Thursday, March 21, 2013

faith restored

On Sunday I was traipsing through the masses of people in Kampala transferring from the old Taxi Park to the New Park, I was headed home from Jinja and I had my hiking backpack on. I try to play it pretty smart when I have my backpack and not put any items in the outside zipper compartments; I tie everything down and secure the entry points; mainly because I have been warned about the thievery that happens in Downtown Kampala.  However this Sunday, I happened to run into someone that took pick pocketing to a whole new level.  As I am bobbing and weaving through people, dodging potholes and cars I look down at my waist strap and the zipper pocket is undone, luckily my wallet was still sitting inside. Puzzled, I zipped it back shut. No less than 5 seconds later I feel a tug at my waist and I look down to find a hand pulling back quickly. As soon as I came to it and realized what was happening I raised my ukulele and swung at the man, lucky for him he dodged the swing and darted off across the street. Meanwhile I shouted and pointed “VAYO! VAYO! That one is a thief!”  I was in disbelief and I suddenly felt so vulnerable in a crowd that one minute earlier I had felt somewhat a part of; and that is never a good feeling when you are investing your life for the sake of someone else’s country.  Luckily for the thief, I didn’t chip my uke and I won’t get any second laughs at his attempt to mess with the wrong muzungu!
With that being said… sometimes life here gets exhausting and I just get tired of always watching my back and making sure I don’t get taken advantage of, especially in the market or when taking public transport. 
However today, just when I needed it most, my faith was restored. It came through simple acts of love and generosity. It started as I was taking a boda into Wakiso this morning, when I asked “sente mekka?” (how much?) he replied, 1,000 which is such a fair price. Normally I have to haggle with the drivers and move on to another driver after they won’t budge on the price. So needless to say, it was refreshing to just ask the price and be treated like everyone else. Once I arrived in town, I boarded a taxi and said “is it 2,000?” and he could have easily just said yes, but he corrected me and said it was 1,500. I just smiled so big and got into the van and took a seat. It doesn’t stop there people! Later I was getting some groceries at the market. The market I used today was down by Lake Victoria, I’ve never used it before and those people don’t know me from Joe. So I picked out about 5 small tomatoes and asked the lady how much? She replied 500, so I said I’d take them. The price really wasn’t that bad and I did hand pick them myself, but when she went to put them in a bag, she selected 3 more tomatoes and added them to my package. She didn’t just grab 3, but she examined her selection and individually picked the 3 brightest red tomatoes. Normally you will find about 7 or 8 small tomatoes for 500; I had only picked 5 and she could have easily sold me just those, after all I did agree to the price. But the fact is, SHE DIDN’T! She knew what was fair and she treated me with love and generosity. And that spoke volumes to me! Lastly, as I was on my last taxi back home, the sun had hit the level in the sky where it is just blinding as it shines through the window. I was putting my hand up to the window trying to block the rays that my sunglasses weren’t. Then the kid next to me tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a book to block the sun. He said “we saw that you were struggling”. My mind was blown. That is loving your neighbor, people.    
To you these encounters may seem insignificant, but for me, it really meant the world. After the past three days of pent up angst about Sunday and just feeling all around somewhat blue, today was a gift from God. Indeed He knew what I needed and it was His presence through people, or rather my attentiveness to his presence.  This verse comes to mind and is quite fitting, “And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ after you have suffered a little while will Himself RESTORE you and make you strong firm and steadfast” 1 Peter 5:10.

I don’t so much understand the part about letting us suffer... but if the past 3 days hadn’t been so hard, today probably wouldn’t have meant the same to me.
Indeed my faith in the work I am doing has been restored and I couldn’t imagine serving any other nation right now. The Pearl of Africa will rise again; these people hearts are too lovely.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

the transforming power of knowledge

 Immy and I were preparing a pumpkin to steam and I watched as she cut into it and carved away the goop and seeds into the trash pile. I started to retrieve them and told her how the pumpkin seed has an anthelmintic known as cucurbitacin found in them and this is the same active ingredient found in deworming medicine. She replied, “OHHH! I didn’t know! Every time I get a pumpkin, I won’t throw the seeds now. We don’t have to buy tabs now”, (tabs are medicine and deworming tabs are not easily available and expensive in the village, but oh so necessary).  She was amazed and kept saying “thank-you for teaching me”! I showed her how I prepare them by rinsing the seeds and roasting them in a pan with some small oil and salt, until they are dry and crispy. Immy’s family of 5 and I ate those seeds so quickly! They tasted really good! Other people that walked by were inquiring about what we were cooking and we explained to them about the cucurbitacin found in the pumpkin seed acts as a natural de-wormer and how to prepare the seeds for eating. Most everyone seemed so amazed and excited for the next time they get a pumpkin.

It really is amazing how knowledge has the power to transform communities; who knows the impact this will have on the health of Immy’s family and the surrounding community.

Props to my Pops for teaching me about anthelmintics and cucurbitacin in the pumpkin seed last October  J


Monday, March 11, 2013

Everywhere: an excerpt from my journal 3/10

Today I hit “the homesick hump”. I didn’t think I’d have “the hump” this go around. Partly because I feel at home here and I’m really loving what I am doing and partly because last year for a 3 month stay I really didn’t have a “hump”. So I thought three weeks, easy-peasy! Oh contraire!  So as I was sitting in church this morning… going on the fourth hour… my eyes were welling with tears and I had that feeling of just wanting to quit… I felt “the hump” coming. I was so confused, why am I feeling this way?  And then I realized the last time I had seen a white person was 5 days ago. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, however I have never been the minority before, so 5 days had subconsciously gotten to me I think. (in past trips I have worked in the vicinity or with white people)

So church ends, and I am holding back tears like it’s my job; all the while may ugandans are greeting me. I started to walk to lunch with 2 other Africans I hardly know and I was literally about to sit down, in the road, in the muddy filth and just cry and legitimately think about going home. And then I had this thought… surely if God is everywhere like the bible says, He must be here even know; watching little Arielle just crumble in the middle of dusty Uganda.

No less than 1 minute later I turned the corner and on the street I spotted the back of a white woman with blonde curly hair! I just got a glimpse or three of her as I bobbed and weaved around the people that separated me from her. She was about 50 feet up the busy street. I never could see her face, but she was walking slowly and after a couple glimpses she was gone. Indeed, she was a God-send. Sometimes I wonder if it was God in real life! It was almost mysterious, the nature of the woman. She walked slow and peacefully and I never could see her face as I fought the crowds to get closer to her. I guess you could say I felt a little like that woman in the bible who was trying so hard just to touch and see Jesus to be healed as He walked through the masses.

Whether it was God in the flesh, or not, seeing her was not a coincidence. After I saw her I sighed that sigh of relief, when you feel settled, comfortable where you are, and have come over “the hump”. So surely, surely, as the dirt stains red, Jesus is everywhere.   

Do any of you have a story when you really knew Jesus was there?

Friday, March 8, 2013

the good 'ole red dirt

this is my view these days, and i absolutely love it. Immy (a ugandan partner) and i are headed back over to Banda tomorrow for our first "interview" and starting a self doccumentation project at their home. The seem really receptive to this friendship and said they are awaiting our return; very excited! :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Here we go!

The last month has been a rollercoaster!  For those of you who don’t know… last spring when I was in Uganda, I purchased a plot of land to build a “babies home” (better known as a Christ-centered, stable and loving, transition home; more to come on how the home/compound will be run). In January it became evident that the time was drawing near to begin the process of getting back to Uganda, with the intent of breaking ground on the property in Banda; a lot of the money needed to build had been donated without even fundraising and a couple people in my immediate community and beyond have stepped up and expressed a desire to serve alongside me.

                So I began gearing up to return to Uganda… 40+ dozen cupcakes later, not only were my arms tired from mixing 30 pounds of buttercream frosting, but I had a plane ticket! Check.

The following weekend I went skiing in West Virginia with my brothers and some friends for one last hoo-rah! Let’s keep the story short and just say that I didn’t come home in one piece. I thought, ‘why did this happen to me? I am supposed to go to Uganda this week. This wasn’t in the plan!’  I still don’t know why I was injured and spent another week at home, but I have to believe it was for a reason. I know in that time I was able to prepare my heart more fully for the adventure ahead and just relax. With a knee injury and not being able to walk, I didn’t have much of a choice, but to sit back and chill-out. I think that alone is reason enough for my injury. After seeing the orthopedist, he ruled out any torn ligaments, just a sprain to my MCL and a possible torn meniscus and sent me for an MRI.

After a weekend of praying for God to just show up, because I was utterly confused, this is what happened…. When I saw my orthopedist again he was baffled (as baffled as all-knowing orthopedists get); he kept messing with my knee and looking at the MRI and back and forth and back and forth. I think he said, “kid, I don’t know how you lucked out. You should have had more of an injury.” I just smiled and waited to hear the precious words I was hoping to hear…”you are cleared to go to Uganda.” He said them with a tone of bewilderment and hesitancy, but I knew without a doubt, those words were final, I was healed. And so I ran home and bought the soonest plane ticket I could. 

Now, 4 days later, I am on a plane cruising over the Atlantic Ocean.  What an adventure already! Needless to say, my trip has been shortened by several weeks. I will be abroad for only a month. If it was up to me, buying a plane ticket all the way over there isn’t worth it for such a short stay; but I believe God wants to show up extraordinarily in a brief amount of time.

Due to my down-time healing and as it became evident that my trip was being shortened, I began really stressing out about breaking ground on the property in Banda. It just didn’t seem possible. I became so unsettled about it and confused! One morning as I was having a pity-party, waddling around on my crutches and lamenting over what is supposed to be happening in Uganda… my mom simply said, “What if this trip isn’t about the agenda you’ve made? What if it’s simply meant to build relationships with your neighbors in Banda?” and almost instantly it was like the sunshine rays broke through the clouds! Thanks mom. J

From the American standpoint, everything was all clear! Just as easy as making another high-rise on the coast. But that’s exactly what the process had become. An impersonalized project, intended to better the community, but wrongly approached. My heart was still centered on Christ and the people of Banda, but the way I began to execute it, was very western. As I write this I am realizing how BEYOND thankful I am for the step-back.

So this trip looks different than what I originally thought, but I have such a peace about the goals. I plan to meet with three different ministries and learn from various things they are already doing in Uganda and possibly establish relationships with them. I also plan on gearing-up to break ground in December.  The main goal however, is being with the people of Banda. These people are who is going to carry-out this vision of a brighter Banda. If the people do not feel valued and like their opinion matters, from the beginning, why would they ever jump on board? They aren’t an after-thought once the building has been built, they are a fore thought and deeply valued. I am using some material from called Human Centered Design as a means of getting to know Banda, the people and their needs. I am so very excited!  (finding out about Ideo and HCD, was another piece of fruit that came about during my recovery period, thanks Grant and Marissa!)  

If you have read along this far, I should thank you.

I ask that you pray alongside me. I am arriving with an expectant heart. That God will indeed show up, in an extraordinary way in an seemingly brief amount of time. I just have a feeling and indeed it is a good one that brings comfort and peace.

Talk to you soon,

(my given African name; meaning peace)