Sunday, March 16, 2008

Crawford Boys in Uganda

The boys are overall, doing really well here so far. Kids are resilient, so we kind of thought they would transition easily. Brodie is doing ok in school, but we're still dealing with figuring out some of his weak spots - namely, lunchtime and unstructured times. So Alisha has been going to lunch with him to try to help since he was getting in trouble a lot during that time. We've also been battling some diet issues with him, which always makes things interesting. We have introduced a few new foods so we're now trying weed out the ones we need to eliminate. But Brodie plays soccer at recess and whenever he can find a ball and someone to play with - he tries to coax Jonah into playing every day. (Jonah says he doesn't like it as much as Brodie - he likes Baseball, which he's never really played!) Other than his stomach being bad due to the food issues, Brodie has been the healthiest one of us so far.
Jonah is doing well too, and decided that he only wanted to attend school 2 days a week. But he is just as creative as ever, always dreaming up new projects and crafts. He's also a guard in training, and spends much of the day when we're home outside with the guard doing yardwork or other things. He takes after his great-grandpa Crawford and has planted a garden with Alisha and the guards. He even meticulously cut out and made little signs to stick in the ground labelling what things he's planted (radish, rosemary, tomatoes and sage). On his report card, he got good marks, except he received the lowest score on "Knows how to enter a conversation"! We laughed, but thought he should've been marked even lower for "knows how to END a conversation!".Graysen is doing well, though we had a malaria scare with him the other night. He had a low-grade fever all day but was acting normally. But he woke up around 11pm burning up and complaining of being achey, so Alisha drove him to the hospital 10 minutes away and had him tested (I had to stay home with the other 2 sleeping boys). Fortunately, he didn't have malaria, and they sent her home with some antibiotics for an infection. Just as they were leaving the hospital though, a huge thunderstorm was hitting full steam. I tried to send her a text telling her to stay there and wait it out, but she was well on her way. They made it home safely, but I was nervous since it was pouring and the wind was blowing hard. But otherwise, Graysen loves school and life and most importantly, motorcycle rides! Everything revolves around the motorcycle now! "Daddy, can I have a ride on your boda boda?" (boda boda is motorcycle here).
We took some pictures of the boys in various situations, since we know many back home (ok,
I'm mainly thinking of Grandma's here) are somewhat worried for the boys safety... we thought maybe if you saw them surviving here it might relieve some of those fears! The tree swing photos are in our yard. It was here before we arrived, but the rope is kind of frayed so I need to replace it. The boys love it though and it soars them 15 feet or more in the air! One of our day guards has promised to climb the tree to install the new rope once we get one.
I also thought it would be funny to take a picture of the boys "drinking" from the hose...something that would make them very sick here! Did anyone catch that?! Jonah was a little better at faking it, as you can see in the pictures. Brodie is clearly guilty of over-acting!I've also included a shot of the boys doing what they love most - getting a ride on the motorcycle. I'm not really even Dad anymore, I'm just the guy who gives motorcycle rides. Graysen especially obsesses over the rides. I usually just take them around the driveway inside our compound, but occasionally they get to earn special treats where I'll take them out on the dirt road near our house.
The swimming pictures are from the 'ARA' (American Recreation Association), which is becoming our home away from home on the weekends. The boys get to swim there, play on the playground, watch movies, and sometimes we eat lunch or dinner there. Oh, and they happen to have satellite TV that picks up the English Premier League soccer matches, but that's really not important...I just go for the kids. ;) On this day, I was trying to teach the boys how to dive - pretty fun. Brodie and Jonah finally were getting it, and Graysen does the best feet-first dive I've seen! :) The boys are actually taking lessons again there on Thursdays, so we're really glad they're continuing on in learning to swim - we were a little concerned about that in coming over since they had such a great setup for learning swimming back home in Medford. Brodie and Jonah are learning to swim over-handed (freestyle) and Graysen is working on getting rid of the power-pack. (Oh, and yes Grandmas, they have 50 sunblock on at all times. :) )So overall, I think the boys have adjusted the easiest here, and seem to be thriving and healthy. That is a big answered prayer, and continued prayer request! There have been many around us who have been battling sickness, so we have been blessed to not be getting everything that is going around. Special prayer requests for Alisha's continued good health (our house shuts down when mom gets sick, so we feel fortunate so far that she has yet to get sick!), and also for Brodie's stomach and diet issues to settle down so he can get back into a groove of good behavior at school and home. Also, Alisha's parents are trying to sell our suburban back home (in the bay area now), so please pray for that. And finally, we're thinking of selling our car here since it is such a gas hog (about 8-9 mpg) and a terrible polluter. Our car emits more black exhaust than most cars here, and that's really saying something (pollution here is on a whole other level from anything I've ever seen in the U.S. - we do miss the environemental standards in the U.S.). It is a diesel so some exhaust is inevitable, but we really don't like driving around polluting the place -though environmental concerns are not high on most people's list here...the basic struggle to survive has a way of superceding some of the things we have a luxury of worrying about back home. I was following a police car the other day who rolled down it's window and threw out a bunch of trash as it drove down the road! I thought about pulling it over and trying to recoup some of my 200,000 shillings from a few weeks ago! Ha!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

First Project - New Hope Uganda

On this past Wednesday, one of the eMi interns, Jeremy, and I, drove North 60 miles to a small village called Kasana, about 10 miles West of the town of Luwero. We went to meet with the director of an organization called ‘New Hope Uganda’. The director and his wife and family moved to Uganda in 1986 and started New Hope Uganda out in the middle of the bush. Their mission is to bring the love of God the father to fatherless children of Uganda. This project will be somewhat atypical for eMi, since we won't be sending a team - I will likely be the only one from eMi involved since they're only looking for structural help.
But on the project property, they have boarding houses for families, a baby’s home for abandoned children, a primary and secondary school, and a church. It really is an impressive place they’ve built out in a very remote area. Their compound is huge, feeling more like a village with a central park-like area that serves as the hub for different ‘spokes’ that offshoot to the different residences. The schools are a mile or two down the road and also have expansive properties with nice facilities. So Jeremy and I left at just past 7am, but had to drive through town to head out North. Well, we should’ve left at 6am because it took us 2 hours to get out of town. So we arrived at 11am, nearly 2 hours late. When we got there, the director showed us around to some of the constructions projects he had going on and wanted a structural engineer’s opinion on. I looked at a number of issues they had going on, including cracked concrete beams, poorly built roof trusses, and a remodel of their guest house that needed to add some new roof trusses.
We also met to talk about the new church building they will be building. It’s a pretty large, open structure that requires some special engineering, including a steel framed roof due to the large spans.
It was pretty exciting to finally be involved in a specific project (as opposed to just setting up the general office structural guidelines), and seeing the site and meeting with the director really gave me a heart for the organization and people there and was my first taste of feeling like I was able to have an impact here through my work. I will be providing truss designs for his existing projects, and then a full design for the new church structure. The tricky part will be the steel roof, as there are limited steel members available here, so I will be coordinating with a local steel engineering and fabrication company to help with that design.
After our meeting and walk around at the construction sites, the director took us to his house where we had lunch with his wife and 3 of his 6 kids. It was really a nice time – his oldest daughter (29) was there and is on staff now, and then he has two younger kids who are 10 and 8 (all 6 are biological). It was interesting to hear the older daughter’s perspective since she had moved to Uganda when she was 7. She actually has written a book about her experiences growing up here, and they gave us a copy (‘The Long Road to Hope’). The 8 year old is a precious little girl with Down’s Syndrome, so I immediately had a connection with them all as a family with a special needs child. She is doing very well also, and it was a big blessing for me to briefly exchange stories with them.
We left mid-afternoon, and had a much shorter 2 ½ hour trip home. To keep this shorter, I’m leaving out the details of the drive itself, but driving here is always an experience, and this road was particularly bad. I spent more time weaving around pot-holes than I did driving straight (which is why 60 miles takes 2 ½ hours!) Pictures: (top) The dirt road from Luwero to Kasana - some of the nicer road surface we drove on; (2nd f/ top) a typical Ugandan mud-hut/homestead - these types of homes are a dime a dozen out in the rural areas of Uganda; (3rd f/ top) me at one of the current project-sites at New Hope Uganda; (last 2 pictures) the round-about and central "park" area of the New Hope campus- the new church building I'll be designing will be located in that field of grass.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Connected at last

We are finally connected with a permanent internet connection! ...sort of. It is really a minor miracle that we are connected now, but we'll take it. It has been a long process, but just over 6 weeks after arriving, we finally are connected. I have had access at work, and for the last month we've been borrowing someone's dial-up box, but that was only a 1-month thing that we knew wouldn't last. Well, that ran out on Monday, but the process began last week. I'll tell the story because it's a good example of how things sometimes work here.

A week ago on Monday, I went down and signed up and paid an exorbitant connection fee to give us a wireless connection of up to a "blazing" 128 KB/sec! (The monthly fee for this is about 4 times what the basic Charter (cable) connection rate for TV and internet was back home. The setup fee was just under $1,100 US dollars! I'm sure most of you probably thought things were "cheap" over here - the truth is, the majority of things are much more expensive.) They said that when they came out to hook up our friends who just moved in next door, they would connect us as well since we are right next door. Well, Saturday, they were at our friends house connecting them, so our friends called and told me to get right over there. So I did, only to find that they were unaware that we were waiting to be connected too and therefore didn't have our equipment with them. They said they'd be back on Monday.

On Monday night, they called and said it would be Tuesday morning at 8:30am. On Tuesday morning at 9am, they called and said 11am. At 11am, they called and said 1:30pm. At 3:30pm, I called to check, and they said that the car was out and that it was unlikely to happen that day. So I called the office and the lady there was nice, and told me that the only way I would be connected is if I drove down to their office and asked for my money back if they weren't hooking me up that night.

So all 5 of us drove down there, waited for an hour, and finally drove 3 technicians back to our house. They proceeded to work on it until 9pm, at which time they said they needed to come back to finish another day, but our basic connection was in. I got home at 10pm from returning the 3 men to the office downtown. In retrospect, it really is comical that in order to get connected, we had to physically go down to the office and bring the technicians home to do it!

On Wednesday, I had to drive 50 miles North of town (took 4 hours to drive that distance on the bad roads and traffic, but that's another story for another blog entry) to a new project, so I requested them to come on Thursday(today). So today, I went through another round of scheduling times, starting at 11:30am and finishing with their arrival at our house at 3pm. So they ran some wire to locate our wireless router downstairs from the antenna (wireless routers don't work well in 2-story concrete houses), but they were unable to configure the router.

So, unfortunately, you don't get to hear the end of the story right now, because the story isn't over! We hope to get the router back tomorrow, but at least we can plug into the antenna and get online now. Also, because of the surrounding topography, our signal is weak, so they have to return in a few weeks to install an exterior antenna - a part they are currently out of and aren't sure when they will have it in! Consequently, our speeds are only at around 32KB/sec instead of 128...but after struggling through the dial-up connection that maxed out at about 7KB/sec in the evenings, we feel like we're flying!

So it's been a good lesson in patience, but also in how to get things accomplished here. If you push for a time and schedule, you will likely be told an unrealistic schedule that they will not be able to meet. But if you don't push at all, you will never get serviced. So it is a balancing act of applying 'freindly pressure' while not getting too specific, or at least not counting on what specifics you get to hold true.

All of that to say, the people I have dealt with have been extremely nice and friendly, and I believe sincerely want to do a good job. But often, for reasons out of their control, they are not able to fulfill what is promised to the client.

I am learning about myself though. Since my tendency is to take people at their word and then to just forgive them if they don't come through, it is hard for me to be confrontational or pushy. I know Mark (Dew) knows this about me from work back home, but I suspect others may not. But over here, I will need to learn a little strategic assertiveness to be effective. Alisha is usually the (elected) assertive one in the family! ...I guess I am a little assertive for "electing" her! (Sorry no pictures this time, I'll try to post some this weekend.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

One month under our belt

Well, we’ve completed our first month here! It really feels more like 6 months because of all we have done and accomplished – first having Alisha’s dad here, getting all the stuff bought and set up in our house, getting a car and motorcycle, learning how to drive a motorcycle, getting the boys settled into school, and I even managed to work a full week’s worth of time during the month of February, which had been scheduled to be off.
So my first tasks at work are to start assembling standards for the Structural department, which has been vacant now for over 4 years. It is quite a task and will be an ongoing work in progress for the duration of my time here, I’m sure. I will be contacting whomever I can think of around town to try to get any information I can about what materials are available and which construction practices can be employed. One complicating factor is there really is no useful phone book, so I’ll be looking in the classified ads in the paper, and maybe stopping by construction sites in town to ask some questions. I also will be putting together standard structural drawings that can be used on every structural project eMi-East Africa does in the future.
If I can put together some standard design information and drawing guidelines, it will be a tremendous tool for future volunteers and/or staff members on projects here. Right now, the biggest need in our office is more staff – we are unable to take on all the ministries that request our services because we don’t have the manpower. So developing standards and streamlining whatever design methodology I can will hopefully increase our capacity to help the ministries we serve.
At home, things are going pretty good. Life is pretty similar to back home as far as our schedule goes. The boys play, go to school, watch videos, play games, and we finally got a little keyboard so Brodie has started practicing piano again. Alisha and I are finding our routines too. It’s been nice not working full-time yet as I’ve been able to do things like take the boys to school on the motorcycle, go to Brodie’s school to see him give a report on his home country in front of his class, and go to Brodie’s first school soccer game (he’s on a team with kids up to 3rd grade, so he didn’t get to play very much. He and the other 1st graders only got in the game at the end – but I was proud of him for sticking with the game and paying attention the whole time even though he was dying to play. Finally, they put him in at goalie for the last 10 minutes! He was frustrated that he didn’t get to touch the ball, but I told him he was paying his dues now as a little kid, and that he needs to really work hard and pay attention in practice so he can improve and maybe earn more playing time – but those 3rd graders are 'ginormous' (Graysen's new favorite word after watching the movie 'Elf') and could run circles around the 1st graders!)
Alisha and I were talking recently about how coming here, we thought it would be easier to stay connected to God and how quiet times would be almost automatic since we’d be relying on him for strength. Well, like many things, our expectations were a little off! It’s every bit as much of a struggle here as it was at home to make time for God each day. There’s nothing supernatural about being on a missions trip, unless you make the effort to involve God in your life…just the same as if you’re at home in Oregon or California or whereever. It sounds simple enough, but being a missionary is no different from being an engineer or a teacher or a fitness guru or a stay at home mom or yes, even a pastor - it’s just the job God has called you to and how successful you are in it from God’s standpoint depends only on your commitment to spending time with Him to get to know Him better and how willing you are to humble yourself and submit to His will over your own. Bummer, we were hoping for a special missionary’s shortcut or something. :)
The boys are doing really well here though and for the most part seem to be content. Most of the time they talk about really liking it here. But every now and then they talk longingly about 'back home'. Graysen this afternoon was crying at the swimming pool for some reason and blurted out, "I just want to go back to our home in Medford." Frankly, Alisha and I have both made the same comment...but only a couple of dozen times or so! :)
This week in particular was up and down for me, as I was pulled over a second time by the police and ended up having to pay 200,000 ugandan shillings (about $115) in "fines" - I later learned that I'd essentially paid the officers to let me go, and that the ticket would've only cost around $35.
And then I was really frustrated the next day when I brought the keyboard home from the store, plugged it in, and the middle 'B' wouldn't work. Once again, it was not a cheap item (I paid 3 times what you would pay for the same keyboard in the U.S. - I checked online). I was so burned out on buying expensive things that were broken, I was really struggling with frustration building up and it was starting to affect me. Alisha said for me to try playing every key, up and down the piano, 7 times. She said she prayed and that's the thought that came to mind. So, I skeptically tried it, and lo and behold...it still didn't work. So I prayed, and then took the keyboard completely apart (not recommended). So I 'looked at the motherboard', made sure everything was tight in place, and then put it all back together - about 20 little screws in all. Well, I think God heard both of our prayers, because I did nothing more in taking it apart and putting it back together than I'd done in playing the full keyboard 7 times, but somehow, the thing started working and has worked ever since - Thank you Lord! It was a big pick-me-up for me at a time that I was struggling. So I know it's a silly little thing, but God really turned around my outlook by 'healing the keyboard'.
Pictures: at top, the interns at the eMi East Africa office, hard at work; the next one is Kiwafu (said "Chi-wah-fu") Road just around the corner from our house. We live on 'Lugwana Close', a dead-end offshoot of Kiwafu Road just out of frame from this shot. The little huts at the far end of the picture are actually small stores that we sometimes buy little fruits and things from; next is Brodie and his teacher Miss Heather (Peeler) up in front of the class giving his report on the U.S.A.; next is Brodie and the other 1st grade substitutes on the sideline of his first soccer game. Brodie stood the whole game, and was dying to get in. As you can see, the uniforms are made for 3rd graders!; and the last one is Alisha and Graysen with our househelper Stella. She is such a sweet girl (27 years old, mother of 4) and a hard worker. She is a huge blessing to have around the house.