LOLAFRICA journey to Uganda

Glory to God, who's power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or Imagine....

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Location: Kalagala, Uganda

Monday, November 27, 2006

Before i came to Africa..I did not now earth. Earth so dry and red, baked hard by the heat of the day. Earth that holds that heat like kin-burnt clay, warming weary feet as they journey home from a long day's work.

...I did not know the sun. Had never met this sun, whose rays could scald bare skin on a clear day, yet the tiniest cloud between it and you can bring much needed relief from it's scorching heat. Whose light is as important as air, everyone depending on it to see and work and play, to dispel the darkness and allow for life to unfold.

...I did not know rain. Rain that falls in torrents and buckets and waterfalls from the sky. Rain that means LIFE to plants, animals, and people alike. Rain that is caught in barrels and buckets, basins, bowls and open hands. Rain that is swallowed up by the parched earth so quickly that there is scarcely a puddle or spot of muck to prove it fell. Rain that throws all the vegetation into a kaleidoscope of sparkling green and raises every hand to heaven in thanksgiving praise.

If I hadn't come to Africa I would not know dust. Dust as fine as sifted flour, terracotta red. Dust that finds it's way into your hair, clothes, shoes...that settles into every nook and cranny, every crinkle and laughline. Dust that needs o be scrubbed off at the end of each day before you can enter your bed to sleep.

Before I came to Africa I did not know Joy. Pure Joy, that springs from the very soul and spills out in perpetual singing, cheering, dancing and drumming. Spontaneous Joy that is released unabashedly and for all to see. Crazy Joy that is expressed without apology and can be heard for miles in any direction. The Joy of living to see another day.

...i did not know poverty. Would never have seen true poverty. Poverty that leaves children orphaned. That leaves limbs, untreated, to be lost. That makes a mother have to choose which child will eat today. Poverty that forces the severely handicapped and unfortunate souls to sit on the street everyday, with just enough energy in their aching, hungry bodies to lift a have up to catch any spare shilling. Poverty that means when people ask for food - it is because there is NO FOOD. When they ask you for money - it is because there is NO MONEY. No soup kitchen, no food bank, no money. Poverty that demands little girls with fever must walk barefoot 10 miles to the nearest clinic, only to walk the 10 miles back again WITHOUT the medicine they could not afford. Poverty that darkens the eyes of a beautiful child to a dull, grey, blank expression of hopelessness. Poverty that causes a mother to lay her baby alone on the sidewalk, in the hopes that passers-by will be more inclined to give money to a baby, than to her open hand. Poverty that breaks your heart into a million pieces every day.

Before I came to Africa, I did not understand dependence on God. To be in constant, daily communication for each and every need. To look to God for every morsel and drop of milk for your children. for every ounce of safe drinking water. For every day with a family free of Malaria, Typhoid, Fever , AIDS or other illness. For safety and security and a roof over your heads. For all the things I took for granted before I journeyed to this side of the planet.

...I had never seen the stars. Never REALLY seen the stars. Stars that twinkle and sparkle and some alive over the dark continent at night. Stars that fill the sky in numbers beyond comprehension. Stars seen as pure as the day they were pollution or man-made light to hide or dull or mask their brilliance. Stars that declare the glory of the Living God every night. As the sun fades in the west, the stars come out winking and blinking to begin the spectacular bedazzling show.

...I did not understand the importance of Education. It is the only hope for a future - a hope so strong, that whole families will work so that their brightest child can go to school. The child carries the hopes and dreams of their entire family...ALL of their futures depend on his or her success. Busy brains hard at work day after day. Dedicated, devoted, passionate about learning. Absorb, understand, conceptualize. Hoping for the future, striving to make their families proud.

Before I came to Africa I had never seen bugs! Had never really known BUGS! Bugs so big and ugly - they scare each other! Bugs that eat walls, eat beds, chew through clothing. Bugs that demand, by their mere presence, that you step over - not on - them as they cross the footpath. And, amazingly, Bugs that can be welcome guests at any meal - as tasty, crunchy, roasted treats! Bugs that can bite and sting causing disease or possibly death....and bugs that can fill an empty stomach and nourish a tired body.

...I did not know generosity. Generosity that welcomes with wide open arms , open hearts open minds and open homes. Generosity that flows like a river from a v\neverending source. Generosity when there seems to be nothing to give, from a bottomless well of hospitality. Generostiy in it's truest form - expecting nothing in return. Generous understanding and kindness, generous acceptance, guidance, faith and love.

Before I came to Africa I did not know traffic. Had never really been in a true traffic jam! Countless vans, cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, and motorcycles converging on a single, two-lane, one way street. No order to the lights, no signs. Pedestrians weave in and out between the maze of vehicles. Motorcycles and bicycles squeeze through any tight spot. Inch by inch, slowly by slowly...and then FULL STOP - BRAIN JAM!! Nothing moving. As far as the eye can see, a mish mash of people and vehicles, angled, criss-crossed, a scrambled mess that looks to me like a 1000 - car - pile - up!! People jump out of cars and chose to walk - it's probably faster!! Amazingly, in this mess of metal, flesh and frustrated, aggravated mentalities...NO ONE is yelling, NO ONE is cursing ,NOT ONE rude gesture or raised fist. Everyone understands "THE JAM" and so, they patiently ride it out. And, very slowly, surely and definitely LATE...You will arrive at your destination.

....I would not understand TIME. Or rather, that being on time does not matter. I watch in amazement (as I sit ready to leave and waiting) as people calmly eating their breakfast in their pajamas - when church starts in three minutes!! Everyone is always late for everything!! As a result however, there is no stress, no one is frantic, impatient or worried. There is always time to do one more thing, time to wait for one more person, one more minute, two, ten, twenty....and hour! No one is rushing, no one is concerned....Usually because the event you are going to will start late anyway and you won't miss a thing! Time here in Africa is spent living, loving and learning. Time is too precious to spend it stressed- out , worried and rushing through your days. Time is LIFE!

Before I came to Africa I did not know freedom. Freedom that springs from the knowledge of the eternal soul. Freedom from the fear and bitterness of death. Freedom from the trappings of material gain - the freedom to use only what you need. The freedom to shout your faith from the curb -side, to say what you want, when you want. The freedom of affection between men, between women, and towards children. The beautiful freedom of two men walking hand in hand in platonic companionship through the streets. The freedom from prejudice and from things like worrying about being "politically correct". The freedom of laughter and of tears. The freedom to be who you are, whatever you are, wherever you are.

Before I came to Africa, I thought my eyes were open...they are open now. Open to the needs in my world. The need for health and security, medicine and aid. The need for compassion and the need for everyone to get involved. The need to put right inhumanities around us...the need for survival. The need for even the smallest of us to know and be aware of suffering, to have faith, to show joy and above all the need to LOVE. The need for all of us to open our eyes....and act.
"Certainly travel is more than just the seeing of is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." - Miriam Beard

"My soul has grown deep like the rivers." -Langston Hughes

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Exam weeks...always a stressful and tense time at any school. Here in Uganda, the pressure is high to perform well on exams...the students will pass or fail based on their final exams! Success cards have been given and the reading and studying have been it is all up to the work of their brains!! One Success card i read said "may God bless the work of your brains"!! It is a very serious time where whole families futures may depend on one student's pass or fail.

As a result of this stress and pressure, many things have been happening around the school during this past week...students have fallen sick, students with headache, stomach ache..students possessed. Yes, you heard me! We had a student from the village who was possessed...she was kept safe, prayed for and her parents were called to pick her up. This was not a huge deal to anyone at the school - apparently a common occurrence during the crush of exam weeks. The students however have enjoyed the show, though some were scared by it, and they feed off of the energy...and get ideas...

So, we had another "possession" the other day, this one left several other girls weeping and wailing and terrified...but it was a hoax! A prank! And the laughter and hoots and hollers that ensued could be heard for miles!! What a good one! The effects however on the students, especially the girls, were real. A fear began to grow...fear of the darkness, fear of going to bed...students began to have nightmares and loss of sleep. fear was building until several girls came to us and said that they beleived a "black human form" was coming into the girls dorm at night, pulling off bedding and scratching them. They feared the darkness (something you cannot avoid very easily here) and they feared to sleep.

Well, the Youth-Care-worker side of me kicked into full gear, and I immediately offered to keep watch, and do a "night-shift" in the girls dorm. i would stay awake, while they slept...and i would keep them safe, and watch over them...therefore they could get their sleep and hopefully do well on their exams in the morning. Problem solved, right? Wrong. My offer was promptly declined, and I was told that I would not BE ALLOWED to do that. Well, I have to say, that we discussed this for the next hour or explaining the logic behind an adult showing the children that they were indeed safe, explaining my youthcare experience, talking about being protected by prayer and my faith...etc. etc. All to no avail. The answer to my offer was a simple "no". Finally I agreed, that if we could arrange for some extra light in the dorm, and that we talk to the girls together before they go to bed ... maybe I would let go of my "night shift"Idea...

So, that is what we did...all of us piled in among the bunks of the dormitory - girls in bunks that almost reach the ceiling, girls piled three to a bunk, girls on the floor, girls standing on top bunks and girls dangling feet from bunks near the rafters - all of us gathered in the largest space to have our meeting,....extra light was arranged, and we talked with the girls...we laughed with the girls...we prayed with the girls... and then the most beautiful thing.... those girls began to sing... they sang to their creator, they sang in worship..they sang in praise...they sang in thanksgiving....the whole place was filled with the light that shone from their eyes, their hearts, their very souls. Any fear that had remained was dispelled by those voices, Muslim and Christian joined together in unified praise. "God's Love is like a circle, a circle big and round!!" My heart filled up, and as I listened, I tried to memorize every note, to etch in my mind every smile and clap and take with me, and always remind me of the amazing power and pure joy of childlike faith. Their voices filled the space, in joined faith in a God that would protect them and keep them safe through the night. A lesson in unity.

"Then the gates of her heart were flung open, and her joy flew out over the sea."
-Yann Martel

Alone in God
my soul waits, silent.
My help is from Him.
Alone in God
rest, my soul, in silence.
My Hope is from Him.
He alone is my rock,
My safety;
I shall not be shaken.
-Psalms 62:2

Monday, November 13, 2006

This entry will have a different tone and style than most, as I was unable to send any e-mails or connect with home in any way this week...I will connect , in a more personal way than usual, here in my Journal.
This week has been a week of inner solitude...and a week of almost overwelming loneliness... Don't get me wrong - i am surrounded by wonderful people....people who are warm and loving and gracious and kind...and i Love them to bits and pieces. However, somehow...I have felt more alone this week than any in my memory. So, I now know my threshold for being lonely is exactly 2 months!!
My struggle comes because of my pride - I do not want to admit I become silent, and keep my weakness to I've decided to admit my weakness here for all to see...I am struggling with lingering loneliness.
I crave anything familiar...faces, voices, language, places, foods...really anything would do!!! It seems silly really, I never thought I would be one to become homesick....apparently i was wrong!! Home calls to me across the ocean - I resist the urge to answer.
So, my family and friends at heart is with you, and it is here with the people of Uganda as well. I fear the day i will have to leave here and know that I will be torn in two. I am overjoyed by the knowledge that I have you all and do miss your company...Thank you all for the love you send me, the prayers that cover me, the arms that wait for me. Tears are close...they spill... I am thankful for a life so full and blessed at home, that i can miss it this much. Oh the anticipation that will build over the next months...oh the homecoming!! My heart is full....
"Sometimes there's just no way to hold back the river." -Paulo Coehlo