Friday, December 31, 2010
The Kitodha Mercy Women’s group, as they have named themselves, began learning additional handcraft skills from other community members and is starting a farm to help supplement their needs. Something about the sewing machines and Henry’s exhortation has spurred this community toward innovation and prosperity mindsets rather than poverty mindsets. All they needed was the small gift of sewing machines and sound teaching to get them started. One of the biggest benefits we recognized in this group was that the sewing machines have united the community across cultures and religions. They are all dedicated to working together.
As with any small business, the Kitodha Women’s Group does have a few needs to help them move beyond sewing paper bags. Thread, scissors that cut the thread clean and that cut fabric without ruining it, fabric for clothing, and various closures (buttons, zippers, etc.). Just a few of these basic staples will get the group started in becoming self supporting. I am always amazed at how simple things can produce such vast change.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
This visit was scheduled so that we could check on the community’s progress with the machines and to take information about possible child sponsorships. The group was very open and forthright about their activities. Read more in later posts.
Lauren and I boarded the cram-packed taxi from Kawuku to Kampala and found Henry at the Shell station next to the busy taxi park where the Toyota vans were sent off in every direction. Weaving our way among the many signs indicating the destination for each taxi, we found the right vehicle and boarded. Henry and I were in the way back where the knee space was narrowest. He and I are both the same height, tall. Three hours of super squish but some great company with Henry. Street vendors reached in through the windows to offer everything from drinks, food, and candy, to handkerchiefs and cell phone air time. Along the way the taxi pulled over to an area where the street vendors again descended. Roasted chicken on a stick, some other kind of meat cubed on a stick, drinks, fruits, everything…if you don’t mind not knowing how your food was handled.
In a stretch, the trail could have been considered a two-track, but…that would have been a real stretch. Unlike Karamoja, the land was rich and green. I couldn’t help but be thankful that it hadn’t rained that morning or we would have boda’ed through slime puddles all morning. As it was our boda tires balanced on a three-inch-wide track with deep muck on either side. One slip and we’d become mud people. Half an hour later we arrived to the sound of music.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
“700 each,” the taxi man said. That white tax almost cost both Lauren and me an extra 200 shillings for the ride. We hopped off at the top of the big hill on Entebbe road and up, up, up we climbed over the recently rained upon but not too slick dirt road. Sweat dripped down my back…and a few other places. Rain came down this morning for hours. Lauren commented that as soon as I wanted to go somewhere the sun would come out. Sure enough, the clouds cleared and the sun appeared…hot (yes, I got burned…again). I’m sure I looked to be a lovely sight by the time we reached the house.
Aisha is a young girl whose older sister set her on fire about four years ago. Lack of medical attention left her skin not only severely scarred but also grown back together in places it should not be. For example, under the arm the arm skin was attached to the ribs. The inside of the elbow was attached with skin like webbing. These two places specifically prevented any range of motion with her right side.
Sponsorship enabled Aisha to receive a first round of surgery and we’d checked on her during the September trip. Another visit was in order to ensure that Aisha was continuing her physical therapy and to determine the next steps in her recovery/reconstruction process.
The girl was at home when we arrived and her family welcomed us. Aisha was happy to remove her shirt to show the scars. The whole front of her body, chest and all, was burned. This young girl is starting to develop breasts, but on her right side the fatty tissue was too heavily scarred to allow the breast to form correctly. On the left side the breast was developing, but that small pocket of tissue was barely recognizable.
Physical therapy cost money the family didn’t have and was, therefore, not done following the initial surgery. We acknowledged the need for another visit to the doctor to determine next steps so that we can secure funding. In the mean time, some mobility had been regained and the girl seemed otherwise healthy, praise the Lord.
A beautiful smile adorned the face of one lovely young mother who sat next to me in church. She looked familiar and I treated her that way, but I later learned that she is a new Christian and has been coming to Calvary Chapel Namulanda for only a few weeks. I’ve never met her. Whoops.
The special luncheon following the service was delectable. Matoke, rice, gee-nut sauce, beef, and cabbage filled the plates beyond recognition. This young woman served me and then asked to come to my home for a visit. I inquired as to the topic, but she declined to reveal her purpose until we first visited.
Appointments really aren’t made here; visitors appear whenever their lives permit. Luckily, when I heard the tapping on the glass door, we were home. She entered with two friends from the church and as is the custom they were served what little food we had – sweet bananas. It’s important to always have something on hand…this might be the only food a guest gets on a particular day.
This dear woman told her story – a story so familiar to the women in Uganda. Her husband left her with their two children and she now has no way to provide for them. She specifically requested help with tuition payments for their education. I believe she was aware of the sponsorships Mercy Uganda sometimes arranges, which is why she asked for tuition rather than food.
Her children stay with their grandmother in Mukono because, like Hagar, it pains this mother to see them suffering so. It pained us to tell her that finding sponsors takes time and that we could not provide assistance. Her face fell sad and she held back the tears, as did I.
In prayer we acknowledged that God is the only one who loves our children more than a mother and that he is so much more capable of providing for their needs than we ever could be. We called his protection on them and his provision through this young woman. What a privilege to pray with them and to have absolute faith that God will indeed provide. Yet I remember freshly the times when that faith sometimes falters because the immediate reality seems so impossible.
Please join us in calling on God for this small family. Ask that she would see the love of God in a whole new way because of this situation – particularly given that she is a new Christian – and that her faith would be strengthened as a result. Pray that she would be surprised by hope. Amen.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Rain did indeed fall, although not heavily, and mixed with the red clay dust just enough to make the unpaved roads super slick. Our trusty driver, Gabriel, successfully navigated the car to the entrance of Bujagali Falls where as a standard I was charged more for entry than the dark-skinned people were charged. Although here the higher fare is posted.
Kesega is the hometown of these young men and following the church service we were invited to Augustine’s home for Christmas dinner. We relaxed in the shade of the straw-covered hut, although the day was cloudy with a chance of rain. A calf visited our small enclosure as did a chicken and a child or two.
Joel cut up my favorite Ugandan food – pineapple – while Augustine’s mother prepared the meal in the hut just beyond. I peeked my head into that hut at the invitation of Augustine and saw the crude fire and many cooking instruments. His mother spoke no English so I greeted her warmly with Augustine translating, but I wish I would have stayed longer to express my appreciation for the man Augustine is becoming.
|Joel, Gabriel in the background, and Augustine|
Inside the dining room hut were chairs enough for six people – chairs borrowed from the church – where Gabriel, Lauren, and I sat on one side of two small wood tables and Joel, Augustine, and Pastor Sam sat on the other side. After finishing the pineapple appetizer, the tables were presently filled (and I mean filled) with delicious traditional Ugandan foods: matoke (boiled banana), irish (potatoes), spaghetti, beef, chicken, cabbage, and rice.
We all leaned back with full stomachs as I asked if Augustine and his family ate this kind of meal after church every Sunday. He laughed. I learned that around August the family began saving to buy the meat to serve at Christmas dinner with the food staples. How could they have known we would be with them for Christmas? Oh, I wish I wouldn’t have eaten so much.
|This little guy watched me through the |
doorway all through the service.
Recent graduates of Calvary Chapel School of Ministry, Augustine and Joel are planting a church in Busoga. On Christmas day, however, we found the nearly inseparable pair at Calvary Chapel in Kesega—a remote village north of Jinja. Busoga is on the opposite bank of the Nile which causes a financial burden to those wishing to attend church or church functions at Calvary Chapel. Churches don’t line remote village roads like they do in West Michigan, which makes choosing a church closer to home nearly impossible.
After a long drive we pulled in next to the church and stepped out of the car—the only car in sight—to receive a warm welcome from Joel. Cries of “mzungu” meant that I shook the hand of dozens of children who found my pale skin exceedingly interesting.
I always enjoy worshiping as these men play the drums at Calvary Chapel Namulanda. But watching the journey of Augustine and Joel growing into their own pastoral gifts is a privilege. I look forward to continuing to watch them grow and to supporting them in any way I can. These young men are to be admired for their passion for Scripture and for their love of God.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
A mattress, mosquito net, and some rice were the Christmas gifts sent by Olivia’s sponsor (not my friend’s Olivia, a different one). The family invited us into their home and I continue to be surprised at how neat and clean the homes always are – given the dirt floor and mud walls. Commonly the family has a wood chair or two, but most have hand-woven mats for sitting on the ground. Kick off your shoes before entering.
Christmas Eve day David the trusted boda man took Gertrude from our sight. He returned a short time later with a bag…full of a naked and quiet Gertrude. Sad? I think not. Hungry? You bet. Lauren whined about how hard it was to cut Gertrude into proper pieces, while I cleaned up her poop with a baby wipe.
Swosh, swosh, swosh. The girls were riding the pump handle up and down as the water swoshed a steady stream to fill the jerry cans. Cool, clean water. They’re so thankful for the well installed in Kyamagemule this past September by some generous donors to Mercy Uganda.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The plan was to go to the market after Olivia’s tutoring session, but Gabriel was called away at the last minute. He charged Lauren and I to go together (i.e., don’t let Leslie go alone) to pick up the few items needed for some sponsored children in Kyamagemule, a trip we’ll make tomorrow. Mattress, mosquito nets, and rice. While we’re there I thought of getting some food for lunch, dinner, and tomorrow’s breakfast – potatoes, carrots, and pineapple.
Lauren was hungry too. I know because she started eating her lunch before we left. I didn’t have any food except the Cheerios I brought from home and this didn’t seem like the time to use them up. I waited and tried to urge her on, but then she started dessert (popcorn). She then kindly informed me that we are not allowed to eat while we walk. She said this activity would be akin to scratching yourself in public. Okay, I waited a little more.
Lauren said, “Be sure the nets are treated and don’t take one if it’s not packaged.” Then she told me how much everything should cost and where to get this, that, and the other thing. Then she reminded me that I would not be able to carry everything back so I should call David, our trusted boda man, to meet me and bring things home for me. Don’t forget your phone. Off to the market alone I go. As I walked out the gate she said, “Like a baby bird leaving the nest.” Ha-ha.
The market was nothing but slime after the morning rains. Slick as snot is an understatement. The white tax was outrageous, but thanks to Lauren’s financial advice I was able to get what I thought were reasonable prices…until I got home and was informed that a bag of potatoes should cost less than 300 UGX ($0.15). Well, I was happy with the price.
I got to the “supermarket” and they didn’t have enough rice so I was ready to call David to pick up the mattress for me. Phone was dead. Really…what’s the point of a phone…grr. Lauren had a good laugh at the whole thing, but while I was gone Gabriel called and found out I went alone. We’re still deciding who to blame for that.
A sudden chill at 4:00 a.m. compelled me to cover up with the small Turkish Airlines blanket used during my last trip to nap in the airport. There are no open windows in my room so I didn’t associate the chill with anything special. Moments later all the water in the world was unleashed atop our thin metal roof. In the pitch black of my room, I dozed to that constant drone. A quick snap of thunder jolted me and the neighbor’s car alarm awake. Occasional rumbles in the background lulled me back to sleep. At 6:00 a.m. the rain still poured down just as hard as when it began.
I stepped out on the porch into two inches of water that splashed up to my waste. I’d hopes of getting a good video…too dark outside. Roosters crow without regard to the weather. I could only imagine the slicker-than-snot roads based on my walk in the rain during my first visit. No walking for me this morning.
By 7:00 a.m. the rains sounded just as heavy, but with smaller drops…the pitch was higher. The thunder continued to rumble. This is the wet season. 8:00 a.m. still raining consistently. We’re supposed to host a tutoring session this morning. 11:00 a.m. still raining hard.
We lunched at a nearby restaurant before heading home where I reminded Ronnie that he is loved, God has not forgotten him, and that he is important and special and valuable. Being discouraged during the job hunting process is not uncommon.
I shared some tough advice with Ronnie too. We sometimes have to adjust our opinion of our capabilities in light of the larger pool of job candidates so that we are more likely to actually be considered for a job. Although Ronnie and I are both confident he can easily handle work more advanced than what his education or experience show, he is not likely to get a job based on our beliefs.
We sketched out some ideas for work that align better with his resume and with the professional way he presents himself, and Ronnie was charged with getting into Kampala after the first of the year to apply at all the companies that fit our criteria. I also challenged Ronnie to be much more aggressive in the number of jobs he applies for. I see him regularly and will very likely spend another day with him after applying to those organizations in Kampala.
Across the street we approached the guard at the next aviation organization and were told the job posting closed on Friday. Ronnie had put his application in then, among many others who waited in long lines. The guard said there had been 19 jobs available and over 3,500 applicants. This is the place where Ronnie learned about the two piles of CVs and how they were categorized. The guard indicated they typically have up to 10,000 applications for just a few jobs.
Since we were nearby, Ronnie wanted to check with the United Nations. A three-person boda ride to the heavily guarded gate resulted in being told to check for jobs online. Few organizations actually use online posting because internet services are unstable, user access is limited, and skilled web developers are scarce.
The over-full taxi ride back to Kawuku was quiet, as both Ronnie and I were contemplating the experience. He lamented that if he had parents he would have a larger pool of resources by which to get a nice job—parental relationships are a common means for getting work in Uganda. I let him have that moment because he was right. I’ve had those kinds of moments myself.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
After practicing some interviewing skills together, we’ll begin the door-to-door application for jobs that Ronnie has scoped out in advance. At one location he reported having seen the piles of CVs separated into two stacks. When asking the security guard why there were two piles he learned, not surprisingly, that one pile was for those applicants who: (a) already worked there, (b) knew someone who worked there, or (c) had a sponsor.
During the job application process—an application appears to be akin to a hand-written cover letter developed on the spot—I’ll serve as Ronnie’s sponsor in hopes of improving his opportunity for employment. Apparently having a well-educated American sponsor is quite weighty in Uganda. I’m excited to experience this process through the Ugandan cultural context.
Please pray that we would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and not filter job opportunities through our own lens of expectations. Pray that doors would swing wide open so that this young man of God would have a place to live and food on his plate. Pray that we would both have the right heart and the right words when interviewing with potential employers. Pray that Ronnie would come away from this job hunting experience surprised by hope.
Apart from a good education and a strong work ethic, the process of securing employment often begins with a well-written, well-organized resume. Yet even the most accomplished writers struggle to develop a document that rightly describes their education and experience in a way that compels potential employers to invite them for an interview.
Ronnie and I worked to develop his curriculum vitae (CV)—a more commonly used term in Uganda than the term resume—in preparation for the job hunting we’ll do together. We worked at drawing out the descriptive language needed to help employers really understand the scope of his past responsibilities. Given that Ronnie is at that age where he’s not had lots of work experience yet, and that he’s not had a university education yet, he’s had a difficult time securing employment.
Thanks to a generous donor we printed 10 copies of Ronnie’s two-page CV right at home without having to pay the 2,000 UGX for a taxi to an internet café, 5,000 UGX for internet use, and 20,000 UGX for printing (about $13 USD—a generous day’s wages in Uganda—and an hour of our time).
Monday, December 20, 2010
Before leaving the States I offered to deliver Christmas gifts to the children sponsored through Mercy Uganda. Delivering presents to the children here is always a privilege. I suggested a very small flat rate box size (5-3/8” x 8-5/8” x 1-5/8”) and then I gulped when I thought about the actual volume and weight associated with the potential for 30+ gifts.
Before plunking a box the size of Texas down on the coffee table in front of Olivia, I made the usual attempt to help her understand that the gift was from her sponsor Leslie not from me Leslie. I think when she saw me and she saw a plain brown box set apart she almost had a glimmer in her eye in hopes that the box would be for her. Her face brightened as much as any shy Uganda girl’s face would when that hope was confirmed.
Look to the left, look to the right, look to the left, look to the right. The cars are driving on the wrong side of the road so what I see doesn’t make sense in my head. With conscious effort I begin to anticipate traffic flow; but then a boda drives by going the new wrong way, then a bike. The normally narrow space needed to trot across a busy road must double or even triple. Luckily that amount of space does open…eventually.
Repeatedly reminding myself that a slow pace is best, I expect to prevent griminess before setting my first foot into Calvary Chapel Namulanda for the Sunday service. Dust covered walking paths alongside Entebbe road wind their way through front yards, trash burning heaps, and in front of vegetable stands. Boda drivers compete for my business to no avail. The trails come scarily close to grazing cattle (with very big horns, I might add) and in the path of many a chicken.
The big pink building at the dip in the road marks the place where I turn to begin the uphill climb. Like the shape of a staircase – right turn, left turn, right turn, left turn – I work my way up, up, up. I pause in the shade of a new compound wall to catch my breath before the incline increases. I consider helping two young girls carrying jerry cans (water cans) up from their murky water source. It is Sunday after all, I should be a good servant. Instead I say good morning and the girls repeat back the standard, “Good morning, how are you?” Only sometimes are the children able to carry on a conversation beyond those introductory words.
At the top of the hill I emerge through the church gate only to find that my 45 minute, two-mile walk has brought me there 15 minutes early. I perch on top of the short stone wall and let my incredibly failed attempt at avoiding sweat dry in the light breeze.
From inside the church I can hear Pastor Wilson and a few others in prayer for the nation, the community, and the church. I consider joining them but am more concerned with drying off first. Eventually I enter to a resounding “welcome Leslie” and I join the small group in their final circle—the Holy Spirit lives here too. I am given the privilege of praying for this village and feel so inadequate next to these mighty men of God. Yet I know no performance is needed.
Two-mile trail. The things I can see by walking instead of riding on my ponderous way to church are beyond beautiful.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Colorful, plastic tarps cover the mostly dry and very dusty ground. These tarps conveniently mark the spot where one vendor starts and the next one ends. The narrow and surprisingly irregular footpaths that remain often produce an inadvertent scuff to the merchandise as shoppers shimmy past one another. As a result, the path is unavoidably littered with stray fruits and vegetables that recently escaped their assigned positions.
Irishes (potatoes), carrots, avocados, and other similarly stackable vegetables are displayed in small pyramids with their best side up. Tangerines, oranges, and lemons—with their green pock-marked skin—are confined to barrels lest their piles collapse thus scattering the rolling fruits. Watermelon, jackfruit, and pineapple are sliced open to reveal their luscious, ripe coloring.
Dressed in long colorful skirts and equally colorful head wraps, women sit in the center of their mats with their legs stretched out in front of them displaying their bare, heavily worn feet. No pretty polish or cute sandals for these toes. The merchants and their merchandise mixed atop the tarp means, well…that it’s always a good idea to wash the food thoroughly before eating it. Occasional umbrellas shielded the whole jumble from the blazing midday sun.
The fruits and vegetables purchased from this market do not look like the perfect grocery store fruits and vegetables found in American supermarkets. Dirt still covers these once buried treasures. Their skins are heavily blemished, their shapes are irregular, and their colors are questionable. Yet the flavors are rich and deeply satisfying.
God doesn’t judge the same way men do (John 7:24).
A gentle whisper produces a single, round form. A steady puff generates many clusters of irregular shapes. The rainbow colors never fail to appear in the bright, overhead sunlight. The slight breeze carries the fragile structures in all directions. First low—some too heavy—then high. Their walls thin and they eventually pop.
Children look on in amazement. What is this? Five repetitions, ten repetitions, and they tentatively reach out to touch the swirling masses. Now jumping, now chasing, now laughing.