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!