Saturday, April 28, 2012

Guest posting today!

Saturday at last! Hey, if you have extra time on your hands and just can't resist--I'm guest posting on this blog today for a fellow blogger from MomLifeToday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Greenhouse effect (on me)

Saturday found John, C., and I meandering along Mukwano (Friendship) Road in the shadow of Kampala's few skyscrapers among acres of plants. The "greenhouses" here are more like patches of nursery, because all this elaborate foliage for purchase is modestly grown in plastic bags and sold alongside the road. We picked our way through and around the rows of color at our feet and up to our chests while huge lorries recklessly rumbled by a few meters away in their thick clouds of exhaust.

The Eden of plant life here intrigues and woos me . I've already written about my favorite time of day, when I drink in my own little Edenesque slice of backyard "while the dew is still on the roses" for a compelling quiet time in the mornings. This past week I finally gave into the urge to clip the wild orange daisies in my yard with the pink miniature roses and coral roses--the perfect cluster of color for our dining room table. Plants can't seem to get out of the ground fast enough here: The banana and matooke trees we planted a month or so into being here--that's two months ago--are already taller than John. What would be houseplants in the U.S. grow naturally here; you'll see impatiens, Wandering Jew, palm-type plants, ficus, and so many others pushing from the soil year-round.

So our mission there in the midst of all that beauty was to make the front of our home look a little less bleak--a little less orange. Orange house; orange boys' quarters; orange dirt; orange dirt-covered children. The mission was a total success. Our little compound is looking more and more welcoming, more and more home. My favorite were all the herbs we carted home: Oregano. Spearmint. Thyme. Lavender. Rosemary ...Perfect counternotes for the basil and dill in our garden. That minivan of ours had never smelled better than on the way home. The truly fragrant part of the deal: Nearly every plant and pot was about 10-25% of the cost we would find it in the U.S.

But despite my digression--this post isn't about plants.

Every sales interaction here or journey out around town reveals such colorful, divulging stories to each of us. Personally, the outspoken female entrepeneur who kept beckoning us to different areas of her plot made me wonder about all of the story I didn't know. Mostly it was the fresh, rose-colored bruise swelling around her right eye and cheekbone.

But even more, I found my heart sinking after our closing dialogue with one of our barefooted vendors over the price of a plant. He had a challenging time communicating in English (the language spoken in schools here) the price of one particularly striking green and purple broadleaf: Five thousand, two hundred. He finally bent to write in the dust. Five. Two. His finger formed the five backwards.

As a teacher of two kindergarteners, I am aware that most kids work on reversed letters and numbers in the earliest writing skills. I had an aha moment there as I took in this simple man in the muscle T-shirt in front of me, who'd had such a difficult time comprehending our questions and requests. He probably hadn't had a formal education. How had he learned the five, I wonder? Who taught him what a thousand is?

I was stricken on the way home. How does a man save wisely from his business, make sure whatever "books" are in the black, or make sure he's not being swindled when he can't communicate number concepts--or possibly even understand them?

Oliver later explained to me that free primary education wasn't sponsored by the government until 1997 here. It is now free for the first four children in a family. Children growing up in the eighties and nineties were hard pressed for education. (Education here is a hot button for me. That's another long, soapbox-y post later.) John pointed out how wonderful it was that this man was able to form gainful employment out of what he knew and could do. Oliver similarly remarked that she was thankful he hadn't turned to thievery in order to survive.

Stories like these bind their roots into my thinking as I learn and try to make sense of the beauty and grief we take in here. Like exotic flora, they still catch and bewilder my mind's eye. They help form the variegated landscape that spreads further and further before me. And like a good friend said a few days ago--the longer I am here, the more complex helping seems. On days like Saturday, I make the decision all over again to rest in a God who cares for this country, with plans for a hope and a future far greater than even the most troubling problems.

P.S. The hibiscus we purchased was, I admit, orange.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh, say, can you survey?

One of John's central concerns in considering our move to Africa was his ability to make a unique, truly beneficial contribution to the small team here. So we have been thrilled to find that God knew exactly how John would fit, and it would be rewarding for everyone involved.

A civil engineer--and the sole surveyor for the eMi East Africa office--is headed back to Canada with his family at the end of this year. So John's been selected as his surveying replacement! His first project has been surveying the soccer pitch for the ongoing project of the African Children's Choir campus. (Though to be truthful, the surveying equipment is giving the guys some headaches right now.) We're excited that this is one more way that John can, uh, pitch in. (Sorry. Had to.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

The color of crafts, part bbiri

As a "cultural awareness" field trip today, I braved Ggaba traffic, almost sideswiped a police officer on a boda, and delivered the kids to the Nsambya craft market John and I visited a couple of weeks ago. En route, we established our objectives:
  • Show people Jesus. Kids' responses on what this looks like: Don't whine. Don't argue. Don't get the gimmies. Be nice.
  • Use our Luganda: "Okay, guys. How do you say, 'How much is this?'"
  • Interact with more people of Uganda.
  • Understand a little about Ugandan shillings. A thousand shillings sounds like a lot to a kid, but it's less than $0.50.
  • Get an idea of what "bargaining" looks like. (i.e. Watch Mommy try to avoid being taken for a ride.)
  • Delay gratification: You can purchase a small craft, but you have to wait until we've walked through the whole craft market--about a leisurely (is this applicable with kids?) hour's walk.
  • Support local craftsmen.
All in all, it was a happily successful day. I did arrive home relatively bushed. But at the risk of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, I think most objectives were accomplished! The kids employed their Luganda with the sellers, to Ugandan delight. They waited to spend their/my money, which means I avoided purchasing a second-hand stuffed Tweety bird from probably the only second-hand, manufactured pile of stuff on the lot.

Since I had now learned my numbers and how to explain who my oldest was, the sellers seemed very interested in birth order. Here, a mother may be known as "Mama" followed by the name of the child most significant to the people you interact with. That's most often your oldest, the mkulu: literally the "big drum" (think of a tribe drumming--the most important with the largest drum). If your other kids are away at school--boarding schools are the norm here--the name might be that of be your youngest, who remains at home. So I would be "Mama B. (insert name of my oldest)". Here in a culture that esteems authority, position is very important. In exchange for position, the mkulu, or big boss, is in theory supposed to be patriarchal to the people beneath him who give honor and respect. So everyone I walked by seemed to be guessing the oldest, and I was asked at least three times if some were twins.

The women I previously photographed were there and visibly happy to meet avana wange--my kids--and hear their Luganda. I thoroughly enjoy these kind of budding relationships in different locales around town. At least my Luganda draws a laugh! I'm grateful that since most sellers or employees speak English as well, Luganda is only a bridge and not a necessity.

At any rate, don't miss the photos. A picture is worth more than a thousand words here.
These women sit in long rows and bead while shoppers walk by. Meters away are the rows of basket weavers. There are kids and chickens here and there, some without their bottom half of clothing! (Kids, not chickens.)

This one definitely warranted a close up.

She wanted to carry her bag "like Africans do, Mom!"



These are created from soapstone.





To add a little context to our day--these ladies were lunching across from our parking spot.

This police officer was posted near the market. I still marvel at the fact that every police officer and lot of guards (not ours!) tote an AK-47--including the women. Brings a whole new meaning to the term "mall cop." But for a guy who was packing, he was friendly.

This was likely my favorite of the day. I'm not sure if she's grilling bananas or matooke. But initially when I asked to take her photograph, the man beside her told her to agree for a price of around 40,000 shillings! (Around $17. But still. It's a photo, people.) She acquiesed if I agreed to give her a copy of the photo upon my return.

Wouldn't believe it unless you saw it

Friends of ours here at eMi just posted a photo gallery of boda bodas carrying items that one might not believe would actually be carried on a motorcycle. But, as my kids have taken up saying, this is Uganda.

Enjoy, fellow mzungus.

P.S. I think the one carrying the coffin would make my top three, hands down. It may even be better than the one we saw carrying the twenty live chickens lassoed to the handles, or the boda with the kitchen table that we thought was driving itself.

Coping mechanism

Shameless plug: This new nighttime ritual has been a great way to connect with my kids and help them deal with some of the considerable changes they're experiencing. Thankful that God continues to answer our prayers for parenting through this transition--!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two prayers

My sister Kelli, who works with refugees in Thailand, recently posted this poignant benediction on her blog, and I thought it worth the repost.  

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

--A Franciscan benediction
The Prayer of St. Francis has also seeped into my mind frequently during these last eye-opening months. I first read the whole prayer in college, but it seems to carry new conviction, insight, and strength with each season of my life! So if you'll indulge me...

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Wednesday was a pretty amazing day here. After a journey of six and a half weeks, three packages arrived on the same day! (Thank you, both sets of grandparents!)    
We were sitting at eMi's pavilion, rejoicing over the loot, and people were like, "Wow! Easter!" And John replied, "More like Christmas!"
She slept in the wolf ears, and they both wanted to take a bath right now for the sake of the duckies.

The long-awaited, now completed Lego Star Wars Sith Infiltrator!

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ggaba Road, Part bbiri (two)

Mugavu, our favorite local wood for furniture.
Just in case you missed/did not believe our post on buying furniture on Ggaba Road, or just wanted some photos of this mind-boggling place: Behold!

In some of the lower photos, you can pick out the craftsmen laboring over the furniture. It's not always known for high quality, but we have had some beautiful pieces made specially out of local woods--not to mention economically.
Furniture in the front, workshops in the back.

Eucalyptus timbers, used for scaffolding here

Iesu azukide! (He is risen!): Easter 2012

This past Sunday found us scurrying around the house around six A.M. to successfully arrive at a sunrise service with our brothers and sisters from eMi, sealed with a potluck brunch. YUM. It was a lovely way to spend Easter.

It was also probably our dirtiest ever. We stayed past 11 for fellowship and playtime at the sizeable host compound. Outside playtime=serious red dirt. Everywhere. A truly happy easter, if you're under 10!

Deeply grateful this year for Jesus' ultimate victory over suffering and death--making us truly rich. Iesu azukide!

Praying for rain

If you would, please take a minute to pray for rain here. The rainy season is at least a month and a half late, and people are already forecasting hunger. Thank you!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Small wonders: A grateful update

You may remember the friend of our housekeeper, Oliver, whose sister was dying from tuberculosis--particularly after a costly and ineffective treatment from a local doctor. With a few minutes of research, we were able to direct them to a cure recommended by the World Health Organization.

I am thrilled and thankful to let you know that the friend's sister is almost finished with the DOTS treatment...and is almost completely recovered. She has gained weight, is helping around the house, and will live! Not only that, but each of the thrice-weekly treatments were only 300 shillings, which is the cost of the chapatti Oliver brings for my kids each morning: less than ten cents. This friend had been one who financed a surgery Oliver needed years ago, so she feels grateful that she can return his kindness.

Please thank God with us for moving so powerfully here!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The color of crafts

John and I took advantage of his day off yesterday to venture to a local craft market in the neighborhood of Nsambya (which somehow always sounds like "Insomnia" to me). It is a feast for the eyes, especially for an amateur photographer: a few acres full of locally-made handicrafts at affordable prices, often sold directly by the craftsperson. I was drawn to the banana-leaf baskets and jewelry (I miss you, Kelli!), and John probably found every woodworking and painting alcove there.

If you come to visit here, I plan on taking you to this very spot. And if I send a gift, it was likely gotten in one of these little stalls, or the tents and tarps erected in the middle of the square on Fridays. Part of the enjoyment of John and I being there together was pointing out different objects we thought family members would love. Our house is looking a little more African this morning from the lovely handicrafts we picked up.

Part of the experience was the fun of dialoguing with the shopkeepers and craftspeople. We put on our Luganda training wheels and took 'em out for a spin--and enjoyed the laughter and rhythm of language in return. It wasn't uncommon for some of them to openly plead some version of, "Support us! Spend some money here!" 

I stashed my camera in my bag, and occasionally asked to take someone's picture. In my limited exposure (ha!), the average Ugandan has few photos of themselves. Oliver, our housekeeper, says she has one from her childhood. So my delight lay in the metamophosis from their initial skepticism and shyness, to then their exclamations once I turned the digital screen their direction to see their own photograph.

Seeing the craftswomen in action brought appreciation to the stacks and puddles of vibrant, intricately pieced baskets and jewelry. Some of the beading was nothing short of remarkable.

This photo probably takes the cake for my favorite of the day. With an average lifespan of 52, you don't see many older Ugandans. But this woman had a beauty all her own.

But I'll let the photographs do the rest of the talking here. All in all, it was a rewarding, fascinating afternoon.