Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Uganda report

So to date, I have been mainly blogging about us and getting set up here in Uganda. I apologize that it seems a little ego-centric that everything I have written has been about us, our feelings, and how we’re doing. Of course we realize we didn’t come here to just transplant our life over here and continue on like it was just a move across the state, but really, all we’ve had capacity for so far has been to try to figure out how we can make our life manageable and sustainable for our family here. Once settled, we figure we’ll then be equipped to begin our ministry here, which essentially will be: first, my job, and second, building relationships with the people around us. But it’s a hard balance to find, to build a comfortable home life while living amongst and even relating to people who are the poorest of the poor.
So within reason, we have purchased things that have made our family life manageable, with enough creature comforts to allow us to stay long term. Could we have done without and given the money to the poor? Yes, but realistically, we would soon crash and be returning home in 2 months without accomplishing any of our big picture goals. I know that many different missionaries have different ideas on this issue – I suppose we land somewhere in the middle. The big-picture goal of mission groups like eMi and many others is not to ‘fix’ Africa in the short-term. Rather, it is to build infrastructure into a system that has little or none, and by doing so, the next generation of Africans will be better off than this one, and so on and so on. This approach has somewhat been the ‘new’ focus of many mission groups working to make Africa a vibrant, free continent with expanding economies and opportunites for the next generations.
So the first aspect of our ministry - my job here with eMi - will begin shortly, but I have already been ‘lurking’ around the office here and there. Today I intended to work a part day, but it turned into an 11 hour day – can you tell there is no shortage of work waiting for me! :) I am very anxious to get going, but I also don’t want to rush into it lest Alisha be left to fend for herself. Actually, eMi’s policy is very forgiving in this area, as they weren’t looking for me to begin work until March 1, and then the first two months they only ask me to work 50%. But I am excited to get going – it’s the reason we came here, so this week I will be going through some office orientation stuff and starting to get lined out for what projects I’ll be doing to start out. I do know that my first two project trips will be inside Uganda, the first one at the end of May and the second one in September. The one in May I will shadow another staff member (Janet Strike) who will lead it, then the one in September I will lead while Janet shadows me. There is also a chance that I could be heading into Rwanda in April to help survey the damage from the earthquake they had a few weeks ago that killed 40 people - but that is very preliminary. I am excited that they are putting me right into action.
The second aspect of our ministry here – the idea of building relationships with the Ugandan people – has already begun. Life is extremely social here, so even if we haven’t met many people, nearly everyone who lives and works around where we live knows ‘of us’ and probably a whole lot more. Chad was telling me that most everyone around by now probably knows who we are, where we came from, that I’ll be working for eMi, and that the boys are going to Heritage Int’l School. It really is amazing how in tune the African people are with their neighbors’ lives! It makes them sound nosey, but really they are just very communal, so everything that is happening around them is discussed by all. So in essence, you could say that we are the ‘talk of the town’ (or village as it were!). Yes! I’ve always wanted to be famous! Ha!
But we have made a lot of new friendships – with the boda-boda drivers, who are more than excited to see us walking towards their ‘staging area’ in hopes that we’ll hire them to take us to town; with the little shop keepers who run tiny stores all around the dirt roads surrounding our house; with our security guards (there are 7 who rotate) and our house help Stella; even with the policeman Hakim who pulled me over yesterday to check my driver’s permit but it turned out, mostly just to talk! We are very fortunate that English is spoken here, however, it is very difficult to communicate sometimes due to accents and different words meaning different things. For instance, ‘pants’ here mean undergarments – you say ‘trousers’ instead, or if you offer someone a drink and they say “it’s ok”, that means yes they want it. I am constantly getting burned on that one, as people in town will approach me selling something and I’ll say, “Oh that’s ok”, and then they’ll stand there waiting for me to pay! Sometimes I’ll just buy it so I don’t look like a fool, or rather, MORE of a fool.
But the neighborhood around our house is kind of a dichotomy, with the larger, nice homes on the paved avenues branching off the main road, which is not paved and is lined with small shacks and mud huts that serve as homes and stores for the people who live there. I really enjoy going to these stores to buy little things we need like eggs or ndizi’s (small little sweet bananas) – by the way, we have been eating roughly 6 dozen eggs a week here - poor chickens! It is fun to talk to the people. It’s very important when you’re talking to the people here to first greet them and make a little small talk – Ugandans, and Africans in general I think, really like to chit chat. If I am all business and just walk in and say, “I’d like some eggs please” (as I am prone to do), they would think me to be very rude. It’s almost funny how you essentially have the same conversation with people over and over again each day, but yet you feel like you’re getting to know them better! Hopefully as I do I’ll be able to think of new conversation starters!
Oh, I almost forgot, we saw a family of 6 monkeys about 30 yards from our house the other day on our walk to school. That’s something you don’t expect to see here in the city. The locals don’t like the monkeys though, as they are quite the accomplished little garden thieves. Just imagine deer, except with opposable thumbs!

Picturs: (from top down) Alisha and the boys sitting down for a meal in the kitchen; Graysen in front of the new motorcycle - from dawn to dusk he is constantly asking me to take him for a ride. So far I'm only competent to do so inside our compound!; Leaving to take the boys to school in the morning - the rain showers come and go many days; and finally, Brodie and Jonah with the long-awaited 'Holiday Train' (minus a couple of cars) Jonah has personally told 90% of you about! It took them 6 days to build it with grandpa's help, and it took Graysen 10 minutes to completely destroy it an hour after it was first put together! (As I posted previously, Grandpa burned the midnight oil that night to completely rebuild it by morning).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thanks Grandpa!

We took Alisha’s dad to the airport last night and said goodbye after an eventful and fast two weeks. What an awesome blessing it was for us to have had him here. It is an impressive list of all he helped us with: from watching and playing with the boys to fixing the locks, buying the boys’ bikes and putting them together, taking trips to town on the boda-boda to run errands for us, lending advice on certain aspects of life like buying our car and appliances, helping the plumber fix our widespread plumbing issues, cleaning our cupboards, fixing the doors on the cupboards, setting up the washing machine, stove, dryer, TV and DVD player, taking us on a ‘day-off’ trip to Jinja that was a much needed respite from getting settled, fixing the guards door latch – and then locking himself in the room after he was sure it was fixed! (me and the plumber had a great laugh about that one!), and so many more things big and little that he did to help.
But really, that amounts to only about 10% of his real impact of being here. Having one of our parents here with us to just experience everything we were experiencing for the first time and seeing and feeling what we were feeling (yes, even the terrible stomach flu!) was so comforting and reassuring. (We know our other 3 parents would’ve been here doing the same thing if they could’ve been and we’d have loved to have any and all of you, so just know you were well represented by Ken Berry!) It’s amazing how a challenging new experience can strip you of your self-confidence to make simple decisions. But having a parent there was such a blessing – not that he had all the answers to questions about how to do things in Uganda, but just having him there with us trying to figure things out was a boost to our confidence and helped us get our feet underneath us quicker.
So as I’ve said before, we’re now tweaking the ‘normal’ routines we’d established with him in the mix. It’s a big loss, but at the same time, it’s so nice that we didn’t have to figure this out 2 weeks ago when we literally had nothing but an empty house and clothes!
I told Alisha’s dad the other day that my initial observations are as follows: the tricky part about Uganda is that it has advanced enough that there are a lot of things available here that you don’t find nearly anywhere else in sub-saharan Africa (and by the way, I think that is an awesome thing for the people here who are seeing their quality of life go up and up as the years pass – I pray this begins to happen in all the countries here and continues 10-fold in Uganda as well). But that development seems to be “a mile wide and an inch deep”, so you may be able to get a microwave and refrigerator; but they won’t run during peak hours when the power level dips (i.e. when you need to cook!); or you might have a hot water heater, but the price of electricity is so high that if you leave it turned on more than an hour or two a day, your monthly electric bill would soar to over $600/month; or you can buy most any appliance (though by no means cheaply by Africa standards), but the quality of those appliances is quite poor, and you can expect things to break fairly regularly. So with everything that is available for purchase, it’s hard not to set your expectations back to American standards – but doing so will result in great frustration (like me having to return to the store 3 times to return a blender…only to find that the reason I couldn’t get them to work was because over here, you have to insert the glass pitcher into the base before the power will turn on!).
So living here demands that you remember to keep your expectations low, no matter how things appear. In many aspects, life appears and in fact can in part be, very normal here. But beneath the surface lurks much frustration to the person who doesn’t expect to wait at every step of the way, and who has expectations that things like ATM machines or toilets work the same from day to day, or that traffic jams will sort themselves out in a fair and reasonable (or even safe!) fashion, or that when you buy something that doesn’t work you can expect a refund or even to be able to return it at all, or that signing up for the internet is just a matter of paying the fee and requesting service, or that the car’s blinker in front of you means that he’s turning and not that he’s telling an oncoming car to get over! etc, etc.So if you ignore what appears to be normal Western life and remember that you still are in a 3rd world country, life is very manageable and livable, and even enjoyable here – and in fact it feels far more normal than you’d expect, even if the next country over which serves as the financial lynch-pin of the region is falling into chaos over a prolonged political crisis! See, sounds pretty normal when you think of it that way, eh?! :) Oh, and one other thing – if you can forget the fact that your family and loved friends are 10,000 miles away, that helps too! We’re still working on that one! :) (Pictures: at top, we're just about to load the car to head to SFO to start the trip, then the next two are of us with Alisha's dad at Bujagali falls during our trip to Jinja).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Pictures

Here are some pictures from our first two weeks in Uganda. The first one is Alisha in our kitchen - looks pretty normal eh? The only thing missing is dishwasher - yuk! The blue tank is the propane for the stove. the next picture is of the boys watching a video in our newly furnished family room. The only piece of furniture we have left to buy is a dining room table and chairs. Also, see the family pictures on the walls in the background? Alert to the Bret Crawfords, the Bart Crawfords, the LaBrie's, and Mom & Dad C. need to get an 8x10 of your family made up and sent to us - please! Mail it mom & dad C. or to the Berry's in Castro Valley as they are sending care packages fairly regularly.
The next one is Grandpa reading a story to the boys at bedtime. Note the mosquito netting in the background above Jonah's bed. We haven't really had to use the nets yet, but last night I was itching pretty good so that may change soon. Finally, Brodie and Jonah at Heritage International school on their first day of school. Both Brodie and Jonah have yet to learn to smile normally for a picture - can you tell?!

Travel Pictures

I'm going to try to get caught up on pictures, so here are some from our travels two weeks ago. The first one is just after clearing through security in SFO! I think we had more in carry-on luggage alone than most people had in checked bags! The next one is of Alisha and the boys with her dad walking down a narrow alley in downtown 'Monsterdam'. The third one is of the boys standing in Central Station in Amsterdam - I swear I've seen this train station before in some world war II movie or something.
So I'll try to send more soon, but this post has taken me over 30 minutes! ...P.s. I was the next one stricken with the stomach flu, and as is usually the case, anything floating through the family hits me the hardest. So I started throwing up Sunday night at bedtime and didn't get out of bed until Monday afternoon at 4:30. I'm feeling much better now (it's Tuesday afternoon here) but still not 100%. Also, this afternoon we're buying a car! But this is a sad day, as Alisha's dad is flying out tonight at 11pm. We keep saying that we've kind of resettled in some routines and defined a 'new normal', but it all includes him so we're going to have to readjust again. We're so thankful that he came with us - he was a lot of help, but most important, it was a tie to back home that gave us support as everything else we were experiencing was new. Fortunately, he and Alisha's mom are planning to return in June, so at least we have a date to look forward to!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sickness & email update

So Jonah recuperated quickly - only a 12 hour bug, albeit a nasty one. Thanks for the prayers. Unfortunately, Alisha's dad caught it last night and must've been throwing up for 4 hours straight. But he too recovered quickly and was back to feeling good by this morning (Friday).

I rechecked with the DSL provider here today and the long and the short of it is, the DSL is not going to happen for the foreseeable future. They won't tell you a hard "no" in Uganda, they'll always give you a little biscuit of hope, but the net effect is: "no!". So I am moving on to other options. We'll be able to connect eventually, but the hopes of using Skype anytime soon may be dwindling. :( :(

But on that note, we have received new email addresses that will allow us to read and respond to emails offline, and then download and upload messages all at once to reduce the amount of connection time required. So, we're not closing out the other address, but for the time being, if you all could make a note of our new addresses and begin using them effective now (you can change all of your automatic lists to include these as well, as our yahoo account is almost unusable here): and Mine will be the most reliable for now so you can send things to "us" there, otherwise messages to Alisha can go to hers.

Today I spend all day downtown looking at cars to buy, and then I also bought a motorcycle! I have no idea how to drive it but I'll learn on our driveway and will use it primarily to get to work and back and also nearby errands. It is by far the best way to travel here.

Tomorrow morning (Saturday) we have hired a taxi to take us to Jinja and will spend the day there taking a little boat ride on the Nile and maybe stopping by the Welcome Orphanage. We thought it would be a good break from getting settled, and also a nice treat for Jonah's birthday. Thanks to Alisha's dad for sponsoring the day trip! :)

Thanks also to all of you for your prayers for us and in particular, Alisha. She is doing better after bottoming out on Wednesday. She has met some nice moms from the school (one even stopped by to pick her and the boys up for school this morning since it was raining). But Brodie had good days at school Thursday and Friday so that helped. She stayed with him all day Thursday and then only a few hours on Friday. We're thinking we will pull him out just after lunch and then have Alisha do a "lab" of her own with him at home, working on some of the standards from home so he won't be behind for the tests in the later grades (not that the school is subpar, but they aren't necessarily fully geared towards passing the standardized tests back home in OR/CA, which is understandable). We are thankful for his teacher though, as she seems well suited to give him the structure he needs.

I really will try to get pictures soon - I am sorry about the internet.

Oh...Traci & Kristen, if you could please help Alisha with her customers for a little bit here that would be a huge help. She has yet to read any emails since she's been here! Traci, could you possibly change her email on her MDB account to the new emiea address? That would be a big help - Thanks! We love you all and miss you a bunch - I guess you're all the reason this has been so hard! :) But really, we're doing well. I don't want you to have a mental picture of us being miserable, as that is not the case. 95% of the day is spent in just normal stuff, the same as at home. It's just the last 5% of the time where we have to ponder the big picture of "Oh yeah, we're 10,000 miles from home in Africa!" where it has been a little tough. But we are still just as convinced as before that we are right where God wants us - it's just a little uncomfortable at times, which is ok and not unexpected. We are blessed beyond belief, and if we could have about 50 of you all here with us, I'd be saying life has never been better! :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Update - Thursday 2/07/08

(Sorry, since our internet connectivity is as of yet unresolved, my preferred blogging style of ‘picture-heavy and text-light’ is taking a backseat to rambling prose!)
Today is Wednesday, February 6th (now yesterday!) and we’re having a rainy day. Yesterday, we had our first rain shower. It started out unimpressively, but quickly turned into a major downpour! I think we got over an inch or rain in under an hour. But it is all wetting the ground – which is good and bad: good because we have been covered in red dust everyday now, but bad because we will now be covered in red mud! It’s coming to the end of the hot season so it’s been high 80’s here during the day and high 60’s at night. So the coolness this morning is welcome in our book! Funny to think you are all battling snow back home, while I’m fighting a sunburn!
But the boys started school this week (B&J yesterday, G today). They seem to like it so far. Brodie has met a couple of friends – Garrison and Emma – and seems to be liking it. We’re still figuring out the best way to make that successful though, so Alisha will be going to school with Brodie and meeting with the teacher fairly regularly for awhile. His teacher doesn’t have much experience with autism, but she is very willing to learn and is a very structured teacher, which is great for Brodie. Brodie really likes her. Jonah also likes his class, and the teacher said that Graysen spent most of his day on the tricycle and making the class laugh.
So far, life is good here, but not without it’s difficulties and frustrations. #1 on the list is our lack of reliable internet access so far. I tried to sign up yesterday but they told me it wasn’t available where we lived because too many people in our area are signed up –argg! They told me to check back in a week to see if they’ve “added space”, whatever that means! So I am pursuing other options for the interim, though in the long-term the DSL is what we want as it is the only option that will possibly allow “Skype”.
#2 is the fact that we don’t have a car yet. It’s hard to do much here without transportation, so we’ve been getting good at the public transport – either the Matatu (mini-van bus) or the boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis). I have been spending my days going into town to get things (or unfortunately, return things as some things just don’t work out of the box). Since the traffic downtown is terrible, I have been taking the boda-bodas. I love them! The boda drivers have no rules really, so they go whatever way they need to to make progress. Yesterday, Alisha’s dad and I were each on one heading downtown, and the boda drivers took this shortcut down this dirt ravine that was nothing more than an 8 foot wide path down a hill between all these peoples huts. I don’t want to drive one (at least not yet), but I sure love riding them. They weave in and out of traffic like a video game, going the wrong way sometimes if necessary!
#3 is things breaking and/or not working. We have contacted a plumber and need to contact an electrician to fix a variety of things around the house. But also, a number of the items we purchased for our home have not worked properly or at all – the blender we brought from home, the oven, the vacuum, etc. – so I’ve had to carry them back to the store on a boda..
But around the house, we’re just trying to establish any kind of routine we can. We couldn’t have understood it ahead of time, but taking away every routine that you have in life forces you to think about everything you do, so the amount you can accomplish in any given day is drastically reduced. But our house is almost done being setup, and our house-help –Stella - started this week so that has been very nice – though hard for Alisha to let go of doing things herself. Stella is a very sweet mother of 4 (no, I didn’t try saying it like on Seinfeld – I’m pretty much 100% sure she’d have no idea what I was talking about). But Monday, she did all of our laundry (we hadn’t done any since we left) and also mopped our floors (the red dust here is so thick). Then yesterday she took Alisha to the market and showed her what to buy, and then came home and was helping her prepare dinner (rice and beans – my favorite!).
I think it’s such a blessing for Alisha to have a local Ugandan helping her learn the ropes, and the boys love following her around and “helping” her! I think adjusting to life here has been much harder for Alisha – she seems to be really having a hard time missing life in Medford, and all of you. After spending so much time with family and friends, we are suffering from withdrawal – the thought of being gone for so long and so far away makes it all the harder. At various times, I’ll see her close to tears, and I don’t have to ask anymore – I just know she’s thinking about any of a number of you all back home!
I am doing pretty good – I feel really comfortable here. There are a lot of frustrating things, but overall I feel really at home – and though I haven’t started work yet, I can see that I am really going to like the atmosphere around the office. But like I told Alisha, in time, her reaction will improve, and I will begin to feel the losses more (missing my soccer team back home, or working on familiar projects with familiar clients, or hanging out with the Sampsons, or planning the next weekend in Castro Valley or Klamath, or going to all the KU basketball games – though they’ve all been cancelled of late because of the snow!)
But we do feel so blessed to have a nice home – the people here from eMi picked it for us. It is way nicer than we’d imagined, though it’s not without it’s oddities. Alisha’s dad has been switching all the locks around so the ones that work are on important doors and the ones that don’t aren’t (almost every door in the house has a lock on it – with a different key!). The power fluctuates too, so in the evening when the load is high, we still have power but nothing big will run (fridge, washer, etc). Also, we only run the hot water heater for about an hour or two each day since power here is very expensive. All the little idiosyncrasies of living in a 3rd world country – but when we drive by some of the places people live just a few steps from our house, it’s clear that we are blessed beyond belief. It really is a struggle to see how poor people are living so close by to us, and then to feel frustrated because our internet connection is taking forever to get connected! As another eMi person put it, there is a constant ‘tension’ between wanting to live comfortably (by U.S. standards) while being in the midst of poverty like we’ve never seen before. I think the tension is a good thing though, and I’d be concerned if we ever lost it.
Cute story: Jonah and I were walking down this dirt road by our house to buy eggs from this little market a woman named Harriet runs, and we passed these kids playing. The older brother (around 11) was tormenting his little sister (around 3) by dragging her by the arm towards us, to which she was responding by screaming and crying, while the others all laughed. So I figured out what was happening and stopped and asked, “Is she afraid of us?” And the brother shook his head yes. So I squatted down and stuck out my hand, and she slowly inched over to us and shook first mine, then Jonah’s hand. After about 30 seconds, she reached out again for Jonah’s hand and started shaking it up and down, as her and Jonah giggled their little heads off for a couple of minutes. It was pretty cute. So I think we’ve at least relieved the fear of the white man in one little girls’ mind now.
Update for Thursday: Jonah was up all night last night throwing up and also with bad diarrhea. He threw up the ice and tea I gave him this morning, but after a 2 hour nap, he has now kept down some ice and a little tea and a “Mrs. Cathy” popsicle. So please pray for the little guy. Between throwing up, he acts fine so I think it’s a bad stomach bug. (Malaria takes 14 days so it’s not that, unless he caught it in the U.S. before he left! J )

Friday, February 1, 2008

1st Update from Uganda!!

We have arrived! I have not had access to the internet until now – boy do we feel disconnect with the world! It may be 2-3 weeks before we get it set-up at home, so I’m sorry about the lack of updates here at the beginning. Also, the internet speed is atrocious, so it will take me awhile to figure out pictures. And, I had too many emails to respond to (over 50), especially with the slow connection. But thanks for all the nice words and blog comments.
But the flight into Uganda was uneventful and all of our bags were waiting for us after we passed through immigration! Chad met us there and had rented a matatu to pick us up – so the driver and conductor crammed all of our bags and us into this little mini-van and drove us ‘home’! We love our house – it really is quite nice. We have 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms (2 of which are working!).
The first night we were exhausted, so thankful the eMi people here had setup all of our beds for us. Day 1 we spent the morning unpacking all of our bags as much as we could since we didn’t yet have anything to put stuff in. We then walked to my office and had lunch (eMi is providing our lunches and dinners these first 3 days – what a blessing that has been). Afterwards, we walked down to the boys school and met with the Principal, teacher and office staff to get ready to enroll the boys. We decided to wait until Monday to start them.
Sleeping has been a little rough – Uganda can be very loud at night! It seems to ramp up around 10pm with all kinds of people out, listening to late 80’s/early 90’s dance music, much to the displeasure of all the neighborhood dogs! The first few nights the clamor didn’t let up until well after 2am, with the dogs finally wearing out around 4am! Finally last night it was pretty quiet and we slept through the night for the first time. I think the Uganda schools are just about to start the school year, so we’re wondering if the hub-bub at night has been end of summer parties.
Day 2 was a shopping day, and we had a lot of success. We drove downtown (what a wild place!) and found almost all of our appliances at one little store. Then later in the afternoon, we went furniture shopping at this spot along the side of the rode where tons of vendors sell their stuff. We hired a couple of pickup trucks to haul the stuff home. It was pretty fun. While we were out in the afternoon, Alisha’s dad had setup most of the kitchen appliances, so by the end of the day, the house was no longer barren and we had a reasonable hope at cooking some food!
But overall, we’re feeling pretty comfortable here settling in. The boys seem to be adjusting pretty seamlessly – it’s funny to see how they just go with the flow and whether they’re in Medford or Africa, they just live life. It’s the hot season here so they’re excited that it’s nice and dry to play outside again (after talking with my mom & dad it sounds like it’s anything but back home in Oregon!). But their outgoing personalities are so far undaunted by the new culture. While we were downtown yesterday, Alisha had them all dressed alike in their jean shorts, green collared shirts and green safari hats. Everyone was looking and smiling and pointing at the 3 little white boys, who were oblivious and just walking down the street like they owned the place! (Mom, Dad and Grandpa were close in tow if not holding a hand at all times, I should say, to calm the Grandma’s fears!)
One cool thing we found out is that the power here has improved dramatically, and hasn’t been going out very often. Popular thought is that the last 2 years, the government was trying to create a need for the new dam they want to build, and now that it is approved, there is no more need to show a need! The other great thing is that our house is connected to two power grids, so if the power is shut off, I can go out and switch to the other grid. The previous tenants said that over the last 6 months when the power was bad, they only lost power once!
Fun Africa observation: What do the following measurements mean: 7 ½”, 6”, 5 ½”, 6”, 5 ½”, 5”, 6”, 6 ½”, 7 ¼”, 5 ¼”, 4”, 6 ¾”, 7 ½”, 8”, 7 ½” and 10 ½”? Starting at the bottom of our staircase, it’s the consecutive ‘riser heights’ of the steps! Let me tell you, you learn to appreciate in the USA having a uniform 7/11 (rise over run) staircase when you have to think about what you’re doing on every step since it’s every step is different. And that 10 ½” step at the top is a killer!