Saturday, May 17, 2008

An Interesting (typical?) week

Alisha had a good observation a few days ago that bears repeating. We’re starting to realize something that's different here: when someone asks us how we’re doing, back home we would generally think about the last few weeks of life and convey our thoughts based on that time period. Here, our response is pretty much based on the last 24 hours! This week is a good example of that.
Last Sunday, on the way to church, Graysen threw up on the side of the road. So we returned home without going to church. An hour and a half later, our next-door neighbor returned home from church to find that her house had been broken into - they lost around $3000 worth of stuff and money. Meanwhile, Graysen continued to throw up, and eventually a little blood started appearing in his vomit, so we took him to the doctor late Sunday night. After initially thinking he was much worse than he was (and scaring Alisha half to death), they finally said the blood was just broken blood vessels from throwing up so much (about 20 times at that point). He was given some pedialite to help rehydrate him.
Monday morning, I set off early for Iganga (about a 3 hour drive) with a team of eMi people to preview my week-long project trip coming up on the 24th (a week from yesterday). Back home, after throwing up in the morning, Graysen seemed to improve throughout the day and we were thinking he was better. My trip to Iganga and back went off smoothly, including the bus ride home which is always a little shaky. I was in the very back corner, but had a seat next to the window so that made all the difference (see picture below).
Tuesday morning, Graysen woke up throwing up again, and this time he kept doing so all morning and into the afternoon, regardless of whether we gave him anything to drink or not. Finally early afternoon, Alisha took him into the clinic here that is British-run and they immediately hooked him up to an IV, saying his body was severely dehydrated and starving. By this time he had thrown up nearly 50 times. They also tested him and said he had strep throat, which they figured had weakened his immune system and allowed the stomach virus to take hold. While we were in the hospital, Brodie started complaining of a sore throat too and began a pretty high fever. So they tested him and began treating him for strep too. Finally, at 10 o’clock at night, after receiving two entire glucose drip bags, Graysen’s numbers had finally reduced back down to normal and they allowed him to return home.
Wednesday, as the boys continued to get better as the day went on, a filling in Alisha's mouth came out while she was chewing a piece of gum. She made an appointment to have it fixed on Thursday. But it really is amazing how quickly Graysen recovered once he was rehydrated and got some food. They told us his body had been in a vicious cycle of dehydration and starvation, causing him to vomit, which in turn caused him to be more dehydrated. Fortunately the glucose drip worked very well, thought it took much more to get him back to normal than the doctors thought it would take.
On Thursday, Alisha got her filling replaced. But at work, the touchpad (mouse) on my computer stopped working, so I spent a good chunk of time researching how to fix it. No luck, so I contacted Dell and had a live chat with the rep back in the US who I am still working with by email trying to resolve the problem. Not a huge deal, but just one more thing that takes time to resolve!
On Friday, another quiet day almost turned into a fiasco, twice. First, in the afternoon when the water company showed up at our house to turn off our water because they said we hadn’t paid the bill. So Alisha called me and I raced home on my motorcycle (what I mean is, Mom, I ran to my motorcycle, and then safely and cautiously drove it home) and talked with the two guys. A different water meter reader had come by earlier in the week and at that time I had asked him for our bill. He replied that we wouldn’t have a bill this month since they had installed a new meter. I conveyed this to them and told them that we still didn’t have a copy of our bill, only this notice they were handing us telling us they were shutting off the water. They laughed – I’m not sure why – and assured me that the water would not be shut off this weekend before I was able to pay the bill on Monday. But then, our neighbor came over while Alisha was baking and noticed the strong smell of propane in our house. We hadn't really noticed it was so bad since it has been happening for awhile, and we aren't used to propane cookers so we thought it was normal. But our neighbor said it was extremely strong and not at all typical. So we immediately aired out the house and have stopped using the oven until a repairman can come out, hopefully Monday. Alisha has been complaining of small dizzy spells, which she's now realized have been occuring mostly in the kitchen. Since we've stopped using the oven, the dizzy spells have stopped. Friday night was a year end BBQ for the boys school, and that was really fun. Saturday was finally very low key, with the stress from the week before seeming to be months behind. Saturday night we even got a babysitter and went out!
So as you can see, life is pretty up and down here. I know these are typical life things that happen everywhere to everyone – it’s not entirely new to us either. But the number of things that go wrong or threaten to go wrong seems to be much more concentrated here compared with back home. So a month’s worth of trouble in the states seems to arise in just a few days here. This is a 3rd-world country we’re living in so this shouldn’t be all that surprising to us, but at the same time there is an illusion of normalcy created by the good moments that sets us up for failure each time we try to settle into that feeling of making this ‘home’. It probably sounds a little silly that we haven’t caught on yet, but the illusion is strong, and is being fed by our desire to ‘get settled’. Over time, our ‘normal’ is being redefined, which will eventually allow us to actually be settled in. But for now, it seems like we are in this pattern of calmness, broken by a mini-crisis, then calmness, then mini-crisis, etc., and that makes for a bit of a bumpy ride! Fortunately, God is good no matter the situation, and He shows himself to be just that over and over again to us. For this reason, we continue to hold strong to our main verse for this season of life, Psalm 25:4-5: "Show me the right path to take, oh Lord, point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth, and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I will put my hope in you.”
Pictures: (top) Alisha and I out to dinner at 'Cafe Roma'. Interns Jill and Heather came to watch the boys. Afterwards, we joined out next door neighbors at their house to hang out for awhile without kids for once. (next) Under construction on the outskirts of Kampala, the first overpass in all of Uganda! (next) A scary picture - gas prices here. Our landcruiser is diesel, which until this week has been "cheaper" than regular petrol (gas is called 'petrol' here). The 2590 for diesel represents the price in Ugandan shillings per liter, which works about to be about $6.10/gallon at the current exchange rate! (The dollar continues to decline in value, so much so that in effect we've had a little more than a 4% pay cut since we arrived.) (next) The 7-acre site in Iganga for my first project trip. We will be designing a secondary school there for 500 students - we leave next Saturday morning for 1 week. (next) My view of the bus home to Kampala from my seat in the very back corner - at least I had a window seat! (next) Finally, some of the signs here are interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, this picture is fuzzy because I couldn't get my camera out fast enough before the bus zoomed by, but if you look closely it says: "Expert Dry Cleaners" - right in front of a huge clothes line! Some of the names of businesses here are pretty funny, like the "Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega Wholesale and Retail Center" or "The Monica Lewinsky Tavern"!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Neighbors were robbed

Unfortunately, our next door neighbors and friends were robbed this morning while they were at church. What is frustrating is that we were home the whole time and so was our guard, but heard nothing. The thieves pulled the metal frame of bars out of the pocket in the brick wall and climbed through the window quietly (this one particular window was not bolted into the wall). They lost a Dell laptop, digital camera, dvd player, ipod, and about $200 in cash. Fortunately, many other things were left behind, including a Wii and their safe with their passports.
Sunday is the only day they don't have a day guard, so it's likely that the theives had been watching them for awhile - we think they have been watching both of our houses actually. There have been some weird things happening the last few weeks, which is why we decided to hire a full time guard, 7 days a week. (They will be hiring one for Sundays now too).
We would have been gone too, but half-way to church we had to pull the car over quick so Graysen could throw up...so we stayed home and had 'home church'. (Tangent: Brodie wrote a little worship song this pass week (complete with sheet music and all - very basic, but still pretty cute for a little guy and we were happy he made it about Jesus) so he played the piano and we all sang it, then I played a few more songs for us to sing and we talked about Romans 14, which is what church was slated to be on today. It was actually really good - we're going to work on versus 17-18 as a family - being "good, peaceful and joyful".)
But please pray for our neighbors' nerves as it is violating for someone to have gone through your house. Poor Lynne was pretty shaken up, as she came home with the kids from church to find the window removed and an item of clothing out by her front gate - she immediately came to us. So I jumped on the motorcycle and went and picked up the police officers at the nearby police post to bring them over. We then walked through the house to make sure no one was there and see what was stolen.
It made us so thankful for our guards and that we have them here 24/7 now. They each have a history with eMi and the long term local eMi people know most of them from back growing up in the village, so there is a good level of trust. These thieves were likely just desperate, local jobless people as it was by no means a professional job. They took things worth less than other more expensive things that were sitting nearby. They also didn't damage things unnecessarily - just pulled out clothes looking for money. Anyway, you can pray for Alisha too as her nerves ratcheted up a notch with my upcoming project trip which will keep me away from home for 7 nights.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Latest

Mrs. Crawford - This week has been different for us since Alisha has been filling in as the first grade teacher at Heritage International School while the regular teacher is in Egypt with one of the eMi interns. So Alisha has been Brodie’s teacher, which has been a great opportunity for her to see and evaluate how he’s doing and what possible things we could do in some of his weak areas.
But it’s also served as a trial run for her as she has been trying to make a decision about whether or not to teach next year. She wasn’t given a timeline for her decision, but our plan was to evaluate and make one fairly soon after this week of substituting. Please pray for us as we make this decision. I have a gut feeling, but I'm not sharing it yet (other than with Alisha)!
Trip to Jinja with Jonah – On Tuesday, Jonah came with me on a business trip to Jinja with Chad and his son Nathan (9). Travelling there was interesting as we took public transportation. We travelled on a ‘coaster’, which is half bus and half van – kind of like a motor-home with bus seats. But instead of an aisle down the middle, when all the seats fill, there are fold-down seats in the aisle so each row is solid with people from side to side, from the back of the coaster to the front. We sat in the very back on the way – Jonah sat on my lap. The trip was an hour and a half and was ok since I could see out the front. But the return trip was a different story.
We were the last ones on the coaster coming home, and there were only two aisle seats left so each had to have our boys on our lap. The aisle seats are similar to those portable stadium seats you sit on bleachers with, except without the padding and the seat back only goes about 1/3 up your back. On this particular coaster, the front 3 rows are up a step, and since we were just below these rows, our eye line looked straight into the back of the people up front – i.e. we couldn’t see out the front. So we’re crammed in the middle, with kids on our laps, on a pretty warm day, and couldn’t see out the front. Oh, and Jonah had just been running around so he was all hot and sweaty. Yep, it was about the worst-case scenario in my book as far as traveling goes! Oh, the cherry on top was that Jonah fell asleep for the trip 10 minutes in, so I had to hold up his sweaty little limp body to keep him from falling on the people sitting next to us. My prayers were answered though as I somehow did not get motion sickness. I just prayed most of the way that I would make it without getting sick, since stopping the coaster is pretty much not an option (for restrooms or otherwise).
Arise Africa and Jinja – While we were in Jinja, Chad and I met with John Sauder, who is an eMi Construction Manager on location in Jinja with his wife and two young boys working for Arise Africa International, a Christian aid organization. AAI has recently moved into a new “fixer-upper” headquarters building in downtown Jinja (the 2nd largest city in Uganda, though it has a very small town feel with no hint of a city skyline or traffic…the main street reminded me a lot of Dixon, CA where my dad grew up, just larger in area). But the city council, which is dominated by muslims, has been giving them a hard time as they try to renovate their site. The HQ building is actually right across the street from a Mosque, and they are not too pleased to have a Christian organization moving into the neighborhood. The neighborhood is in need of renovation, so the council is using that to make like difficult for them by trying to force AAI to renovate much quicker and more extensively than they want or are able to.
One of the buildings on the site is a large auditorium that was constructed 80 or more years ago, but is undermined by eroding soil on one end and is showing signs of cracking walls in that area. The city is telling them that they need to tear the building down, but John wanted my opinion about that first. So I walked the site with John and reviewed that particular structure and a few other building issues he wanted my opinion on.
It reminded me a little of some of the work I had done back in Medford, evaluating structures for renovation and coming up with possible cost-saving solutions. (This is a great example of how I’ve seen that God prepared me so well for my duties here).
In this particular case, I recommended to John that the one end of the auditorium should be torn down since it had essentially already failed (an all brick building, grouted with a soil-based grout!), but the rest of the structure could remain since there were no signs of fatigue. Of course, a structure like this would never fly on the West Coast of the U.S., but in the relatively calm seismic ‘valley’ that runs through the middle of Uganda, it can continue to have usable life with some minor to moderate structural modifications in strategic areas.
Project trip to Iganga, Uganda, coming up – During the last week of this month, I will be travelling about 2 ½ hours East of Kampala with a team of 8 of design professionals and interns for my first full project trip. We will be hosted by the ministry for 7 days, during which time we will be developing a master plan for a new secondary school on a 6-acre parcel of land. I am co-leading the project with Janet Strike, the third full-time staff member in our office with Chad and me. I am looking forward to the experience of leading a project trip, but with reservations as I do not look forward to leaving Alisha and the boys. Please pray for safe travels, but more importantly, that we would be able to create a great design for this ministry. This Monday, Janet and I and a couple of interns are travelling to Iganga for a pre-trip meeting to line out the week.
Police crackdown – When I saw this article in today’s newspaper here in Kampala, it made me wish I had a video camera in my car a couple of months ago when those police officers gave me a hard time and bilked me out of my money! (http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/12/626929).
Pictures – (top) Alisha cooking carrot cake while I was posting this blog just now - we're having the interns and friends over for games tonight (12-15 people). Alisha was underrepresented in the pictures so I quick snapped this one. Note the new cookie sheets she's using - we just received them in a package from Mom Crawford this week! (next) Jonah's first harvest! He planted radishes several weeks ago and finally was able to pick one this week. Can you tell that is one excited little boy in the picture? (next) Me with Semei, the eMi East Africa office manager. He is such a great guy and does so much for our office to make it run smoothly. I've had the thought that I would love to bring Semei back to the states sometime to visit...maybe someday. Like 99.99% of Ugandans, he's never been to the USA (or outside Uganda). (next) the boys eating at the kitchen table - dinner time is no less hectic here than it was back home. But the boys are particularly excited for this meal as they are eating their favorite gluten-free, car-shaped pasta sent over in a package from Mom Berry last week! (next) eMi people eating out at 'The Coconut Hut' last night. They serve Indian food and it was delicious. We were honoring Christoph, one of our long-term volunteers whose term is up and will be flying home Monday morning. The Gamble family (Chad & Shanthi & kids) are in the foreground. (last) Me with Christoph. He was born and raised in Germany, but has lived in Canada for the last several years. Christoph shared my office with me and Liz the New Zealand Architect. We had a lot of laughs over the past few months and I am sad to see him go - he is a genuinely nice person. This is our first of what will be many experiences with saying goodbye to the temporary eMi people - no fun. Oh, I wore this Chelsea jersey in honor of Christoph - since his countryman Michael Ballack plays for Chelsea - even though I'm a staunch Manchester United fan and will be rooting the Reds on to the Premiership title in this Sunday's final match! ...Does anyone in the U.S. even know what sport I'm talking about?!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I learned a lesson from the choir

(This is Alisha) I learned something on Sunday in Church. It was during worship. As we were singing, the power suddenly went off. While this is common here in Uganda, it hasn’t happened during a church service since we have been here. My first reaction was to stop singing. I stopped but the choir continued, with just as much fervor, with just as much praise, without even flinching. And then the thought came to me. I sat there with chills up my spine thinking that’s what our faith needs to be. When the storms of life rush in we must be able press on with courage - to continue praising, to continue hoping, to continue trusting in God that no matter how bleak or dim your present situation may seem, it is within God’s purpose and power to grow you in character as you rely on Him to meet your needs. And as you hope in Him (no matter what you are going through), and as you have faith that He will bring you through it, do you know what he does? He brings overflowing joy. And that’s what happened at church- the power went out, the choir kept singing, and then suddenly (within in the same worship song), just as quickly as it had gone out, the power returned and the smiles on the faces of the choir members grew even wider. In the storms of life that is what God will do, as it says in Isaiah 40: 29-31 “He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak……but those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
In reading this, I hope you don’t think that I view our present situation in Uganda as simply bleak or dim. There will be stages here that are easier for me and those that will be tougher. But no matter the day, no matter how much I miss our family and friends, what happened in church was a good reminder that God knows His plan for us, and that He will grow me in it, day by day, week by week. We have been abundantly blessed here, far beyond what I thought was possible and no matter the day God continues to supply His joy- I just have to remember to accept it.
This morning I read in a devotional a thought I felt sums up what I am trying to say: “Being open to God’s blessings does not mean just being open to receive something good from Him. It means being willing to receive whatever He sends your way. And in some cases, He may send something that you did not wish to receive. However, you can be sure that every gift is ultimately good and sent from a loving Father who has your best interests in mind. “
The next song we sang on Sunday was perfect:
“That’s why we praise him, that’s why we sing, that’s why we offer Him our everything!” I am thankful that God gave His Son so that we can put out faith in Him, and trust in Him for all our days.
Pictures: (top) The choir singing in church shortly after the power was restored. Alisha's head is just right and below the middle of the picture; (next) Looking out over Kampala out the 5th floor window where our church sanctuary is. *engineers* check out the lap length on the vertical column reinforcing...it's about 20-24 inches for what looks to be #8 bars. (bottom) Stella cutting pineapple with Graysen and Jonah. The boys squeal at this point of the process and say, "Ahhh! The pineapple is naked with its hair sticking up!"