Saturday, February 25, 2012

This little light (that keeps going out)

One of the common conversation topics around here is the power. Unlike our vision trip last summer, when we lost power briefly one morning, the electricity has now been absent for at minimum a few hours every day since we've been in our new house, and most of the nights. I could post a photo, but, you know, you wouldn't be able to see anything. We probably have power about 40-50% of our waking hours. It's usually due to "load shedding": They're not producing enough power for the city, so they're shedding your load. It's developed into a joke over here. My friend was having a moment when she couldn't think, so it was, "Sorry, I'm load shedding."

The lack of power can be hard on small businesses here which can't afford a generator. The reasons are multiple and mysterious: By contract Uganda does actually sell a portion of its power to Kenya. The lake levels have been low, so maybe the turbines aren't functioning properly. Or maybe you don't have anyone that prestigious in your neighborhood. Huh. I think that includes us.

Most of us have an appliance they miss the most. Because I'm a cheapskate who hates to waste, I miss my fridge. But this rivals my computer (aka writing device/livelihood/connection to America), whose power is usually exhausted by school activities and kid stuff; I look forward to the arrival of a new long-life battery and try not to get discouraged. John misses the fan in this heat, if you're able to imagine that in February, especially when we're falling asleep. A coworker misses the fan at night for white noise to drown out the noise of yelping dogs, African drums, radios, motorcycles, whatever. (Ugandans can be real night owls.)

Overall, it's changed our lifestyle some. But part of that change is simplifying, as you can imagine life without electronics would be for any family. We get more sleep, because walking around in the dark makes one more tired, and probably a little more bored. Some toes are a little more stubbed. Our (hand-washed) dishes are a little less clean. We spend more money on candles and malodorous kerosene.

But living here of course changes perspective. A lot of our neighbors and even friends don't really have electronic devices to use; some don't have running water. I feel a little spoiled when the power inevitably goes out when I'm doing something that, hey, it would be nice to have a little electricity for. Say, to see. I can't tell you how many times I've sighed in the sudden darkness: "Are you serious?" (This is especially true in the second outage of the day.) But like anything, God uses it to refine me, humble me, and nudge me. Hello, Janel, Philippians 4:12-13. All of us, kids included, are growing in contentment and joy.

Not a bad product, overall.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weird bananas, and a non-banana recipe: African Ginger Tea

Red bananas, courtesy
Moment of truth. I'm still working on my taste for matooke, one of the few common Ugandan foods. Matooke (sounds like ma-toke-ay) is a cross between a banana and a cooked potato, the best I can describe. They're sold very inexpensively in huge bunches that look like green bananas along the side of the road, even though they grow like bananas do: A tree grows a bunch, is harvested, is cut down to a stump, and then grows another bunch in about a year. (Isn't it amazing that bananas are so cheap?)

Side note #1: We have planted two matooke trees here already, since they'll grow within a year, and it's kind of fun to give to our house help and our guard.

Side note #2: We have been gifted some banana tree babies that are to arrive tomorrow for us to plant! Well, for the guard to plant, because our guard is also a groundskeeper. (Cool--he takes care of whatever I think it would be fun to plant.) We are actually getting red banana trees: As in, the tree has a red stalk, and the banana peels are red, and I am told the insides are pink! What a great addition to landscaping. They don't transport well, so you don't get them in markets. Ugandans may plant a type of birds-of-paradise (this is a plant, not an animal...) next to it, because there's a bug that likes banana trees, but likes the smell of birds-of-paradise better, which also happens to be poisonous to the bug.

Anyhoo--there is a Ugandan food that I adore: African Ginger Tea.

Equal parts water and milk
Fresh ginger, peeled and minced/mashed
Black tea bags
Sugar to taste

Just boil them together and let 'em steep awhile. Uh, yum.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Rainy Day Kind of Play

Has the rainy season officially begun or just a spell of downpours to kill the dust and water the crops? Either way it’s welcome relief from the heat. But the uphill neighbors' runoff from their plot makes its way to our backyard and stops. A real problem for sure, but today its a diversion...

 our very own water park!

 The kids are now telling everyone we have a pool!

We couldn’t get Janel in the mix, she hid behind the camera.

With shouts and cackles like Hoops and Yoyo, the kids were exclaiming our time as some of the best ever. “This is great” cackle cackle. “yeah, this is awesome” hahaha. “Yeah, this is the best day ever… our own waterpark.”

“And admission free to boot” (That was my comment)

God keeps bringing welcome moments of laughter and fun into our days. We are grateful for the rain… today. :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What I'm thankful for, Part II

This week, around day three or so without power and with ants seriously waging war on my kitchen, I was struggling to persevere and be grateful. A friend had very thoughtfully offered to take me grocery shopping since we aren't in possession of our vehicle yet. We actually got talking about she and her husband's life in Sudan before they came here. It was 120 degree heat, usually. Their little kids were often sick whether because of water filtration problems or food contamination. There weren't really any vehicles... So many things sounded so much more challenging than my fridge that was essentially an expensive cooler sitting in my kitchen.

I do realize that sitting next to the guy with his leg cut off doesn't mean having your finger cut off doesn't hurt. It's important to speak truth about what we're going through, and to fully realize God's compassion on our circumstances;  I believe that truth helps us to "walk in the light as He is in the light." That morning a Psalm someone had stuck in our suitcases reminded me that David prays, "Give ear, O Lord, to my sighing..."

But a little perspective certainly helps the ol' gratitude factor. Slowly, God is replacing my complaining with thankfulness.

Culture shock is like...

I’m realizing that with a lot of my culturally-related frustrations or rather alarming experiences, I deal with them reasonably well in the moment. Well enough, in fact, that I may not actually realize how frustrating they actually are to me. Then at the end of the day, I might, say, burst into tears. Or snap unreasonably at a small child who perhaps had a very reasonable request. Or struggle to keep my eyes open once I sink into a chair. I think, why in the world am I behaving this way?

My mind responds, Well, it could be that. Oh. Yeah. And it was definitely a little of that. And what about that? As my mom would say, it’s a little like being pecked to death by a duck.
Thankful for new mercies every morning that are just right for that day.

What I'm thankful for

I am immensely enjoying electricity after a week of only about twelve hours of it. God's really working on my gratitude and perseverance (hmm. And my perspective). Thankful I won't have to throw out any milk in the morning!

The painters

Often when you move into a house here, it’s painted. John and I certainly didn’t mind this. Our house was kind of a light salmon, from the pictures. Hmm. So we decided to go with yellow on the outside, like our house in Little Rock. (That one used to be olive green, and we couldn’t believe how much more we liked it and wanted to care for it when it was a color other than baby food.) We were a little surprised, then, when our new abode was painted orange. We’re still not entirely sure what went wrong, but lesson learned: There can be a lot of communication problems even when both parties speak English. We were a little more surprised when walking around the house, we discovered that the other side was kind of a vibrant pastel peach. Hmm. At last, we are satisfied with the entire house being one color of orange. Sure, there was a swipe of it on the white garage door and a lot of drips on the brick that no one thought to wipe off. Sure, when they touched up the trim, they used a different color of paint. But you know, there are worse things.

On the inside, we offered to pay the difference between painting the house economy white and painting it colors that we’d picked out. In fact, we altered the colors we’d originally chosen upon the advice that we choose something darker than the color of red Ugandan dirt. (John’s mom is rumored to have gone into a carpet store once with a bag of dirt, saying, “I’d like something this color.) This has paid off. Now only the floors show the dirt, not the walls! Progress.

In Uganda, friends and connections are very important, so the painters were selected for us. Kindly, they decided to give us a little extra: on the trim, my cupboards, the ceiling, the tile. When they asked for more money to buy more paint, later I had the inappropriate little thought that they might take some of the paint from those locations.

Yet to their credit, they did attempt to remove some of the paint from the trim. Uh, some of it. However, this was done by sanding. Therefore the finish was also removed. Therefore the finish was also reapplied by said painters, subsequently dripping on the floor to stain the tile, being removed with one of my bathroom’s washcloths, or even being removed from the trim by my children’s hands and on one occasion, wiped on the walls (a color I did not plan for).

I lack the words to express my inner reaction to what happened next. When the painters were asked for their estimate to finish the job, they gave a figure that was three times more than what we eventually ended up paying. Outwardly, my eyebrows merely raised. I asked the landlord’s representative privately if it would jeopardize his relationship if I declined to let them disfigure the rest of the house for an exorbitant fee. (I was more tactful at that point.) He did not feel any obligation. I was relieved.

Thankfully, eMi had a painter that did a wonderful job on the rest. He even happened to be somewhat of a jack-of-all trades; Godfrey has been here every day this week fixing the weird things that we’ve needed (creating L-shaped shower rods, installing a plug on appliances that whoops! didn’t come with one, putting down some cement where all the cars were bottoming out on the driveway, or installing a circuit breaker because our clothes dryer blew out the power, etc.). Godfrey was discipled and trained by a missionary years ago.

And that’s probably our take-away from all this, even as we look for house help here (—another discipleship opportunity that’s been fun so far). So many of the Ugandans that we see succeeding professionally and spiritually are those who people have taken the time to invest in personally and develop intentionally, one by one. That may sound like some kind of God-complex, but in reality, it’s true for every one of us who have had the power to beat poverties in our own lives. It’s people coming alongside us, showing us Jesus. This week and its bizarre fiascoes and painting chaos have reminded me that what John will be doing in construction management, and even what I’ll get to do in my learning-and-teaching relationship with house help, is a really powerful thing. It’s not just because we found someone who knows how to get wall paint only on the wall and has proven trustworthy with our cash. It means that someone has been empowered to be the fullest version of God’s workmanship to do the good works He’s prepared in advance for him to do.

Guess you could say that’s a house of a different color.

Our house, Part I: A few photos

 There's more to show, but we wanted to give you a limited tour of our new digs.

Here's what greets you when you drive in our gate. The small building to the right is called the "boy's quarters"—as in, a place for house help to stay. (Or friends and family who come and visit missionaries in Uganda! Hint, Hint. Not that you'll be expected to clean or anything.) That's where we keep our washer and dryer. Can you hear the angels singing? I didn't think we'd have one of those. Apparently the landlord didn't either, because they blew out the power and we had to get a new circuit breaker.

You can see our garage on the left, which we open up for homeschooling. We had one wall painted in blackboard paint! I'm pretty excited about having a room just for school, which we didn't have before.

And yes, our house was supposed to be painted yellow. But you know, considering it was two shades of orange when we arrived, and one was really more of a peach, I am thankful for the orange. Especially since the dirt is orange. We're in the hottest time of the year here, i.e. the dustiest, with the coolness of the rainy season just around the corner. But the heat is dry, and even at 90°, it's only like May or late April in Arkansas.

The above is our back porch, which we adore. It's a peaceful place to eat, and the kids have a drag strip right down the middle of the yard. Our avocado tree is on the right here. Even now, the weather is beautiful for outdoor living, and we have bougainvillea, a couple of rosebushes, a mango tree, a papaya tree, and a pumpkin patch. I thought the avocado tree deserved its own photo, considering I was hoping to have one in heaven and am getting it way early.

Even though we live in the middle of the city, you can glimpse Lake Victoria, the third largest lake in the world, from over our back fence. We have a fishmonger, Moses, who brings a box of fresh-caught tilapia on the back of his motorcycle every Tuesday and filets it right at my gate. I really like the local produce here, too, and I think I've found a milk supplier.

This is our living/dining room as of this evening. (See J. there in the corner?) All of the furniture was made for us from local wood (this kind is called mugavu), and we just got the cushions back tonight. Can you see the little African drums on them? We asked for extra stuffing, because all the padded furniture here is kind of like sitting on a couple of pieces of plywood. Let's just say it's "very firm."
There's this lovely industrial, linoleum-type tile that covers my home that kind of makes it feel like a Wal-Mart. It's probably a good thing considering the red mud that's tracked down every hall. The floors have to be done every day. But we are looking for a rug because Dad and the boys miss wrestling.

 Found this in the living room and it looked hungry. Guess we'll keep it.

We're thankful that our toilets are sitters and not squatters.That's probably all you care to know.

Here's our master bedroom; we love our new bed, and it was very affordable. As for the paint on the walls, we really like how the colors turned out, but the full story is a minor fiasco for another post.

Thanks for visiting. I'm sure we'll have a little more soon. Don't you want to come see the real thing?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The latest, 02.12.12

Our furniture has finally arrived, soooo....first night in our own house! YAHOO! It's a mess, but it's our mess. eMi, namely Paula Sauder,has been amazing, carting us around town for all the things we've searched for to set up a home until we can find a vehicle. John's looking this week, so we'd be grateful for your prayers.

And another one bites the dust: Kid #3 with an ear infection from the colds we brought over from the States. That means out of eight kid ears, five are infected. Thankful for convenient relief over here.
This week, I have seen
1) a monkey in our driveway (as in, a big one)
2) a motorcycle with about twenty live chickens tied together
3) a fish as big as my daughter on a motorcycle.
This country fascinates me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ear infections, African style

We now have two kids with double ear infections. But you know, one of the eMi moms has her own otoscope and knows how to diagnose them, so she just walked over here. Then I just hoofed it down to the pharmacy and asked for what I needed--Augmentin--and mixed my own suspension. Probably the easiest ear infections we've had yet. Thanking God for accessible medicine when everything else takes about three more steps than it does back in the States!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Full circle

From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! Psalm 113:3

This verse takes on new meaning as I sit here writing in the dark, and you're all over there eating your PB & J's or grilled cheese or something, maybe wishing you could sit down to enjoy them. I like that even when my sisters end up in their destinations around the world, God will be praised in Mae Sot, and then Kampala, and then Sheffield, and then Little Rock as the earth circles the sun each day. I think about that especially on Sundays, as the Church praises God in an endless stream. Pretty crazy when you think that the verse was written millenia before we knew the earth was round.

A door-opener

I've been learning little bits of Luganda here and there (not that I know how to spell it):

"Oleotea!" (How are you?--the common greeting), followed by "Giendi!" (Fine!)

"Jieba-leko, Sebo!" (Well done, man!)

The great part about these little phrases is the great doors that open before my eyes. It's almost like watching these previously skeptical faces unfold like flowers. One of my favorite things about Uganda is the friendliness of people to just a little bit of interest shown in them. It's almost like a fun game to watch them transform.

Today when I took my first trip to the open-air market to get some fruits, veggies, and grains (so fun--and much less overwhelming than trying to decipher the grocery store later this afternoon), my Ugandan friend counseled, "Greet them in Luganda. You'll get a better price." And a better relationship! Sometimes people even start laughing out loud (in a good way). I'm hoping our househelp will teach my kids Luganda, and maybe we can even learn a phrase a week together. I'm thinking it can go a long way.

Recap: Week One

We’ve been in Kampala for a week now, which is hard to believe. In some ways, we’re settling in nicely. In other ways, there are reminders everywhere of just how foreign we are—reinforcing over and over again that we are “looking for a homeland” (Hebrews 11) that isn’t anywhere on this planet. Today, I told my kids how excited I was after this week of crazy errands to be spending my first full day with them in a week, some of the most fantastic people in the world to me! And that’s when W. immediately piped up, “But what about your mom?” And that’s when I promptly turned into a little puddle on the floor.

At any rate, the high points:

·         We’re not in our house yet, but we’re very comfortable with that. We’ve been staying at the director’s house (who’s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) with his wife and boys who are our boys’ age.

·         Their nanny/housekeeper has taken wonderful care of the kids while we’ve been gone, and the number of eMi kids in the vicinity in the same age has been fantastic. The kids are very happy thus far.

·         The only exception last week—and it became a biggie—was our youngest. He’d arrived with a cold and felt very insecure, which mixed with a healthy dose of jet lag resulted in him waking as frequently as every twenty minutes at night. I think God was giving John and I an opportunity to accept whatever He’d give with open hands. The kids kind of started melting down around dinner time. These seven nights became a good exercise in joy—! We were exhausted, but the trips all over Kampala in the bizarre traffic was enough to keep us wide awake.

·         J. is doing great now. We’ve had two nights of SLEEP with only about four wakes between the kids, and this has been amazing. Can I just give a woot-woot?

·         We’re learning a ton about how to live here well, from dealing with potential scammers (starting when we walked out of the airport) to where to buy whatever, which is never all in the same place.  A smattering of our other tidbits:

o   There’s only one store that accepts returns.

o   Thou shalt soak thy vegetables in powerful stuff before eating.

o   Water out of the tap is not your friend.

o   Dry your clothes in the dryer for ten minutes after they’re on the line to avoid mango fly burrowing into your skin. Drying them all the way is a lot of electricity, a pricey commodity.

o   Expect the power to be out every other night and about once every three days. (I must confess that we miss the relief of a fan on powerless nights.)

·         We just finished up purchasing our appliances today. Each one needs a voltage protector from the frequent surges. But contrary to what we thought would happen, we are now the proud owners of a microwave, washer, and dryer. This is a big source of thanks, and really helps simplify life here.

·         I’m getting excited about our little place, especially because of the local touches that I was looking forward to: locally-made furniture, a bit irregularly shaped terra cotta ceramic dishes from the craft market, African baskets we plan to keep toys in, and even sheets from local fabrics are a possibility. Way cool.

All in all, the weight of this week reminded me of the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs.

The sun comes up

It’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may come and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes!

Bless the Lord, O my soul…

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Faith calisthenics

Wanted to share this blog post (which originally appeared on MomLife Today) on how God's been increasing our faith on this journey. Thanks to all of you who have been contacting us, commenting, and encouraging our family.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Gaba Road

Allow me to introduce you to Gaba Road. It's also called Furniture Road here: Sections of Kampala are covered by the same types of dealers, like the industrial area. Gaba Road is lined with piles and piles of furniture, many of them clustered into the same type. It just sits out there on the dirt, and I've been told that it's fascinating to see these guys work when it starts raining, getting it all inside faster than you'd ever imagine.

Behind them sit shacks of cement or other materials with tin or plastic corrugated roofs. Women are doing their wash outside their homes, and children shout "Mzungu!" add the odd-colored foreigners. Chickens peck here and there. Men are using handsaws and nails on the furniture they're fashioning to add to the mind-boggling selection.

It smells like exhaust, sawdust, and the uneven, littered, red dirt that all of the furniture sits in. I had this vision of a dream being fulfilled--crazy, I know: I was there in this long, colorful skirt that the breeze occasionally blew around my sweaty legs standing there in the dirt in these industrial-strength sandals we were supposed to buy to endure Ugandan terrain. I had pictured that in college when I thought about how much I wanted to go to Africa. This was so fun!

We came yesterday afternoon to purchase our furniture. (Note to the mzungu: Wear sunscreen next time. Owie.) Because we're white, we are often initially charged double or triple--I told our driver that I have expensive skin!--but you're expected to haggle. They're almost disappointed if you don't. So one of our biggest godsends yesterday was Peter, our driver, whom we paid for the whole afternoon, and who saved us a whole lot more than we paid him.

Here's how it worked:
  1. Mzungus John and Janel picked out some furniture they liked from the pieces they agreed they'd need.Sometimes they are invited inside to view more of the selections, which was a bit scary considering this involves a dark little cove inside one of the shacks with Africans of varying ages staring at you from where they lounge in the furniture and their children toddle around barefooted.
  2. John and Janel talk with Peter about what they like and what they think is a fair price based on the price given. This takes about one minute.
  3. Peter haggles with furniture dealer in Luganda, the area's tribal language. This takes about ten minutes, and like table tennis, the dialogue ping-pongs back and forth with dramatic flair. All parties usevery educational and amusing expressions and gestures that give mzungus an entertaining idea of what's going on. John and Janel learn about Ugandan body language.
  4. All parties crack jokes with one another: "I can make you that for that price, but your children might fall through the chair." "This table seats twelve? How does that work? Do you stack the guests on top of each other?"
  5. John and Janel occasionally ask in their best Ugandan accent for pieces that "have that finish, with that design, and that wood. Can you do that? How much? Can you have it by Wed-nes-day?"
  6. Considerably lower price is agreed upon. Parties shake hands. John and Janel make everyone laugh with one of their three Luganda phrases: "Webale nyo, Cebo." Thanks, man!
  7. John and Janel return with Peter, presumably next Wed-nes-day or Thuhs-day to confirm that the furniture is satisfactory--before a houseful made from exotic woods is delivered to our door! (HOORAY!) This is deeply satisfying to John and Janel, who up till now have had relatively unproductive days purchasing things that cost considerably more than expected.
Despite the sunburn that makes the Ugandans laugh and creates a great conversation starter, I had some exhausted satisfaction and a lot of hilarity that I think went both ways. I learned so much, particularly about money conversations that--instead of being offensive--are simply another social interaction for Africans. It was a good day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We made it!

It’s true. I’m writing from a pleasant, warm evening in Kampala, on an increasingly dear friend’s comfortable couch. (We are nine hours ahead of Central Standard Time during Daylight Savings; eight during the rest of the year.) It doesn’t feel like I’m living here yet. (Will that change when I’m writing from my own sofa?) I am peering through the haze of jet lag, and am also looking forward to sleep just because it seems the only appropriate solution to all the foreign that speaks and honks and jumbles around me, quite literally.

God’s fingerprints were all around our flight—perhaps most visibly in a) the man for whom I’d been praying for weeks, i.e. the airline attendant who checked us in, when he waived fees to the tune of $280 over the too-large “personal bags” we’d had to check. I was amazed and so thankful—especially when we found ourselves wondering how we’d have made it walking on with two more carry-ons; b) getting to walk/stumble/sob our way into a DFW security line with only a couple of other people in it; c) every single one of our 18 bags, six carry-ons, six wanna-be personal bags, two carseats, and a partridge in a pear tree made it to Uganda. Thanks, those of you who prayed! The kids behaved very commendably on the flight, which was of course a tremendous relief. I didn’t entirely plan on my youngest getting airsick upon landing in London, nor did I anticipate just how little sleep we would all get. But it may have actually helped my kids’ jet lag anyway.

Today we recovered for most of the morning, and then shopped for appliances (we have to buy our own here) after walking through our house for the first time! eMi had even sent a team to clean it for us. It’s small but sufficient, old and quirky but highly functioning. Right now the outside is two shades of orange, which is, you know, sort of close to the yellow we thought it was going to be.To my delight, there’s a mango tree that may have some great days of climbing for my boys, a papaya tree, a pumpkin patch, and, drumroll please, an avocado tree loaded with fruit! We even had some for dinner that I picked up off the ground. The yard’s gonna have some great fun, there’s a perfect shady spot for schooling outside, and we hope to pick out the interior covers of paint tomorrow. I’d prayed for a yard, fruit trees with one to climb, and a great space for outdoor living—and if you can believe it, God granted all three. I am humbled.

So many emotions right now as we collide with the things we love, the things that will take some getting used to, and just a small handful we will never be used to. Right now, I am praying for sleep tonight. My youngest has a bad cold and a lot of insecurity, resulting in our fifth night of near-sleeplessness now mixed with cultural adjustments during the day…have mercy. Gratefully, we are surrounded by incredibly generous and gracious missionaries who laugh when our kids come close at their dinner table.

God is able--!