Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fun Times

So time here has begun to fly so much faster- as of today I only have 6 weeks left in Africa, and only 2 official weeks of class after this week. And the way classes work here, it is a much lighter course load, so I really only have one presentation and four big papers really left to do. That leaves us with not much else but making the most of the rest of our time here, which we fully intend to do. Four weeks from today we leave for a trip to Rwanda, thereby really ending our life here as we know it. So we plan on spending as much time with our Honors College friends as possible, in between all of their course work. But even on our own, we manage to have some fun. Last weekend we went white water rafting on the Nile, and a couple people even went bungee jumping. I have also spent the night at Chain, the orphanage I volunteer at twice and got to spend a lot of time talking with some of the older girls and playing games with the younger ones. So it has been good. And yet, already the good-bye’s will begin soon. Next week, I will go to Chain and TLM, a fellowship I joined for the semester, for the last times. And in the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting my Mukono home stay family to say good bye to them as well. But it has been a great time, and even as it seems so close to ending, it is still a little over a month to enjoy and continue to learn.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


For one of my classes, we have been reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. The book is a reflection on compassion and Christianity based on the model that Jesus lived out. Much of it is truth that I have already heard, but looks at different aspects from a slightly different perspective. On the second page I already knew that I would be challenged and like the thoughts and discussions that would come out of reading this because I could so directly relate to one of the statements, “we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful…Meanwhile, we have forgotten that it is often in ‘useless,’ unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we feel consolation and comfort.” So often I say or think that presence and relationships are the most important, but have really found that more difficult to live out since being here. And I think it is very directly related to the need to useful. In the context of being here in Uganda, it is even related to the implicit desire and expectation that I am here to serve. And in fact, I have been served most of my time here by learning and by being a guest. All I can legitimately offer is my presence. Later on, it discusses the servanthood that Christ modeled for us, “Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.” After talking about poverty, we had already discussed how the Bible talks so much about the poor and underprivileged and the need to be WITH them. After all, James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to VISIT orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” It doesn’t say to send money and solve all their problems, but instead calls us to be in relationship and offer our presence. So this is something that God has already been convicting me on and this definition of compassion and serving just added to that. So often, it is easy to give money and not have the relationship or offer my presence. I want to feel good but stay comfortable, and that is NOT what God has asked of me. It just shows how easily my selfishness wins out, and I’m not okay with that. It takes sacrifice and humility and it will be hard. But only then will I feel true compassion, and out of that love, I will be able to truly serve others. And I really like what they go on to say, “Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.” No it won’t always be easy or fun, but I’m not trying to suffer, and I get to live a life with God’s joy which is way better than anything superficial. So right now, I’m just working on how that will look practically in my life. I know it is something that I am not doing, but I want to. Good intentions and all of this learning are not enough, though, so figuring out how to act on these lessons and convictions once I’m back in America is becoming a big focus now. As all of this was in the back of my mind, I had an interesting conversation about “typical Christians” with a Ugandan friend. One of the stereotypes of American Christians that she mentioned was that we ignore parts of the Bible that don’t work for us, and just listen and talk about the passages and theology that we can follow. I gave a noncommittal agreement, something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m sure some do” but moved on to asking what the faults were of the typical Ugandan Christian. Later, as I was reading for class, I realized that even though I didn’t want to admit it, I fit the description of the “typical American Christian.” By tithing, praying, and occasionally doing different community service or giving money, I thought I was loving and serving the poor as God would ask me. But Biblically, I’m not. And then I read about obedience. The authors mention that this is a word that often has many negative connotations because implies an imposition of authority, but then they redefined it “Obedience, as it is embodied in Jesus Christ, is a total listening, a giving attention with no hesitation or limitation, a being ‘all-ear.’ It is an expression of the intimacy that can exist between two persons. Here the one who obeys knows without restriction the will of the one who commands and has only one all-embracing desire: to live out that will.” What a great description! To someone who has a strong will, I very often relate to the negative connotations of the word obey, and prefer to act out of my own free will. But this definition makes it so much more attractive- a loving listening and then acting upon that to please the other. So needless to say, I have been learning and convicted of a lot. But one of the best things about God is that He still loves me and offers me mercy, forgiveness, and grace. I love Hosea because it is such a beautiful portrayal of God’s love and have been taking comfort in Hosea 2:19-20 “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I've finally been able to upload some of the pictures from my rural home stay, which include my hair braided, African style :)  Soon I'll also have some from the weekend at Sipi Falls hopefully, depending on internet speed...

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Today has been an amazing and relaxing Sabbath, even though I did not go to church and have not yet had my quiet time. But in the midst of the day’s activities, all that I could do was praise God inside with all of myself, and I’m positive that I could not keep the smile off of my face. My life is indeed blessed and God is indeed a great and loving Father!

This weekend my mom and grandparents (Mimi and Papa) travelled across the globe to visit me! Saturday morning I took a taxi in to Kampala and met them at a shopping center before we returned to their hotel for breakfast. It honestly felt very unreal as two worlds were meshed, but at the same time it was so good to hug them and realize they were really here! We spent the majority of the day simply relaxing and talking and it was so great. For a day, I felt like I was back in America almost while we were at the poolside at the hotel talking with them. And one of the coolest parts of my day and a half with them was the opportunity to introduce them to my rural home stay “mom” as well as my Mukono home stay “family.” Even though I did not talk as much, it was cool to see them interact. It was a little hard when it came time to say good-bye, but it helped that as they were driving away I was with several USP friends who I am nowhere near ready to part with. It was such a blessing to have that short time with my family, in the midst of the amazing blessing of even living in Africa! Sometimes I have a hard time fully realizing that this is really happening and can’t believe how incredible it has been so far…

The afternoon was spent laying outside in the shade and listening to a friend playing worship music on her guitar while a couple of us sang along. During the whole time of worship, all I could do was marvel at God. It has not always been easy here but God continually shows me that He will provide and does love me deeply. Even when my plans don’t seem to go accordingly, God keeps showing me that He has something better in mind. I may not know what that will be or what it will look like, but I am more fully learning to wholeheartedly let go and let Him have control. Jeremiah 29:11 has always been one of my favorite verses, but I don’t think I always completely trust what it is saying “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and NOT for evil, to give you a FUTURE and a HOPE” (ESV). My life is truly blessed, and I have faith that no matter what happens, God is still in control and will take care of me. I am trusting Him with more and working on laying down ALL of my life and surrendering to His will and control. It is not always easy or comfortable, but I believe that it will be worth it. And ultimately, no matter how comfortable or challenging, smooth or painful my life ends up being, I get to spend eternity in heaven with my God, so I’d consider that a pretty blessed life!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ugandan Farm Girl

I just got back on Sunday from my rural home stay in Kapchorwa (a district in Eastern Uganda) yesterday. I spent the week with one other American girl, Erika, but it was a fun chance for us to get to know each other because she lives with a family in town for the entire semester and so we didn’t know each other very well. We lived with Miria and Felix right on the edge of a cliff. Kapchorwa is very mountainous and has many waterfalls, including Sipi Falls which are the largest waterfalls in Uganda. The cliff that we lived by happened to be near a smaller waterfall that we could see from our yard. We spent the week walking around some of the nearby terrain because what isn’t cliff is mountain farming, which is also very beautiful. Ugandan women are incredibly hard working and Miria, our mom, was no exception. She taught us how to milk a cow, feed chickens and gather their eggs, cook over a fire, roast coffee, cut dead leaves off matoke (banana) trees and cut them down to harvest matoke, and even carry matoke on our heads for about a half mile on a dirt path down the mountain to our home. Felix, our father, was able to be home for the week for a funeral we went to on Monday, but spends most of his time living in Kampala because he works as security for Museveni, the Ugandan president. Their eldest daughter, Lillian, is 24 and is living at home. Her other 5 siblings were all away at boarding school, though we did get to meet 2 brothers, Andrew and Mark, because they came home with their father for the funeral. Church was an interesting experience and we got an authentic example of the Ugandan perception of time. We were told that church started at 10am but we didn’t leave until shortly after that to hike up the mountain. When we arrived, though we expected to be late, we were actually some of the first to arrive. The service probably started about an hour late and then lasted for a mere 4 hours, which we were told was actually shorter than normal. The entirety of it was translated from the Sabine (the tribe we were staying with) language to English which made it slightly more tedious, though the subject matter did not help. The pastor was turning the parish over to another pastor and so most of the service was spent giving an inventory of every single material object that the church possessed, as well as all of the pastoral responsibilities and committees that the new pastor would be taking on. The next day was then the funeral, which made for another long afternoon. We went to a 2 hour long funeral service followed by an even longer burial service. Though it was long, it was interesting to see how much of that really was the same as funerals in America.

Over all, it was a great week to get to know the family and just see a different way of life. Though I do not prefer using a pit latrine or a bucket to bathe, we were very comfortable the entire week. It was interesting to see how helping to wash dishes by hand just felt normal and routine, and even the longer time to cook over a fire wasn’t really that big of a deal because there was normally multiple people in the kitchen so it was a chance to spend time together as well as cook. Miria was very proud of her kitchen and showed us how her “stove” was modern. This meant that instead of just having a fire or a charcoal chimney to cook over, she had a dirt “stove” in essence- it had a place to make the fire and then three holes on top to place pots over. Before coming here, I would have thought something like that was an example of poverty or primitive even, and now I have realized how nice and convenient it really is, in this setting. Even our meals were an example of a different lifestyle. Everything we ate was extremely fresh and straight from the garden or farm. We had eggs and milk tea every morning for breakfast courtesy of our cow and chickens only an hour before we ate. One night we held a chicken and then a couple hours later it was on our dinner plates. We often had bananas with our afternoon tea, which were carried from our family’s fields only a couple days beforehand. There is so much real poverty in Africa, but living like that is not an example. It was another good realization of what simplicity and comfort can look like, even if they are living like that out of necessity and not by choice.

The importance of community is something else that was emphasized in my mind over the past week as well. Beyond the experience of living in a small community in which my family knew pretty much everyone, we had one article to read while we were there. It was about homelessness vs. homemaking and illustrated how our university education system in some ways educates people to leave home. This in itself is not the problem except that in some ways the goal has become for people to travel and work towards an upward mobility, so that they are in some ways almost vandals of communities and places because they only consume. It was a very interesting article and made a lot of good points that I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly thought or discussed before. It was really good to consider, because after college I always think about how cool it would be to live in different places but in actuality I don’t think I really want that or realize fully what that would look like. Whether I return home or move somewhere else, I want to settle in and become part of the community there and really engage. And even more than that, it makes me appreciate even more the fact that I have grown up in the same area and that I have such strong family ties. I think I could be completely happy living near my home or somewhere across the globe, but it is good to know that wherever I end up, I will still have a home and community to visit in Cincinnati.

I have also been reading a book, The End of Poverty, written by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist. It has been interesting because I’ve realized that I really enjoy the subject of economics when it is practically applied rather than just the basic theory that I’ve learned in my introductory classes. But beyond simply an interest, it has helped me think about how not only do non-profits and charities play a role in solving world problems, developed governments and economies will have to play a role as well to make a significant difference. It is really encouraging and frustrating all at the same time, because I have realized that I really could work in corporate America and do business more than just with integrity, but really try to make a difference in regards to global issues. But at the same time, it is overwhelming and frustrating to see all that America alone could be capable of and isn’t doing. So more and more I still don’t really know what my life will look like after I graduate and still am okay with that, but excited to see where God will open doors because at this point I’d be open to pretty much anything and know that God could use me in different ways, depending on the setting. We are also reading part of Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution for a class and that has been challenging and encouraging, thinking of how even right now I can start changing my lifestyle in practical ways, not just in thinking about the future.

From our home stay, we were picked up and spent the weekend in the area along with several Honors College students. It was good to be reunited with all of my USP friends to talk about our weeks and have a debrief session. We spent pretty much all of Friday talking about different things, just happy to be back together and then even more excited to be back with some of our Ugandan friends as well. Saturday we had a couple groups go hiking, I chose to go on the longer 6 hour hike with several friends. We saw the tops and bottoms of 3 waterfalls, as well as enjoying hiking around the mountains and cliffs. It can also be fun and adventurous because it was very muddy and slippery and some of the bridges definitely looked rustic. We even climbed on some rocks and stood under one of the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous and was definitely one of those times where I was just overwhelmed at how amazing the whole situation was- hiking around mountains and waterfalls with Ugandan and American friends I was just meeting a mere two months ago. And then Sunday we came back to Mukono and reunited with the rest of our friends. It was so good to be back and we stayed up late catching up and hanging out with people. Life here is just amazing and I’m trying to enjoy every moment because I know this will always be a special and important time in my life to remember all that I learned and experienced.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Long Overdue

After waiting so long to update, it’s hard for me to organize my thoughts into what I want to share from the past couple of weeks. And one thing that I’ve realized is that it can be all too easy to simply describe my itinerary because I am doing many new and different things. But my time here is characterized by so much more, and I hope that I am expressing that as well. So to help me organize and clarify my thoughts, and to hopefully keep myself from rambling on if possible, I’m going to update in two parts on what I’ve been learning and what I’ve been doing, as best as I can separate them.
It is hard to describe all that I’ve been learning and thinking succinctly. Many of my classes, conversations, and experiences are al integrating into a very complicated train of thoughts that can be overwhelming. I guess one of the biggest things I have been convicted of through many of my experiences is my own selfishness. Coming here, I knew that my spending habits and schedule tended to revolve around myself and that I wanted to work on that. But being here has shown me how deeply that mindset and attitude was rooted within me. Earlier in January I shared how living at my home stay humbled me immensely and that was one of the biggest examples. I had to be a guest and become a family member so that I could serve them on their own cultural terms, and not in a way that was comfortable to me or made me feel good about myself. I had to allow them to first serve me. I am also learning that in a slightly different form at my practicum sight, Chain, a school and orphanage. As far as expectations or a schedule goes, there are none for us. We simply go once a week and spend 4 hours with the children. The first week, I enjoyed the opportunity to just get to know the children and show them I cared. But by the third week, this past Tuesday, the lack of schedule grated on my nerves and I felt like being there was a waste of time. I was not actually doing anything productive or even building deep or meaningful relationships because most of the children’s English is not very extensive. But as I sat talking and listening to a young blind girl named Susan, she said something that struck me to the core. She was telling me about an “auntie” (all the children refer to us as “aunties” just as an affectionate and respectful term and is so cute) that used to visit and listen to her sing. In my desire to feel productive and accomplished, I had stopped seeing some of the meaning in simple presence, which is so important in the African worldview and culture. This girl felt loved and valued and consequently remembered this woman simply for listening. I acknowledged that relationships are important and was excited to develop them, but my annoyance revealed that on a deeper level I still wanted to see results more than just trust that was enough. Both instances are very humbling and are stirring me to further analyze my attitudes and expectations. I do not want to continue to have such a selfish mindset.
Vulnerability and boldness are two qualities that I am developing further this semester. I have realized in the past year that I really have trouble being vulnerable on a deep level, and often am very selective in what I share. Here, in different fellowships- like our small groups, people are very bold and vulnerable in sharing what is going on in their lives and expect the same from others. So I am trying to work on opening up more, and even on this blog I am trying to practice this.

I am also gaining a huge passion for business as a mission here. The past semester I really found out more about the possibility of doing business more as a mission, and not just working in a non-profit that does ministry and got really interested. Being here, I have felt a passion growing for that type of ministry as a way to empower people and help them fix their own problems. We are learning about many different issues specifically in Uganda, and the fact is some of the fault is Western influence. Many of the solutions really will have to come from within their own country. Living here, I have also found that I could be completely comfortable living abroad more long-term after college. I do know that whatever God ends up calling me to after college, ultimately I will probably not have a typical corporate career because my heart could not be fully in that. If I do, then I would probably be doing some type of ministry on the side as well. Especially learning more about poverty and the disparity of wealth in the world, I am learning just how well off we are as Americans, and cannot continue to be complacent. That may be harder once I am back in the States but I will work to not grow comfortable with my complacency ever again. To help with being financially responsible and more aware, a couple of us have decided to give up buying food for Lent and will just eat at the dining hall. This will definitely be a sacrifice as the beans and rice can get tiresome, and my roommate and I enjoy keeping apples and peanut butter in our room as a healthy snack. We all also enjoy going to stand on the street right off campus for cheap snacks, but will have to wait for those until Easter now. But it will be good for us to save the money and truly experience the lack of variety in food and just learn to be grateful for what we have. There is so much more, but I think that about covers a couple of the issues closest to my heart right now.

Life over the past couple weeks has just been GOOD. It is so satisfying to be so thoroughly content even though I am living simpler than I ever have. Something about the pace of life here just lends itself to relaxing and enjoying life. As I’m writing this, I am sitting in a common room with several other girls listening to music, some working on homework, and some playing cards. It doesn’t matter that we may not be talking much, just enjoying each other’s company as we do whatever we need to. And this characterizes a lot of our evenings. Life has become very normal and routine here filled with classes, laundry, running a couple times a week with Laura, and a couple different fellowships. With increased down time I have been able to spend more time with God, as well as some time for outside reading; which is so good because the USP library has many good books dealing with what we are learning and experiencing. Beyond normal life, the weekends are a time for us to go on adventures. The past couple of Fridays we have had two field trips- one to a burial ground and another to a palace, both in the Buganda kingdom, one of Uganda’s biggest and most important tribes and the kingdom that we are living in. They were both interesting sites. A group of us also went to Kampala to go shopping at craft markets and enjoy eating a meal other than rice and beans. Last weekend we wanted to do something beyond our normal eating, shopping, and exploring, so me and 5 other girls went to an all-night worship and prayer youth and young adults service at a church in Kampala. It was really cool, but definitely different in some ways to what all of us are used to. Tongues spoken into the microphone without translation and urging the congregation to stand and pace while praying were a couple of the things that were different and uncomfortable. But besides that, it was a powerful night of 9 straight hours singing and praying and we enjoyed the energetic worship. After a night without sleep, I was not thinking very clearly and decided to go get my hair braided for the next couple of weeks but am ultimately glad I did, though it made for a very long day. In the end, it took 10 hours but I currently have African hair that will be fun and easy for the next couple weeks! Sunday, Valentine’s day, was especially fun. Laura and I went to visit our home stay families and it was so good to see them again! After that, we came back and just hung out because several of the guys in Honors College cooked a Valentine’s dinner for us. We ended up having a candle-lit dinner outside while watching the movie The Proposal. It was so much fun with a co-ed group of at least 30 and all just fun, friendly hanging out. It was especially sweet that the guys were willing to do that for us because in this cultural context men do not cook or serve women, so it was that much more meaningful. The girls did help out with the dishes after. Since then, this week has been busy catching up on emails, job applications, and papers to be turned in all before I leave Friday morning for my rural home stay! We will be making a 4-5 hour drive to Kapcherwa, a rural region in Eastern Uganda where we will all be living on our own with families for a week. It will definitely be another stretching experience to be living such a completely different lifestyle, but I am excited! It will be kind of fun to have a week completely cut off from any technology as well, because we will only be using our cell phones for an emergency to contact the program staff. After a week we will stay in the area for the weekend and some of our friends from Honors College will join us on a retreat and debrief time at Sipi Falls, the largest waterfalls in Uganda. We will also get to spend a day hiking because the landscape there is supposed to be gorgeous. I am excited for the next week but sad that this will be marking the halfway point already. I can’t believe how fast the time is flying!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm not sure I ever want to leave...

I have already been here for a month and cannot believe how the time is flyng by!  I have completely fallen in love with this place and the people and just want the semester to slow down...  My roommate and I have already talked about how we could come back here to live and I am even looking into the possibility of extending my trip to stay longer with her.  But even though I love it does not mean it is always easy because living here as an American brings up many tricky life questions that I have been struggling with.  The past couple days have been busy and fun- full of class, fellowships, and serving at a school/orphanage.  Fellowships are like small groups but are more formal than Bible studies like we are used to in the States.  They are mainly people taking turns preaching or sharing testimonies of how God has worked in their lives.  I participate in one with Honors College, the group on campus that we live with.  On Monday night, it was Honors College's turn to lead worship for the main campus fellowship so several of us joined in for that as well.  One thing we have learned while being here is that it does not matter if you can sing or dance well, you just do it anyway.  Because of that, though I normally would not, I have joined a group called TLM, which meets as fellowship and also rehearses and gives concerts.  My roommate and I, along with at least one other American have joined because it will be a lot of fun and will push us, as well as integrating us further with more people on campus.  Laura, my roommate, and I are also running together in the afternoons and will hopefully practice some with the track team, though are not sure how formal that will be and may just be on the track around the same time.  On Tuesday afternoon, I went to Chain for the first time to really help out.  It is a school and orphanage, though many of the kids have families but just come from bad situations.  Several of the children are blind or have very bad eyesight (many as a result of childhood malaria), which is a condition that is extremely marginalized in this culture.  I spent my time there sitting with a 13 year old boy named Nathan in Primary 5 (I'm almost positive this is comparable to our fifth grade).  He has poor eyesight and has to use a braille machine.  I dictated whatever the teacher wrote on the board to him.  The classroom style here is more relaxed, especially for the children who cannot see well and therefore are unable to fully participate, so during some of the down time he taught me how to use a brailler and then gave me a paper so I am working on learning braille and how to type it as well.  After the school day was done, I played with several young girls, many of whom were in Nathan's class.  Nathan also showed me his guitar and played "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" and started to teach me some of the chords.  It was a lot of fun, and then we left early to come back for a USP dinner and worship night.  Over all, it has been an amazing couple of days just spending lots of time in community worship and learning. 

But the past couple of days have brought up some hard issues as well.  One of the hardest for me is really confronting the fact that I have grown up in such a blessed environment and really have not had to struggle, while I am meeting so many people that have faced really difficult situations in their lives that I cannot relate to in any way.  The hardest is when they are children and we're supposed to be teaching them but I just am not sure how to do that...  Especially since we are here to learn and grow and did not come with the purpose of helping Ugandans; and definately not on the qualification of being American or white.  Whenever we serve at our practicum sites it is as members of the community, not because we came here to feel emotionally gratified from working with "the orphans."  But it is good that there are other people in the group confronting the same issues so we can talk about it and ultimately, I just have to give it up to God and trust Him and believe in His ultimate justice.  And for now, though I am not comfortable really teaching the children or giving them cliche answers, I can be there to love on them and listen and let them teach me...  Because ultimately, I came here to be challenged by these very issues and learn and grow, not for the adventure or beauty of Africa, though I don't mind enjoying that too!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Pictures

Here's a link to some pictures from the weekend retreat:  I also have pictures up from my homestay:  In case the other link did not work from my first pictures, here's another to try:  Enjoy!

Weekend by the Nile

This weekend was amazing, and its times like this that make you wonder how amazing study abroad programs are- I was required to go on a retreat with 11 other Americans and 50 some Ugandan students that we live with in Honors College!  We spent all of yesterday and most of today at a resort in Jinja, right by the source of the Nile River and Lake Victoria!  It was a lot of fun as we started to get to know a lot more people because the weekend was geared towards bonding.  Plus there was always swimming and a boat ride because our location was pretty amazing...  Not only that, but it was nice to have different food and it just felt like a vacation or camp in some exotic place.  We got to play a lot of games and hang out, as well as a worship time this morning.  And our rooms had hot showers which was incredible!  It was a great time and helped myself and the other USP students get plugged back in, as well as meeting many of the Honors College students after spending two weeks living with our home stay families.  This morning we got up early to watch the sun rise over the lake and just marvelled at how beautiful everything was.  Even though life here is starting to feel pretty normal, sometimes it just hits me how surreal and amazing it is to be in Africa and I never imagined it would be this pretty or incredible.  And then there are other things that just keep life interesting like the giant bug that juts flew on me and my roommate and I had to take outside :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Losing the Culture Clash

As my home stay comes to an end, I’m back on campus for the rest of the semester; I have realized that I will miss my family. I am still glad I decided to live in the dorms and am happy to be moving back in because they allow more freedom and are more fun as I get to build relationships and spend time with Ugandan students as well as American. But it has been nice to spend time with a family and experience more of the culture. My parents were Ananias and Deborah and they have four children: Daphine (11), Desmond (10), David (5), and Douglas (3). One of the things I got to learn a lot about was the school system here because Ananias is an art teacher. More than explicitly talking though, I learned simply by observing and living with them. Family is very important and can and does visit anytime without warning and for any amount of time and are always welcome. The same is reciprocated as we had aunts and cousins visit, as well as the two oldest children going and staying with their grandmother for several days. Families also share everything; the emphasis on personal possession is very much taught by culture and not something innate in you. I never once heard the children argue over whose toy was whose. But I have learned to appreciate other things about our culture as well: such as bedtimes and meal portions! Each night we do not eat until sometime after 8:30pm, by which time the two youngest boys are often falling asleep and quite fussy. It is a fight almost every night for them to eat and drink their tea before going to bed. Also, even though it is late, supper is the largest meal of the day. Sometimes it can be a struggle to even eat a portion of the food on my plate. And the stereotype that Americans always watch TV is not quite accurate. I was surprised to find that if a Ugandan family owns a TV, then they watch it ALL the time. Literally any time that my family is not working (whether that is cooking, laundry, washing dishes, fetching water, or buying food to cook) they are usually sitting in front of the TV. It is also completely normal and acceptable to watch it all evening long, whether there are guests or not. It is seen as a form of sharing to watch together. And it is interesting the variety that their channels carry. I have seen American Disney movies, African news, and Spanish soaps dubbed in English. It is not that bad though, because in the evening I usually play a game or two of UNO with Desi and David and almost always have Doug curled up in my lap. I am much more integrated in the family at this point, and even got a tribal name. My family is Baganda and specifically in the Lion clan, traditionally the clan that protects the king. My name is Nakasaaga. Ananias also explained to me that they kneel to serve food when I was serving him dinner one night and so I knelt the next time and got told that I was now a “good Ugandan girl.” On Saturday morning, he even taught me how to make chapatti’s by hand, which are their version of tortillas. Also, it was fun because last night, my last night with them, they had brought home a new one month old puppy they named Scooby Doo and I got to play with him. It was especially fun because most Ugandans do not like dogs and animal cruelty is not uncommon here, but isn’t much of an issue when there are so many more human rights issues to focus on. So a family that wants and likes a pet is refreshing. However, throughout the night as the puppy cried and I brought it in to sleep with me off and on I did appreciate it quite as much…

By living with a family, I have more rapidly grown accustomed to the culture. I know that I have further to go, but that will come with time, but I don’t mind helping the acclimation along. Last Friday, Laura, my roommate, and I went exploring in Kampala just the two of us. It was fun to not feel quite as touristy as the week before simply by travelling in a much smaller group. We got off the taxi in a different location and ended up wandering around lost for 45 minutes. But we didn’t have anything particular that we wanted to do so it was fun to explore and see different parts of the city and by asking for directions we eventually ended up in an area that we knew. We had to ask several people to get the right directions, and could sense that Ugandan women really are not as friendly as Ugandan men when talking to American women. We also got to see the Parliament building, which was cool. We then treated ourselves to an American lunch of hamburgers, fries, and an ice cream sundae. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping for American food to cook for our families. I got spaghetti, sauce, and bread to make garlic bread, all of which I made them Saturday for lunch over two charcoal fires. I was glad that they enjoyed it because it was definitely more work than normal. Today we went again, and this time we explored a local craft market. It was so much fun to wander through and we both ended up buying African dresses to wear while we are here and once we return home. We once again treated ourselves to lunch out and especially enjoyed the diet cokes. We even got another later and sat on a rooftop enjoying the afternoon before returning home. We then enjoyed celebrating our return to campus with several other USP girls by watching “She’s the Man” on a laptop and eating some dessert. This weekend should be fun, as well as helping us to grow closer to the Ugandans we live with, because we are going on an overnight retreat to a resort in Jinja tomorrow. We will see the mouth of the Nile, Lake Victoria, and go swimming in a pool at our hotel. Plus, it will mean two days away from rice and beans- the food is rapidly becoming the hardest thing for me to get used to, as shallow as that sounds. I’m just used to smaller portions and lighter food and have really begun to miss vegetables. Also, I was sick the past week from food and so now am a little more hesitant in trying and enjoying it…

Life is quickly becoming normal here. I am continually glad to be in Uganda and have this opportunity. More and more I am discovering how good the classes will be for me. They are not academically challenging and the work load is pretty light, but the concepts are already starting to stretch me more than I fully expected or realized they would. Much of the material is about questioning our beliefs and values, specifically those that are cultural. Already we have begun to get into some deep discussions and thought processes that will not be quickly solved or forgotten. But I am appreciating this approach because it is making me want to learn and think about the issues more than ever before. One of the biggest issues on my mind after a class discussion this morning is the theology behind God and pain, as well as depending on God. Some interesting viewpoints were brought up by a book we are reading, The Primal Vision, written by a European missionary on Christianity in Africa. It is challenging because it is startling to see just how much culture can influence beliefs more than we recognize. But I am appreciating the discussions that are coming out of the thought-provoking ideas and know that my views really will be stretched by my time here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Funny Things I'm Learning...

After being here for almost two weeks now, I have learned many simple things about daily life that you might not normally encounter in the United States, as well as some interesting stereotypes of Americans (and most usually have some truth to them):
1. Always bring your own toilet paper and soap to the bathroom with you.
2. Don’t go and use the latrine at night- there might be cockroaches crawling around the 5”x3” rectangular hole…
3. Here, whether your milk is whole or skim is not based on taste or health preference, rather it is based on how much water you need to add to have enough for your whole family.
4. Sidewalks are NOT for pedestrians: beware of taxi vans pulling over and boda-boda’s (their version of a less powerful motorcycle) driving by.
5. Also, pedestrians never have the right-of-way and people do get hit by boda-boda’s.
6. Animals are for practical use, not pets.
7. Coffee may be a prominent export but is hardly seen. Tea is the preferred drink and usually made with milk and a lot of sugar.
8. East Africans do not eat many sweets- except in their drinks (namely tea and soda).
9. Portions at lunch and dinner are huge and very filling (I have not been able to eat all of my food even once and don’t think I’ve ever felt hungry since being here).
10. Brush your teeth when you bathe, otherwise you might not have a place to spit and end up swallowing the toothpaste.
11. Don’t use too much soap when washing clothes- you also have to rinse by hand…
12. Scrub clothes with the balls of your hands, not your fingers or knuckles because you can rub the skin off and they will scab over. Also, if your fingers are hurting, that’s probably a clue that you are doing it wrong rather than you just aren’t used to it…
13. “Mzungu” means white person and is commonly shouted at you as you walk down the street.
14. Young children are often unfamiliar with white skin and may try to rub it off or pinch you to see if your skin changes. They also like feeling your hair and trying to pull up your shirt to see if you are really white all over.
15. Africans tell each other apart by facial features, not hair like we primarily do, so they have trouble telling Mzungu apart but can often even determine another African’s tribal heritage from their features.
16. Plan on social events starting at least an hour late.
17. Ugandans are very clean and bathe at least twice a day usually. They also dress very “smart” as they call it, but basically very professional.
18. Americans really do tend to be louder as a group.
19. All Americans have boyfriends/girlfriends, or are searching for one.
20. Your status is a common question, and if you are single you have to define it in terms of whether you are searching, available, or content.
21. Americans have machines to do just about everything and don’t know how to do anything by hand- including making the bed, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I saw the eclipse Friday morning! It was only visible in Africa and Asia and I got to see it briefly before the sun blinded me! It was cool to see, and even more special once I heard that it was not able to be seen back home… Then that afternoon, I went to Kampala with 7 other USP students and we were quite proud of ourselves as we navigated there and back in public taxis all by ourselves. This semester is not a “feel good” type of trip because while we there for lunch and shopping we were confronted with toddlers barely old enough to talk sitting alone with their hands out begging. This country is full of harsh contrasts- amazing scenery, beautiful and strong people, yet complete and abject poverty in places. It breaks your heart.

Then, Saturday morning I went to my home stay where I will be living for the next 2 weeks, and will continue to visit throughout the semester while I remain in Uganda. After spending 2 weeks living in a home stay in Guatemala last January, I was excited for the experience and expected it to be a lot of fun. I will enjoy this home stay as well, but after spending the first weekend, I have already realized that it will be a lot harder than I expected. Up until now, the trip and program are all about US, helping us to adjust, learn, and get settled. The Ugandans we have met so far has been limited to campus, and they are used to American students coming for a semester and so are friendly, welcoming, and always speak English with us. Also, because they are university students, everyone is good at English because that is what their classes are taught in. I did not explicitly realize, but I have come to expect that, but this home stay is not supposed to be like that. We have the chance to live as a family member, and they carry on their lives as normal, simply including us. Two of the girls in the family were confirmed yesterday, and so when I arrived, there were many extra family members and the day was spent preparing lots of food for the celebration after church. They were very welcoming, but all had chores and the family prefers to speak in Lugandan, a local language. I am not sure how proficient all of the family members are in English, so that could be a factor, plus the younger children do not know much English. It was fine at first, but a whole day not speaking much to anyone but sitting and watching them work, and occasionally being allowed to help, was exhausting. By that night, I was homesick and counting down the time until I could move back into the dorm. My day was not all bad, by any means. The family has 4 young children, ages 4-11, plus there are many cousins that come over during the day. The little kids love sitting on my lap or rubbing my white arms. The 11 year old girl, Daphne, is very good at English and talked to me some while she washed clothes and also took me with her on one trip to the nearby well to get water. This is real Africa, like where you hear of people going to get clean water. They live pretty close; you just have to walk maybe a quarter of a mile down a nearby hill. You take what they call jerry cans (plastic water jugs that vary in size to hold several gallons) and fill them up. Some of the people clearly have a longer distance and you see several people with at least 4 or 5 cans tied to their bike to get filled. I also peeled a big pot of potatoes for the mom. The hard part was spending most of the day not talking to any of them and feeling awkward when I wasn’t helping. The meals are also difficult for me to enjoy because I am given some of the biggest portions, but cannot eat it all and feel rude. I am always given a chair and served first. One of the ways adults are shown respect is by the kids kneeling down to greet them or approaching them by walking on their knees. As a white guest in their home, the kids have to do the same for me. It is very awkward having them serve me that way with my food and a basin of water to wash my hands in. Slowly, they are becoming less formal with me, which I greatly appreciate, but it means simply that I am allowed to clear my place after I eat. That night laying in bed I was trying to figure out what I had expected or wanted that was making it seem hard. And then it hit me, that for the first time here it wasn’t about ME, the family had chores to prepare for a family gathering and simply didn’t have the time to talk or entertain me. They weren’t trying to leave me out. I didn’t want to be entertained, but felt like I wasn’t as included because of the language barrier. That combined with the awkwardness of being served and shown respect that I didn’t deserve just made it hard and made me long for what is comfortable. At that point, I spent some time in prayer and thought just trying to change my attitude. Being served and not allowed to help was humbling, but after all that to be disappointed in the day because I didn’t get to interact with them as much as I wanted was even more humbling and even made me feel ashamed of myself.

Sunday was much better, mainly because I had intentionally thought about my attitude and how I needed to change it. The day was about celebrating Daphne and Constance (a cousin living with them)’s confirmations and I met several of the extended family members. An additional blessing that made the day much more enjoyable was another USP student is living with one of the extended family members so we were able to spend the afternoon in our own English conversation, and occasionally being included in the family’s conversations. I do appreciate the younger boys- at church one fell asleep in my lap and I carried him outside afterwards and that evening the other fell asleep on my lap. Also, as their family celebration ended, the house quieted some and I was able to talk a little more with the parents and a couple aunts so that I could get to know them better.

Ultimately, I will enjoy living with this family- already I am experiencing how they really live and it is less awkward as I am slowly becoming a member rather than a guest. Last night I got to help wash dishes. I am bathing in each night in a basin and using a latrine out behind the house. My room does not have electricity so I even read my Bible by candlelight last night. It has just been humbling being served and treated as such a guest and dealing with the language barrier. I know that I will continue learning a lot from them and about myself as I learn a different lifestyle and am stretched. It is a good reminder that I chose to come so that I would be stretched… One thing I am also learning is how to enjoy silence and simply people’s presence rather than needing to fill it with conversation, it is something I appreciate about the culture here as I adjust, though I still prefer our culture of being free to be more casual with each other and not being so formal with respect either.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Here's a link to some of my first pictures:

So much to say...

I'm not sure where to even begin, except to say that this semester will not only be a lot of fun, but really will be a chance to me to process big "real-world" questions.  I like all of my classes a lot, but even the teaching style will be stretching because everything is discussion and paper based.  There will also be reading and some lectures, but no tests over the material.  Unfortunately, I prefer tests and do not like to talk in class because I tend to be more introverted as I process through information and my thoughts.  But because of the material and issues we will be discussing, this format really will have more of an impact on us and force us to more deeply consider things.
I already have begun to feel at home here, and it feels like I have known several of my fellow USP students much longer than just one week.  We have already ventured off campus and are able to navigate around Mukono, the local town, and even to Kampala on public taxis by ourselves.  Tomorrow morning all the American students who chose to live in the dorms for the semester will be moving in with local families for the next two weeks.  I am excited to get to live with a family and get to know them!
The people I am here with are great- and I am so thankful that I am rooming with Laura!  It has been great because we are able to relate really well and have already grown close, and are even going to practice with the university's track team together.  It has been nice to be able to talk through everything that we are experiencing together, but also with others in our group.  I also can't wait to get to know the Ugandans we are living with better.  We have spent some time with them, and last night even had a party together, but it will be fun as we live and travel together throughout the next couple of months.  Many of the Americans, including myself, have joined their Fellowship on Wednesday mornings so that will be yet another chance to deepen those friendships.  Our party was a great introduction to the group as a whole because we all introduced a partner, then shared in worship and dinner together.  After meeting people sporadically, it will be nice to at least recognize most people in Honors College from now on.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My First Weekend

So I thought I'd get ahead of myself before classes start, because I'm sure I won't have quite as much time then to get online and update.  This weekend has been nice for us to start to get to know each other, as well as some fellow Ugandan students who are moving back on to campus or to Mukono for the start of the semester.  We had an orientation session Saturday morning to get our Ugandan cell phones, register for classes, and to talk about our expectations for the semester.  The director did a great job of talking about some main goals of the program, as well as what the program is not about.  I think afterwards it gave us some things to process and think over, but it will help our attitudes as we adjust and live our lives here.  One specific thing he said is that they are not about simple lessons in pretty packages, rather they are okay with tension or if things get messy because that is real life.  They also are not about doing things just so we feel emotionally gratified and it is more about helping us rather than helping Ugandans.  That does not mean we will not serve while we are here, in fact, half of the group is in a practicum that requires community service and the other half voluntarily chose to take a practicum that will require it.  Instead, it means we are serving as fellow community members and not because we are American or white or have more money.  They also are about making 1 degree changes in our lives, rather than life-changing experiences, because ultimately a subtle change in perspective, thought, or lifestyle that is lived out for the rest of our lives can have a much greater effect than something radical that does not last much past the trip.  Going over these, I know the semester will not always be easy.  But I am also glad that this is how they have designed the program because I know that this way I will probably grow and be challenged more, rather than just having an experience that makes me feel good or change that I won't or can't legitimately live out.

Since then, I have been with only half of the USP group because the others moved into their homestays for the semester and have been spending time with their families.  The rest of us who are living on campus have fully settled into our dorms.  We are living in the dorms for Honors College at Uganda Christian University, so have begun meeting some of our fellow students, specifically from the Honors College.  We also filled our time with lots of exploring, which essentially means walking through part of Mukono, which is the town our school is in, as well as the extensive campus.  It is very beautiful, and the campus is covered with jungle and gardens and red dirt paths.  Many of the faculty live on campus, so walking around you see many private homes, as well as university buildings.  This morning, my roommate and I went to breakfast and met a woman named Deborah, then went to the campus church with her.  It was fun to be able to worship in an open-aired building.  Almost all of the service was in English, though part of the worship was sung in Luganda, a Ugandan language (one of over 50 in the country), but even that was fun because we could join in and read the words off of a projector.  After, we met up with some of the other American girls and went "rolling," which means we walked across the street from campus and got a rolex.  Rolex is made of eggs sometimes cooked with onion, tomato, and cabbage then wrapped in chapati, which is their form of tortillas.  It was great and very filling, so we know what to get when we need a break from rice and beans!  We've spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on the internet and finishing the reading for one of classes.  Viola, a girl in my dorm, was washing her clothes, so she showed a couple of us how to do it when we need to in a couple days.  It sounds silly, but when you're used to putting them in a machine and pushing buttons, it helped to get her tips and watch her because there are ways to do it better.  Apparently, Americans normally rub their hands the wrong way, so we learned the right way to do it.

Clearly, I am enjoying adjusting to life here... I just can't wait for classes to see what they are like and to begin meeting and spending more time with more students!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Finally here :)

After almost 38 hours of travel, I landed in Entebbe, Uganda at 2:30 early this morning.  The trip over was surreal and even as we landed, we couldn't believe we were really here!  Our school is  2 hours from the airport, so some of the program's staff members  took us to a nearby convent to stay the night.  A cold shower has never felt so good!  After getting a couple hours of real sleep, we had a busy day that included stopping in Kampala on our way to the university.  The campus is beautiful and very large, which we have already seen a lot of it on a tour.  I am here with a great group of American students- there are 24 of us, 21 girls and 3 guys.  Exactly half will be living in the dorms and the other half will be living with families in town.  It is 9pm here now and I am completely unpacked and settled in my dorm room.  My roommate's name is Laura and we live in Winfred Brown which is a women's honors college dorm that has eight rooms.  Down the hall are two more girls from our program, as well as another American who is an international student here.  We've met two other girls living here, Helen, our RA, and Viola.  We should be meeting the rest this weekend as classes start Monday so everyone will be back by Sunday.  Our dorm also has a common room, wi-fi, and a bathroom/laundry room.  The other USP (uganda studies program) students are in two other dorms in the honors college on the same hillside as well.  Already, I love being here and know it will be a great 4 months that will fly by!