Thursday, December 24, 2009

Back in the USA - Dec 2009

We're back in the USA and enjoying our time with family and friends! Here are some pictures to prove it! Merry Christmas to all our family and friends, whether in the USA or Uganda! We love you all!

On the stopover in London - we made a dash through town to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square - a good 2 miles of walking, which was perfect with the 10 hour flight to San Francisco looming.

My dad and I flew up to Oregon the day after we arrived back to go to the U of O v. OSU 'Civil War' game - the Ducks' won so we're on to the Rose Bowl Jan. 1st! My dad has tickets so we'll be at that game too! Being back at Autzen stadium was awesome!

Alisha and my mom at the women's dinner at Neighborhood Church in Castro Valley.

Alisha's mom reading the boys a bedtime story.

The Crawford and Sampson boys at In-N-Out

Our dear friends CJ and Lindsay at Starbucks in Medford (I should say, 'one of' the Starbucks in Medford - couldn't they share one of their stores with Kampala?!

My Uncle Ed and I - great to see him and the whole Taucher family.

Jonah and Graysen went horseback riding with Uncle 'Buck' and cousin Tate. (Notice the plastic bags around their feet? Alisha's solution to protecting their new shoes! They look ridiculous, but I love it. John Wayne is turning over in his grave!)

Building a snowman with my dad in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Jonah & Brodie with their former pre-K teacher, Mrs. Mayfield.

Alisha and Emilie - so happy to be together again!

Me and Matt - so much fun and laughs.

Brodie and Parker Sampson after enjoying endless gluten-free fries at Red Robin!

The boys with the DeJong kids in Davis, CA

Alisha & Stacia - once again at Starbucks!

Alisha and Jessica - NOT at Starbucks! Jessica's husband Jason came to Uganda earlier this year on one of my project trips.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oct-Nov 2009

I have to begin by apologizing for the long gap in blogs! I don't really have one good excuse but a bunch of little ones. I will try to do better! But instead of telling you what we've been up to, I thought it best to just show you! Enjoy!
(Also, we're heading home to the U.S. for a visit in just over two weeks, so hopefully we'll be able to see many of you in person while we're back. We can't wait!!)

Graysen at his first soccer game. As a 5-year old on the U7 team, he's a full head shorter than most of the other kids on the field. But he's fiesty! Before the first game he walked out onto the field and asked the other team, "Are you afraid of us?" The other kids just looked down at him and laughed!

Alisha doing what she loves best - public speaking! Ha! She dreaded this assembly for 2 weeks leading up to it! But she and the kindergarten class did well in their chapel presentation at school.

Brodie practicing his piano - he's sticking with it, but it's definitely lost a bit of its luster for him.

For Halloween, Jonah was a secret agent, Brodie was Cap'n Jack Sparrow, and Graysen was a Masai warrior (the cattle driving tribe from Southern Kenya)
Brodie at the school 'Harvest Fest'

The warrior and his gypsy!

Many of you were praying for this event, and it turned out very well! This was Brodie's first ever taste of popcorn! He seemed to handle it fine, and we were so excited to give it to him. (Until now, his stomach and behavior have been destroyed for weeks when he eats corn. But Alisha has been praying over his stomach for months now each night and felt that we should try it. Thank you God!
Brodie having his first ear of corn. These two events (popcorn and corn on the cob) brought tears to our eyes! You have no idea how big of a deal this was to us - this really opens up a lot of food doors for Brodie since corn is in so many things.
Lest anyone worry that Brodie doesn't eat well, we snapped this picture of a typical Brodie dinner. It's way healthier than most kids his age, and he is a very good eater who rarely complains about his limitations.

It's been the rainy season the last couple of months, so Graysen and I dressed up and went out to play in the rain one afternoon since everyone else was gone.

I turned 37 on Oct. 17th, so Alisha made me a carrot cake and the boys made me cards and little gifts. It was a great day - capped off by watching a Man U game with the boys after dinner!

We had a plumbing problem in the kitchen sink, so when we called our plumber Godfrey to come fix it one evening, Graysen immediately threw on his tool belt and hard hat and went to work assisting Godfrey. (Nice melvin toot!)

Graysen and Godfrey, enjoying a much deserved meal after a job well done!
I snapped a picture of this 6-story building in Kampala. Those columns are pretty slender for such a tall building! Earthquakes are just not designed for here!

Jonah after picking a bowl of mulberries from a tree in our yard.

We're helping our househelp Monica start up a small business of selling g-nut butter (same as peanut butter in the U.S.). I wrote up a financial plan for her to follow that would keep it sustainable, and help her invest back into the business to help it grow. She could easily pay back her small business loan in a month, while having enough profit to sustain her and her daughter. Eventually, if things go well hopefully she could stop cleaning houses altogether and focus just on her business!

The eMi director's conference was held in the UK this year to encourage the new office we have there. It was a fun week in Colchester, UK where I got to meet and get to know the other eMi directors. We talked through a lot of good things and really got a good feel for what's going on in the other offices, which will ultimately help us serve the ministries we work with more effectively. I feel honored to be a part of this group of guys!

While in London (on our way into the country, me and couple other directors had the chance to do a lightning quick tour of London - self-guided of course!) When I saw this I had to take a picture: a police officer, talking on his cell phone while mounted on a horse, and waiting in the middle of the lane at a stoplight! See, funny cultural things don't just happen in Uganda!

Something I have really missed while in Africa is the Fall - my favorite season! I haven't seen Fall since October of 2007. So this walk through St. James park in London was a huge treat for me!

Another treat for me was that a friend of mine from the UK who lives here in Uganda connected me with a friend of a friend who got me a ticket to see the Chelsea vs. Manchester United match on Sunday at Stamford Bridge in London (Chelsea's stadium)! It was the fulfillment of one of my dreams in life - to see a Man U game! It was a great experience - though as a ManU fan I didn't say a word the whole game sitting amongst the Chelsea faithful! I'd been advised that it was in my best interest to stay quiet!

Friday, October 2, 2009

September is over!

Coming into September we knew it was going to be a hectic month with both project trips in our office going out and then another team coming from the Colorado Springs office to do a project here with several members of that team staying on for a week afterwards to visit around the office. Around home, school was getting into full gear with the boys' soccer teams starting practices and the swim team getting going as well (I didn't even know they were on the swim team, but they practice each week with their classes so apparently that means they participate in the meets!).
But even though we were expecting it, it still felt like even more of a whirlwind than we were anticipating. So we are happy that October is here, especially because that means we're one month closer to our trip home in December...actually 59 days from now!!
Heritage Int'l School had it's first swim meet against two of the other international schools in town this past week. Alisha helped organize the Heritage school kids to be ready when it was their turn to race. In this case, Brodie was preparing for the 25m breast stroke. He also swam in the freestyle and backstroke. I have always been a slow swimmer, so the boys don't have a whole lot going for them in the genepool!
Jonah, ready for the 25m kickboard. He also swam the freestyle and breast stroke.
Brodie posing before the race with two of his good friends - next-door neighbor Judah Kelly on the left and Garrison Stride on the right. Garrison may be the next Michael Phelps - that kid could have probably beat me in those races!
All has returned to normal here in Uganda. The President and the King met this week to begin talks about coming to a peaceful resolution of the problem. This was great news and shows that the leaders of Uganda are serious about not repeating the mistakes of their neighbors. The vast majority of Ugandans are peaceful people who sincerely want to see their country continue to develop and create opportunities for themselves. And from what I can tell, they are very sharp and determined people who I really believe can accomplish that goal, given the necessary support from it's friends in the west. It always surprises me how keenly aware of the world most Ugandans are - much more so than the average American is back home. I think the prayers and support of people back home can and do make a huge difference in the hope these people have, and eventually the realization of the things hoped for.
But with October arriving, we are back to normal around here. Living here is a very strange mix of occasional new experiences and adventures sprinkled throughout an otherwise very normal existence the vast majority of the time. Last Sunday we went to some friend's or ours house for a dinner party with about 30 people and kids. There were a bunch of American, British, and Ugandans families there just hanging out and having a BBQ. To look out and see our kids playing on the slip-n-slide while we're out on the porch talking with people from these different cultures is a surreal experience - a very American activity in a very American looking environment (our friends are from Texas), but the participants come from a cultural background that is vastly different from ours or what we're used to.
Jonah heading down the slip-n-slide at the Mickler's BBQ
As I thought about it later, I realized that our life here is largely the same as it is back home, only with different people from different place surrounding us. 95% of most days are exactly as they'd be back in the states. My job is different, because eMi is giving me access to work with ministries who are serving the most needy people in this part of the world, but even that is mostly pretty normal. Other than the three project trips I take each year where I visit remote parts of East Africa, the majority of my workdays are spent in a very western environment (i.e. the eMi-EA office). The hardest part for us about living here is all about being stripped of our day to day relationships with loved ones back home (or even week to week or month to month relationships, which are now forced into a year to year arrangment!).
Jonah and Graysen, engrossed in a video in our family room. Graysen typically dressed up like the main character anytime he watches a apparently they were watching Robinhood (he went and put on a green outfit with his green, Peter Pan feather hat).
"Jonah, that's a pretty good chicken sound you're making." "But Mom, that's not me. That's really a chicken outside our kitchen window!" ...Apparently, this chicken found a way to fly over our back fence. Pretty funny. Our guard took care of it by throwing it back over the fence. It's actually a pretty funny story but too long to tell in a blog.
Many of the ex-pats ("ex-patriots" or anyone here other than Ugandans) here feel a longer term calling to living overseas. For us, we've never felt that way about moving here, though we are certainly open to where God would lead us. We have always felt that moving here was for a time, and that our calling was more specific to the work of eMi than it was to a particular place. We obviously don't have a crystal ball, but we are open to whatever God would have for us in the future. For this stage of life, we feel like coming home to the states next Summer is what we're supposed to do. But we would be open to another overseas stint at some point in the future.
Since we had some volunteers in the country, we took a trip out to the Music for Life project near Entebbe. This is a project eMi designed and master planned 3-4 years ago. This is one of 8 or 9 buildings under construction as a part of Phase 1 of the project. For the last 2 years, we've had a construction manager (CM) on site assisting with the construction of the project. It is a great example of an eMi project coming to life, and has somewhat served as the impetus behind a new focus of eMi on putting CM's out in the field on projects we've designed. Though nearly 80% of our office's projects do go into construction, we're seeing that there are huge benefits (both cost and quality of construction) in having an experienced construction manager physically out on the site to manage the project and coordinate with the local foreman and construction team.
Steve Hoyt, the eMi CM on the Music for Life project site (left), Gary MacPhee, eMi VP out of the Colorado Springs office (center), and me, out on the Music for Life site. These are two great guys who I really enjoy working with - though my interactions with Gary has to this point been largely through email (other than our two brief visits to Colorado Springs). Steve is a great guy, and holds the distinction of being one of only a few people I've met who are actually more sarcastic than I am! :)
Please be praying for us as we look to the future of how God would use us after our time in Uganda. We feel very blessed to have a team of supporters who make our ministry with eMi possible. It's a difficult task to convey to people just how their support is having an impact and making a difference. But we look at our ministry with eMi as a team of people with different roles - ours is the most visible role of course, but without the underpinning of the few dozen people who support us we couldn't be a part of eMi. In the last 12 years, eMi has gone from 7 employees working out of Colorado Springs, Colorado to over 70 employees and 7 offices across the globe. We feel blessed to be a part of such an exciting ministry like eMi - where my training/experience are put to use to make a difference in the lives of people in the developing world.
Alisha's Kindergarten class was in charge of leading chapel on Friday (Graysen is in the plaid shirt in the front row). They sang three songs, recited a poem, and memorized a couple of bible memory verses. Pretty cute!

Alisha leading chapel - doing what she loves most...speaking in front of people! Actually, for those of you who know her, you know I'm being facetious. It's her biggest fear, though she's actually quite good at it. But she did a great job and the class performed perfectly.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kenya Project Trip Part III of III

The project team, overlooking Lake Nakuru National Park. (L to R: architect Jill, civil engineer Elisa, Jason, architect intern Jaclyn, civil intern Travis, architect Casey, ag engineer Roger, and me)

It's a small national park compared to Masai Mara and the others in Kenya, but it was loaded with rhinos and flamingoes (we saw about 20 rhinos). We did a 4-hour safari drive on the last day as a closing time activity. The park was actually about a mile down the road from our hotel.


On Thursday, as we returned to work on the project, we began to hear reports from back home that riots had broken out in Kampala. Since this is not all that unusual of an occurrence (maybe once or twice a year), we weren’t too concerned about it. But on Friday morning, Alisha called me with panic in her voice telling me that they had just announced that they were closing the school for the day since the riots were spreading out from the city center into other parts of town. Alisha was pretty scared and started crying since it was sounding like her worst nightmare could be playing out – that is, that some type of mass chaos would break out while I am away on a project trip. After we hung up, I thought through a plan for her trying to think of any and all contingencies – if these riots were to explode into a civil war (a la Rwanda or Kenya), she would likely need to be supplied for several days or weeks and could possibly not be able to leave the compound. If things progressed from bad to worse, she could possibly even need to be ready to evacuate in a moment’s notice (obviously a very dire, worst-case scenario and highly unlikely, but nonetheless a possibility).
So I called her back and told her to run to the store on her way home and take out as much money as she could, pickup any food supplies she would need for a week, buy as much phone airtime as she could, and then go home and pack a small backpack of money, our passports, and our external hard drive containing all our information backed up.
It turns out she was stuck at the school for another 2 1/2 hours after talking to me waiting for all of her students to be picked up. Apparently, the town had been shut down and getting from one place to another was very difficult for some of the parents. As she waited, she began hearing some of the stories and rumors from people arriving – gunshots heard down on Gaba Road (about a kilometer from our house), the rioters trying to shut down the communication towers (i.e. cutting off cell phones), and people seeing bodies in the street. Of course, most of these were an exaggeration to some degree, but when you’re in the middle of a crisis it’s easy to believe some of these stories. One friend said her husband was stuck at the ARA club since the security guards wouldn’t let them leave. There was rioting out front and someone had been shot by the police or military that were now moving in on the city to try to restore order.
After the emotional day we had had the day before, I could not believe that we were again in crisis mode. I couldn’t stop pacing, trying to think 4 steps ahead for Alisha, and plan for contingencies that would include her and the boys being evacuated out of Uganda, or us losing cell phone contact. I felt bad for her, as she usually doesn’t have to think of such things since she knows I am the paranoid, planning husband. The boys were also a bit scared; though she did an excellent job of shielding them from knowing what all was going on.
What scared me about this particular situation was the reason for the riots. In the past, it’s just been the taxi drivers or some other group who is mad about the police deciding to start enforcing some law. But this was a much deeper issue that could have potentially affected the stability of the country. Apparently, a feud has long been brewing between the central government (the President) and the traditional King of Buganda. The majority of the people generally support the King since he is a figure head of their heritage and tradition. However, the King has little power otherwise (though it could well be argued that having the support of the people is power enough!). Well, the King had planned to visit the Kayunga district area of town that weekend – an area of Kampala inhabited by a tribe of people who claim to have their own king and who didn’t want the Buganda king to visit without permission from their own king (even though many if not most consider the Buganda king the king of the entire country).
Jason hard at work, 'two-fisted', with Ag engineer Roger in the background.

Final preparations for the presentation

Well, sensing an opportunity to show its power over the monarchy, the central government backed the Kayunga district’s position and set up a road block for one of the king’s ministers who was to make a pre-trip visit to plan for the king’s visit. Well, this very public event started the rumor mills, which quickly turned the blockade into the minster being arrested and the kingdom under assault. The streets flared up immediately as the rioters sought to keep people from entering the downtown area of Kampala. On the road to Jinja in the town of Mukono (historically a place all too willing to join in with any rioting going on, I learned from Farouq), the main highway from the east was shut down with burning vehicles and demonstrations (this is also the road our team planned to travel on to return that following Sunday!).
In the end, Friday turned out to be the worst of things as the military moved in and restored order. But not after 20 to 30 people were killed – mostly by gunfire as the police shot at rioters to disperse the crowds. And though order was restored, a long-term solution to the problem is still needed, especially before the elections here in 2011. If the government and the kingdom don’t figure something out before then, it could result in a terrible tragedy in Uganda at that time. With the crisis in Kenya still fresh in people’s minds, and the Rwandan genocide serving as the recent historical backdrop, there is a sense of uncertainty that has some people on edge. And while such a large scale problem like what happened in those countries is unlikely in Uganda for a number of reasons, we can all be praying for the people of Uganda to be spared of such atrocities, even on a smaller scale.
The final presentation - shown on a laptop propped up on our storage box in the absence of our newly thieved projector!

As we finished up the project trip that week, I was impressed with the team’s ability to fight through the distractions (and the limitations of having half of our computers gone) and finish the project just as well as if nothing else had happened. The presentation went very well as the ministry was very pleased with the master plan.
The presentation went very well - the ministry was happy, which is our job #1
The architects did an impressive job of not only fitting everything on the site but orienting things in a way that provides proper circulation between the ministry functions. The water issue was also discussed by the civil engineers, with the 3 options all presented: buying water from the neighbor’s pipeline, trucking in water to the site, or spending the money to drill the borehole despite the water surveyor’s recommendation.
Roger the agricultural engineer also presented his findings and recommendations. Roger turned out to be a major Godsend on the trip, as he had a very wide knowledge and experience base that served the team in many areas (he was also a great guy with a great sense of humor - I even forgave him for being from Texas! :) ).

The final Master Plan (or at least the sketch of what will be the final Master Plan in the final report to be completed sometime in November)

More of the sketches produced by the architects for the presentation

The trip home was uneventful, though still long. As we neared Kampala and passed through Mukono, we could see remnants of the week’s activities – with vehicles burned out, lots of burned marks on the pavement where bonfires had been lit and traditional decorations set out in a symbolic support of the king. We also saw a conspicuously heavy presence of armed military throughout the route.
One of the burned out vehicles we saw in Mukono.
Fortunately we weren't involved in this head-on collison, one of three big accidents we came upon during the 10-hour trip home.
The whole 'team', including the ministry

It’s always sweet to return home to Alisha and the boys after project trips, but in this case, it was an especially good feeling to be able to hug them and just be back together again since a few days prior we weren’t assured of when or where that might take place!