rafting companies, we were able to get a ride to and from the island on one of their big trucks as the stopping point is a short walk from where the canoe drops us on the mainland. Shortly after we arrived, a huge storm blew in and though we were under cover, all of us (the rafters and staff included) had to take cover in the kitchen as the wind was blasting the rain in on us and blowing everyone’s salads off their plates. It caused a delay and when we did head back, the dirt roads had us sliding every which way, but it made for some good entertainment.

Other interesting facts about this island? Lots of wildlife. Although they’re around, I have seen maybe 1 or 2 live snakes in Jinja in the whole 20 or so months I’ve lived here. On the island? 2 in the course of 24 hours. And not just any old snakes…very poisonous ones. We also saw a monitor lizard, but they’re just plain cool.     

Taking the short canoe ride to the island (yes, my elbow is in the picture, the redo was blurry)

The path to our cottage

If you look closely, you can see the head of a rather large snake directly to the right of tip of the grassy area. 

The green mamba that slithered out of the water...

The "swimming hole"

It's a giant glowing starfish! Nope, just me. :-)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pumba & Friends

A bit over a week ago, I went on my first real safari. There are a couple girls, Alicia and Keanne, staying with Ekisa right now who I know from home; in fact, one of them is one of my sister’s best friends and I’ve known her since she was in kindergarten. In regards to the whole Africa experience, a safari was on the top of their list and I figured it was the perfect time for me to experience it for myself.

We (Alicia, Keanne, myself and one of our other volunteers, Hannah) travelled to Kampala on a Wednesday morning to catch a free shuttle from Oasis Mall and had a really great relaxing evening at the Red Chili Hideaway where we’d be leaving from the next morning. It was actually the first time Alicia and I had time to catch up and it was so great to share details of my life here with her and answer all of her questions about Uganda.

The next morning at 7:30am, we headed out and spent the vast majority of the day travelling up to Murchison National Park. The only real break in the day was a stop at the top of Murchison Falls and a consequent hike that took us along falls and around to get a better look. A rain cloud that was looming in the distance took this opportunity to blow over us so all this took place while a light rain fell and thunder competed with the roar of the falling water.

We rolled into camp around 5 that evening and received a quick orientation which included strict instructions to store all food items in a large container at the bar overnight so the warthogs that roam the camp wouldn’t rip through our tents; we also received a quick warning that if hippos decided to join us, we were to keep a very safe distance. After we settled in, we enjoyed dinner and a glass of wine sitting around a fire that refused to light due to the rain; a fact we were grateful for as we instead watched an incredible lightning storm over the park that lit up the sky with sharp, jagged forks of white light.

The next day, we left camp at 6:30am to catch a ferry into Murchison Park and enjoyed a long morning driving along the labyrinth of dirt roads that weave through the 3840 square kms of the park. It wasn’t long before our cameras were glued to our faces taking shots of giraffes, warthogs, elephants, buffalo, hippos and all sorts of antelope.

After a lunch break back at camp, we headed out again, this time aboard a boat that took us on a 3 hour trip to the base of Murchison Falls. We were fortunate during that ride to add alligators and monitor lizards to our list of sightings.

The second night in camp, we played cards and got to know our safari mates a little better (2 Americans, a South Korean and 2 “lady friends” from Belgium), all of us doing our best to hold out until 9pm to retire to our tents given how tired we were from our long day; that was the time we all decided was late enough that we didn’t have to admit we weren’t 17 anymore.

Saturday morning, we headed out early again and braved another 4 hours of driving through the park, the first 30 minutes during  moderate rainfall, before heading south back to Kampala making two stops along the way; one for lunch and one for a quick hike down to Karuma Falls. The journey home ended at about 7:30pm when we crossed the bridge back into Jinja; over 12 hours from when we left Murchison. A long drive and another long day, for sure, but what an incredible time we had.

I recognize this post may read rather point form, but I wanted to share with pictures more than words (a fact I know many of you will appreciate). So, like many times before, click here. Concerning the music, was there every any question? J

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Going, going, Gulu!

Last weekend, I finally fulfilled a long ago made promise to visit my friend, Annelise, in Gulu. So early Friday morning, I set out on what turned out to be a 9 and a half hour long journey north. First was the typical 2 hour taxi ride to Kampala where I transferred to a large bus that would take me the final stretch. If you read my last blog post, you’ll be happy to know that I overcame my stubbornness and took a boda straight from the taxi to the bus park and couldn't have been happier about it given it was extra crazy in downtown Kampala that day. The next 6 ½ hours were spent nice and cozy between two men and our luggage in the back row of the bus. I realize 

I’m probably most certainly being overly sentimental but I always feel a sort of unspoken camaraderie with people I share a long journey with; be it plane, train or automobile. At one point we made a brief stop and my neighbor on the left got out to grab something from a vendor. Before he had a chance to board, the bus started leaving. The man on his other side started shouting that we were missing a passenger and we were notified that he was currently sprinting towards the bus. Once he made his way back to us, relieved and out of breath, he was welcomed back with laughter and smiles so maybe I’m not such a sap after all. 

I find that long journeys like that go by quickly and I’m often content with my music, my thoughts, a book and the passing scenery. My neighbor on my right took care to point out any interesting sights like Karuma Falls and baboons along the roadside and answered as best he could any questions I had about the landscape. 

Once I arrived in Gulu, I called Annelise and she met me at the taxi park where we hopped on a boda and went straight to her house to settle in. That first night, we stayed at home and watched a movie with her roommates and made plans for the following day.

Saturday couldn't have been more perfect. We slept in, made French toast and continued our conversations, catching up on the months since we’d seen each other. Then, in good time, we called one of Annelise’s known boda drivers and organized a trip out to Fort Patiko; an historic spot 32km (a 45 minute boda ride) north towards south Sudan. Its significance dates back to the mid 1800’s and involves the British and the Arab controlled slave trade. We first stopped at the sight of some small ruins; stone structures that were used for such purposes as storage and administration. Our boda driver, Jack, had never visited this sight before so it wasn’t without struggle (and without the kind guidance of a handful of villagers along the way) that we made our way along rough trails toward the base of a huge monolith that served as a look-out point for the Arab slave traders and was the location of the death of many slaves who were deemed unfit. Jack’s poor boda took a bit of a beating and there were many portions that Annelise and I dismounted and footed while he navigated the sometimes narrow, steep and rocky paths. 

Eventually, we reached a point where it became necessary to abandon the boda altogether and proceeded to hike up a bare 45 degree rock face complete with lizards scurrying into crevices along the way. We reached the top completely breathless but were rewarded with one of the most amazing views I’ve ever had the pleasure of setting my eyes on. Even though the day was incredibly hot, a steady breeze kept us cool and my lungs were treated to some much appreciated, sweet smelling, smoke and exhaust free, fresh air. We must have spent nearly an hour walking around the level surface of the rock and taking in the sights from every angle before stopping to have a quick cookie picnic and then made our way back down to the bike and rode home. Annelise and I returned sunburnt, wind-blown and covered in a thin layer of red dust but feeling incredibly blessed to have seen such a paradise. 

Highlights from the rest of the day included a shower and dinner out at an Indian restaurant with a group of Annelise’s friends and friends of friends; an interesting glimpse into the missionary and expat community of Gulu.

Sunday was rather low-key; church in the morning, which included some really great worship courtesy of a full band backed up by a choir of children, a quiet afternoon back at the house and dinner at a restaurant called The Wall that Annelise had heard was nice but turned out to be a glorified bar on an open balcony with Fast and Furious playing on a TV screen.

All in all, it was a really great, relaxing weekend with a wonderful friend exploring more of what the Pearl of Africa has to offer. I am truly blessed to live in such a beautiful country.    

One of the trails...

Part of the ruins...

Some of the villagers who helped us find our way...

The base of the monolith where we had to ditch the boda...

Apparently a slang word in Acholi that means something along the lines is what it is...

If you look closely, you can see Annelise on the left and Jack on the right...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Robbers & Reunions

Looking back, I am having a hard time believing it’s been 2 whole months since my last post. Where on earth does the time go? Even stranger, there are only 3 months left before I come home for Christmas. I guess this is a good a time as any to share that I have a flight booked in January to return to Uganda for another year and even though I came to that decision months ago, I feel so settled here that I can’t believe I was even considering the alternative.

So, how to summarize the last 2 months without writing a novel…I’ll just stick with the really good parts.

A few weeks ago, a team from my church came to spend a couple weeks in Mpigi. Especially given I had friends on the team, I was extremely excited to see them. They had planned a day to come up to Jinja to see me and see Ekisa so I went down the day before to spend some time with them and accompanied them back the following day. Nigel (one of the team leaders) put me in charge of the day so as we rolled into town, I directed the driver to a small run down fishing village. I had everyone stay in the vans and went down to the shore where I knew I would find a row of leaky wooden boats and negotiated a one hour boat ride with a random Ugandan man. I went back and told the team to come on and follow me down and though there was definitely more than one person who asked me with raised eyebrows, “are you sure?”, we had a great time seeing the source of Nile, monkeys, a plethora of birds and even monitor lizards.  

From there, we had lunch at a great restaurant called 2 Friends and then headed to Ekisa to spend a couple hours with the kids. The kids were still napping when we got there which gave me a chance to sit down with everyone, tell them all about Ekisa and how I ended up here and answer any question they had. I can hardly even put into words how much it meant to me to have them make a deliberate trip to see this place and what we’re all about and I will be forever grateful to the team and to my church for their love and support.

The following week, the team had plans to head down to Kibaale to visit another missionary family from my church, Jeff and Shannon Dyck. As it had been my intention since they came back to Uganda to go and see them, this was the perfect opportunity to do so and to spend more time with everyone. Seeing them made me regret not making a trip to Kibaale a priority as I could never have imagined the blessing of spending time with people who understand and know home as well as Uganda…it’s a rare thing in my life and there are so many things I would like to talk to them about and I look forward to doing so. I believe wholeheartedly that they are a resource that will significantly increase my chances of navigating life in a missionary community with my sanity intact. In fact, however long we’re all here I truly intend to make the trip down at least once every couple months; Shannon, if you’re reading this, I hope that’s ok. J

I learned a valuable lesson on that second trip as I took public transport all the way to Mpigi and the whole way back which includes a taxi transfer in Kampala. To help you understand the choices I made, you have to understand how much I hate getting ripped off by boda drivers. In Jinja that doesn’t happen (when I do happen to take a boda) because I know the distance between places and what it should cost. When a taxi drops everyone off on the corner of a random side street in downtown Kampala and I need to get to the taxi park, I have no idea how far it is and what the fair price is….so I asked directions and I walked. On the way to Mpigi, this took nearly 20 minutes and involved walking between two buildings where I got the distinct impression that I was somewhere I shouldn’t be and I’m pretty sure a guy was tailing me looking for a chance to reach into my bag. I got through unscathed and found the taxi to Mpigi on the other side as I had been directed.

You would think that that experience would have convinced me that I am much better off getting on a boda the next time and just sucking it up if I end up paying too much; well, unfortunately for me, my stubbornness exceeded my common sense and I did the same thing on my way back to Jinja…another 20 minute walk through the bowels of crazy busy downtown Kampala. I held my purse close and didn’t put anything of value in the outside pockets of my backpack and I was wise to do so as at one point a sly hand attached to an audacious young man attempted to push open a zipper on my purse before veering off into the crowd and once I had settled into a coach bus in the taxi park, I discovered every one of the zippers on my backpack had been opened to some degree. The crazy thing is I fully expected this but still chose not to take a boda. I am happy to report, though, that I feel quite convinced to never do that again.      

I have so much more to share but as I’ve already gone on too long, I will save that for another post. 

The team having dinner together...

My dear friends, Chase and Breanna.

Nigel - "Look! A monkey" ...maybe...

This is near the official "Source of the Nile". This used to be more of an island but the water has risen since the dam.

Geoff, lovin' life.

Jeff gave us a great tour of their school and clinic.

We all got to introduce ourselves to the students...

Sage advice...

Jeff also gave us a bit of a tour of Kibaale and we got to visit a couple of the families in their program.

A view of Kibaale from the back of the pickup.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Choosing Adversity

“Besides food and buildings, what do you miss most about home?”

That's what our counselor, Sam, asked me a couple weeks ago during the long drive to Kampala.

Without having to think about it, I told him that significantly more than either of those things, what I have the hardest time leaving behind is security; good healthcare, ambulances, police that I can put my trust in. 

After I explained this, he thought for a moment and responded,

“Why would you ever give that up?”

Good question, Sam.

The simple answer is that God asked me to and I learned a long time ago not to argue.

There are reasons besides that, of course, that made me want to come back…the kids, friends, the sense of purpose; let’s be honest, without those things I never would have had the courage to return. Why? This place is a pressure cooker; it brings out the best and the worst in all of us. The best parts of me, the parts the Holy Spirit has permeated, are there…but the worst…God help me, the worst…

Self-righteous judgement, arrogance and an inflated sense of my own superiority when I don’t agree with another organization or a person’s motives for being here; bitterness, anger and cynicism when I’m weary of the corruption and insecurity…these things come swiftly and easily in this place…ask anyone. Sometimes I have felt like it’d be easier to be home simply so I don’t have to deal with my own wicked heart and the way I respond to the tougher parts of my life here.      

But all this is a familiar story; one that if I remember correctly, I have told before…but I have since come to a different conclusion: 

Choosing to live in a place that brings out the worst in me…a blessing?

In a most visual and disgusting way, let me give an illustration…if you have an abscess, it is heat that draws the pus to the surface and only then can it be extracted…

I recently had a situation where my pride was particularly highlighted and I sat there disgusted with myself, full of criticism and shame, until I felt God’s hand on my shoulder and a whisper…dear one, how will I ever cure the infection if I don’t first draw it out? I know it’s painful, but would you rather carry on never knowing you were ill and never understanding the source of your weariness?

I have begun to understand something more fully. Recognizing my sin and allowing it because it provides some sort of satisfaction or recognizing my sin and then simply feeling guilty about it, is exhausting. Recognizing my sin, choosing to not be satisfied with it, appreciating my inability to change my own heart, asking God for help and seeing the evidence of that change is nothing short of rejuvenating.

Although this concept isn’t exactly new to me, what’s new is that I am beginning to appreciate the hard situations that lead to the opportunity for these changes to take place. What’s more, I am beginning to recognize the maturity it takes to not allow myself those sins that facilitate a sense of superiority and not let the recognition of my sin deflate me.

So, Sam, why would I give it all up? Because God asked me to…yes…because this has become my home and I have a family here too…yes…because there is a purpose for me being here…yes…because I want to be in a place where I am tested, where the darkest parts of my heart are exposed and where I am brought to my knees, horrified by my own sin and depravity?…surprisingly…yes.       

Monday, May 13, 2013


A couple posts back I mentioned the flight I won in a raffle. A bit over a week ago, Em H, Erika and I took flight over the Nile.

It was booked for 3:00pm but after I found out that the president was flying in to the Kimaka airstrip (where we were taking off from), I started to doubt that it was going to happen as security is pretty intense and it’s a single gravel strip airport. After checking my email repeatedly and hearing nothing, we decided to keep the appointment and just hope we didn’t get shot driving towards the airfield.

Luckily, getting in was surprisingly easy and after explaining why we were there to a few security guards, someone went in to find the pilot while we conversed with the pilot of Museveni’s huge army helicopter which was parked nearby. This guy was rough; fatigues unbuttoned and untucked, malicious looking scar from the corner of his mouth up the side of his cheek. Despite his appearance, he was very friendly and laughed genuinely when I asked if he could take us up in his helicopter; next time, he said…right…

When the pilot came out he apologized profusely and explained that he hadn’t known of Museveni’s coming. Fortunately we could still go up, we just had to wait for him to leave. So we went back to the house and waited and about 2 hours later we heard the propellers fire up and made a mad dash for the car. It couldn’t have worked out better as whet we got was a beautiful sunset flight…

Click here. J

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Village

Back in February one of our mommas (and my friend), Christine, asked me a question. You might remember the name as Christine is the mother of Janet, whose birth I had the honor of being present for about 14 months ago. She seemed a bit nervous so my curiosity, as well as mild concern, was peaked. She asked me,

“I’m wondering if you would like to come with me when I go see my family in the village in Soroti on my 7 days off?”

“Oh my gosh, yes!”, was the obvious answer for anyone who enjoys a little adventure.

So, last Tuesday morning, myself and our two social workers – who were heading in the same direction to do some field work – met Christine and Janet at the taxi park just across the river to catch a passing coach bus heading north. What followed was a 6 hour journey to Soroti, half of it on properly paved roads, the other half on bone jarring, back breaking, brain sloshing, glass-shattering dirt excuses for roads. If you think I’m being over-dramatic and overly generous with my adjectives, make no mistake, only the part about back-breaking is an exaggeration; maybe just back-cracking. At one point, during a section that was being subjected to some much needed road work that had the two lanes operating on different levels, the bus crossed over and took on a frightening angle that had even the seasoned Ugandan travellers fearing for their lives. 

Although on arriving in Soroti, I felt old and shaken ragged, the scenery along the way trumped all discomfort. The terrain was somehow different then I’ve seen before; interesting rock formations, small lakes, swamps and bodies of water full of lily pads and small gorgeous purple flowers. We also passed numerous villages with clusters of 3 or 4 huts surrounded by small crops of maize, potatoes and other local produce. These homesteads were no doubt laid out for practicality and not for beauty and esthetic purposes but they certainly accomplished both.

Once we got to Soroti, we made the switch to a taxi for the remaining 2 hour journey into the bush. This taxi was unconventional; instead of the typical 14 passenger mutatu, this was a small, privately owned and run minivan packed to the brim; 5 in the back, 6 on the middle bench (including 2 small children) and 4 in the front (including 1 small child). As the front had 2 separate seats, the middle man was essentially sitting on a wooden stool and the 5th man in the back? 4 was the absolute limit across so he stood leaning awkwardly over us, bracing himself on the front passenger seat. I’m not sure who I felt worse for…him for how uncomfortable he looked or the people behind who had to travel along with his cabina inches from their faces. Luckily for them, he eventually became too uncomfortable and shifted to the front to share the front seat with the driver; it only looked moderately unsafe.

It became very evident upon arriving that white folk were not common in those parts and no sooner had I taken a seat in front of Christine’s mother’s hut, the children came swarming. First there were 5, I blinked and 5 became 10, I blinked again and 10 became 20, and with every blink the crowd seemed to take a step closer. As no one spoke of word of English, I did the typical making of faces for their amusement, taking a photo and showing them thing but after about 5 minutes, it just got awkward and claustrophobic. After 10 hours of traveling, I just didn’t have the energy to entertain so I sat there and looked around until they wandered off. Dinner shortly followed (rice and nile perch) but I couldn’t really eat because I’m neurotic and when I think there’s a chance I could get sick being in a certain environment, especially when it would be most inconvenient, I’ll just start to feel nauseous in anticipation.

Besides starting to write all this down, the evening’s activities didn’t include much more then bathing, but what a treat that was. Christine prepared for me a small basin of warm water and set it down on metal sheeting overlaid with a sugar sack behind the cooking hut. So while her and her mom set up the mattresses and mosquito nets in the brick and thatch hut where we’d be sleeping, there I found myself standing and bathing in the light of the setting sun listening to the sounds of crickets and casual conversation between members of her family in a language foreign even to the one I’ve become familiar with in Jinja.             

Given the lack of power and the fact that I was exhausted and suffering from imaginary stomach upset, I was in bed before 8. Between chatting with Christine and reading, it was near 10 when I actually went to sleep but besides waking up once (taking the opportunity to switch on my headlamp to try and discover what small critter had moved in with us), I slept like a proverbial rock.

The morning was so peaceful; writing, watching, listening, writing, eating a breakfast of crackers and peanut butter, greeting the random folks who came by to say hi, taking pictures, writing, repeat…

One of the strangest parts about being there was that it didn’t feel strange at all. Something about the landscape reminded me so much of the state campgrounds I’ve stayed at along the Washington and Oregon coast. Even the way the small clusters of huts were set inside a dirt clearing surrounded by brush, felt like a campsite. Switch the huts for tents and anyone besides the yuppiest of city dwellers would have felt at home.   

The day, which for the most part consisted of the cycle previously mentioned with the addition of eating up a good book, was broken up by 3 things. The first was a trip to a bore hole 10 minutes down the road to collect water in 4 large jerry cans. 3 returned via a bike that belonged to Christine’s brother and 1 carried with seemingly zero effort atop her momma’s head; a feat that never ceases to amaze me given how the sloshing would certainly cause the weight to shift with every step. The second was lunch which consisted of rice and chicken killed fresh that morning in honor of the guest. As is tradition, the guest was presented with the choice bits of the chicken…the liver and the gizzard. I’m adventurous, sure, but gizzard? No, thank you. Luckily, Christine and I took lunch in our hut and I knew she’d take no offense to my offering it to her.  The third event was a boda tour of two different spots along the shore line. Both areas were linked to fishing villages with numerous huts all jammed together in close proximity and the shore was buzzing with fisherman and those that run the larger motorized taxi boats. All around was the animated chatter of buyers and sellers haggling prices, much laughter, and of course no shortage of children staring and feigning terror every time my eyes would be drawn in their direction.   

A storm was coming and our boda driver didn’t waste any time on the road back as rain drops started falling; albeit sporadically, but it felt rather impending. It wasn’t until we got back and the boda drivers left leaving Christine, myself, her mother and aunt that I realized that the presence of the male members of her family up until that point hadn’t allowed me to feel completely at ease. Not that they were somehow untrustworthy, it’s just that I had tired of being stared at. The whole rest of the evening was something I will never forget and an experience I couldn’t have paid for. The rain didn’t come ‘til long after we’d gone to sleep but the wind picked up and the temperature cooled so we drank lemon grass tea as the sun went down, bathed under the moonlight and ate dinner together on a mat kept warm by the sun soaked earth beneath it. The 5 of us, including Janet, ate rice and pulled fresh tilapia off the bones with our fingers while an astounding amount of fireflies lit up the brush and lightening came in quick succession from one end of the sky to the other; I could have sat there all night watching in awe, stunned into silence by the scope and wonder of God’s creation. There was nothing artificial about that evening; no light besides the moon, no sound besides the crickets and the wind through the trees, no food from a can or a package and certainly no insincerity in the evident enjoyment we all had during that time together.

Getting out of the village is significantly harder than getting in as bodas are few and there’s no taxi park down the road. Christine warned me about this scenario ahead of time, but I admit to feeling a bit nervous when I went to bed that night. I set my alarm for 6:30 although both of us were awake at 4:30 and couldn’t really sleep given the anticipation of it all. The plan was simply this: get up really early and pray to God that a taxi drives by as it heads out of the village to start its daily to and fro. By 5:30 I couldn’t lay in bed anymore so I got up to brush my teeth and pack up the last few things so I’d be ready to run out at a moment’s notice. I pulled a stool out and parked myself facing east as the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon. No sooner had I sat down though, we heard the sounds of an approaching vehicle and Christine didn’t waste a second making a mad dash to the road to flag them down. As they talked rapidly, I waited for direction and soon after I was told to grab my things and come and after a quick hug and a hand shake to Christine and her mother, I was ushered into the front seat between two jovial Ugandan men. 6:00am and I was on my way home heading straight toward what turned out to be a beautiful sunrise.

The driver was a loud and erratic man who had a propensity for laughing at his own jokes, driving extremely fast and taking his eyes off the road; sometimes all at the same time. It didn’t take long to discover that the front seat is not for the faint of heart and sitting in the back affords you peaceful ignorance of the many close calls you inevitable experience on any long journey using public transit in this country. It also didn’t take long before I got my first marriage proposal but after I informed them all that my husband was back in Jinja caring for our many children, they dropped the subject.

This taxi wasn’t going to Soroti, but was heading straight to the town of Mbale and it was 3 hours before we met up with the main route via a town called Kumi. It wasn’t until that point that I realized how anxious I had been driving through the middle of nowhere Uganda on terrible roads, alone, no idea where I was; in a word: vulnerable. It didn’t help that we were flagged down in one small town by a group of young men who had some business dealings with the driver. Even though it was clear they knew each other, the fact that they argued and that a large amount of money changed hands and a bag was placed on top of the taxi felt a little too back alley and I wanted nothing more than to get back on the road.

Fortunately, the driver kept his word to his kinswomen, Christine, and not only got me to Mbale in one piece but delivered me to a taxi park where I could catch another mutatu straight to Jinja. One hour later, the taxi finally filled up and we headed out on the final 3 hour stretch to Jinja. It was hot and cramped and smelled bad and the driver was a bit of a jerk. He got super mad at me because I refused to give him my 20,000Sh until he’d given me my 10,000Sh balance (I had my reasons); he went on a tirade as he slammed the sliding door that included only one familiar word: Americans. But all’s well that ends well and I returned to Jinja sunburned and exhausted but grateful.

Christine’s entire family (aunts, uncles, brothers, half-brothers) were so incredibly gracious and welcoming. Among other gestures of respect and kindness, it was always insisted that I sit on the best chair and was given a small table to hold my drink, book, camera and whatever else I had with me; in fact, if I stood in one place for too long, someone would inevitably bring the chair and table to me despite my insistence that it was unnecessary.  What a privilege it was and may I never forget it; especially during the times when I get frustrated with this country, I truly want to remember the kindness and generosity Christine’s family showed me and remind myself that these people were a true representation of Uganda, its culture and its people.    

Yes, I made a slide show. Click here. (sorry for the poor quality, I made it small to preserve data usage when uploading)

Next stop…Gulu to see Annelise!               

Saturday, March 30, 2013

White Tiger

I know I am sucking at this blog thing this time around. It’s just different somehow; everything feels more like normal life and less like a travel adventure in need of documentation. So, this is what I intend for this blog entry: I have made a list of a variety of things that have induced some sort of emotion beyond indifference and I will write a brief paragraph (or not, let’s be honest…) on each of these things.

First on the list is my scooter. In the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” The convenience is just the icing on the cake. My scooter and I have become one; when I’m driving around Jinja being laughed at by the Ugandans and spitting out bugs, I love my life so completely. Let’s be real, it’s just plain fun.

This past week was the first in two months that I didn't go to Kampala…needless to say, the novelty has long since worn off. Despite that, it still lends things to write about. For one, a while back on the way home from Kampala late one night, we could see a huge cloud of smoke and the telltale glow of flames off in the distance. Truthfully, the size and scope of it was unnerving considering we had heard about riots happening somewhere in Kampala that day and had no idea what was going on. It turned out to be nothing more than a massive sugar cane field being burnt to the ground (they do it intentionally to renew the soil), but it was still pretty intense to drive by.

The second notable Kampala experience also included knocking something off my Uganda bucket list…twice. I can now say I have driven in crazy dog-eat-dog Kampala traffic. We got a new van right before I came back (thank Jesus ‘cause the RAV is a death trap) so we've been driving ourselves instead of hiring a car; much cheaper and much more convenient. The first time was fairly brief and I was really on edge because just after I took over we saw a police officer literally pull a driver off his boda and drag him off the road by his collar; it was a wee bit unnerving. The second time, I was full of confidence even though Em W was navigating and neither of us were sure about where we were or where we were going. Unfortunately my confidence apparently led me to miss a sign and I was pulled over. The lady traffic cop made me get out so she could point down a hill to show me what I had done…I still have no idea what I did. She said she was going to give me a ticket, but I laid on the charm and pleaded, “Nyebo, I have never had an infraction and I have been trying my absolute best to follow all the rules of the road…” I followed that with the subtle placement of my hand on her shoulder to establish a connection and she sent me away with a side smile, a slight wave of the hand and a “You go…”

So, our puppy is now living in Karamojo. The short story is that a while back our other dog, Maggie, attacked her. She recovered without medical attention but it was horrible and after that happened we had to separate them. Poor Molly was exiled to the back of the house where there was only pavement, not much in the way of entertainment and limited physical contact with Kate and me. We tried supervised visits but there was no way I was ever going to trust Maggie again so friends of Kate’s have taken her north to live happily with their 7 kids on their sizable compound where she will certainly be much happier.

I’m working on getting my work permit here so I can a) live here legally and b) not have to renew my visa every 3 months. Part of this process has involved getting a letter of good contact (aka criminal record check) through INTERPOL in Kampala. In order to apply for this, I also had to stop by the Canadian consulate. Em H had to get one too so we went together and I was kind of excited about it. I thought, INTERPOL…it will probably be really fancy and official and cool. Um, nope. First step, waiting inside a cement hut just to receive a bill that had to be paid at a specific bank in order to come back and get fingerprints taken. Luckily the bank was right next door to the consulate so it didn't involve too much running around. Given the American embassy is huge and super fancy, I had high hopes for Canada but, alas, I was wrong. We have a small office with a tiny sign that I nearly walked past in a big building surrounded by many seemingly more important establishments. There wasn't even a single Canadian inside, but to our credit, everyone was super friendly. So, back to INTERPOL we went and had our fingerprints taken in an army tent. All in all, not at all what I was expecting.

Storms, storms and more storms. Rainy season has officially arrived and I will never, ever get tired of the downpours, the lightening and the thunder. Oddly enough, having the scooter makes it much less of an inconvenience when it comes to getting around. One of the two boda “wrecks” I've experienced was due to slippery conditions after a rain storm when the boda slipped out on the dirt road to Ekisa; thankfully I was fine but it scared me none-the-less. The other was a minor head on collision, but nothing to write home about. :-) I was also in a mutato (taxi) recently and a boda ran straight into the back of us, but that doesn't really count as a wreck. Basically, I trust myself more when the roads are slick because I only go as fast as my comfort level allows. It really is bloody slippery sometimes so my caution is well warranted. Back to the storms, though…lying in bed at night listening to the rain pounding outside is one of the most enjoyable parts of my existence on earth.

I now have my own desk. If you don’t know how happy this makes me then we need to spend more time together because you don’t know me well enough. :-)

I am now officially part of our nearly all Ugandan worship team. My pastor’s wife, Debbie, and I make up the whole of the white people. Oddly enough, I’m not even singing…just keyboard. After an announcement at church and a week and bit of procrastinating, I was the only one that stepped forward. I played for the first time last night (couldn't hear ANYTHING) and get to be up at 5am this Sunday to play at the 6:30 sunrise Easter service.

A couple weeks ago, my dear friend and the former senior pastor of PPAC, Paul Wartman, was in a town called Mukono about an hour and a half from me. I was able to meet him at his hotel and we spent a couple hours catching up and just sharing. It was a wonderful time of encouragement and I so appreciated his wisdom and input in my life. Plus, it’s just plain cool to have someone from home come to Uganda. On that same note, I recently found out a dear friend from home will be on the team that is coming with Peace Portal this summer to spend time on the compound in Mpigi. I am so excited to have them here, you can't even know.

A bunch of us went to an Easter carnival last Sunday. We were curious about what we would find there, but really our main motivation was the prizes. There were three available: a stay at two different hotels/B&B’s and an hour long plane trip over the Nile. I won’t drag this out…I won the flight (my first choice) and I’m so excited. The orphanage is across from an airfield and I can’t even count how many times I've thought about what I’d have to do/pay to get up in a little plane. Now to pick my 2nd person…names in a hat to avoid having to choose maybe?

I think there’s a mouse/rat living under my bed. They’re in the house, that’s for certain; even though I've never seen them...we routinely find poop on the couches and in other places. The other night I woke up to what sounded like something chewing on my bed frame. Good thing these things don’t bother me.

And finally…I was recently talking to Em and Sam (our Ugandan counselor) about how we need walkie-talkies so I don’t need to walk back and forth from where my desk is in the house to the office outside every time I have a question for her. Sam suggested call signs, to which I replied, “Sam, what should mine be?” Without missing a beat, he suggested...White Tiger. After we stopped laughing, I pondered the meaning. The first part is rather obvious and the second part, well, it must have something to do with my timid and subservient personality.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My house on Kiira Lane

Finally, some pictures of my beautiful home. One small house for two girls and a dog and I pay about a  3rd of what my rent was back home. I am so in love with this place, I can`t even tell you...

Our gate, like most, has a wee door that even I have to duck through...

I could have tidied, yes, but these pictures were taken during a work break, so it`s a real life scenario...

Kate`s in the master bedroom and it has an en suite, so this bathroom is essentially mine...

 Where`s Waldo...