Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A light snack

So I finally got a (dark) picture of our monkey. I believe he bunks in one of the vacant lots next door,  which are also the likely culprits of last week's snake.

We found this guy on the bottom branch of our avocado tree, and were able to get about four feet from him. He just sat there eyeing us confidently, maybe with some of that trademark cheekiness. He used his teeth to peel one of our mangoes he'd swiped from the tree across the yard, ate the fruit with those deft little fingers, threw his trash in the grass, and made his exit through the razor wire. Decidedly not his best angle, I know.

Right now this is very cool. One of our friends has had a monkey just out of reach, eating the only fruit on their tree--and discarding half on the ground in front of him. That would be less cool.

I think he needs a name. What do you think? Marvin, maybe, or Eugene? B. suggested "Peaches", which seems a little ironic since they don't actually have peaches here. Jeeves? Mmm-bop? Clyde? Larry? Feel free to weigh in, here.


I've been pondering all the vivid leaves and mildly slumping temperatures most of you are experiencing, maybe with a good bowl of chili in hand and a thin sweater. I am missing fall less than I thought I would--perhaps on purpose, as I regularly bump it from my mind in my attempt to be all here. Yet it is still an interesting phenomenon to live here in the time warp. I am snipping out autumn learning centers for my children--gourds, scarecrows, pumpkins and all that--while our temps, as ever, hang out in the low eighties and my kids wear summer clothes for the ninth month in a row. There's no Halloween, no Thanksgiving, no school supply aisles here. So my efforts are more a cultural reminder to my children, I suppose.

A friend of mine recently posted that there is no Luganda word for snow. And I agree with her take on it: Why would there need to be? Then, driving home today and talking with my kids about how few Ugandans have the capability to travel outside the country, I put two and two together: Most of my local friends have likely never seen temperatures below, say, sixty degrees, or maybe above 95. As one who grew up in Illinois, or saw a windchill in Michigan of -40 once, this intrigues me. These friends have, of course, never glimpsed autumn foliage, either. And once when I was reading J. a book about snow, a guard overheard me and posed question after question regarding what it was like. Snow forts? Snow angels? Snowballs? Snowmen? Really? (The craziness in icy traffic, strangely, didn't seem that much of a stretch for the ol' Kampalan imagination.)

There is a theory, I have been told, regarding poverty around the equatorial regions of the world, and how weather changes the fabric of a nation--literally and figuratively, I imagine!--affecting even its work ethic. I have seen a lot of hardworking Ugandans, so I don't know what I think about the theory. I have seen the tough women I have met in the Midwest, and the mildly slower, relational pace of the South. There's definitely something that connects the geography of a place to its culture, as I've glimpsed in Colorado, or wherever I've lived.

I personally deeply enjoy how beauty and flowers and color and warmth surround me here wherever I go. I love that local fruit and vegetables are always in season, that our produce is grown within a pretty small radius all year long and constantly has a yummy variety. It has yet to leave me wondering what to do with, say, an bumper crop of acorn squash (which I came to know more affectionately through maybe eight different recipes which my children would politely push to the sides of their plates). I love the climate and landscape of Uganda. As one of our guests mentioned, "You guys live in the Garden of Eden!"

When Oliver is walking around the house, shivering and muttering about the cold when the weather hits 65, my eyebrows do raise a little, and I start smirking in her direction. She bumps my shoulder in mocking, defiant protest. Doug E. Doug's bewildered, indignant line from the Disney movie Cool Runnings usually comes to mind--you know, the part where the Jamaican bobsled team steps out in the Calgary winter: "We are a tropical people!" She and I usually have a good laugh as I throw a cardigan around her shoulders. I think of Michigan, or the biting winds that roll across a wintry Iowa plain. Maybe you should stick around here for awhile longer, babe.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


When I (Janel) saw "Mom and Dad" calling on my cell phone, I knew something was wrong. Mom and Dad would not be calling from Little Rock. They were in Thailand with my sister Kelli and her husband. So this was my quite pregnant sister Keri calling from Arkansas, here at 11 PM. I slid on my sandals and hurried out in my PJ's to our gate, the only place in our compound with any kind of reputation for reliable phone service.
And yes. Something was very wrong. 
On Monday, around the time that I was putting my kids to bed over here, my grandpa--my Mom's dad--suddenly finished the race that was his life, there in his home in Keota, Iowa, pop. 500. He is finally seeing God Himself face-to-face in heaven. Maybe he's dancing like a maniac on legs that work again at last.
I am celebrating and remembering the life of a terrific dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa, finally released from a painful body beleaguered by countless strokes, possibly since he was a young man; heart conditions; failing kidneys. Now, this man I loved is finally whole in body and soul.
But this is such a loss for me and my family. I think it's more so as we're so far apart from each other. It took some gymnastics to get my parents on the flights they're slugging through today, en route to Chicago via Bangkok and Frankfurt. One of God's special kindnesses was my parents' visit to each of us so near to receiving this news, so that our spans around the planet felt shorter with freshly cultivated relationships. But even then, I wish I could throw my arms around my mom, or my grandma, now a new widow after nearly fifty-six years of marriage.
Here in Uganda, it feels odd to be away. It feels abbreviated as I grieve alone this man who punctuated weeks and weeks of my summer and holidays, whose sly humor filled me with jokes that made my mom roll her eyes, who I still hear my dad affectionately calling by his last name--"Walker!"--and who couldn't resist a daring move in a game of euchre.
Monday night I leaned against my husband and mentally envisioned so many of the stories I'd heard about his life: wooing my grandma in a diner. Wedding her just before Christmas 1956 when he knew he was being drafted. Getting so sick on the voyage to Germany that he'd never willingly eat rice again. Guarding the Berlin Wall during the Korean Conflict. Turning my mom into an indubitable "daddy's girl" in the trailer they'd called home in her early life. Picking up poop from the grass and depositing it into a Dunkin' Donuts box one morning after my grandma accidentally opened the wrong drain on the pop-up camper. Being baffled by a slightly cocky young car salesman in his dealership who'd daily show up late for work but reputedly top even my grandpa's own sales numbers...and who would later ask for my mom's hand.
Then it was on to moments I remembered: Grandpa helping my pint-sized sister Keri catch a fish with a bamboo pole that was about six times her height--which we would later watch float away, claimed by the lake--and who I believe years later was the one who caught his finger with a flailing fishhook. I see him piloting a pontoon boat across Lake Trio, or tooling around it in a three-wheeler with myself and a cousin or sister in tow. I recall watching the smoke from his pipe spin up toward the can lights above the kitchen table (a habit I openly protested as a five-year-old). I grin at the laugh that shook his shoulders over something mildly naughty, until he could barely breathe. I see us sitting in the summer shade, he and I, as he recounted his memories of the war.
I see him still in my mom's love for authenticity, her active protection of those she loves, her fairness, her creative problem solving, her intelligence, her face shape and that slight overbite, and her love for a good laugh. Some of these, the two of them passed on to me.
Tuesday night as I peered through that exhaustive haze of grief, washing the dishes, I found myself singng his favorite hymn:
I sing because I'm happy.
I sing because I'm free!
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me.
Yes, he is now free in the ultimate sense. As a relative affectionately mentioned to me, it is our loss, and heaven's gain. This week, I am thankful that death does not get the last word.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I'd be lying to tell you that there weren't some serious perks to missionary life. And having my parents here was an excellent reason to venture out to one of the most striking gifts God has given Uganda to offer the world: a safari on the African savannah.

Safaris differ based on region, and ours took us to Queen Elizabeth National Park along the southwestern edge of Uganda, home of the Rwenzori Mountains and Lakes Albert, George, and Edward. It's also the location of President Museveni's tribe, the Myankole (Me-on-koh-lay), so it's notably wealthier--more permanent structures as opposed to mud huts; more crops; more livestock, like the abundant longhorn cattle; and nicer roads for the president's travel.

We were all glad to see a more holistic view of Uganda outside Kampala's urban crush and incredible traffic. The landscape was breathtaking at times, dotted with lakes, villages, banana-tree covered valleys, and hills of perfectly-manicured tea plantations where the air has this intoxicating herbal smell. Except for John, it was the first time for each of us to go into the southern hemisphere. I wonder, do the toilets flush clockwise or counterclockwise on the equator? Shoulda checked.

I'll let the photos and captions fill in the rest. The entire trip was such a unique opportunity to worship an inventive Creator who even displayed His sense of humor (see warthog below), and just enjoy a priceless time together.
We rose at six to be breakfasted and out by seven in our rockin' safari vehicle, which smelled a lot like my dad's old Chevy Scottsdale pickup, probably thanks to the dust. We still missed most of the big cats. They sleep during the warmth of the day to save their energy for hunting (which still isn't all that warm in Uganda; it was around eighty degrees). The open top made it fun to ride standing up, so we could try to spot more animals.


Queenie has over 8,000 antelope. This one's called a waterbuck, which the lions don't like; the males put off a strong stench when they're frightened that taints their meat.

Remember that Veggie Tales' song, "Everybody's Got a Water Buffalo"? Well, we certainly saw a lot of them. This one was actually what our Ugandan guide called one of the "losers". When some males get old and too agressive, they get kicked out of the herd. This guy looked a little rough around the edges. One speared water buffalo reportedly stalked its hunters, who left in a vehicle, and killed four out of five of them several hours later when he found them. Sounds like Bob and Larry don't want to mess with these guys.

I obviously got the wrong end of the elephants here. But the highlight of the safari for me was the baby that I didn't get on camera. It was about seven months old and slick with water from the lake. He was running to keep up, and it was a-dor-a-ble.

The kids were thrilled to see this three-foot rock monitor lizard from their My First Book of Southern African Snakes and Reptiles book chomping some eggs by the side of the road. It looked massive in real life.

Side note/drastic tangent: our guard did catch our first snake at our house two nights ago, which may or may not have been poisonous (it's best to assume the worst here). That's when the stories started coming from our guards about the reptiles they've caught in the village, like the four-meter python as big as his thigh that needed two spears and a panga (Ugandan machete), or the Nile crocodile that leapt over the side of their boat that they had to kill in the water. Ever have that feeling that someone's life experiences are so vastly different from yours? Like, I killed a cockroach one time...

This is, and I quote, the most dangerous animal in Queen Elizabeth national park. If you get between a hippo and water, they can feel threatened and actually crush you. A friend of a friend had a lung collapsed and a few ribs and a pelvis crushed by a hippo's bite. They're vegetarians that eat at night, so they stay cool in the water during they day. They also have a three-inch skin made largely of fat, so if they're injured, they need to stay out of the water until healed. One of our guards who lived by Queen Elizabeth mentioned that hippos always used to eat their vegetable gardens at night. Don't you wish those pesky hippos would stop munching your carrots?

Uh-huh. That's an antelope crossing.

These graceful birds are Uganda's national animal, the crested crane.
This nest is made by some birds that would fit in my palm, but are extremely constructive: It weighs about 200 lbs., and houses many other species of birds.

I realize it's hard to see, but for the record--here's one of the three lions we saw.

Here's a herd of warthogs. The guide called them "very stupid". Their short memories mean that when they hear lions out hunting, they come out of their burrows. ...Might have to agree with the guide on that one.

African fish eagles.

This infant vervet monkey was lunching by the side of the road. You can see his family hanging out in the tree below. They're not as big as the ones that live next door here in Kampala, but there's a lot more of them. From what I've heard, never let them see food, because what's yours is theirs.

This is one of many salt lakes created by volcanic craters throughout Uganda. Its Myankole name means "hot argument." The rectangles are man-made salt flats, created by locals to harvest salt from the natural minerals, in an agreement following a long dispute with the park. The park realized that allowing the villages within its borders to use salt for income decreased poaching.

And--here's the lodge, which was modest but strikingly beautiful, especially in its views of the savannah.

The pool and its glazed-tile-over-concrete waterslide were about as fun for the kids as the safari. Check out the vista below: The pool was positioned on the edge of the savannah, which we could see for miles. My dad saw a troop of elephants there, and we could watch the safari vehicles going out for the night game drive with their spotlights to watch the lions.

I love that I was able to catch this moment of C. with my mom.

As my oldest quoted regarding this photo, "History has so many wonderful moments."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Leaving and staying

...and just like that, my parents are gone. My kids and John and I won't see them for a year. Now that they have arrived in Thailand, I guess that means they really aren't staying. I was kind of hoping for a finally-fortunate glitch in African infrastructure that (oops) kept them here indefinitely.

Boo. Sniff.

Yes, there were some tears on both sides. Seeing my parents cry through my own tears and C. weeping for a good fifteen minutes was, well, hard.

But it was a great trip. (More photos to come.) And I'm realizing now that they've left, I feel like this is more home--a continuingly fuzzy concept. This was helped by us being the host, the (admittedly green) "experts," the ones with routines and friends and knowledge of where to go/which drawer the teabags are in/what that gesture just meant and owning things like hot pads or pillowcases. When they left, I didn't go with them; I stay here, because I live here now. Someone else close to me has seen it and verifies that I live here and what we do here. Plus, I'm liking it here. My kids are thriving. My folks really liked it, too. Maybe we'll get to be next-door neighbors for a millenia or two in heaven.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy 50th, Uganda!

It was exhilarating to be here today on Uganda's 50th anniversary "Jubilee", joining with Ugandans in prayer and celebration of what God's doing here and of a people expressing such a beautiful part of His face. Dignitaries from all over Africa tore down the red-, yellow, and black-bannered roads in siren-screaming entourages today during our trip to and from the airport. Churches held overnight prayer vigils. The country got two days of national holiday. It was fun to enjoy most of the day with my parents, and see Ugandans laughing while they swam in the surf on Lake Victoria..

Sadly, many can't afford flags or even to close their businesses today, so apart from waiters or shopkeepers I saw glancing at the formalities on TV, few of the average Ugandans seemed to mark the day with much flair.

And that's somewhat of the paradox with which this day has been celebrated, on which Uganda was declared independent of Britain in 1962. There is a great deal to celebrate about a beautiful, heritage-rich country ruling itself, full of so many people I love, enjoy, and admire. A lot of things are going right here. But it is still a country under the intense burdens of poverty and related systems: injustice, sorely-lacking health care, paralyzing infrastructure, education that fails to prepare most Ugandans with what they need for life, corruption at every level of government, and a horrifying history of lethal dictators like Idi Amin.

The analogy was made to me that we should view the Jubilee as a wedding anniversary: A time to focus on things that are going right, the things that are beautiful and memorable. I agree, and I love cheering on my Uganda! But I also see the delimma of a marriage when one partner (i.e. the government) has a continuing history of abusing the other, and the abused is supposed to dab a bit of cover-up over its black eye for the big event, won't you, Honey?

So today is occasion both for festivities and for petition. It's a day to fix my hopes in a different place. Perhaps Uganda is not unlike the U.S. is its hopes that a different political regime will finally bring the change we not only thirst for, but desperately need. Isaiah 26:13 struck me last week: O LORD our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance.

I am thankful for great leaders in history. I'm more grateful than ever that in the country I come from, there have been so many. We do need heroes on micro- and macro-levels. God does great things through good men (even bad ones, despite them), systems that love justice, and great nations. But even a good leader, like Josiah, or a great system, is limited by the hearts of the people. I'm pressed to set my hopes for Uganda, and the U.S., set on a Hero and His Country. He is still at work here, and His work is good.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Prayer blitz: Update

1) Thank you, thank you for praying for Passion Kampala. The short story: Only 50-60 of those who signed up were able to attend, but we did pray that those who God wanted to go would be able to attend, and there were options for the extra tickets. John and I did not attend due to a) my parents being here (!!), b) 35,000 people in attendance, and c) John having that pesky malaria. (Side note: When I told a friend we would be missing church that Sunday due to malaria, my friend sweetly/sarcastically noted that Jim Elliot would have gone to church. ...Thanks, Steve.) But this account--Chris Tomlin and Hijabs--from a friend who went with the refugees, was a great picture of the goings on (photos included). The Gospel was crystal-clear, it seems.

The Q & A last Wednesday was attended by forty (maybe half Muslim?), and was nothing short of exhilarating. Some who weren't able to attend the event still came with miraculous stories--e.g. I was supposed to have a liver operation, and I called on the name of Jesus and was healed--as did those who attended: I can't speak English well at all, but that night I understood every word.

Almost the first hour of the Q & A was full of raving over the event and simply its uniquenesses for refugees who hadn't seen anything like it: The crowds, the happiness, the message about God's creation praising him, their own image on the JumboTron. The whole Q & A felt much like I would picture an African tribal meeting, with everyone sitting in a circle as members took turns in the middle, speaking their piece, after which everyone clapped.

We had wonderful jumping-off points from the event to talk about worshipping God with our lives, and to present the Gospel again with clarity and challenge. The most difficult point was handling with courage but discernment the assertion made by one man that Muhammed and Jesus were both ways to our great God, who is the same God in his mind. I feel like the Holy Spirit gave us a lot of wisdom to deal with that as we described Jesus as the only Door, the only Way. At the end, we encouraged people who had decided to follow Jesus to tell someone at the refugee center, and offered that we could meet again to keep answering questions.

Wow. I feel so awestruck to have seen God work in this way...I am in awe of the way His arm is working here, and the way He loves these people, speaking to them like this.

My heart has been heavy for these individuals pursued by God, and I feel like I need to keep praying. If you would, please keep praying with me.

2) John is much, much better, and simply has a bit of fatigue, which is complicated by a schedule requiring more time than we actually have! The first day of the medicine is brutal, and he shivered so much he could barely talk. I think I will always remember being up in the middle of the night with him that night, just praying and praising together as tears rolled down my face. He was in so much pain. I am so thankful for a cure. It gives us a lot of compassion for people who contract this all over the world. It also encourages us that after three days, he was done, and one of our greatest fears from when we came is something that can be walked through. And having my parents here allayed a lot of stress that I would have been enduring alone. God is good and so faithful.

3) My parents leave tomorrow. Though I feel a little sheepish typing this in light of people like Amy Carmichael (who left her mother for life to go to India), I can tell that this will be hard, saying goodbye to each other for a year--especially my kids, who for two weeks, have been in a blissful hybrid of the two worlds they love that are home.

Thank you, friends, for praying--for holding up our arms. Seeing God in these ways has been a form of rich worship and praise.