Sunday, December 7, 2008

Coming Home

Well, my last couple days in Uganda have been pretty event-filled. Go figure, after a relaxing day at the pool we had a crazy 24 hours that began with a small car accident - our van being rear-ended by a Ugandan Taxi - and ended 24 hours later with Amberle's Chacos being stolen in Danida. But I think she will blog about it, so check her blog in the next couple days.

As for me - I am torn, excited to get home to Dave and the kids, but sad to leave my new friends and the women. But it has been an incredible experience. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity (thank you Dave for looking out for my heart and encouraging me to take this step of faith). And there were a couple things that really needed my attention and so it was actually a blessing I was here during this time. No coincidences!

I'll blog in reflection when I get home, but I compiled a list this morning while drinking my tea on our front porch in Jinja:

The Top 11 Things I'll Miss From Uganda

11) Catching and eating grasshoppers (yes 5 times - they even sell them cooked at the market, but I prefer the 'fresh' ones and seasoning them myself)

10) The feel of the wind in my face while on the back of a piki (and the ability to watch life here as you go by)

9) Waking up to exotic bird calls

8) Trips to the Central Market

7) Community living - you all know how much I love living with others and these people here have been so fun and amazing - lots of laughter! (esp. our ventures out at night - wink wink Melissa and Amberle)

6) Juicy pineapple, fresh passion fruit juice, and sweet baby bananas (actually fresh produce in general)

5) Having red dirt-stained feet

4) Walking everywhere

3) The amazing LGH volunteers - who have become great friends

2) Sweet Betty and baby David


In 5 hours I board a plane and in 30 hours I'll be back in Colorado - not sure what kind of weather I am coming home to! Thanks for taking this journey with me - see you soon!

Love you all!

Friday, December 5, 2008


Yesterday morning was marked by more housekeeping issues - we have a bed that has begun to grow mold and need more posts made for the bunk beds so we can attach mosquito nets before our fullhouse of 11 people in a couple weeks. So Charles the furniture man came over.

Then Julie, Josh and I took a piki out to the Jinja Nile Resort. A beautiful setting, a getaway - refreshing, rejuvenating, and relaxing. It was a reflective time by the side of a pool where you almost forget you are in Africa and if you close your eyes it feels like Mexico.

In just 2 weeks I am reminded of all that is Africa. I am taken back to those end months of our 6-mo. stay last year when I struggled with the inner battle of giving and being taken advantage of, trusting and being deceived - I have come to view Africa in light of a love-hate relationship. So much beauty and hope, but also so much ugliness and despair lurking.

Africa in all its mysteriousness and complexity is impossible to figure out. We can only do so much and it is NEVER enough. There are always more school fees, more children, more illnesses, and more women that need help. And you must be focused and internally okay with directing your attention to the cause before you (and hope others will rise up to help with the causes beside you).

Is it worth it? You betcha! It's one thing to volunteer in an orphanage (very necessary, yes, but also isolated), but it is a whole different story when you enter into reciprocal relationships. when you enter into villages, homes, families, and stories it gets messy. Relationships are messy. You can only give so much and there are heavy burdens that you carry, but you will also receive much more than you gave and it will (as Dave likes to say) rock your face off!

I wouldn't have had it any other way. I so much would have rather made myself vulnerable and risked myself to deception, mistrust, and heavy burdens than to have not had the experiences on this continent that have broken me down and rebuilt my heart, soul, and mind.

In light of the messiness, it is worth it - a hundred times over. I will never be the same and I will continue to enter in and offer my hand and heart, even when I don't know the outcome.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Face of Beauty

It has been a great couple days spending time with the women of Suubi. On Tuesday we went to Joyce's house to roll and string beads. Yesterday it was Daisy's house and today we traveled to the homes of Molly, Emily, and then Prisca. I have loved the opportunity to sit in their homes or under their trees and spend time talking, laughing, and asking questions. I feel so blessed - last year when we lived here my role as a mother had me in the home or watching the kids when we did take them. Don't get me wrong, I love that my children have had the opportunity to be here and experience Africa (well I guess only Asher since we adopted Jadyn from here), but it has been so amazing to be carefree and spend time with the women - pursuing them and allowing myself the freedom to just be with them even if it is just sitting and stringing beads. Again - thank you to all of you who are helping watch children and taking care of my husband so I can be here!

During my time with Daisy (a retire school teacher from Gulu) I have solidified my plans for my tattoo - a saying in Lwo (the Acholi language) - 'Wan Wenge Waribe Kacel' (We are all connected together) to be on the back of my neck. So Rachel, let's make plans for the week after I get back!

And today was my second English class - Amberle is the bomb with teaching (and anything related to social work, 0r camp counseling - last night we had 'craft night' at the LGH house and we all made friendship bracelets for each other!). I actually just came in at the end to videotape the 14 women reciting their 'stories' - reading their names, what district they are from, what year they were born in, and how many children they have. Again, so incredible to see these women writing the English alphabet and learning to speak.

For the first part Melissa and I walked around Danida with Daisy to see a couple people. The first was one of our new Suubi women - Josephine, who had a baby last Tuesday. We went to her house to meet her baby boy and talk with her. She asked us to name the baby! But we said that was reserved for the mother, however, Daisy chimed in and I think we have yet one more 'David!'

And the second stop was to see the lame girl (as Daisy called her) - her name is actually Doreen. She is 17 and in 2001 when she was hiding in the bushes up north from the LRA a patrol vehicle hit her and ran over her leaving her paralyzed from about waste down. She has a beautiful smile and is very bright. We spent time asking questions about her accident and her life and then Melissa was asked to pray for her. It is always so hard to be reminded AGAIN of the tragedy that has befallen on the Acholi people and the plight of their tribe for the past 25 years. Another reminder of the injustice and screwed up world in which we live and another reminder of a beautiful face who has chosen to live with HOPE despite her crippled body and situation. I asked if I could have my picture taken with her so I could remember her in America (a place where it is so easy to forget the plight of others and how we are all connected). She asked if we would come back to visit, I told her that I will be back next year, but Melissa said she will be back soon.

Back at the Suubi building the Director of Suubi - Santa pulled me aside to ask if we could add Doreen and her mother to the new Suubi group (sort of a tag-team group). I was so happy inside - to hear it was their idea. It is so humbling to see the women (who themselves are in desperate situations) embrace others and think outside of themselves. They are an inspiration!

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1st

December 1st - wow! Certainly doesn't 'fee' like December here. We left last year before the dry/hot season, so it's been pretty sweaty and sticky hot. I hope I can get graced by one 'African' rainstorm before I leave on Sunday, but so far in the week and a half I have been here there has been no rain, just lots of bright sunshine and blue skies. I love the bigness of the rain here - there is something about feeling so small that is comforting.

Yesterday we attended an executive meeting with the Suubi Board and Committee prior to our buying meeting. It went well - it's great to see the ownership and pride they have in Suubi. They had a couple requests - 1) to have a 'grand opening' celebration of the Suubi building and invite the local and district leaders and 2) to paint the the metal door and linking on the sides bright pink (just for you Dave!). Again, I love the ownership and the way we work together as equals!

Buying went well, always fun to be with the women. And we took lots of pictures of them - they are always asking for us to take their photos. Last week you might have seen pictures of them wearing the surgery scrub hats - I promised that I would talk to some medical supply store and get some more as some women didn't get one (and really wanted one!). So if you have any ties, let me know! And they all agreed (and suggested) that next weekend they would meet on Saturday for buying so that I could pack on Sunday (I leave late Sunday night from Entebbe). So I am looking forward to that - all the 120 Suubi buying at once! If it goes well we might keep it up so that there is unity among both the old and new groups. And hopefully if sales continue to grow we can quickly increase the number we buy each week from the 'new' women!

Last night electricity went out at 8pm and didn't come back on until this morning - so we roasted mini marshmallows on candle flames - oh the fun of being creative!

This morning was some 'housekeeping' stuff. Just trying to make sure the house is good and in order before I leave. I've had Henry the electrician, Wilson the plumber, and Charles the tailor over since I have been here - now it's just Charles the furniture man that I need to meet with (the couch cushions need some TLC). And on another housekeeping note - we found a new dog. Ian helps teach English at a boys' home in town and they have 4 dogs so they gave us one - a black dog that doesn't go into the house and seems to very well behaved. Amberle is going to look into shots and hopefully George (our night guard) finds him a good dog and one that will bark at alarms! His name is Darks (but I am trying to get people to call him Boots - you know, Dora's friend monkey, plus he has white 'socks' on his back feet.

Happy Day to you all! I am loving it here - wishing Dave and the kids could join me, but I'll be home in a week!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shaking a Tail Feather

Yesterday was event-filled - a fabulous day!

We met at the Suubi building in Danita for Kirstin's clothing drive. Today Kirstin leaves Uganda after 3 months to travel back to Detroit. She had friends donate money to buy clothes here at the market to give away to the children in Danita - replacing worn, torn, and ragged clothes for a new set. It was quite the event managing the enormously long line (check out Kirstin's blog for a picture of the line). Word traveled quickly and it was hard to keep kids from pushing, cutting in line, and sneaking back in line after they received clothes - we ended up putting black permanent marker under their pinky fingernail (somewhere where they couldn't rub it off). In all we handed out clothing to over 400 kids - and there was still a line of kids after we ran out of clothes. Again, you just do what you can do because the needs are always going to be great.

And then we had our buying meeting with the new Suubi group, but instead of meeting in Danita at the building we met in Walukuba under the Jackfruit tree where it all started. And the old members came too - the first union of ALL the Suubi (hope) women! It was awesome to have them all in one place, and we attempted a group photo with all 120 women! But the real beauty was having the women share. Daisy introduced all the Suubi Board - the president, secretary, treasurer, etc. And then Santa (the president) spoke to the women and reminded them that they are all Suubi and emphasized the importance of unity and gratefulness. To be back in Walukuba with the women and see not 60 faces but 120 and to think of where this project has come in a year in a half when it was just a dream for Dave, Ruthie, and myself was overwhelming! Thank you to everyone who has donated, supported, volunteered, purchased, and sold necklaces - we couldn't be here without you!

And the real reason for being in Walukuba yesterday (as opposed to Danita) - room for dancing! That's right baby, at my request we got to do the traditional Acholi dancing!!! Huge drums, gourds, and chanting kept the beat. Hips adorned with clothes and beads made the moves. It is absolutely amazing to see the way these women move their bodies, it is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. And the best part, the moves I learned a year ago weren't that rusty, in fact I think they may have even improved! I kicked my sandals off, Catherine wrapped a clothe around my hips and I jumped in. I LOVE IT! It's so freeing and fun to be a part of sharing their heritage. Amberle and Kirstin also shook a pretty tail-feather! Yes - we had women laughing at times. But with hips and booties bouncing and bare feet turning red from the soil, it was awesome to be present and fully engaged - nothing quite like it (definitely one of my favorite pastimes, but I am sorta limited on when I can do it). I feel like I have a little Acholi blood running through my veins and afterwards (even though I was sweatdrenched) I had women come, hug me, and tell me that my dancing was better then theirs!

I love watching the women gather together. Despite being displaced from their homeland and living through the horrors of a civil war, they can still come together and be united in their heritage and culture. And the beauty of music and dance is that is transcends culture and so for a brief time I (we) get to participate in their heritage and feel the power of generations and heritage. I don't even know what culture in America is? - it seems that many of our ancestors gave up their culture, heritage, and traditions to buy into a superficial culture of money and 'things.' So I feel blessed to have the opportunity to fully engage in their culture - to be untied to these great women through dance. Once I get home and Dave edits footage- we'll share it with you!

The night was wrapped up with me taking all our LGH volunteers out to dinner at 2 Friends. We couldn't do it without their selfless giving and serving. Thank you - you guys rock!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Children's Hospital

Kirstin and I went back to the market (3rd trip today) to get 50 bananas and 50 muffin type pastries, but they were out of the muffins so we settled on 50 bags of popcorn. We then went to the Madvanhi Children’s Hospital. Last year I visited the general hospital and that was a difficult trip, but when all you see is children, it’s a different experience altogether!

Having returned not even an hour ago, I am still processing it, but all I can say is that it makes me say “this world is so messed up.” We went to both wards – handing out bananas to the children and popcorn to the mothers. There were about 40 children in the wards (from 3-days-old to 8 or 9 years old). Every child had an IV – some had it on the side of their head instead of their arm (assuming that it is hard to find veins on dark skin and they can move too much since they are little). I saw little ones vomiting, getting blood transfusions, sleeping, and just sitting or laying there.

The one image etched in my memory was Sumara – a 3-year-old who weighed 6.5 kilos (14 lbs). She was a skeleton – loose skin gathered around her thighs and arms. She was eager to eat her banana and her hands (the only part of her that looked like a 3-year-old) were too weak to peel it, so I did it for her. She was sitting all alone a cot – a tiny and frail, but beautiful girl. As a mother of a 3-year-old (who weighs 36 lbs), I can’t imagine, can’t imagine being Sumara’s mother, but can’t imagine that this is how it has to be – so much injustice. A lady soon came and I assume it was her mother – she didn’t speak English, but I think she said Sumara has TB. I just wanted to fix her - make her better so she didn't have to suffer. I wanted to help everyone of those precious children.

So here we are again – still processing the same thing – how unfair the world is. Not knowing which of the children I saw today are going to be taken Home and which ones will return to their families and villages. It’s so different from what we are used to and this was only one hospital - in one city, in one small country in Africa, in the world. There are millions and millions and millions of Sumaras out there. How am I, how are you going to live different in light of that?

Feeding in Masese

We arose early to go to the Centre Market. The 'day after Thanksgiving shopping' here in Uganda was marked by the purchase of some A&F jeans for 10,000 shillings ($5) and a few t-shirts each for about 75 cents. Good deals and not fueling the American consumerism culture! :)

The rest of the day was spent giving food away (which had me on an emotional rollercoaster). I have read blogs and heard stories about the weekly feeding of children in the village of Masese. But it was an entirely different thing to experience it firsthand. Masese is a village near Lake Victoria, one village over from Walukuba and each week Josh – a Canadian who has been helping volunteer for Suubi – spends about 100 Canadian dollars to feed children in Masese. Yesterday he brought 30 kilos (over 65 lbs) of beans to Masese on a piki. He pays a woman there to cook them in 2 HUGE pots. Today he picked up 200 chipatis (thick oily tortillas) that get halved, then it was off to the market for 400 oranges.

When we arrived I was blown away to see the kids lined up waiting with plates, containers, or even plastic bags. No shoes and dirty, torn, and missing clothing. I was in charge of the chipatis – handing a half to each person after they got their scoop of beans and orange. Although we had enough for 400 kids, we ran out of oranges and had to start breaking the chipatis into quarters. We served about 450 kids, and there were a few at the back of the line that didn’t get anything. It was overwhelming and there was lots of crowd control as kids would try and cut in line or sneak back in after they had already been served. And I found myself angry at times because kids who were 7 or 8 were caring their younger siblings on their hips and after I would hand the baby a chipati, the older sibling would take it away. I would say “no, you let them eat it now.” And there were kids who would steal from other (often younger) kids – I don’t know what it is to not have enough food, or want to save it to bring home to the family, so I realized all I could do was give and trust that it would provide nutrition. An eye-opening experience and another reminder of the needs!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An American Thanksgiving

The BIG Thanksgiving meal was in order long before I arrived. I arrived to a chart on the kitchen wall of the planned food! Everyone here was so happy to see that I brought them 2 bags of stuffing, canned raspberry pie filling, and pie crust mix! Needless to say – it has been a busy day. And to top it off - electricity went off in the middle of the night last night and did not return until after 2:30 in the afternoon today (oh the joys of Africa - even though it's annoying - in a weird sort of way I have missed it. Life in America is always so predictable and controlled, sometimes it's nice to feel out of control!).

An early trip to the market for the produce and then lots of time coordinating timing and cooking with our small oven! But, it turned out great – quite the spread. When we traveled to Kampala to send out a FedEx package of necklaces we stopped at Quality Cuts by the American Embassy to get a couple whole chickens (in lieu of a turkey).

So the spread was as follows:
2 roasted chickens
Canned Corn (from local supermarket)
Canned Cranberry (from a gift package from the US)
Green bean casserole (made from all local ingredients)
Stuffing (from the US)
Mashed Potatoes
2 dozen Rolls (from a local restaurant – Ozzie’s)

Quite the American Meal and a super great treat – especially for those who have been here for the last 9 months! I just wanted to make sure I got to the internet to blog today. But when I get back it’s raspberry and pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

Tomorrow we may celebrate Black Friday - by waking up early to go to the Central Market and shop for used clothes!!!

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful to be here for this short, but sweet time. Thank you to all of you are helping make this a reality!

A Day in the Village

Yesterday was a busy day – lots of walking, lots of community, lots of joy. We traveled to Walukuba to Mama Santa’s house in the morning to roll and string beads. It was really nostalgic being back in the place where Suubi started – under the giant jackfruit tree. Now we meet in the Suubi building in Danita, but it was like ‘old times.’ She rolled the mats out for us and we sat for a few hours stringing beads and rolling paper into beads. And she blessed us with an authentic Ugandan lunch and a pair of beaded earrings. Good times laughing, spending time with her, and enjoying the hot and sunny day.

After walking to the bank and doing a couple errands we were on a piki piki (a motorcycle) on our way to Danita to the Suubi building for Literacy Class. Yesterday was a record – 25 women! Each had a pen and paper and Amberle taught and quizzed them on the alphabet. It’s amazing to see some of the women who used to only stamp their finger as their signature now able to write their name and write the entire English alphabet! And they are so proud – wanting to show you their written alphabet and receive the praise! Such accomplishment. I think when I come home I’ll try and find some English curriculum that our volunteers can utilize and move through as it’s sometimes hard with the turnover. But it was an awesome time and great to hear again the women talk and share how thankful they are for the growth Suubi has allowed them. And for all of those who have been here – I got the “Acholi” clap.

Again – just relishing in the beauty of the women and being here! It’s already been a week and the next 10 days will go by in a snap I am sure…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


It was an afternoon of joy spending time with the women (laughing, smiling, hanging out), but an evening marked by the bittersweet reality of life here. On my walk home I encountered Betty walking alongside a crying woman who appeared to be pregnant. Betty told me that she lived down the street from our home and was ready to deliver last week and the hospital didn't take her in time - her baby died. She had to have an operation 4 days ago and they removed her dead baby. So preventable, it broke my heart and high spirits. Then to find out she had been asking God for a baby for awhile and now it was taken from her by crowded hospitals and insufficient health care. Her pain and sorrow could be felt - she was mourning. Such irony - in a country with 2 million orphans and so many unintended/unwanted pregnancies (due to lack of education and poverty) that this woman loses hers. I felt so helpless - all I could do for her was to pray over her to ask God to give unimaginable peace - it was all I could offer.

Yesterday morning we awoke to find our LGH dog dead. Dora (who came to us a puppy and was named by our son, Asher when we were living here last year) must have gotten out of the compound the night before. Kirstin found her outside the gate - no blood and no injuries, so our assumption is that she was poisoned. It is not uncommon for poisonings to happen - most Ugandans are very fearful of dogs. Such a bummer and another death (although on a completely different level).

Amongst such joy, my encounter with the woman was yet another reminder of the brokenness of this country, continent, and world. As much we try to focus on the hope, there is the inevitable sorrow and injustice that so many have become accustomed to - and yet so much is preventable. There is so much injustice and still so much work to be done - so we will forge ahead - behind and alongside others and hope others will follow...