Saturday, June 23, 2012


I just overheard C. talking to our guard, while munching on her "crisps": "If you want to be an American, then call chips 'chips' and fries 'fries', okay?"

Family life in photo

John just returned from a trip to a remote ministry an hour from Gulu. The kids miss him so much when he's gone, for obvious reasons.
Our first American houseguest having a great laugh with Oliver as they paint their toes. These two had a great time together, and are now mutually mourning Annie-Jane's departure!

B. with one of his closest friends here. They're sharing a birthday party in the next couple of weeks.

We have a playdate with all the eMi kids at our house every Tuesday. C. loves dressing up with all her girlfriends on a regular basis.

A huge pan of popcorn is a staple at our Tuesday eMi playdates. J. and his friend are just polishing off the leftovers.

C. and J. messing around at the gate.

This guy is the mkulu (the "big drum")! We got him the mask, an antique from the Congo, for Father's Day. The bird on top is a sign of peace for my Peacemaker of a husband!
Reveling in three awesome care packages from my college roommate and Grandma. What a great day! Look at all those art supplies--! I can't wait.

Working out with Mom. He made the weights himself.

Oliver taught me to wrap my hair Ugandan-style this afternoon! I knew there had to be cool

B.'s on the left, W.'s on the right. You know. In case "long head" and "fat head" weren't sufficient descriptors.

This kid turns eight this week! Can you believe it?

The eMi kids came over for a Star Wars party at our house. Don't miss Padme et. al in the foreground.

We have a stunning bougainvillea in our backyard, perfect for climbing--the latter of which was a direct answer to prayer.

This kid has a million and one expressions. Makes us laugh out loud!

This one has grown up so much in the last year--!

She turns five on Monday! Love, love my daughter.

...and may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Transfer of oppression

It took only a few weeks after our bewildering arrival here: a phenomenon that up till that point, had only been rumor. One afternoon, I heard a dog yelping in pain over our back wall. When I peeked over, there were our neighbor kids, teasing and then beating their dog with a sizeable branch. What do I do here?

  • Option 1: Tell the children to stop. If a parent hears a mzungu doing this and is shamed... Well, where did the children learn to beat something? Not sure that Option 1 is a good selection.
  • Option 2: Talk to the parents. No relationship at this point due to the rare sight of the parents and the large wall between us. Parents possibly feel shamed by a female mzungu mysteriously telling them how to parent, i.e. for their children not to do something that is culturally acceptable. Hmm. Possibly not the best for neighborly relations.
  • Option 3: Pray for the dog and the kids. This feels like falling short in action (i.e. being a big chicken). But it also feels like the best route for a new foreigner. Since choosing Option 3, problem has not been heard.
Though I'm limited to my own exposure, friends have now spoken of people kicking puppies, throwing rocks at animals, etc. I've also witnessed people mocking children to the point of clear fright, anger, or tears in the children. It's not everyone. But it is disconcerting.

So I've turned this over and over in my mind. I've rehashed some of what I gleaned from Strength in What Remains, an excellent examination of the genocides of Burundi and Rwanda. The author suggests that poverty has a way of wearing away at the perceived value of human life: Death and suffering surround the impoverished. Neither are uncommon. On the contrary, they are considered normal. Therefore, suffering and death, and injustice of so many kinds--even inflicted by another--may not seem as heinous, wrong, or out of place.

As one father recently remarked to me upon my congratulations of his wife's pregnancy, "For what? Children here are only born into suffering."

Tying this even further together recently was a paragraph from Unbroken, an account of a World War II Japanese Prisoner of War. Author Laura Hillenbrand explains a phenomenon known as transfer of oppression, where soldiers--who were reportedly beaten and brutalized as a standard part of training--then brutalized others who fell into their paths, especially those beneath their power. It seems this often took place in POW camps, where inferior officers would visit violence on prisoners.

Many of us have heard of a version of this phenomenon in abuse victims who can in a few cases become abusers themselves. But as God's Gospel so often does, He used my dismay here to reveal what this has looked like in me.

For years, I've been troubled and ashamed by a couple of memories that stand out from my freshman year of high school. For years before, I'd worked to befriend a girl who'd struggled with a low placement on the social totem pole. She eventually started coming to our church, and spent some nights sleeping over at my house. But that year--a tough year for me personally, as a social outcast on the cheerleading squad--I remember a few moments where I joined laughter directed at her, or even initiated it. She remained loyal to me. I was the one who, finding myself the brunt of so many jokes and so much disdain, seized the opportunity to prey on someone less fortunate. In His mercy, God has forgiven me. But I have yet to find her in order to apologize for deepening her grief.

Perhaps that's one of the greatest lessons I find in all of this cultural learning: It's when I'm tempted to make someone else "other"--to make an "us/them", or to point out the speck in a culture's eye--that I see the plank in my own.

Over and over, it increases my thankfulness for the Gospel.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

It's been humbling and amazing to watch my husband guide this family to and in a new country this year with such compassion, strength, and endurance. It's also been powerful to see my dad empower us and really "send" his third daughter to go overseas--and now grandkids!--despite how painful it is for him. 

Happy Father's Day! Ten-gallon hats off to you dads out there who are making such a difference in so many generations.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to make fried mzungu

I suppose the blog was a bit quiet for awhile there. I'm sure you were gnawing your nails in anticipation.

The truth: It's fair to say my mojo was thrown a ways off course, for a whole host of reasons. Somehow the reasons I'd like to give you sound
a) like excuses,
b) like drama,
c) like whining, or just
d) lame.

But for those of you who are praying for us, here's the few things I think I would want to know.

Ministry opportunities here are rich and meaningful. The challenge is far more what not to do.

Secondly, there are a lot of needs at work. We're so thankful to find meaningful ways to plug in here. We laugh about the 10-15 hats that John wears at the office. And I actually have been learning a whole new skill here: design. Because I am the publications and haircutting department here, I got Adobe design software installed, and have been working pretty late into the night on my first two big projects, hybrids of design and writing. It's been a steep learning curve, and I have a lot to learn. But it's been really fun, too. 
So (for humor, not pity!)--
1. Cream together lots of poverty-related needs with work-related and staff-loving opportunities to help.
2. Mix in plenty to do at home; our school year just ended last Friday, and for two weeks we've been delighting in our first American visitor.
3. Blend in a three-year-old who's experimenting with whining, fit-throwing, and general obstinance.
4. Marinate in lots of jarring cultural components.
5. Observe 24/7 through the eyes of local staff.  
6. Add a pinch of a tendency to overcommit (or maybe a heap of pinches), especially a high degree of obliviousness until it has already happened.
7. Fold in a couple of close calls, like almost being hit by a lorry with all the kids in the car, or thinking wallet with American license had been stolen.
8. Omit adequate rest (OPTIONAL), particularly as you search for ways to truly rejuvenate in this strange new world.
9. Sprinkle in infestations of local insects, a few guys who'd like to line their pockets with the amount you're being overcharged, and various shortages on infrastructure.
10. Mix every ingredient thoroughly with sin nature, i.e. martyrdom, lack of faith that empowers one to say "no", etc.
11. Bake four and a half months.

Yield: One overcooked mzungu.

As intimated above, I probably didn't quite realize my degree of stress until my hair started falling out again, which it only did when we were moving. Here and there missionary friends, a friend from the U.S., or even family would ask how I'm doing, or how I'm replenishing. My mind would respond blankly--or more often, with vagueness or silence. Where do I find the energy to convey to you all of this that I have a hard time understanding, but less communicating?

The takeaway: I'm on the upswing. I'm typing to you! But I realize this blog isn't just about the intriguing or hilarous aspects of culture and ministry in Africa. It's about a real-life, valley-and-mountain, godward adventure. Sometimes that adventure is just hard.

(Side note: It is good that when things feel "hard" here, I have a lot of people down the street dealing with much more basic challenges to life--much more profound, lifelong stress. It also helps that I am reading a book about a guy who survived being lost at sea for 46 days and then two years in a POW camp. Good grief. It doesn't mean that my experience isn't real, but it does give a wee bit of perspective.)

This week, I've been thankful for some small, well-placed oases that fall in the "good and perfect gift" category: A free VBS for three of my kids in the morning, with all their friends. A date night by a fire built on Lake Victoria, with a man who intuitively understands me in ways I don't even understand myself, i.e. my husband. Friends who cart me away from my to-do list for some good conversation.
If you will, pray for wisdom on how to live well and sustainably here, and for some clear fear-of-man/pride issues that get me into messes like this. Pray that we'll do the good works God's prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10)--no more, no less.

Crispiness has its lessons.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Oh, say, can you survey? Part bbiri

Fun breaking update! This summer, John's getting ready to take a six-week surveying course taught by Canadian eMi staff at a local university, which will end with a surveying job in northern Uganda.

The most exciting part for us: This gives John a specialized role in our East Africa office so that he can step into another very needed here. It adds to the Member Care (a pretty active role so far!), Construction Management, Business, and about seven or so other hats he's wearing here--! But considering that we came here very curious to see how God would integrate John's skill set, this is very cool for us.

It also means that John will be able to contribute to project trips around East Africa, getting his hands dirty in the field and with volunteers who come to make a difference during their vacation time.

Okay, I'm the guy's wife, and you've seen my rather embarrassing displays of affection. So consider yourself warned of my bias. But from all reports, I'm excited by the unique contributions John's been able to make with counseling staff, contributing to business decisions that make a big difference in our local staff, and a lot more--even before he stretches his wings in the Construction Management portion. Adding work in the field is really exciting.

Seeing "the problem" around us in so many ways every day, every little chance to be part of God's solution is invigorating.

With the greatest of ease: Tire swing!

The installation process made me laugh out loud! African men shimmy up our avocado tree, or any tree, for that matter, with amazing speed. (Our guard often talks to the eMi guard next door while the guard hangs in eMi's tree.) I did ask Godfrey to make the swing "mzungu safe"--i.e. safe enough that even ex-pats who have grown up with miles of safety-based litigation would feel peaceful if their kid gave it a go. So far, so good.

This is a great way for the kids to remember their grandparents' home, which had a fantastic one of these.

I know I'm just a mom, but...our house just gained about ten points on the coolness scale.

Shouldn't you check your club at the door?

Note: Those with clubs and grass skirts or those with baskets on their heads may find the elevator by following the arrow.