Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beauty, Battles and a Boisterous Mutt

Since my last post, a lot has happened. I actually wrote most of this over the last couple months but then I’d get busy with something and by the time I’d come back to it, there was more to tell.  For one, a member of our board stepped in and the girls (3 out of the 5) went to the US for a couple weeks of debriefing and counseling. That left Alicia (who has since stepped down from leadership) and I here to run things and by the grace of God, it was calm and manageable; one exception being a phone call I got from one of our supervisors on a Saturday afternoon: “Aunty Stacy, Nancy is bleeding from the mouth.” She made it sound like Nancy was vomiting blood, so minor panic followed by a quick drive to find out it was just her gums. Never a dull moment… J

The girls have long since returned and I have been praying the time away really was healing and transformative and we will be able to carry on from here in a much healthier place. I know they have been equipped with some coping skills and a lot of good information and I’ve enjoyed hearing about what they’ve learnt and going through the resources they brought back with them. It is not an easy fix, though, that is certain. We have also started meeting as a group with one of the counselors they saw via Skype and it has been really, really good for us.  

Follow up on the compound: I have given up on the veggie garden because it will take far too much time and energy to maintain, neither of which I have a lot of when I get home from work. It was a nice idea, though…the thought of a lovely, manicured, abundant, communal garden…but the reality was an overgrown mess that would not likely have been touched by anyone but me…no thanks. Besides, produce here is delicious, widely available and cheap. The main garden in the front, however, is coming in nicely. It's technically Em' garden (her mom planted it when her parents were here) but, of course, we all get to enjoy it.

Also, Trey had a cement ping pong table built and it is pretty fantastic. We are anticipating some fierce tournaments in the near future, though given my performance so far, I will not likely last long in any of them.

Carter is eight months old now. My feet are still healing from his puppy teeth and will probably wear the scars of a puppy owner for some time. He is growing by the day and I am seeing glimpses of the sweet, obedient, well-mannered dog I know he will be; he’s also shown some pretty good guard dog instincts early on so that’s promising too. But shoot, puppies are a lot of work and require an immense amount of patience; and with everything else we deal with on a daily basis, he has at times been my tipping point. Who would have thought a dog would be the catalyst that would force me to deal with some pretty intense issues: control, anxiety, self-reliance, insecurity, to name a few… I actually consulted a lady in town who is a bit of a dog whisperer because of how much I was struggling and she pointed out the now obvious fact that he is a massive ball of energy with no good outlet as he’s alone on the compound all day. I have since started taking him for walks and it has made a huge difference as well as being a blessing in disguise given how little exercise I, myself, was getting. He is still having an issue with play biting but I believe the issue is that he’s bored out of his mind and spends too much time alone so I am looking into getting a second dog…but NOT a puppy.

The anxiety I talked about in the last post, the “just below the surface” type, is really insistent on lingering. Sometimes even the caffeine in a cup of tea can bring it to the surface. Fortunately this is very infrequent, but on a couple occasions, nothing else appealed to me besides crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. It’s a nuisance, to be sure, but I manage. I read an interesting article recently about anxiety. What I found particularly interesting was this:

“Anxious people will never hurt you because they know too well what it means to get hurt. Boy, do they ever know. They don’t want you to go through it. They don’t want anyone to go through it.
Anxious people tend to also be empathetic; they even care about people who hurt them.

People with anxiety are intuitive and great at listening. They also love fiercely; they love jobs, friends, significant others and, most importantly, life. People with anxiety know how hard everything is and do not take any of it for granted.”

Though I relate to this, I have never considered that it could be a byproduct of anxiety; I find I can’t help but feel like it’s not the worst trade off. I have always been aware of the fact that I feel things strongly and I’ve been grateful for the fact that although emotions like hurt, anxiety and regret weigh heavily, I experience positive emotions like joy, gratefulness and love with the same intensity. So for the cost of some time spent with a heavy heart and a burdened soul, I am able to live passionately, care deeply and love well…I think I’m ok with that.

To be honest, this year has not been easy, but I don’t suppose I would have ever chosen that word to describe this life God has chosen for me. I just pray we can always see situations clearly and with discernment so that we are able to recognize what is God doing a work in us and what is the devil trying to work us over and tear us apart. At the moment, I feel we have generally failed to recognize the latter but beaten and bruised as we are, I have faith we will come out of it stronger.    

On a positive note, I went on a little vacation with a couple friends (one who has since left Uganda for good and requested I join her for her last hurrah). I spent a couple days in a Kisumu, a small Kenyan city, and a few days in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast; my gosh, it was beautiful. I am so fortunate to live in a place so near (comparatively) to some incredible tropical locations. And to top it all off, I was informed after I got back that our board is footing the bill because I wasn’t able to be a part of the counseling and debriefing trip the girls went on. Just a thought, but I think a cocktail, a good book and a stunning ocean view have a good number of therapeutic properties, but maybe that’s just me. ;-)

I also got to spend a weekend at Sipi Falls a couple months back...beautiful place!

In other news, 2 of my best friends here, Brad and Erika, began dating a year or so ago and recently got engaged. It just so happens they are getting married in Nashville while I’m home for Christmas so I will be able to attend (and sing at) the wedding. It will be a little Jinja reunion as a few past volunteers and Jinjaites will be attendance as well as Emily and Emily. The whole gang will be there!! It will be so weird! Erika is currently my roommate so when I return, I will be living “alone” for the first time in my life. I put that in quotations because I share the compound with 3 other friends in the 3 other units but it will still be strange.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Year 3...The Beginning...

It continually blows my mind how fast time goes by here. It literally disappears, but looking back, it always feels like so much has happened.

Although it was hard to leave my family after Christmas, the transition back was the easiest so far. I think it was because I was expecting it to be hard whereas in the past it always caught me by surprise. I know that sounds strange, that it was easier but also really hard, but I knew I was coming back to a sort of chaos so I was mentally prepared for it.

We had recently lost Sam and everyone was still reeling from that unexpected tragedy. On top of that, a dear friend (and member of the Ekisa team) was going through some incredible hardship having to give up a child that she had been raising for the last 2 years and had known for nearly 4 years before that. The story is long and complicated (as are most of the cases we deal with) but she is doing pretty well now.

Basically, I landed and was instantly surrounded with people at their wits end who regularly expressed a desire to be done with Uganda and I was left praying and hoping that my friends wouldn’t all leave me to deal with this place on my own. Scary thought given my Jinja family is the only reason (besides the grace of God) that I don’t lose my mind sometimes.

In all honesty, there are a couple members of the team that have been dangerously close to throwing in the towel recently and we are taking intentional steps to move towards recovery and making sure that those that aren’t struggling to quite the same degree avoid getting there. “Burnout” has been a hot topic at Ekisa. We are working at creating policies that will outline clear boundaries and responsibilities and allow each of us to take off time here and there without feeling guilty about it. Guilt is the key word here. In our recent conversations about this, it has become abundantly clear that we extend grace to each other by way of encouraging breaks and time off and don’t extend that same grace to ourselves. This is what needs to change…the freedom to take care of ourselves without feeling guilty about it. It’s all a learning process and part of growing as self-aware individuals and as an organization.    

On a positive note, it was so great to come back to the new apartment and have everyone settled in; though it was a huge amount of work getting everything finished (I’ll share pictures soon, I promise). There are currently 4 of us occupying 3 out of the 4 units and we are working on filling the 4th with another expat community member. We’ve been doing some work on the compound recently and now have a carport and a functional fire pit; although rainy season is in full swing so we may not get a huge amount of use out of it right away. We’ve also started a vegetable garden and in a couple months, should have an abundance of tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, watermelon, beets, sweet peppers, okra, sunflowers, squash, celery, chives, beans and snap peas. It’s all very exciting because I dreamt about this for so long and it’s all finally coming together.

Another big change has been the addition of a furry little friend named Carter. I would be lying if I didn’t say I kinda love him, as much as some of his puppy traits drive me crazy. We had a rough start, him and me. Without going into too much boring detail, he was the catalyst for a good 4-6 days of fairly severe anxiety…the illogical, uncontrollable, infuriating kind. It was especially frustrating because I kept asking myself how I can be calm in extremely stressful and tragic situations but a stupid little puppy is what caused an unraveling; but I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.

It’s been a month since I got him and everything is going really well besides a bit of residual anxiety that likes to hang out just below the surface. It’s actually a bit of a scary and dangerous place to be given any given day holds a number of possible stress inducing, potentially unraveling moments, so I need to be very intentional about how I deal with it all.

On another positive note, I had the chance to lead worship with a friend of mine last Sunday; just the two of us. I had led a couple times before with the Ugandan worship team (consisting of 5-7 additional vocalists) but this was simple and acoustic and it felt as though the congregation appreciated the change of pace. I feel it’s likely we’ll get the chance to do it again sometime in the future.

Well, that pretty much sums up the last couple months. I have put a reminder in my calendar to write another update in a month. I’m turning a new leaf!     

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Holiday and a New Home

So, the big exciting thing I spoke about in the last post was a wee holiday. I have never taken a vacation with a group of friends before and if that isn’t fun enough, we got to spend it in Zanzibar (don’t worry supporters, it was mostly my own savings that paid for the trip). J If you’re at all interested, you can see some pictures here.

Also, Em’s cat went into labor the day we got back and had two little kittens, Murray and Earl (they were named after our two friends, Brad and Trey, who were assigned those names courtesy of an online quiz entitled “What is your old person name?”).

Now for the really big news… Remember that apartment I’ve been talking about for a YEAR? The one my friends and I found last August??  We FINALLY signed contracts and moved in this past weekend! I cannot even begin to explain how happy I am about this. Where we’ve been living has been fine but less than ideal (3 adults, one child in a two bedroom apartment) and we have never really settled in because our mentality has always been that we would be moving soon. I am the type of person who needs to settle in, to nest, to make a place home, so this has been a bit of a challenge for me. Why is this new place so fantastic, you ask? Well, it’s a lot closer to work, for one. It’s a 4 unit building (2 down, 2 up) and is enclosed within its own gated compound (common and necessary security protocol). What makes this place so incredible is that I am sharing a unit with my friend, Erika, and the other units have been rented by friends AND another friend lives across the street. It’s my ideal living environment: communal but with everyone still having their own space. We have big plans for the compound including, but not limited to, a fire pit, a veggie garden, possibly a chicken coop with some layers. We are slowly recognizing the potential of some pretty epic group games, like hide and seek and sardines, as well. We all spend copious amounts of time together as it is so this just cuts down on unnecessary travel time and expense. And to top it all off, we will have dogs. This is another necessary security protocol, as none of us want the hassle of hiring a guard, but I am also a huge fan of dogs. Whether or not I, personally, have ownership is up in the air, but if Trey* gets more than one, I will just adopt his. 

*Trey is the standout in this photo from Ekisa prom (yes, Erika and I were going for an 80’s look; Em, on the left, she just liked the dress and gets horribly embarrassed by Trey’s antics). He has ordered a housecoat and Gandolf-like pipe for the apartment and plans on getting a small white fluffy dog from Kampala. Can you see why I am excited about this living arrangement? These will be my room/compound mates. Never a dull moment…

I took a couple pictures, but they’re not much because the compound still looks like a construction site (the landlord has until December to get the machines off or we live for free) and we need to get furniture (my bed was our couch at the old place). It will certainly be some time before we’re all settled in because everyone is going home at some point over the next few months and we won’t all be there at the same time until February. In fact, I’m already recruiting a volunteer to stay with me for 10 days in the beginning of December as I will have been abandoned by everyone else on the compound and am not so keen on being there by myself…I might also borrow someone’s dog or hire an interim guard...just to be safe.

This next month and a half could be a little rough as it will only be Emily and I at Ekisa (the other 3 “western” staff members will be away for various reasons). We will have 2 volunteers during that time so it should be ok but we are praying for no medical emergencies or emergencies of any kind, for that matter. 

Again, never a dull moment...