Friday, April 25, 2008

Update - Saturday 4/26/08

The last few weeks have been pretty low key, mostly because our car has been in the shop off and on all month so we've pretty much been stuck around the house. After a series of overheating incidents, not starting incidents, and finally a just stopped running incident, we took the car in to find that the engine needed to be replaced or rebuilt. We chose rebuilding because that was about $1000 cheaper. It was in the shop 3 weeks being rebuilt before we picked it up last Saturday.
By Monday it was back in the shop as it was making a high pitched sound and had no power. We picked it up Wednesday morning after he had replaced the 'Turbo' fan. Wednesday afternoon, Alisha drove it to the store and back, and as she arrived at our gate the plastic radiator reserve tank blew it's top and smoke was billowing. So we pushed it in our gate and let it cool, called the mechanic and he sent a guy. He checked it thoroughly and couldn't find a leak. So I drove him back to the shop and they told us to try driving it more since it was a newly rebuilt engine and may just be running a little hot initially. By the time I got home, the water was boiling again. I called and the mechanic said something must wrong for it to be so hot so quickly. He agreed, and asked me to bring it in the following day so he could check the radiator. So Thursday afternoon I dropped it off and we're still waiting to hear back (it's Saturday morning).
I should say that the mechanic is actually a very nice man (Indian) and is well respected here amongst the mzungu missionaries, so I don't think he's doing anything wrong. He's just trying to save us money by only fixing what's necessary. It just so happens that everything is necessary!
So enough about the car, it's just that it has dominated our life over the past month since we have had to alter our 'system' (i.e. getting the boys to school, grocery shopping, shopping for other needs, getting to church, fun outings, etc).
Our neighbor Lynne has continued to be a Godsend as she has helped so much by taking Alisha and the boys to school and also grocery shopping. If it's dry, walking the boys to school is fine. But if it has rained, it is a muddy mess and there is a steep hill to climb down that is pretty dangerous because it's a narrow, one-lane dirt road that all the cars use to drop their kids off at school. So walking them to school when it's muddy is a bit dangerous.
It's the rainy season now (March thru May), which means it rains pretty much every day or night. Usually, we will have a big thunder storm at night or in the early morning, but by mid-morning it's clearing up. Then it will be fairly nice during the day, with either partly or mostly cloudy weather. The sun is so intense here though that when it shines through for a minute, it quickly feels hot. But the temperatures now are generally low 60's at night and mid 70's during the day. Pretty nice - we definetely like the rainy season best since it's not so dusty and you don't feel hot and sticky all day.
Also on our minds lately is a decision we have to make in the coming weeks. Alisha has been asked to teach Kindergarten at Heritage next year. She would be Jonah's teacher. It would be a half day job, so that's nice. But, it would mean Graysen would have to go to pre-school all 5 days from 8-12. It would be nice financially since Brodie and Jonah's fees would be covered (it's not a paid position - teachers usually raise support to teach there. But more often than not, the teachers are moms of students, so they just get their kids' tuition fees waived.)
So we're kind of torn about that. Fortunately, Alisha has a trial run at it starting this coming Friday. Brodie's teacher is going to Egypt for a week, and asked Alisha to cover her class for 6 days. Alisha agreed to do it, but just from 8-12 in the morning. So we figure by the end of that substituting stint, she'll have a good feel for if she wants to do it for a whole school year. If you would add that to your prayer list, we would appreciate it. We want to make a good decision that will be best for Alisha and also the boys.
Other than that, a few snippets:
...the guard for our next-door neighbors found a big snake in their bushes last week! We think it was a black Cobra - it's body was the diameter of your wrist. He tried to kill it but it got away. So later that day we had someone come and spray both of our yards for snakes. I have no idea if spraying does anything, but it made Alisha sleep better so it was worth the $20. I told Alisha I think he sprayed with "snake oil"! of the eMi interns house was broken into and an eMi laptop was stolen. It was at night while he was sleeping. They cut the lock and took the laptop, a cell phone, and 3 pairs of his shoes. He lives in a four-plex, and they broke into one other unit and stole a tv, dvd player, and some other expensive things. They were sure it was the guard. They had complained about him several times recently (bad demeanor, just a shady character) and so his last day was to be 3 days after the break-in. Plus, the night it happened, a neighbor had looked out her window around 3am and saw him talking to two other people within the compound. Oh, and the stick they used to reach in through a window and snag the neighbors keys was a board tied to his guard baton - left behind at the scene! So the police came and dusted for finger and foot prints, and surprisingly, they caught him two days later. No sign of the stolen stuff, but they are bringing charges against him.
...we have decided to hire day guards for every day, so our compound will now have a guard 24/7. Before, we had one every night and 4 days, but we decided the extra cost was worth the security, since we've had a few questionable figures ringing our bell at times. You never know if someone is scoping out your place or not, but we didn't like the idea of them seeing our pattern of not having a day guard M, W & F. So Alisha and our house help Stella will feel much safer now knowing there will be someone here all the time. Plus, we'll now be supporting almost 4 (3.8) full-time jobs for Ugandans, which we're happy about.
...Brodie's stomach has finally been doing good the last week. He hasn't been complaining of stomach aches or having to race to the restroom everytime. That is such an answer to prayer. We felt so badly for him and are relieved that he is feeling better. It's also translated into great behavior reports at school, and a much more pleasant little boy around the house too.
...Jonah's garden is starting to sprout, so he's excited. He's also been building jumps in our yard for their bikes to ride over (they are still unable to get any air). He's also been enjoying playing everyday with his next door neighbor friend Julia.
...Graysen is also doing well. He is very into puzzles and loves to cut and color. He has become good friends with the little neighbor girl Liana - she and Graysen are two little peas in a pod. They call each other 'my friend', as in "Mom, can I go play with 'my friend'?" They are two cute little kids.
...Alisha and I are doing well overall. There are good days and bad days. Days where we really enjoy being here, and days when reading emails and hearing stories from home make us count the days until two years are up. There are things that are great about being here, such as a much more low-key lifestyle with more time together as a family, but being away from family and friends and familiar surroundings continues to be a daily battle of the mind.
Pictures: (top) Graysen reading his favorite book ('Little Critter') before bed. (second) Brodie practicing being a good brother by reading to the boys - allowing Graysen to sit on his lap was a big deal for him, so we really yucked that up! (third) Alisha and the boys working out this morning to 'Turbo Jam' from MillionDollarBody. (Fourth) Brodie helping Graysen play 'Clifford' on the computer this morning. (Fifth-Seventh) Jonah out by his various garden plots this morning (he has 4 different garden plots). The first one is by his corn and green beans, the second one is by his watermelon, squash, radish and even a little aloe vera plant, and the last one is with our day guard Patrick. He is such a nice man and takes good care of our yard and our boys. He is the oldest of our guards (38) and has 5 children that live back in the village with his wife (about 8 hours away). Of the 7 guards, only 2 have their families living with them here in Kampala. The rest live back in their villages due to cost of living, but also because they have deep family ties there and property and family they have to take care of.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clarification Re: Long Emails

There appears to be some confusion as to my recent comment requesting small emails. I was referring to attached files and pictures only - NOT to text. Please feel free to send as long of an email as you're willing to type, as these are never too big to download. Even attached files can be sent, just preferrably smaller ones. You can save pictures to a smaller size before sending them - since we aren't printing pictures there's no reason to send larger than 0.5MB pictures. Also, sending one or two pictures at a times is best. Obviously, with the internet speeds in the US, it really is only a matter of seconds to download multiple larger pictures. But here, it can clog our email downloading for over an hour!
It's not the end of the world if you send us a big file, it's just a bit of a pain with our slow download speed. Thanks - and keep those long text emails coming, it is our main source of contact with back home and we love hearing about all the goings-on!
[If you don't know how to reduce the size of a picture, from 'My Computer', right click on the picture file and select 'Open With', then from the pop-up window select Microsoft Office Picture Manager (if you have Microsoft Office). When it opens, select 'Edit Pictures' from the menu at the top, then select 'Compress Pictures' from the menu on the right, then select Compress for... 'Documents' (you can choose 'Web Pages' or 'Email Messages', but these drastically reduce the quality of the picture). If you want to maintain the original file, when you close the Picture Manager, be sure to 'save as' a different file name. Oh, I should mention that these instructions DO NOT APPLY TO APPLE computers, but I'm sure there's a way to do it on those too.]

Friday, April 11, 2008

A warning from the US Embassy...

Revised: I zoomed in on the picture a bit so now you can see me, Brodie and Graysen. I took the boys downtown since I thought they would really like to see the big fire! We even brought some old tires from around the house to throw in the pile. Overall, it was a fun day for the boys' first riot experience. (yes grandmas, I am joking! I did not and would not go or take the boys anywhere near a mob/riot! The miracles of photoshop!)
Original Text:
In case this makes the AP wire, I'll preempt the onslaught of emails from concerned friends/family back home. Yes, there was rioting in Kampala can read about it here: Kampala taxi-drivers demonstrations - April 11, 2008
We do go by this area quite often when we go into town. The riots were more of a protest by the taxi drivers who were mostly interested in people not hiring any public transportation in the downtown area. The police fired tear gas and eventually regained control after 4 hours. Apparently, they were upset that the police have been cracking down on them recently, impounding their matatu's for being unsafe, driver's driving without permits, etc.
Our neighbor who works downtown had driven to work, so they didn't give him any trouble driving home. But another mzungu friend twice got chased by a mob of guys with sticks because he was riding on the back of a boda boda (they were opposed to anyone making money on transportation). After the second mob - or I should say after he was a safe distance away from the second mob - he got off the boda and walked home.
So, it's no worse than what happens back in the states after a city wins a World Series or NBA championship, but because things are generally less stable in this region, it is a good reminder to be aware of our surroundings and cautious in general.
But in case anyone was worried, we are safe and were never in danger...and hopefully things will be calm tomorrow since we'll be heading near there for church Sunday morning!
P.S. No one was killed or seriously injured in the riots, so I took the liberty to have a little fun with the picture. And that is not a car bomb burning as it might look, but just a pile of tires and trash.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sickness and Work Update

So right now we have 3 sick boys. Graysen is going on day 7 of a fever, bad diarrhea and head-cold symptoms. We’ve taken him to the doctor twice (two different doctors) and they said it’s a virus, and that virus’ take a long time to pass here. But he is definitely perking up this evening, so that’s good. But Sunday morning Brodie woke up with a fever and sore throat and stomach aches, and he’s been sick with all those symptoms since. Then Monday evening, Jonah started feeling hot and acting very subdued. So, the good news is, since they’re dropping like flies, that would make something serious like malaria or dengue fever or something else unlikely since those aren’t really transferred between people. We had thought about measles early on since Graysen has bloodshot eyes and all the other symptoms, but no rash ever formed. Then one of the doctors (he’s British) informed us that measles is almost non-existent in Uganda, so that’s good.
But we have the vitamin A drops to treat for measles, so we had already given those just in case (per Dr. Green’s (our doctor in Oregon)instruction). But last night was interesting, since all three slept on the floor in our room (see picture). Let's just say my day started at 3:50am this morning, and I'm not sure Alisha could even distinguish between when her night ended and the morning started.
But beyond sickness (by the way, I didn’t mention that I had a terrible sore throat that has turned into a bad head cold), we’re doing good. Our car did in fact need to have the engine replaced or rebuilt, so we opted for the latter since it was 40% less of a hit. Beyond that, I thought I’d give an update on work.
First, New Hope Uganda: (I’ve mentioned this previously, but it’s the church I’m helping with) I met again with the director, but this time had the eMi office Architect with us (‘Liz’ from New Zealand). He had a preliminary drawing made 10 years ago that we were working from, but he wanted someone’s opinion on the acoustics, and also on the general architecture. Well, Liz had a lot of great insight, and it was decided that some things needed to be reworked. Consequently, we’re going to have to revise the layout, and it will be awhile before I get working on the structural side of things.
Next, Abundant Life School in Iganga, Uganda: This will be my first official project trip and will take place at the end of May. We are currently recruiting an Architect and Civil Engineer from the U.S. to join us, along with Janet Strike (staff Civil Engineer here) and 4 interns. Iganga is about 2 1/2 hours East of Kampala. The ministry has a very interesting concept for the school. It was started years ago by a pastor in Ireland, and they have done a lot of work for orphans and the poor throughout Uganda. So the income generated from the school will be a means for funding the work they do elsewhere. At the same time, it will meet a big need for a Christian school in the area. They plan to have a strong Christian emphasis in the school curriculum, in part to give an alternative to the local muslim population. I’m sure I will have more to write about this ministry after the project trip (we’re planning to spend 7-8 days on-site to develop a preliminary design).
Other projects I’m consulting on – Mt. Meru University in Tanzania, Westminster Theological College outside of Kampala, and ‘Come Let’s Dance’, which will be a site with a school that houses kids and grows their own food to feed the kids (I’m working on the initial bunk house for workers to live in while they begin working on a new 10-acre parcel of land that will be cultivated into farming): These are projects that are underway around the office that I am consulting with the architects and engineers whenever structural questions arise. Since these are projects that were initiated prior to my arrival, we are not providing structural drawings for them, but I am trying to help give input where it’s needed. On the Westminster project, it’s under construction so I've gone out a few times to help survey the site with Chad to locate the buildings for the Contractor.
In the meantime, I’m still putting together a structural design guide to hand to the structural volunteers in the future. It’s challenging to do the research here without a phonebook and with intermittent internet access at the office (when everyone is in the office, there can be 12 people trying to connect online on our 64KB bandwidth connection speed. This translates into severe online gridlock! (By the way, this is a good time to request that you try to keep emails to us under 500KB (0.5 MB) whenever possible. Important exceptions are fine, but 0.5 MB will take anywhere from 1-5 minutes to download, depending on the connection speed at the moment.
On the ministry side of things, we’ve really enjoyed getting to know the interns. I have been mentoring Zach, a 27-year old architect from Colorado, and Alisha has been mentoring Jill, a 5th year senior architecture student at Kansas State. In addition, we’ve been having Heather, Jill and sometimes Zach over to workout with us using the Million Dollar Body ‘Power 90’ videos. We’ve even ventured into the ‘Hip-Hop Abs’ cardio programs (also MDB) - I can assure you that it is a thing of perfect beauty to watch us all doing hip-hop routines. Yikes!
Last weekend, we invited all the interns and a few other young missionaries over to play games. We had 11 people and played ‘Mafia’ and ‘Telephone Pictionary’. A good time was had by all (well, at least by us).
Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I have been playing soccer (‘football’) here on Friday nights. There’s a team of Italians who play against everyone else who shows up – so usually it’s about 4 or 5 Ugandans, a couple South Africans, a few of the Italian kids (who are incredible players for their age) and me, I think the lone American playing soccer in Uganda, if not all of Africa! When I first showed up, they first asked if I was from England. Then they were pretty skeptical of me as an American – as if they wanted to ask, “You know this isn’t AMERICAN football we’re going to play?” They said they have a tournament every 6 months where they split everyone by country – a la the World Cup. Well, as it will be impossible for me to find 10 other Americans who play soccer here, they suggested that I possibly play with the South Africans! Sooo, good’ay mate! …oh wait, wrong continent! (kind of an inside joke here around the office with the interns, who like to play to the impression that we Americans don’t know where any other country outside of North America is – including Canada! We especially like to joke about New Zealand, since Liz is from there – and because most of us legitimately know very little about that town).
Pictures: (top) this isn't a 'fun' slumber party, but a room full of sickies camping out on the floor of our room; (next) Alisha reads with a couple of barely coherent sickies on her lap; (next) apprentice-guard Jonah with his mentor Mr. Wilson who helped him plant a garden and lets Jonah tag around with him; (next) long-term volunteer architect Liz (left) and intern Jill (right) caught in a totally candid moment...on second look, perhaps I inadvertantly tipped them off that a picture was forthcoming; (next) eMi East Africa Director Chad taking a break from a stressful interactive office game of 'Doom' (joking); (last) eMi East Africa staff engineer Janet looking unusually happy (actually she never stops smiling). Chad and Janet are the other two full-time staff members in the office (there are two additional staff members who are permanently on location at job sites in Southern Uganda, Steve and John).
**Update** - Since I wrote this Monday night, Graysen has improved significantly and no longer is battling the on and off fever - just an apparent case of 'pink-eye' and a very apparent case of the grumpies, but Jonah and Brodie were sick on the couch with fevers the last two days. Poor Brodie has a bad stomach ache with it as well that the other boys didn’t have much of, but he’s been battling a bad stomach since a month before we left the states so it's not that surprising.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alisha's update

This is Alisha, and this is my first blog ever. I thought I’d touch bases with all of you and give you my own perspective on Africa. Well, as I have told many of you, for the first two weeks I was a basket case, wallowing in self-pity, searching for any way I could to get back on that plane. Deep down I knew I was in the right place, but on the surface I wanted God’s will to change and for us to land back in Medford, and quick.
I guess I should clarify it wasn’t Africa I hated, but really just being so far from home. If we were only one flight away or if I knew I could fly home whenever I wanted, my time of adjusting to this place would have been far easier. I was missing (and still am) family and friends very much.
But one day something Brad’s sister Traci said in an email really made sense to me. She said, “Even the Israelites missed Eygpt….” And finally, my time here began to make sense. At that point, just days after sending my dad home on the plane, I got my heart in the right place again. In some ways I feel like Uganda is my desert, and getting back to the States is the promised land. I also know that in this place I have many lessons to learn (just not for 40 years I hope!!). It is amazing how quickly your weaknesses are exposed when God plucks you away from everything you call home. I have realized from this experience that my biggest fears lie in not knowing what God holds for our future or even His will for tomorrow. So, I’m slowly learning to just find joy in today.
I can’t tell you all how thankful we are for your prayers, financial support, emails and packages. Though I miss home, family, and friends terribly, just knowing that we have a team (all of you) behind us is so motivating for me to not let this season of life go in vain, but rather, to make the most of the opportunities that come our way. We are praying for you all, that God would bless you just as He is blessing us.
God has given us an amazing place to live here, far better than I ever imagined. Our boys have lots of space, a rope swing, and a large garden (with the help of our day guard, Mr. Wilson, we have planted, radishes, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, watermelon, onions, and lettuce.) The boys also have bikes, indoor board games, trains, books and Legos we brought over with us. I’m learning that it really doesn’t take much more than a little sunshine and our big walled-in yard to entertain three energetic boys. The boys are also learning the names of some of the Ugandans we see daily at school or at the store since greeting is so important here.
So I do all the shopping for food, etc. despite the fact that I am a little afraid of getting pulled over. I try to go only one day a week (Mondays - though right now our car is not running and is in the shop, and we are waiting to hear if we need a whole new engine - yikes! So you can all pray for that). But I think I have finally figured out what is expensive and what isn’t. Shampoo and toiletries are ridiculous (often double what they are at home). Things like ceretain fruits that don’t grow here (apples, oranges, berries and grapes) can be outrageous as well, far more than you pay for even organic ones in the States. I discovered last week that I actually bought a $9.00 box of Rice Krispies the first week we were here, not knowing what the heck I was doing. So……it’s a learning process.
We try to buy the big things at the store and leave things like bananas, ndizzis (small, deliciously sweet bananas), eggs and flour for buying in our neighborhood. I love being able to walk down the road with the boys to greet the Ugandan people and support their little businesses by buying their fruits and veggies. They are even starting to give me consistent prices (rather than upping it for the Mzungu!) because they know me now (and know I'll remember!). Greeting them by name when I can helps a lot with that as well. They LOVE it when you remember their name, or even better, when we try to speak their native language, which for most people in Kampala is Lugandan. It is cute to see them react to us trying to say something in Lugandan.
The boys’ mission is to buy bananas from the little girls they see carrying them in a basket on their head. They talked and decided that whether we need them or not, we should take time to talk with them and buy their bananas because it may be the only money they bring home that day. The boys are learning a lot about poverty and doing without some of the perks in life just by what they see on the streets. The funniest thing they do in the car is count the Mzungus (white people) they see on the way to the pool. It is hilarious. They even yell “Mzungu!” and wave sometimes as they drive by and add them to their count!
Last week for Spring Break our nextdoor neighbors (the Kelly's) invited us to drive about an hour and a half to the KingFisher Resort near Jinja for a night’s stay. The boys really loved the pool because it has a slide that goes from one pool to the other and a bridge going over the pool they could swim under. They also loved getting to play with their new friends (who live next door). They have a boy named Judah (Brodie’s age,) a girl named Julia (6 mos. older than Jonah) and a girl named Liana (6 mos. younger than Graysen). It really is a blessing to have playmates living just over the wall. The dad, Brian, is the pastor at our church, and his wife Lynne has is teaching me a lot about Uganda, where to take the kids, how to cook here, and about the culture of Uganda. It is such a blessing to have met them so thank you to all of you who prayed we would find friends to help us. We've decided to share our internet connection with them since we get bad reception on our antenna (their lot sits up higher so they get good reception) and they don't have the setup - so Brian and Brad set it all up this past weekend, running a wire across from their bedroom window down over our roof and in through our front window (gotta love Africa!). Well, I think that is all the updates from me. We miss you all so much! (Pictures: at top-it's the rainy season, which mostly falls in the form of violent thunderstorms like this one that appeared one early afternoon just 30 minutes after a sunny blue partly cloudy sky; next-the boys after their easter egg hunt; next-we hosted 33 people at our house for an Easter potluck feast, and it poured rain the whole day so we were all stuck inside; Jonah and next-door neighbor/friend Julia (with Graysen stalking) hanging out at the pool at KingFisher in Jinja; next-Jonah and Graysen deciding if it's late enough in the morning to get back in the pool at KingFisher; Alisha with the boys and the Kelly kids at the 'Rainforest Lodge' on the way to Jinja - what a beautiful place in the middle of the rainforest, but way too expensive to stay!; us and the Kelly's at dinner in Jinja eating...yep, you guessed it, Mexican food! It was our first try at Mexican food in Uganda, and it was not bad. The restaurant is owned by an Indian man who was raised in Uganda and then married a woman from Texas! A bit of a strange cultural combination to produce a Mexican food restaurant, but we'll take it!