Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quiet time when the to-do list is loud

I suppose you can tell by now that getting settled here can leave one's nerves somewhat raw, displaced, or, okay, overwhelmed.

One of my favorite things about living here are the mornings when I pad out to sit on our porch in my PJ's. On the best mornings, I bring a warm cup ofcarefully-rationed Starbucks Via that some adoptive parent blissfully, blessedly left behind for those less privileged. I walk out to witness that green, fully-flowering quiet that is our backyard: roses, bougainvillea, impatiens, and curious-looking plants I can't even name yet. More than once, there has been this staggering tangerine sunrise that neither John nor I can capture with our camera lens. The birds, and even the monkeys next door (not talking about neighbor kids! Real monkeys!) seem to love chittering and laughing with each other in the morning. And there's something about the birds here: I can hear their wings beating from my wooden chair on the porch as they lift into flight. There are even some African eagles that I watch dip and coast on their hunt for breakfast.

But even in that damp, captivating square of creation, settling down to talk with God can feel...distracted. Sometimes with all of the noise inside of my head and out, not to mention my emotions during such a mind-boggling little strip of life, I have to keep a little notepad nearby so I can save to-do list thoughts for later.

It got me to start a list: What practical things can I do if my brain just doesn't seem ready to be still and know? I even posed the question on Facebook. Of course, so many lists just look like little baby blog posts to me waiting to find their way in the world. So I did it. I posted it: 28 Ways to Connect with God When Your Brain Won't Quiet Down. And may someone benefit from my struggles for spiritual discipline.

Particularly me.

How to find our house on a map

...or at least pretty close!

Africa, turned on its side, looks like a rhinocerous! The "horn" of Africa, on the east/right side of Africa (around Sudan) when it's right side up, is also the "horn" of the rhinocerous. The "eye" of the rhino is Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world--only Lake Superior is larger--and source of the Nile River.

...And we can see Lake Victoria from our backyard. So if you can zoom in on the lake on a map, you'll probably see the capital city of Kampala. So we are on the side of Kampala that sees the lake (click to see a closer map), right there above the equator.
Map of Africa from www.freeworldmaps.net

While you're looking at the map, if you'd like to find the seven countries eMi East Africa serves, they are Uganda (of course), Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, and Kenya.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What it's like for us: Having a housekeeper

I've been excited to introduce you to one of our most valuable gifts here in Uganda. Meet Oliver (some mzungus pronounce it "Olivia"; we pronounce it "Oh-lee-va," like Ugandans do. Some names are flip-flopped here, like the boy's name Emma, short for Emmanuel. Yes, she shares J.'s middle name). Oliver turns 27 next month, and she hopes someday to be a counselor. Oliver is an orphan because of AIDS. But she also happens to be an incredible blessing to us. She's our housekeeper.
I cannot tell you the burden that this woman lifts from my shoulders as we try to synthesize our lives here. She's asked before what I did in the United States; who did all this work?! I did, I explain. But I didn't do it near as well. And I got a whole lot less sleep.

Some of you might raise your eyebrows at us having a housekeeper, and you're certainly entitled to do that! For us, it has been a wonderful, truly inexpensive way to
  • provide someone a job in a tough economy.
  • develop someone in-depth: professionally, spiritually, and even relationally as we draw her into our family.
  • make it sustainable for us to be here, so that I can focus more on the kids, have a home that is functional, get a little more sleep at night, and ultimately reduce a whole load of stress--sometimes in the form of neatly folded piles of lights and darks. The housework load, like mopping the red-dirt covered floors every day and handwashing all the dishes, is fairly heavy.
  • learn Ugandan culture and language as a family. In fact, our kids are starting to pick up Luganda! She's a great teacher, and has no problem giggling as our mzungu tongues try to wrap themselves around the words.
  • someone--because they are actually staff with eMi--two meals a day, medical benefits, transportation costs, education benefits, etc. This means that after years of putting her siblings through school, Oliver may be able to pursue a degree in counseling soon.
  • transfer my energy from an area of weakness (can I get an amen?) to areas that are much more my strength, and hopefully fruitful areas of ministry and time for relationships--particularly with my kids.
At times I feel like having Oliver around makes the difference as to me sinking or swimming. The amount of work there is to do; the amount of time I want to invest in my kids and their education, or in ministry; and the constant weight of maneuvering in a developing country is simply more than I am personally equipped to do.

I thought I might feel like I was living in a fishbowl. And I'm sure there are moments here and there when that's true. But I think that's so far surpassed by watching minute by minute someone physically removing burdens I won't have to lift later. It also means, I must sheepishly admit, that I'm able to keep my own emotions as a mom more even-keeled. Ever the people-pleaser, I find that my temptations toward overreacting--or discouragement at all the work--are alleviated considerably by Oliver's light-hearted presence. More than living in a fishbowl, I feel like she's almost a familial presence.
We prayed for a long time about who God would provide for us as house help. This is an area where I really feel like He's so generously provided for us. Thus far, Oliver has proved very honest, independent, forthright (not necessarily a cultural norm), detailed (also a rarity), and a sunny addition to our home. She's so thorough--hello, a great complement to me--and has a wonderful work ethic. She's also a snappy dresser! But more, I love that her faith is important to her. I wish I could recount to you all the conversations we've had about God and culture already. She watches how we raise our kids, and we dialogue about family a lot. We both learn from each other on a regular basis!
And the kids love her. J. starts talking about her after breakfast, usually, ready for her to come. When she shakes the lock on our gate to let us know she's here, he shouts, "Owiva heah! Need keys! She at gate! She have chapatti!" Hopefully he has pants on. You know. Oliver does, in fact, usually have a chapatti--like a big tortilla fried in oil--that she splits between all the kids, complemented by a mug of warm sweet tea that they take together in her changing room in the boys' quarters. Then, after Oliver's in her work clothes, they all go out and jump on the trampoline for a few minutes before she starts on her tasks. It works--she has quite a fan club around here. She calls J. and C. "my J." and "my C." and J. calls her "my Owiva".

This weekend, John and I took our first night away with some friends to a little lodge in the rainforest. I cannot tell you how refreshing this was, considering the past year and especially the last eight weeks. I'm learning a lot about what will help us to be long term, and part of it is confessing our need for rest and the occasional break from the crush of Kampala. Oliver and our friend's housekeeper stayed with all of our kids. When I came back, despite the water and power being out for the majority of the time, both ladies had big smiles on their faces, and everyone had a great time. When she left to go home, Oliver thanked me in Luganda: "It was really fun!"

But I also love the little ways she's falling in with our family. She's talked freely about how she feels like our house is her home, because she spends so much of her time here and likes being here. And the other day when we were all at eMi, she mentioned that she would just do something at home. I brushed that idea away with my hand. "Don't wait until you get home, Oliver! You can just do that at our house."

She looked at me and smiled. "Oh, I was talking about your house!"

Oliver in traditional Ugandan dress clothing, called a goma

 If you would, please thank God for us for such an opportunity and tremendous relief for our family.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Culture shock is like..., Part 2: There's no place like home

Is any place here on earth home?

Now, I have been and am certainly still privileged to have family that gives me an excellent idea, I think, of what that “prepared place” is, what the  wholehearted embrace that is Heaven and our true Home must be like. It’s where I got both roots and wings. And I will always remember the words of a dear friend’s mother, spoken about what she saw as she passed away: “It’s like home, only better!”

But allow me to thoughtfully clarify. I don’t know that even “home” can be home, with a place and people like this—my new “home”—embedding itself deep inside me. Last night in that penetrating haze of fatigue I just can't shake, I was watching the water go down the bathtub drain. I was thinking, Abraham and Sarah must have felt something like this. They must have had days and months and years like this, if they were people who “went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

It means that home is elsewhere. And it means that He will give me what I need to plunge forward through this marathon, with Him taking my hand each morning when I get out of bed: Good morning. I’ve been waiting for you, and we’re going to do this together. Just get on my back. It means Him carrying me through moments when tears blur my sight, through moments where I realize that things—that I—will never be the same now...not wanting things to be the old way, but just not completely able to digest the new way, either. It’s loving that I can make fresh fish tacos, but realizing that I’ll probably never have the crispy taco shells at the same time to go with it.

I feel like a ball of playdough, with new things being tacked on and pressed in all the time, with colors swirled in haphazardly from my previous journeys as I roll from place to place and pick up scraps. I think Heaven must be a little like Facebook in the way that you can see a lifetime of friends and experiences in one place—“This…is…Your…Life!”—without travelling far. It’s that running mental list of things I can’t wait to show ___ when they visit. It’s loving it when my sister and brother-in-law are finally home from England, but knowing that their home is split between two continents; that they can never be completely home all at once. It’s reveling in my sister and brother-in-law from Thailand being home, but knowing they will go back to their other home in a handful of days. It’s being delighted to see my good friend Emily and then my friend Paula when they cheerfully showed up at my gate today—but also wishing I could call my Mom when I know she’s still asleep.

My heart hurt last night when my oldest expressed that he just wasn’t thrilled about being here, in those words. It’s not because he wasn’t expressing something that each of us all feel from time to time. It’s more because it’s one more little scrape that I need to pray for, to bandage and prevent scarring by gently talking with my son, and to patiently allow God to heal in His way, in His time.
This is what it feels like to always be a little out of your element; to always be learning, to wake up every morning a foreigner for the sake of being forever at home in the place where it really counts. It means accepting from God’s hand the things that just don’t feel right, like your electricity or water pressure going in and out with all the fickleness of a toddler--and I’ve seen a few of those. (Last week the power went out after using the clippers on only half of a coworker’s hair. Nice.) It means embracing the beauty—the “God-ness”—that you just don’t find in the place you came from, because your country of origin had its own display of "God-ness." It means being a stranger, and trying to look at the world with gratitude while still being honest about the things that, to be fair, just chap your hide or rattle you to the soul.
The lyrics of "10000 Reasons" keep tumbling through my head, and I think I want them to stay there awhile.
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's done.
Bless the Lord, oh my soul...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A wee bit sick

I believe today marks eight weeks in Kampala!

Yes, I'm still new enough to be counting. But in those eight weeks, we've accrued quite a list of little illnesses to mark our way. Grant it, these are little illnesses (see our last post for comparison!). We are tremendously thankful that malaria, giardia, TB, etc. have been far from us! But let's see. There have been the ear infections. Severe colds. Migraines. Flu. Restless legs. UTI. Weird rashes. Diarrhea (of course). Fever. Conjunctivitis. Ringworm (don't worry. That's actually a fungus). And now, I must confess that I have a chest cough that's kept me up for about an hour for the last three nights.

Would you pray for us? We'd love a reprieve from the sickness, small as it may be. It's the small stuff, you know?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Small wonders

I'm not one who prefers to glorify missionary life. If anything, being over here has reinforced that I'm pretty much doing most of the same things--taking care of the kids, doing dishes, wiping up spills, doing dishes, buying groceries, doing dishes--just far away from my family and some other things that made that life more comfortable. (Read: dishwasher.) But I would be remiss if I didn't say that we didn't see God working in truly beautiful ways, too. We've seen it wherever we've been. But it does take on new forms here.

Take yesterday, for example. Oliver, our house help (a female), asked me if I knew anything about treating tuberculosis. Uh, no, that's a good jump from my life experience. But I can Google! And if that doesn't work, I have a brother-in-law who's a doctor!

Oliver explained that a friend of hers has a sister with TB. The sister was told by a doctor that she would need a series of 60, count 'em 60, injections to treat her disease. This would obviously come at a significant expense to an impoverished family. When the girl showed no improvement after 45 injections--which would mean that tuberculosis is continuing, likened to coughing with razor blades in your lungs--the doctor gave up and told her he wouldn't do anymore. He was afraid of catching the disease.

Compare this with a simple Web search, where you can find that the World Health Organization, or WHO, has a 95% effective treatmeant plan called DOTS (Direct Observation Treatment, short-course). It costs $16-35--still pricey for an impoverished family, but usually not inaccessible--and it requires swallowing three tablets a week. It only took a telephone call to find a hospital in the girl's area that carried the DOTS treatment. Oliver's friend was, she reported, tremendously relieved, and couldn't believe that Oliver had cared that much about his family.

I marveled that God would be able to use something as simple as an internet search to make a difference like that. It also meant that without simple resources like a search that any American might do upon a diagnosis, such circumstances would cost a girl her life. Please pray that this treatment is actually effective, and that it allows this girl, Oliver's friend, and their family to witness and accept the power of the Gospel and God's hand in their lives.

John and a coworker had a similar situation a couple of weeks ago. Checking out the work of a potential construction team, they walked into a library that held 80 students, sitting there watching a movie. But looking above, they discovered that the trusswork was actually completed in such a way that the roof could feasibly collapse at any time. John and his coworker were able to discuss this with someone who could let the schoolboard know--and hopefully prevent a disaster.

Watching God work in ways that are more life-and-death is more humbling than a blog post can communicate. It reveals life for the tenuous gift it is, and God for the powerful master Builder and Healer that He is. I wanted to tell you about it not so that you get some glorified idea of missionary life, but rather so you could give credit where credit is due, and hopefully pray along with us. After all, are not each of us here for such a time as this?!

Author's note: See the follow-up to this post here!

Whoa! Didn't know you could do that!

Ugandans are incredibly resourceful. They are amazing at reusing, jerry-rigging, and generally making do. I'm guessing this stems in part from a lack of cash flow. Our house help, Oliver (female), for example, started showing the kids how to make a rope of banana leaves last week, which she intends to make into a jump rope. C. is excited, because Oliver says she can also make a ball and a doll!

Corinne told me, "I'm going to be like a Ugandan, Mom! I'm going to make an airplane out of things I find in our yard!" A friend later told us that she saw some Ugandan kids make a toy airplane propeller out of a leaf stuck on a thorn.

This morning as I was cutting up pineapple for breakfast, I was pleasantly surprised to see how this is rubbing off on our family. We'd popped the top off of the pineapple. If you have a pineapple that's been harvested in the last few days, pop off the top and you'll see roots underneath: You can plant it in your yard (well, a yard here) and you'll grow a pineapple bush. So then, I'm boiling the pineapple rind, to which my friend told me you can add a little sugar if you want (optional: four tea bags and some fresh ginger) and have your own juice. Then, we compost the rinds. And of course we devour the middle.

So I'm doing a little jerry-rigging of my own. The hand weights I needed for working out turned out to be pretty pricey here. So W. dutifully filled up a water bottle and a Coke bottle with sand, which I then topped off with water. True, they're not quite as heavy as my five pound weights were. But I think they will play their role in de-floppifying my arms.

We've got a lot to learn from these people.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Had a great fall

It was a warm day yesterday--sounds like pretty similar temps to Little Rock, actually. John was scheduled to come home around 3:30 from his second four-day trip in two weeks, this one to a village several hours north where they have plans for a sizeable Christian university. Meanwhile back at the compound, our carpenter, Godfrey, was at our house with his quiet, usually-smiling sidekick, Lamik. They were installing razor wire around the rest of our compound, just for a little added safety with all of the traveling John does--especially with the two vacant lots that sidle up to our property.

Razor wire, cement walls studded with broken glass, etc. are common around here just to avoid theft. We, for example, personally feel like our car runs more efficiently with tires and a battery. So don't get yourself in a tizzy. We feel quite safe here. The concern increased somewhat with a few brave and remarkably effortless forays by our neighbor kids over our wall to "steal some mangoes," or so the story goes. Note, we are definitely trying to build relationships with our neighbors, and met another this morning. We are, however, under the conviction that our relationships can improve in the absence of petty theft.

Point of interest: Godfrey and Lamik insisted that they install the razor wire without gloves.
They kept trying to explain that the gloves got caught in the wire. But I'm thinking, doesn't that mean that your hands get caught in the wire instead? (Silly mzungu.)

But real concern gripped me when B. ran in from outside just before lunch. "Mom! Come quick! Lamik's hurt!" I abandoned the cupcakes I'd been making with Oliver, our female house help, for a baby shower, and ran out wiping my hands on my apron.

"Godfrey, is Lamik okay?"

Godfrey, who characteristically has a mysterious smirk on his face, was eerily calm atop his ladder. "No."

"He fell on the other side," he quietly continued, indicating the vacant lot next door. I noticed a brick missing at the top of our walls, which are so formidable that if you push on them, they wobble. Bananas or matooke from the trees on the other side were peeking over the top. That kind of height was quite a drop.

"Can he get up?"

Godfrey shook his head. "...No."

I ran inside to grab the gate keys, then booked it up the hill to eMi for Godfrey's instruction to grab Stephen, the human resources manager of all our local staff. When we both arrived, out of breath, Stephen hefted another ladder over the wall. I was amazed and relieved to find that after a couple of long minutes, a wincing Lamik appeared at the top of the wall. He had fallen on his back--a good five or six meters down.

Once he was finally laying on our side of the fence, trying to gather his strength to go to the hospital, I asked if we might pray for him. I swallowed tears, then brought him a basin to wash the blood from his hands. Eventually, we got him into Godfrey's car, now loaded down with a bed pillow, whatever I could scrounge up for lunch, and strict instructions to get Lamik whatever care he might need.

After a long afternoon, the three men returned to drop off Stephen. I was terribly relieved to see Lamik gingerly emerge from Godfrey's Caribe. He'd had two injections and some medication, he explained.

"And when you prayed for me, I felt instant...." His hands formed fists in a gesture of strength and fortitude. Relief, Stephen explained later. He told me that when you prayed, he felt relief.

I felt so many emotions in that moment: I was humbled, thankful--amazed, in awe. Later, I was also sheepish, because I don't recall intentionally praying filled with faith that God would take Lamik's pain and completely heal him on the spot (which He didn't choose to do, but obviously could have). Here I am, a "missionary" (ooh, aah!), and still mildly surprised when God does remarkable things because I ask Him, and despite who I am. May God increase my faith!

Godfrey was back to cracking jokes. "He missed the coffin today!" he laughed.

Today, when Godfrey and Co. arrived, I smiled at Lamik. "God certainly has a purpose for you, Lamik!"

He nodded, back to his easygoing grin and ready to go have some more fun with razor wire.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


John and B. were having this wonderful conversation the other night, which started out with John asking, "Did you know that glass is stronger than steel?!"

John's been reading these books about basic structural/architectural/engineering principles, and with the way B. is wired--some natural architectural and engineering abilities--I'm hoping this is the first of many conversations where they can learn together. Later that night, I found that the guy who had written two of the books John's reading has actually written a book for kids on basic architecture. I was disproportionately giddy.

It spawned a blog post for MomLife Today on helping your kids grow in the way God's crafted them. I thought I'd pass it along in the event you would be interested.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A few small updates on culture and everyday life--from John

From John:

I am learning a little Luganda which is the local tribal language in the region in and near Kampala.   Almost everyone knows English but learning their language is helpful for relating.   Janel is taking off with it which is no surprise.   I am a lot slower but still picking up a couple words each week.   Which I have figured out that just greeting them in their language is enough to make them laugh and smile and engage in conversation with you even if you have to revert right back to English.  

I will actually be taking some Luganda lessons in a couple weeks especially since one of my roles will be so closely tied to working in a pastoral setting with the guys on the worksite who mostly speak Luganda as their native tongue.

I am still not liking driving at night especially when all the kids are in the car.   Soooo much to see when there is so little light to see by.   By the way, there is a poor picture of our minivan taken at night that I have attached – we can’t seem to get away from minivans.

You know you want one, too.
Had a near miss last Thursday night after I'd been driving not yet a week.   A motorcycle was driving down the center line coming toward us when he made a wrong estimation on the space between two cars and caught one with his handle bar forcing his bike into the oncoming vehicle fender and then to the ground sliding toward us.   Fortunately I stopped just before he came to a stop in front of my screeching tire.  I heard a small thud when he hit my fender but never lost site of him.   He popped up clasping his worn hands but otherwise uninjured.   The crowd around yelling at him presumably chastising him as representative of all the crazy boda boda (motorcycle) drivers, seemed to motivate him to jump back on the bike and speed off.    My wife nearly in tears… a traumatic day.   His life saved… a great day! 

Despite the driving, I generally am loving the feeling of adventure of trying to figure everything out and navigate the new landscape.   Even the seemingly backwards way things get done in some instances isn’t bothering me too much… yet.   It is the lack of some creature comforts and the difficulty to really escape as of yet that seems to be building up.   But we are finding some creature comforts that are consoling – some of mine for better or worse:

·         We have found a Mexican restaurant nearby.   We had a romantic date there completed by riding separately on two different bodas to get home (right before we had our car).   The food actually tastes pretty good and fills the craving.   It has a cactus painted on the wall and sumbraros hanging as well.   My favorite part besides the food is that it has a glossary of terms on the back of the menu. Ie. Tortilla – somehow like a chipotte but fried in oil.   Sour Kream – somehow like yogurt but with lime juice. Burrito… Enchilada… etc.  And the check even said Gracias!  

·         I have found a local movie theater, not much selection but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

·         You can get a bottle of coke here (nostalgic glass bottles even) for about 1000 schillings (45 cents) on nearly every street corner.   And the coke is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Course you have to drink the bottle there because they want it back.  The bottles are small enough to drink in 3 or so swigs if you’re not rationing and once finished you can just walk a couple hundred yards until thirst strikes again and there’s another roadside stand with more coke.   Honest admission, I have done this once. J

·         And every third night the power goes out for the evening which kind of forces you to catch up on sleep.

·         There is a pick-up basketball game every Tuesday night at a neighborhood school.  I am pretty inconsistent – some nights I am pretty bad, other nights I am horrible.   And what passed for really hustling just a few months ago doesn’t seem to be much of a contribution here.   But it’s fun exercise.   (I am still looking for the pickup game of soccer so I can really be put to shame at the one sport that had brought me athletic confidence over my sporting career.   Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t heard about that group yet.)
Anyway…That was more than you probably wanted to skim and maybe just the right amount to skip!

"How's the new job, John?"

I have started work, but I am really in a learning phase right now. So not much to report about work getting done.  I am reading a book called Why Buildings Stand Up just to learn some basics about structural engineering.   The next book on the list is Why Buildings Fall Down.   Funny, because I would have thought one book could cover both topics….   

I have been making a weekly visit to three project sites a couple hours away in the town of Jinja.   There we inspect the work getting accomplished by another CM (Construction Manager) on our team and his crews on those sites.   I am learning a lot about local methods and meeting the guys on site little by little.   I do kinda feel weird like I am the “big westerner” coming to inspect who never does any work (manual labor).   Kind of an awkward interaction, but I am hoping that will change soon especially once I am working more closely alongside them.   Yet I am not only learning about how to do things, but each week get a course in poor construction methods and what not to do also as we find mistakes and shortcuts.   Confronting such issues is interesting to watch happen between two different cultures.   It is another reminder of one of the many reasons why it is important to really get to know these guys and build a good relationship with them.

Started full time in the office last week but most of that is filled with getting oriented to processes and how things work in the office along with some meetings as well.   Good news is that they have a really easy project that needs done in April or May--and they would like to have me manage it.   Easy as it is, it will be my first opportunity to make a contribution through management.   It includes some finish carpentry which is within my experience, some masonry, but also finishing some grading and putting in a soccer pitch.   This is for a Christian boarding school that you may have heard of; they produce the African Children’s Choir tours around the US and Europe.   So in spite of the lack of technical aspects to this, I am excited about the ministry we’re working with and getting to manage my first project which includes a soccer field--kinda cool!

I am also finding that my HR background is already allowing me to make some good contributions both on the worksite projects, but also in the office as we discuss issues being encountered in both settings.   That has been fun to contribute a little when I otherwise feel like I am consuming more than I am giving for a while.  

I travel this Wednesday through Friday to the western Uganda border to inspect a theological training center that needs some remodel and a new building built.   I am looking forward to seeing firsthand the process for interviewing the ministry, and deciding on how to select projects to work on.  

What one guy and a hand planer can do
Then next week, we are traveling to eastern Uganda for for days to the site of a college that we will be breaking ground on this Spring.   We need to do some trouble shooting on the site prep and find some local resources in preparation to ramp up for this project.   So Janel will be home while I get a lay of the land, literally.   Feels good to be getting out so quickly on projects.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Our house, Part II: A few more photos

Welcome back! If you missed the last visit, you can check it out here. But I thought this time I would take you through our front door. You can see the back door right through it, but I'll take you to the kitchen, which is the first door on your right.
See, it looks normal enough. It is small by U.S. standards, but it's actually been just right. Uh, with the small (and I do mean small) exception of my sink, which is about the size of two cereal boxes stacked on top of each other. Really not a huge sacrifice. Occasionally the sink handle spins off into the dish water and I have to look for it with the water spraying everywhere, but that's kind of the "quirky" adjective I mentioned earlier.

If you turn around in my kitchen, this is what you'll see. The large silver contraption is our water filter. To your right would be our red-painted pantry, which currently holds our fridge and a very unexpected delight: our microwave.
This is the boys' room. Their toys, on the left there, are all organized in African baskets made by local women, which I love. I also love that they have much fewer toys, which makes pick up a ton easier and play not really any more boring, from what I can tell. And you know, that industrial Wal-Mart-style tile has its benefits.
I found this in our bedroom while I was taking photos and thought I could put her to work. Wonder if her parents would mind if I keep her.
...And one of our bathrooms. Just wanted to put any potential visitors' minds at ease that we do have a couple, and they look very normal. Well, in the spectrum of I-have-four-kids normal and I-live-in-Africa normal.
See, we have two! Actually three, counting the Asian-style in the "quarters", but we won't make you use that one unless we're really desperate for humor.This is our master bath.
We converted our garage to our school room--which is really wonderful to have...and sure beats my laundry room, where we kept all our supplies in Little Rock. We throw the doors open and have school that way, which I really like. We have a six-foot table and benches in the middle here. You can see we painted the back wall with blackboard paint. We're trying to get our big map that everyone signed at our going-away party to stay up on the concrete wall, but no luck yet.

This is our daughter's room (the purple is the big giveaway here). You can see some of the built-ins on the right, which we also have in our room.

This loaner was just set up this weekend, and we can still hardly believe it! It has been a great source of energy release and family/friend craziness. John lets the kids play, too.
Glad you could stop by!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An ode to dirt

Red dirt, you are on everything;

My floors, my feet, my driveway.

And after children take a bath

It's red mud that whirls away.

Stuck beneath their nails

And ground so deeply down the hall,

I never actually feel

that I am rid of you at all.

Though you are mopped away each day,

My children's feet are colored rust!

In just a few small seconds

Our house is recovered with dust.

Muddy footprints in the bathroom,

And fingerprints take over too.

It's a good thing our house is orange

And not the yellow we did choose.

So even if my children are only clean

For ten minutes out the tub

At least it means I won

One small vict'ry against the grub.


I'm still processing so much of what I have seen last Sunday, so maybe blogging it will help, as it so often does.

You may remember my friend Lizzy, from this post. I am so delighted to tell you that her adoption of her first daughter, sweet Zoey, was completed a week ago Thursday, and both were our dinner guests the next night! Nothing went as planned, of course—to the tune of us finally getting a call at 5:00 about our car being ready downtown, the power going out as we were sitting down to dinner, etc.—but it was a truly beautiful time.

[Side note: I have got to get more photos on here, I know. Though in the States I could hardly pry the camera lens from my eye socket, here it often seems inappropriate or even to further separate me from a world that basically could see our camera—nothing special in the States—as a few years' worth of income, I'm guessing. So I'm getting out of a habit that I may need to climb back in!]

Lizzy's connections to Kampala began through her church, which also has a church plant in what I am assuming can be considered the slums here. So last Sunday morning, we swung by in our rockin' minivan to pick up Lizzy and Zoey to visit the church. We weren't completely sure that we were on the correct pock-marked dirt road at first. You can imagine it a little, perhaps: shacks and concrete abodes and small shops of all sorts lining the road with tin roofs, tarps, cracking paint, hand-painted signs. The medical center's narrow door was a thin drape of dirty fabric. Everything is tinged the color of rust by the dust. Chickens, goats, and cattle are wandering around, maybe in and out of houses. Children—most with shaved heads, for purposes of school, hygiene, and lice. Adults on their haunches cooking there on the side of the street, all wearing curious faded combinations of clothes that Goodwill would have discarded where I come from. People eyeing one of the only vehicles on this crowded stretch of the city that aren't taxis. Ugandans walking with all manner of things on their heads, some covered completely by the wares they're selling as they walk. (Last night we saw another guy whose job was a walking luggage salesman. Picture that for a minute.) I am not amazed by these sights as much as I used to be, as there are so many versions of it around the city. I am still struck by it. My children have not seen as much of Kampala since we have only had a vehicle the last two days. It was interesting to hear what they pointed out or observed, or simply to wonder what they were making from the mélange of sights in their passenger windows.

Lizzy directed us to a spot we could park. It was strangely only the size for one vehicle. We of course figured out quickly that in this church, we would be the only family driving a vehicle there! The service was on Ugandan time, which meant it started maybe a half an hour later and lasted as long as it needed to—especially with the translation of the sermon from English—the national language and language spoken in schools—and Luganda, the language of the tribes in this region and the language many speak in their homes or among their peers. Not all speak Luganda here, because there are seventeen tribes in Uganda; and not all speak English—at least well. The church was of partially-roofed concrete room, with a gate that opened to the community's bustle, cooking fires, and traffic. People filtered in during the service to sit on the basic benches.

As the music started—voices only except a jimbaye—I was reminded of Isaiah 57: ""I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit." I looked at these brothers and sisters around me and felt grateful that I could be with God's people. My kids munched on some fried cassava that one of their new acquaintances shared with them. I moved with the kids into the Children's Church that met in a small concrete surround. It eventually became packed with children as one of the biggest happenings in the neighborhood.

I watched my kids: This was one of their most extensive cultural interactions since we'd been here. Kids touched their hair, stared at them, or tugged at them. The songs were lively, and although there were no illustrations in the bilingual kids' lesson, the Gospel was fully intact. There was even a kids' offering and a time to pray for the sick. My kids grew restless with the longevity of the service, and I was wondering if I was souring them on the whole experience, just overwhelming them.

But by the end, my kids were teaching the neighborhood kids kung fu moves from their Kung Fu for Kids DVD! I doubt I'll forget the image of all of them lined up there along the dirt road outside the church, passersby gawking, doing kung fu together. My oldest was even using an African accent to more clearly communicate. When he finally climbed into the van, he exclaimed, "Mom! I just made about a billion friends!"

And that was yet another grace-full moment that morning. Despite all their discomfort, my kids ran headlong into a cultural interaction with kids who were almost as different from them as we could find. God was so gracious. He was here, dwelling with these people—just as He'd be there with the rising of the sun in Little Rock in several hours as His people there readied for worship. Seeing His Body in its form here on the other side of the world just increases my worship. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday.