Friday, March 27, 2009

Random Things I Love About Africa

Life on the other side of the world has been filled with many ups and downs, much laughter and tears, and learning so much about culture, others and myself.
I often ponder the many reasons I love living in Uganda, some of them things which drove me crazy at first but which I now appreciate. Many things which those who have never lived overseas will think I'm crazy for but they are things which have become a part of my everyday life. Things that still frustrate other missionaries but which I find to be normal.
Last year while spending the year home, I realized I really don't fit any place. I'll never be fully American again. I'll never totally agree or love American culture again. But, I'll also never be fully Ugandan. It's like I'm stuck some place in the middle. Frustrating at times, but most times it's something I'm thankful for. It's given me a whole new perspective on life.
Anyway, I've been reflecting on things here. Many things have become so common that I no longer notice them but they are still a part of the life I love here. Other things still make me giggle. Other things will make some gasp in horror but I've adapted to it and also don't notice them much anymore.
Hope you enjoy this list of random things I love, or at least have grown accustomed to, about living inUganda:
-different accents and languages
-cows crossing the road (today I actually saw one taking a rest on the overpass near my house)
-thinking that 70 degrees is reason enough to put an extra blanket on my bed
-buying vegetables and cooked food on the side of the road
-buying just about any other item imaginable on the side of the road
-armed guards everywhere: the bank, the supermarket, homes, etc.
-military police driving through town
-riots and tear gas
-greeting everyone with at least 5 questions about themselves, the family, children, work, health, etc.
-ugly storks living in trees around town
-sleeping under a mosquito net (oh, I stopped doing that several years ago)
-hand washing everything, and I do mean everything
-the prayer calls at the local mosque 5 times a day, although I frequently sleep through the first one
-slum life
-outdoor toilets
-the smells of African life
-local food: matooke, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes (they're not the same as yams and they're not orange like the ones at home), posho, mukone, kalo, millet porridge, etc.
-the sunsets and sunrises
-drinking soda from a glass bottle
-the roads full of potholes
-gifts from the other side of the world bring an unrivaled excitement that they could never bring if received while living in the U.S.
-garbage piles everywhere
-dirty feet (it's impossible to keep them clean with the dust in the dry season and the mud in the rainy season)
-shared meals with friends
-dodging through traffic
-motor scooters
-African bus rides with the chickens and the goats
-the patterns of the fabric of clothes
-electricity rationing
-water shortages
-time does not exist
-the reality of friendships (since time doesn't exist, there is time for friends)
-older women really taking time to teach younger women
I'm sure I can make the list go on and on but the purpose is not to write a book. It's just to give you an idea of my life in Uganda.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Need to Worry But Pray for Protection

I've been so comfortable in Uganda that I sometimes forget about the risks and the things that I really need to be mindful to pray for myself, such as my protection through the night.
Most Americans enjoy the rain at night. I makes you sleep better. Well, Ugandan thieves know this as well and take full advantage of the rain to enter houses while the residents are deep in sleep.
Last night it rained. It poured. It thundered. The wind howled. It was a perfect night for thieves and they took full advantage.
Around 2 in the morning I began hearing gunshots. It's not uncommon in the area where I live. I don't live in the slum but just on the edge of it. It's close enough that most of the activities occurring there spill over into where I live. Actually, I'm in one of the slum zones although it's not part of the slum.
Since the gunshots are relatively common, I normally briefly wake up and then roll over to go back to sleep. However, last night, they were a bit too close.
I couldn't go back to sleep. Something inside me was uneasy. Electricity was cut off and there were strange noises from the sitting room. Unusual voices for that time of the night. As quietly as I could, I locked the door between the corridor and the sitting room and laid back down. I never did go back to sleep.
Once the sun was up, I decided to get up and check things out. I unlocked the door to my sitting room and found that the padlock locking the outside door had been cut off. The door leaving out the back of the house from the kitchen was wide open.
I know that God protected me. Things could have gone so much worse. Nothing was taken and no harm was done to me. Just need to go and buy a new padlock and make sure that I keep praying for my safety.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One of My Favorite Places/People

This is one of my Ugandan moms, one of the women who have "raised" me here in Uganda. By raised, I mean helped to teach me how to survive here: how to fetch water, how to light a charcoal stove, how to cook local foods, what is safe and what is not, culture, etc.
Of all the women in the slum, this particular one has taken me in as her child. She's even got her church and friends convinced that I'm really hers. They now call her "Mama Mzungu"!
Her children are some of my closest friends in Uganda (my brother and sister) and on most evenings I can be found at her house.
I've asked myself what makes her home one of my favorite places and the answer I always come up with is that for me it is a place where I feel at home, feel loved, and feel peace.
Although the home is small, just two rooms, with no electricity,water, or toilet, I love being there. We can sit there in the dark up to all hours of the night talking, laughing, praying, just enjoying each other's company.
Another question: How do we enjoy being in each other's company so much when we can barely speak the same language? Answer: Actions speak much more loudly than words. We have to work harder at our relationship than if we were just throwing words around in conversation. This having to work harder through our actions has resulted in a much stronger bond.
This is a woman that has seen me through both my best and worst times in Uganda. She's seen me praising God for my work permit going through. She's seen me excited over starting a school. She's been there when my heart was broken. She's seen me angry,frustrated and disappointed and has been a godly rock through it all. She's seen the laughter and been there to celebrate with me. She's seen the tears and been there to give advice and put the pieces back together again.
I am so appreciative of the care that she has shown me. Whatever little she has, it is always shared. I'm daily sent home with fresh fruit and if for some reason she hasn't seen me in a couple of days, her children are sent to bring me home so that she can see that I'm getting a good, hot meal!
God always seems to know how to fill those empty spaces in our lives. I have more moms at times than I know what to do with. This one in particular has filled a mom void in so many ways that she will probably not ever know. I only wish that I had the words to express my gratitude to her.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Wonderful Visit

I finally had someone to come and visit me in Uganda! It's been years and it finally happened. I hope more people start coming to visit. It was nice to have a face from home and to be able to have a conversation without minding about culture.
Since it was my boss visiting, I was a bit nervous at first. I had no idea what to expect or what he was expecting. But, as I'm learning is his usual way, he was very laid back and took things as they came.
Since his trip was brief, we didn't get to see much, especially no sight-seeing sites, but he did get a little taste of both the city center and the slum. He was able to meet some of the families that I've been working with and speak to our fellowship group there in the slum.
Although the last couple of his days here, were pretty much doing nothing since I was in the bed sick, I think overall the time went well.
One outcome of the trip is that I was given the go ahead to begin looking for a new location for the school. It's currently in my 4th floor apartment, not exactly ideal for 3 and 4 year olds. This means an added expense which I'll definitely need additional support for. As well as more space, this will mean adding more children. Thus, the need for more sponsors.
I know many of you reading this already support me, the school, or are sponsoring a child. Perhaps you could pass on a newsletter to a few friends or get them in touch with me to help raise this extra support..... It would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It Has Been Getting Even Better

I've survived the first few weeks of starting the school. The first week was complete chaos but finally the kids seem to be settling into some semblance of a routine. This is saying a lot considering that most of these kids come from homes without rules. They've known no boundaries and pretty much do what they want when they want. There is little that they haven't seen or heard. However, I'm happy to say that they are learning that at school there are rules and boundaries. I'm also thankful that children can still be spanked in school here. It's amazing what a tiny switch can do.
Each one of them has their own individual personalities and they definitely know what they like and don't like. They've kept the days filled with smiles and lots of hugs. This week we started learning how to write number 1 and number 2. For the youngest ones, they don't quite get it but the older ones are eager to learn and are good at it.
Plus, the fellowship which I was introduced to last week has become a staple of my life. It's been refreshing to be ministered to without there being any expectations on me. I think this is going to slowly change though, which is ok with me.
I hate being in front of people in any way, shape or form. But, the pastor of this fellowship doesn't seem to recognize this or at least to acknowledge it. The Scriptures are read in both the local language and English and from the second time I went I found the mike always in my hands when it comes time to read anything in English. I guess that is another way God is going to push me to grow in my time here.
Other than that, I've loved the praise and worship and the fellowship with my friend that attends with me. We've grown closer to be more like sisters and her mom has taken it upon herself to make sure that I get a meal any time she sees me. Maybe I'll put back on some of the weight that I've lost!
So, overall, the last couple of weeks have no complaints. It's like there's been a rainbow at the end of a long rainy season!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Wonderful Week

This week has been by far one of my best since returning to Uganda.
Hadijah, my new teaching assistant, is awesome. She's a wonderful translator, great with the children, and disciplines in a loving way. Plus she knows lots of games and songs. What's even better is that she even knows a lot of Christian kid's songs to sing with the children. I really don't think it will be long for Truth to be revealed to her.
The kids are a lot of fun. I forgot how much 3 years old like to play and laugh. I love my job. I don't even feel like I'm working. I get to play right along with the kids. Of course, they're learning as well. So far this week, we've learned several new English phrases, how to draw a square and how to write number 1! I wonder how long 3 year olds remember those things.
I'm learning as well. I've learned 3 new and helpful phrases in Luganda: stop climbing on the door, get your hand out of the toilet and don't eat the crayons!
To top off such a smooth week at the school, I've had a wonderful week of fellowship with other Christians. I have a friend in the slum that is like a sister to me. Her mom has been a mom to me, always making sure I am eating and have plenty of fresh fruit. They live about a two minute walk from my house so this means that we are frequent visitors to each others' homes.
Plus, just between the two homes is a fellowship run by one of the local churches which we recently discovered. It's out in the open but they do have benches for people to sit on and some sound equipment. Ffor me it has been like a breath of fresh air. At this fellowship, I'm being equally poured into as I'm pouring out. The worship is awesome, something similar to being home at Emmanuel. They have a prayer fellowship/Bible study every evening except Sunday. Sunday every one goes to the main branch of the church for service which is also a nearby walk. The services start at 6 p.m. and go until. Last night I didn't leave until11 p.m. I've attended every night this week and have felt so refreshed.
I hadn't realized how spiritually dry I had been feeling until attending the first worship service there. I left when I felt replenished and again filled with joy. I was so excited to have found the fellowship that on that first night, I could barely sleep.
I am so thankful that after the weeks of discouragement that God has brought peace back into my life!

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Teaching Assistant

So, the decision was made on who to have help me teach. This needed to be decided fairly quickly as the kids are already around. I can understand basically what is being said in Luganda as long as I'm not nervous. This usually means I'm understanding when people don't think I'm listening. However, when it comes to speaking, I'm much less confident. I will only speak in Luganda with a select few, mostly those older women who don't speak any English. I know they're not going to laugh at my mistakes because they know how it feels when they are trying to speak in English.
Anyway, back to the subject of a teaching assistant. I decided that it was not a wise use of money to hire someone that didn't meet solving the needs that I have. So, I decided that the best thing to do was to keep looking for someone who could meet those needs.
The outcome of making that decision hasn't been the easiest to take as far as friendships go. But, financially I think it was for the best.
So, the last few days I've been interviewing various applicants. Ok, so the list of applicants wasn't that long but at least I found one that I really think is going to work. She speaks both English and Luganda fluently, likes children, has a sweet personality and a humble disposition. She seems to be able to express herself well and has some ideas on how to creatively teach the children.
Her name is Hadijah. Yes, she is a Muslim. Kind of a contradiction since the school is a Christian school and has a daily Bible lesson. I saw it as an open door. I don't think she's a very strict Muslim. When I was asking her how she felt about teaching a Bible lesson, her reply, "No problem. I can change religions if you want me to."
I didn't really feel it necessary for her to change her religion just to get a job nor did I want her to feel forced or to just say what she thought I wanted to hear. I told her to learn what it really is that Christians believe and then make that decision.
She told me her grandparents on her mother's side are Christians but her mother became a Muslim when she married Hadijah's father. Since there is some Christianity in her background, she probably already has a slight idea of what Christians believe.
My prayer is that as we work tother what it is that Christians believe will really be made clear to her and that she can make a decision based on the truth that she sees. Please be praying with me that over the next few weeks and months that there will be many opportunities for me to speak truth into her life and for Christ's light to be displayed in her life.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A 3 Year Old Can Make Your Day

I'm so glad God gives us bright spots in our lives in the midst of chaos. Today one of those bright spots came from a 3 year old.
Scroll down a bit to the photo of the three brothers. Bashir is the 3 year old, the youngest in the photo. Since he's been big enough to know who I am, he's been a child that always brings a smile to my face. He early on claimed me as his own. Even his older brothers know not to challenge him on this.
Bashir lives in a house with many other people, five of them the age of five or under. He's smack in the middle of those five and doesn't get a lot of one on one attention. Since the two younger than him are still babies, he doesn't get picked up or held a lot. He's expected to be older than what he is, except when I'm around. He can sit in my lap for hours. If he falls asleep and someone tries to remove him from my lap, there's bound to be a mini-war before the person will succeed.
He regularly assures his grandmother that he's going to come and live with me and I think he really means it. He's now one of the students in my school and for someone to take him home at the end of the day is a near death experience for the one picking him up.
Today I decided to walk him home. His grandmother is a dear friend of mine and today was her day off from work. I wanted to visit there. I needed a place to unwind and what better way than in the midst of a bunch of children (that being said sarcastically).
Today it ended up being the perfect medicine for my mental state.
When we reached there, Bashir disappeared into the room where everyone sleeps and came out carrying a pair of light blue capris. These he said were mine. I looked at him mom and grandmother to see what was going on. I figured he was trying to give away someone else's clothes. They were both laughing.
His mother sells secondhand clothing. She gets it in bulk and then walks all over the city, going from door to door, to sell it. Turns out she had brought in a new bag of clothes the night before.
They told me that when the new bag arrived, Bashir proceeded to remove all of the clothes, inspecting each one and setting it aside. When he came to the blue capris, he informed everyone that they were for me. I think they weren't taking him very seriously so the little guy decided to make the capris disappear. He hid them from everyone. They only reappeared when I appeared for my visit.
What is amazing is as young as he is, he chose a color that I would have picked, a style that I like and just the right size! What a joy it is to be loved and thought about by a 3 year old! It made my day.

Disappointed and Let Down

People are not perfect. I don't expect them to be. I'm not perfect and will daily do or say something that I later regret. The hope we have is that we have a forgiving God who daily gives us grace and mercy.
Also, people will let us down. They will hurt us whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is a part of life and it is to be expected. However, knowing that fact doesn't mean it hurts any less.
I fear being hurt. It's hard for me to let people get close to me. It's like I keep this invisible wall around me. In the past, I've kept it pretty thick in order to protect myself.
Over the last few years, the wall has become less thick and possibly not so high. I've let a few more people break through it. The last few weeks I've been asking myself if this was a wise thing for me to do. It seems that when a person is close to you, that person will learn your fears and weaknesses and that is where they will attack you.
I've been going through this over the last couple of months with a friend that I consider to be a brother. Things have totally switched. On most days I have no idea what is going on or where we stand. When we talk, he won't tell me his heart, only attacks me. I don't want to attack back so I've just been keeping quiet. I try to also pretend things are fine and treat him no differently than before, but it's hard. Most days I just want to keep a distance. I want things to remain like they used to be. But, then I think maybe his season for being a strong influence in my life is coming to an end.
But, now it's causing my heart to sin. When I'm around him, I feel angry and bitter. I feel annoyed. I feel rejected, disappointed and let down.
I've discovered that the walls are going back up. They are again climbing higher and thickening. Something in my mind keeps telling me over and over: don't trust anyone, protect yourself, you never should have let anyone that close, etc.
I don't want to go backwards. Since the walls are going back up, that means I'm starting to distance myself from the women here that I love deeply. My relationship with many of them transcends ministry. They have been my sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. They've been the ones to teach me how to live in Uganda. They've been there. I want to continue to love them without fear. But, the fear is there.
Right now, my heart feels vulnerable, like it needs to be protected. I don't like feeling vulnerable. I don't want to be hurt. But, I also don't want to be isolated and lonely. I want to find that balance of loving like I've never been hurt while at the same time not putting myself in a position to be hurt.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Business and Friendship.... A Hard Mix

It's really hard to mix friendship and business. It's a really hard balance and it's hard to know where to draw the lines. Something can make sense as far as improving business but that same decision will mean a possible decline in the friendship.
Right now I'm dealing with one of these decisions. It's really tearing my heart and mind apart. I am starting a school and have to make the wisest choices possible to stretch what little funds I have to go the furthest. I want to have a second teacher helping me but at the moment it doesn't look like it's going to be worthwhile. The number of children are few.
And the biggest reason I wanted a second teacher was so that I would have someone who spoke the same language as the children. Now the person which I had "hired" to teach has informed me that she doesn't speak the language. She speaks another one and she doesn't want it to be in the language of the children because then her son wouldn't understand. Her son is only 2 and not officially enrolled in the school. I was just going to allow him to come to save her the cost of a baby-sitter since I don't have much money to pay her. Again, this would add another expense to the school. And I'm wondering why should all the other children be forced to use a language that they don't know because of one child? My thought was to use both the local language and English so that the children understand what is going on until they have mastered English. If both languages are being used, her son would understand what is going on since he is English speaking.
But, where there is friendship and business involved, I'm learning that people will quickly take advantage. Since I'm her friend I should just let these things slide by, at least from her point of view. From my point of view, I feel like I'm being taken advantage of.
Now the dilemma is: do I still have her to come and teach even though she doesn't meet the needs that I have and being that the children are so few? If I tell her that at this point I'm not going to need her, will it be like I'm a person with a divided mind who can't make up her mind? Will we lose friendship over it? Or will she understand?
It seems this has been a recurring theme in my life over the last few weeks: having to stand up to people. It's not pleasant and I hate disappointing or annoying anyone but at some point I have to stop letting people take advantage of me. Please pray for me as I make this decision and confront the issue