Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer break & Sports camps

The boys are on Summer break now, so we signed Brodie up for sports camp at the school. The first week was Soccer camp, the next was Baseball camp, and the last week was Basketball camp. Jonah also went to Basketball camp and I helped out for 3 days.
Otherwise, we've had a quiet couple of weeks, which is good. It doesn't make for exciting blogging, but it does make for a little calm and normalcy, which is the good part. We've had some typical life stuff happen:Our car got broken into downtown but they only made off with a cloth bag of Alisha's that had a couple of snacks in it and the boys 3 drinking cups.I had a little spot frozen off my nose that I'd had for about a year that the doctor thought was a little basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer). He might have to freeze it a few times or eventually cut it out, but it's not the serious kind of skin cancer and doesn't spread. Honestly, I'm not even convinced that it's actually skin cancer - without testing it there's no way they could tell from just looking at it.
Alisha has been working out regularly, and has the eMi ladies over each Tuesday night at our house so that's been fun for her. They cram in our Living Room and have fun with Tony Horton and Traci (my sister) in the Beachbody videos. She also runs a couple times a week with neighbor Lynne.
I've been working on finishing up my project - we're aiming to have the report done by mid-July. I've also been working on reviewing new projects and meeting with some organizations about their upcoming projects. My desk is overflowing with applications from ministries who need our help. Unfortunately, because of a lack of staff, we are not able to help all the ministries who contact us. Right now, we are booked through Fall 2009 (i.e. if someone dropped off an application today, the earliest we could help them would be Spring 2010). Unbelievable. So pray for more staff for us here!
The other big news is that we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Alisha's parents. They were all set to leave Saturday evening (Pacific Standard Time), but when they woke up Saturday morning, they had an email in their inbox from British Airways (BA) that their flight had been cancelled. No alternate plan, no mention of other flights or rebooking plan! Needless to say, they were pretty panicked! They had already checkin in online Friday night and had their boarding passes all printed out! Well, after 4 1/2 hours of haggling and phone calls with BA they were finally able to get on a flight that leaves monday late afternoon - so they'll arrive two days later than their original itinerary. However, they had to upgrade to business class to get on that flight, and so they are being told that they'll have to pay an additional $900!
They'll be fighting that for sure - I told them to use eMi as leverage, since we easily exceed 100 international flights a year (organization-wide). So stay tuned - I'll update on here if BA comes through and doesn't charge them extra. It's really outrageous for them to try to do so.
So, we were a little disappointed that we have to wait an extra two days, but it's a whole lot better than what they were being told for much of that 4 1/2 hours, which was that the earliest they could get on a flight would be July 21st! Outreagous! The boys were a little bummed when they woke up this morning to find out they'd have to wait two more days, but they are excited for Wednesday now!
Pictures: (top) Graysen and his friend (& next door neighbor) Liana hanging out while the older kids are at Basketball camp; (next) Jonah heading down court on a fast break (kind of!); (next) the boys playing in their makeshift pools in the yard - yes, we are feeding them! Everytime there's a picture of the boys with their shirts off on this blog we get emails from concerned family members that the boys are too thin! If anything, they're "beefier" than I was when I was their age! Ha! (next) "Me and the kids" Basketball camp for 7 and 8 years olds who have never played before, with 1 hoop that only half the kids can reach, is 'interesting'. More like herding cats. (next) Brodie behind Coach Nick at camp, listening...perfectly. hmmm. (next) Me and the boys having water-color paint night thanks to Mom C. for sending us water paints! (last) Brodie's water paint creation mid-stream. His final picture was awesome. I wanted to hang it up at work but he wouldn't let me - he wanted it for his room! He told me I could just hang the picture I did up at work - ha! Not only was it terrible, but what kind of a dufus hangs a water colored pictured that HE drew up at work?! "Hey Brad, cool picture. Which one of your kids colored that? Uhh, I did it." Loser!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Botanical Gardens

For Father's Day, we drove to Entebbe (45 minutes away) to visit the Botanical Gardens. Set next to Lake Victoria, it was the site of filming for the original Tarzan movie back in the 1930's. It's really a beautiful and interesting place, where monkeys roam free, safari ants march by the hundred thousands across the dirt road in 2" wide, solid-looking bands, and vines grow down from the trees making it obvious why Tarzan was filmed there.
It was a really fun day walking through the rainforest, swinging from vines and was capped off at the end when we got to feed the monkeys right out of our hand for about 15 minutes. We were led on a guided, walking tour by one of the local guides named Rafiki (I'm not making that up). All in all, a pretty cool day. I won't bore you with any more text - the pictures are better.
Pictures: (top) the rainforest where Tarzan was filmed nearly 70 years ago. (next) our guide Rafiki with Graysen. (next) Alisha and Graysen feeding a mama monkey. (next) Brodie's best Tarzan impersonation (next) Brodie & Graysen in front of a Cinnamon tree. (next) Brodie shaking an African bamboo trunk. (next) me demanding manners out of a couple of hungry monkeys. (next) the boys following Alisha across the grass, past the monkeys. (next) Graysen looking strong. (next) Graysen crying on Alisha's shoulder since he was "tired" as they walk next to the spring through the forest. (next) me proving that Tarzan wasn't all that much stronger than me, as I've always suspected. (last) we returned to our car to find a monkey camping out on our roof rack. Notice that U of O sticker on the back?! Thanks to mom & dad for sending those stickers - I have one on my boda too!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Priceless Pictures around Kampala

Since I've had some longer text-posts lately, I thought I would do more of a photo entry. These are some great pictures one of our long-term volunteers Christoph took while he was here and passed on to me. He caught some great stuff - some funny, some interesting, some amazing, but all enjoyable! Thanks for your great picture-taking Christoph! (top) A picture of me, at work in my office. I share it with architect Liz (background) and Intern Coordinator Megan (not shown). Intern Zach was in our office for this picture - a great guy who I've been mentoring during his time here. (next) a picture of Kampala at dusk. (next) It's small, but can you see the 'Hotel' hand-painted sign on the outside of this shack? I'm thinking at most it's maybe a 1/8-star joint. I bet it comes with a continental breakfast though. ;) (next) A couple of local kids and their pretty impressive creation - a small car made out of wire and bottle lids, complete with a go-cart sized steering wheel he can push and steer. (next) This is a matatu (taxi) driver adding some gas to his vehicle after running out. If you look closely, he's using a 5000-shilling note as a funnel. What these people lack in resources, they often make up for in resourcefulness! (next) a view of the 'Taxi Park' in downtown Kampala - the true center of the city where everything branches out from. Hold on to your belongings and act like you know what you're doing though, as pick-pocketers abound in this place, often preying on the lost-looking mzungus! (next two) bicycles are often used as more than mere modes of transportation, as these two guys exhibit. The first one is carrying a load of Matoke, a type of green banana that is not eaten raw, and tastes more like potato when it's cooked. The second guy is carrying sugar cane. (next) next up is the "Nice Butcher". I'm thinking he came up with the name to soften his public image, maybe so prospective wives wouldn't be scared off. Note that there is no electricity, and therefore no refrigeration. This is typical for most butcher shops around. Needless to say, we don't buy our meat from the butcher shops, as they commonly have large slabs of meat hanging out in broad daylight in 85-degree, sunny weather. I don't think their health department grade is going to rise above an F- anytime soon. (last) Finally, perhaps my favorite picture of them all. For some reason, it can be really hard to find an electrician around here...maybe it's because they have all died! It looks like this one is taking a couple of friends out with him (the guys holding the bottom of the METAL ladder that is resting on the power line he is fixing!).
I don't mean any disrepect by making fun of some of these pictures, but to us in the West the lack of safety and health standards can appear in very humerous ways. It's also at the same time shocking and fascinating sometimes to see how these people have learned to adapt to living in very difficult situations. The humor arises when we imagine something we see here happening back home, and the reaction it would cause. Sometimes the standard back home is absurd here(e.g. motorcycles waiting their turn at a red light and following the same rules of the road as cars). Other times, the standards here (e.g. parents leaving their 4-year toddler home all day while they are across town at work) can seem outrageous and even criminal back home. Obviously, we are biased towards our standards - and in many cases I think rightly so. But at the same time, it's important to keep an open mind towards things we see since much of the shocking stuff has it's root in the desperation the people have always known. What makes it really hard is that most people here don't see some of the basic problems in many aspects of the cultural habits here, so it can be aggravating when "improvement" is not welcomed with open arms. It also makes you question whether or not "improvement" really is improvement to them as long as there overall condition is unchanged. (i.e. if the mother stays home with the toddler, the family's financial situation may go from crisis to life-threatening). These are all hard questions to ask, and why third world persists to be third world in many (though not all) cases). The most anyone can do is try to help a little, do one thing for someone at a time, or improve one person or family's life at a time. It's a long path to raising the culture, but it seems like the only path forward.
Alisha and I have been thinking about how we could do that more. Right now, our supporters back home basically provide full-time jobs for 4 local Ugandans (our guards and house-help), and we feel so blessed to play a part in that. But we've thought about how we could possibly help some others raise themselves up - not just by giving away money, but maybe by using money wisely to give someone a chance for a better long-term life. We have some ideas, but nothing we're ready to cement in place yet. I'll keep you all posted. I know a couple people have expressed an interest in possibly helping people directly here, so if we can find the right situation we'll share it with you all. One thing that is exciting about helping people here is that a little bit of money can totally change the lives of a person or family, IF it is given in a wise manner (i.e. helping someone start a business, or finish school, etc). What might take $50,000 or more back home to have a similar impact can often be done here for less than $2,000.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Project trip to Iganga - Part 2 (of 2)

Wednesday – Today, finally the project had developed enough to the point where intern Heather and I could begin on the structural design. So, for the first time all week, I stayed at the house and worked! Since Heather hasn’t had much structural experience, we talked a little about how to approach designing a building and then I had her start laying out the drawings. She is pretty fast at Autocad so we made good progress on the drawings. It was the first day that I didn’t go to the site, and I was kind of glad since we had a couple of pretty good thunderstorms roll through. Our ‘final’ presentation is tomorrow afternoon since the Howie’s are leaving to head back to Ireland, so time is a little short. The Howie’s offered to drive us all to Jinja (an hour away) to take us to dinner, but because our time is short 7 out of the 9 of us decided to stay here to work. Janet and I stayed up until 1am mostly for moral support for the architects Gary and intern Jill, who powered through until 4am!
Thursday – Presentation day for our work on the newly named ‘Lion of Judah School’! The group got right to work in the morning trying to prepare our documents to present to the Howie’s before they caught their plane back to Ireland. Fortunately, the structural work Heather and I were able to complete yesterday left us ready to present this morning. Yay! Heather drew up all the plans very quickly, which allowed me to coordinate design issues with the architects very efficiently. Once Heather printed out our preliminary Foundation and Roof Framing Plans first thing this morning, we were set. I spent the morning designing the trusses so we would have even less to do in the coming weeks back at the office. It’s been a really fun experience being a part of a team of 9 people with a wide variety of skills coming together to design this school property. It is quite impressive what all we were able to accomplish, and how much we were able to fit on a small lot (full academic and boarding facilities for 480 students on a 7 acre site). The high water table and areas of exposed rock made the Master Plan a tricky undertaking. But the biggest constraint of all was the main power line for the area, which dissects the site in half. We found out on day 2 that there is a required 15 meter easement (non-buildable area) on each side of the line, which basically took a 30 meter path out of the middle of the site! It really is interesting how these things just always seem to come up on eMi projects, and what a blessing it is for us at eMi to be able to solve these problems for the ministry.
The people on our design team were also a blessing. Joe, a volunteer from Missouri, was a huge asset as he had a wide range of knowledge including electrical, which no one else was trained in. Kelly, our graphic designer volunteer from Illinois, was also a fun addition to the team who provided some personality as the only non-technical member of the team. She deserves a lot of credit for enduring a full week with a room full of engineers and architects, and for her awesome work on the fundraising documents. Gary, the volunteer architect from Minnesota, was also a critical member as he combined with intern Jill to produce the Master Plan, and really, the bulk of the work on the project (the architects usually have the largest job on eMi trips). The rest of the group included Janet, the experienced trip leader who was mentoring me on trip leading, and interns Greg and Jared, who both hail from Texas and wore multiple hats as needed throughout the week. I probably spent the most time with intern Jared, who has just arrived in Uganda for the summer term. We had a lot of good talks and laughs out on the site together the first 3 days of the project. Intern Greg provided many memorable moments and quotes – my favorite of which was when he, halfway through sharing a story, remembered that the main character of the story he was telling was actually his wife and not sister! The personalities in the group have been very compatible, and that is perhaps the biggest blessing of all since that can make or break a team. We have all worked really well together and had a lot of fun in the non-technical moments.
The presentation went really well. The Howie’s and Pastor Dan were really excited with what we’d come up with. We each took a turn presenting our particular disciplines and what we’d worked on the last few days. The Howie’s asked some questions and gave a little feedback, but the overall Master Plan seemed to be a hit. There should be no trouble in finishing the design in the coming weeks back at the office.
Friday – Since our project work was largely complete (at least for this phase, until we get back to the office) we split into two teams this morning to head out to do some ministry. Five of our team members went to a local hospital to pray for the patients through an interpreter (most people in the areas outside of Kampala only speak limited English, and even then it’s only those who’ve attended school). I joined the remaining three team members on a visit to a local prison. Arriving at the prison, we sat in a covered outdoor pavilion in front of a group of around 100 prisoners, 8 of whom were women (one of the women actually had a small baby with her). We first sang a couple of songs with intern Greg playing the guitar. Then, I shared the gospel message with them and asked them to join me in a prayer to invite Jesus into their heart if they were interested. Our interpreter (Pastor Daniel) asked afterwards who all had prayed the prayer, and 62 of them raised their hand and later wrote their name on a list saying they had accepted Christ! We were all very excited! We also bought a couple of boxes of soap on our way there and presented that to them as a gift – they were very appreciative of that. Conditions in the prisons are poor here, and the government supplies very few of the common “necessities” of life like soap, toilet paper, etc. It was a great experience to spend some time with these prisoners, and it was clear from the looks on their faces that they were very glad we had taken the time to come visit them.
It was also amazing to share the gospel and have so many respond. When I had woken up earlier that morning, for some reason I felt like God wanted me to share at the prison, so I went through the bible and selected 5 verses that I thought would be good to share that would explain God’s heart for His people: Romans 3:23-25, John 14:6, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16 & 18, and 2 Corinthians 5:17-18. Who knew that later that day those verses would lead to 62 people accepting Christ! To see so many respond was just God completing the work He’d started in me earlier that day. Before we left, Pastor Daniel took each of their names down and plans to follow up with them in the coming weeks, hoping to establish a relationship that extends beyond their time in prison.
Finally, a very strange thing happened. For the rest of the day, the team was finalizing all the details. Janet and I walked into town to talk with the water company to find out information about installing an above ground tank. While we were at the water company, a Ugandan lady got my attention and said, “Aren’t you Brodie’s dad?” I instantly felt disoriented, but replied, “Yes. How do you know Brodie?” She said she helped out in his Sunday school room back home in Kampala. She said she worked for the water company and had come to Iganga for a couple of days for work. It was so weird. I’ve gone months at a time going around town in Medford without seeing someone I know, so to see someone in Kampala that I knew would be extraordinary. But seeing someone in IGANGA who knew me was beyond surreal.
Friday night we had closing time, where each of us went around and shared our perspective on the week. We also took time to compliment each person about something from the week, which was very encouraging. It really was a special team, with no personality conflicts. Amazing that a team from: New York (Janet), Oregon (me), Texas (Greg & Jared), California (Heather), Nebraska (Jill), Minnesota (Gary), Illinios (Kelly), and Missouri (Joe) could all come together for a week to live and work in Pastor Dan’s house in Iganga, Uganda and get along so well.
Saturday - We left in the morning for Jinja, where I was reunited with Alisha and the boys. We spent the day swimming and relaxing at a little resort there. It was great to see the family again after 7 days away! Alisha wanted to thank everyone back home for their prayers -it was a smooth week, with no trips to the hospital, no throwing up, no car trouble, and only 1 cockroach in the Kitchen cupboard (NOT in her bedroom)! Long-term volunteer Liz from the eMi office stayed the night here each night, so that was a big help and made the time pass quickly. Oh, and as of Friday, the boys are now on Summer break!
Pictures: (top) The paradox of the technology of 6 laptops in a small brick out-building in a village in Iganga, Uganda, is something you get used to – but sometimes you step back and think about what we’re doing and where we’re doing it and it is just weird; (next) Team photo, with the Howie's and Pastor Dan & his wife Florence, in front of the building where we stayed and worked; (next) This hut built on top of an ant hill in the middle of the rice field on the site is used by the locals to ward off birds trying to steal the rice. The children ‘stand watch’ under the hut, and if the birds come near, they race out towards them, yelling and shooting rocks at them with slingshots to keep them away. As is typical, they were quite proud to have their picture taken; (next) Downtown Iganga - look at that beautiful sky! (next) Me with some of the kids who hung out in our compound the entire week we were there; (next) Interns Heather and Jared going through the handwashing 'ritual'. There was no running water where we were staying so all water had to be brought in by buckets. They bought bottled water for us to drink! (next) The site, with the problematic power lines cutting through the middle of the site; (next) A mother hen with her hot pink chicks! The owners often paint the new born chicks hot pink to protect them from birds of prey above; (next) While we were swimming at the pool on Saturday after the trip, a group from a local orphanage showed up to play, so Alisha and the boys joined them in a big game of 'splash' in the kiddie pool area; (next) Volunteer Kelly with the boys at the Kingfisher resort. Too bad Kelly was only here for a short time as the boys loved her and she was so nice to them. (Oh, sorry there are no pictures of the prison, but no cameras were allowed inside).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Project trip to Iganga - Part 1

Well, I apologize for the blog drought but I have been out of town for 8 days on my first project trip since joining staff - designing a Christian secondary school in Iganga, Uganda for Abundant Life Ministries. I had no access to the internet during that time, so instead I kept a journal of the days events. Though I missed Alisha and the boys terribly, it was a great trip with a lot of amazing and interesting things happening. I hope you enjoy reading a very close-up view of a week in the life of a small, rural town in East Uganda for a team of 9 American design professionals. I'm home safely now after spending a night in Jinja with the team as well as Alisha and the boys, who drove over Saturday morning to join us. Thanks for you prayers for safe travels and for safety for Alisha and the boys while I was gone.
Saturday – We were picked up in the morning and driven to Iganga (about 3 hours Northeast of Kampala) in a Matatu the ministry had hired. I got the ‘lucky’seat, which was right in the middle front with no seat belt or head rest. Fortunately, we had a safe trip and arrived about lunchtime at Pastor Daniel’s house, a small, gated compound that was a very authentic Ugandan home. When we got there, they had music blaring and the compound was filled with people and children from the church to welcome us. They showed us our sleeping and working quarters, which we could tell had been recently painted and cleaned. It was a typical plastered brick Ugandan building with a metal roof, concrete floor and no ceilings. I was given my own room, as was Gary the volunteer Architect from Minnesota, since we were the oldest. The other 3 guys shared a room. It was clear they had gone out of their way to make it as nice as possible for us. The work area was a narrow room, about 10 feet wide by 20 feet, which would also serve as our feeding area. The building also had a small, 4 feet x 4 feet shower room where we could take ‘bucket baths’. The interesting part would be the bathroom, which was a separate outdoor hut with two stalls, each with a small hole in the ground! I think the whole team was a little intimidated by that! It’s basically a permanent outhouse, only without a toilet seat. But the people were clearly excited we were there, and were going out of their way to make us feel welcome.
Sunday – In the morning we went to church at Pastor Dan’s church. We were aware that he and his wife Florence were excited for us to visit. What we weren’t expecting when we walked in was to see 9 chairs aligned up on the stage, off to the side and angled much like a choir would be, with flowers and other small decorations to honor us. So we climbed up 5 stairs and took our perch on stage facing the rest of the congregation. The service was nice though, a traditional Ugandan church service, with several chances for the audience to come up to share. Three of our team members shared a brief testimony or message, and a couple others shared some songs. After church, we actually got started on the project. One of the interns, Jared, and I went to the site to do some investigatory hole digging. Two Ugandan workers met us at the site with Pastor Daniel. We dug holes in various locations to identify water table depths and soil strata. In the process, we identified a small spring and an outcropping of rocks - both significant design constraints for the site. Pastor Dan then led us on a walk home – about 2 miles. It was so interesting to walk through these little villages and authentic Ugandan home sites. It really was a cool experience to walk through and was exactly what you would picture Africa to look like. From the reactions we got, we were the first mzungus to pass through that area in a long time.
Monday – Again, Pastor Daniel led a group of us on a walk around town to visit a few water source sites. This was another highlight as we got to see so many people and places that we would never otherwise see. After a few stops and about 2 miles of walking, we all hopped on ‘bicycle bodas’ to carry us to the site. We tested 5 different water sources in all for bacteria and also specifically for e-Coli. Tomorrow we’ll see what the test results are. In the afternoon, the Howie’s arrived and we all sat under a tree and listened to them tell their life story. It was so interesting to hear this Pastor and his wife from Northern Ireland tell of their business being bombed 23 times by the IRA, receiving death threats, meeting with the leader of the IRA, and finally how they got serious about their faith and began to become involved with projects in Uganda. Their story is inspiring, and harrowing!
Tuesday – Intern Jared and I headed back to the site today as the architectural drawings were nowhere near ready for me to look at the structural side of things. So Pastor Daniel hired a couple of locals to walk around the site and dig some test holes to perform water percolation tests the next day. At the start, Jared and I took turns operating the hand-auger. But after a few short minutes, the local guys not so subtly took over the digging duties for the rest of the day. It was hard just standing there watching them, waiting for the holes to be dug so we could do our testing, but they insisted they liked the work and seemed to be enjoying doing something different. After 4 hours, we had 4 holes dug, varying in depth between 4 and 8 feet. We sampled the different layers of soil in each to determine structural adequacy and also the quality of soil for use in the wastewater systems on the site. We also filled the holes with water to saturate them for the percolation tests tomorrow. After returning in the afternoon for a few hours, we walked from the site back to the main road where we waited for the rest of the group to pick us up in a matatu. As we were waiting for what turned into an hour, the two local guys helping us, Wilbur and Paul, hailed down a woman carrying warm corn on the cob on her head and bought some for us. It was so humbling to have first watched them dig all day at their insistence, and then to have them buy us corn (they didn’t buy any for themselves). It was a good example of Ugandan hospitality. These guys probably make about $2 a day, so the $0.20 they spent on our corn is substantial to them. I thought about giving them money to pay for it, but I knew better – that would have been extremely insulting. Somehow, I am going to try to see to it that they are compensated. Beyond that, we did run the water tests on the vials collected the day before. The results: the rain tank at the house where we’re staying had both bacteria and e-coli, as did the surface ground water at the site (the rain tank water where we’re staying is used only for laundry and bathing – you can be sure I’m being extra careful not to ingest any while bathing!). The good news is the two bore holes now being used by the locals near the site were both clean – it just shows that money spent towards clean water produces tangible results, as the fifth and final location tested was a local spring that had been tapped, which showed bacteria (though no e-coli). Pictures: (top) Pastor Daniel's compound where we stayed all week. (next) The work room, as we listen to Pastor Daniel talk about some of the needs for the new school. (next) The church where we were the guests of honor - right up on stage! (next) me with some of the kids after church - a large chunk of the 300 attendees that day walked up on stage afterwards to greet us (next) Some of our team walking through the villages, as more and more village kids joined behind us as we went. These kids followed us for the better part of a kilometer. (next) On site digging test holes. (next) me and intern Greg "in the bush". Actually, that's a coffee tree. (next) Team leader Janet and a few others on our trip to the site riding "bicycle bodas". (next) One of the traditional water holes (springs) used by the local villagers. Tests later showed that bacteria existed in the water. (next) A drilled bore hole that was installed by westerners near the project site. This well goes down 100 meters and produces clean water for the local villagers in the area. The cost of installing one of these wells is somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000, depending on the required depth. According to the well drilling company, this particular well can produce 7,000 liters of water an hour.