The project team (L to R): Long-term volunteer Denis, Long-term volunteer Megan, Intern Ryan, Intern Suellen, Volunteer Ben, Intern Tim, Intern Andrew, and me.
Saturday May 23rd:
Presentation day – after a late night we got an early start to make sure we were ready for the presentation. Since we had finished everything the night before, it was actually a pretty relaxing morning. But just as we were feeling really good about being ready ahead of time, the power went out! All week, the power had only been out a couple times and for short periods. This time, it went off around 7:30am and stayed off all morning. So with the presentation to begin at 10am, we asked the hotel staff around 9:30am to turn on the generator. Unfortunately, they were out of fuel so they had to go get some. After waiting for an hour, they finally returned with gas and started it up.
The topographic survey, performed by Interns Ryan and Andrew. It's pretty impressive that they were able to survey an uncleared, 22-acre site in just 3 days.
The site 'area' diagram. The architects started with this to identify the various areas on site and how they would interact with one another. This stuff always impresses me because it's pretty foreign to any training I've received for engineering. But the great thing about leading these trips is I get to learn a lot from the talented volunteers and interns who come on the trip!
Fortunately, that was really the last hiccup, as the presentation went very well. We had great communication with the ministry all week, so there were no surprises to present (which is always a good thing). They really had just a few minor questions sprinkled throughout, so all in all it couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked them for their generous hospitality during the week and closed. Debra, the ministry director, was very touched with the team’s work and gave us a very heartfelt thank you for helping them. It’s always especially satisfying when the ministry is so appreciative of the team’s hard work during the week.
The floor plan and elevations of the children's home. The ministry plans to build four of these structures at a time, creating a cluster that would act as extended family. At full build-out of the site, there would be a total of 16 of these houses, housing a total of more than 120 orphans. A house mom will live in each house of 8 kids.
The guest house, where mission teams from the west will stay while they work at the site.
After the market, we went across town to a nice hotel for our team closing meeting and a nice dinner. The closing meetings are always one of my favorite moments on the trip as it’s a chance where people can really open up with the team about their experience here as well as encourage the other team members. We each took a turn talking about our high and low points of the trip, what we feel God taught us here or what we’re taking away from this time and any prayer requests we might have. Then, each of the other team members takes a turn sharing a word of encouragement about that person.
For me, my low point on the trip was getting the computer virus. Computer problems drive me crazy, so I was glad that intern Ryan was along on the trip to work on it. My high point was Friday night, the last night of work. We were all taking turns listening to music on our computers, and we landed on Keith Green for an hour or so. Since volunteer Ben and also intern Ryan are big fans of his music, I just enjoyed the time of listening to his music while we all worked. Every time I hear Keith Green I am reminded of a person who was so committed to his faith that his passion is both encouraging and convicting at the same time.
What I took away from this trip was an appreciation for all of the talent that was there. It’s always a little hard to be the leader of a group of professionals since it seems there are preconceived notions that the leader is somehow more knowledgeable or spiritual than the other team members – and that certainly is not the case. I come at it more from a learning position, as there is always a lot to learn from the other team members. This trip was no exception, as we had some talented people working on this design.
Sunday May 24th:
The trip home. It sounds so easy to write - if only it was that easy to accomplish! It turned out to be a very long and ‘interesting’ trip home. Here’s what all happened.
We left the hotel at 5:15am to catch the 6:30am ferry. We wanted to be sure to make on that ferry so we could get an early start. When we arrived at 5:30am, there wasn't a soul around but the security guard, so he let us in and we parked, the first car in line. After about 45 minutes and no activity, Alex our driver went to ask about it, and was told that the first ferry left at 7:30am, not 6:30am as we had been told! So after standing around and waiting for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes, the ferry finally left at 7:45am. We arrived at 8:25am and left soon after. So, 3 hours and 10 minutes in, we had traveled about 5km, with 695km to go!
I had noticed when we got in the car at the hotel that our gas gauge showed a 2/3 full tank even though we had filled it up the night before. I mentioned it to our driver but he said sometimes the indicator takes awhile to rise. I thought he probably knew his car better than I did, so I dropped it.
After several dozen kilometers, I checked and the gas gauge was steadily dropping. I suggested to the driver that perhaps someone had stolen gas out of our tank the night before. He seemed skeptical of that idea, but after just 150km we were almost on empty. The car was also making a loud clicking sound whenever we accelerated, so Alex mentioned that the car was having trouble and that’s why he was driving slower than normal (60-80 km/hr (40-50 mph) the whole trip!) Overall, the first 85km were the worst road of the entire 700km journey, and took 2 hours to travel.
After driving awhile longer and the gas tank getting lower and lower, we pulled over in a small village and Alex drained the fuel filter, suspecting that the people who stole gas from us also put some dirt in the tank (which was causing the sound and forcing Alex to drive slower). While we were stopped, we also noticed one of the back tires was 50% flat, so Alex changed the tire with one of two spares we were carrying on the roof. But there was no gas for sale there, so we had to forge ahead another 50km to find a station.
Just as we were running out of petrol, we found a small town a couple miles off the main road that had a petrol station. It was a small joint, and the power was out so no automatic pump – they’d have to pour it into a jerry can to measure the amount and then fill. After filling up just 20 liters since Alex didn’t trust the gas, we were back on the road.
When pavement ran out about 100 kilometers further down the road, we were back on the dirt. Fortunately, there was no rain on this day, so what was a terribly crazy road on the way there was a much more easily traversed, dry road this time around. But towards the end of this second dirt section, we were running very low on fuel once again. Our driver, noting that the fuel prices were 50% higher in Tanzania, only filled up another 20 liters this time, so I spent the majority of the trip worrying that we were going to run out of gas out in the middle of the Tanzanian savannah!
Finally reaching the border at 5:30pm, it turned out to be the easiest part of the trip with no glitches. Moving into Uganda, nighttime started to fall, which was unfortunate since the Ugandan roads, though paved, were covered with pot-holes, making it difficult to drive on at night. The team was getting hungry since we hadn’t really eaten anything all day other than snacks (except for me – I don’t eat anything on these trips to help combat motion sickness and also to avoid having to stop for the bathroom). So after driving around for an hour in a town called Masaka, (which is about 3 hours from Kampala) we finally found a little roadside stand selling some stuff the team could snack on.
At 8:30pm, we rolled out of Masaka for home. At that time, our driver started complaining that he was feeling feverish and overall not well. After about an hour down the road from Masaka though, the trip took another turn. Intern Suellen just barely happened to catch out of the corner of her eye that one of our steel hand-auger rods had flown off the top of the car. It took us nearly a kilometer to stop, so when we went back it was a bit hard to know where to look since it was pitch black out. But, after an hour of searching with flashlights (my Surefire flashlight I love so much was the hero!), we finally found it, and after briefly losing one of the team members who had wandered way off down the road looking for the lost item, we were back on the road at 10:30pm.
We finally rolled into Kampala at 12:30am, and by that time our driver was shaking with the chills and feeling terrible. We stopped off at the guesthouse to drop off the volunteer. When we arrived, a very sheepish and worried looking manager met me at the front door and asked why we were here. I explained that we had a reservation for one made weeks ago, and confirmed 6 hours earlier by Alisha when she stopped by to put a pizza in the fridge for the volunteer and a homemade brownie on his bed. The manager explained that she thought we had cancelled and that she was full. What’s worse, she thought Alisha was with the other party so she had given them the pizza and brownie!
I’m not sure if you could see flames coming out my ears, but I could feel them! Fortunately, I stayed calm and told her we would figure something else out and I would be by the next day to discuss what to do. (Mainly, I just wanted a refund for the pizza!)
So we stopped by our house, picked up some spare mats and sheets and had the volunteer cram into the boys place – 7 guys in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment with 3 on the hard tile floor with mats! The volunteer, Ben, was a great sport and I think it turned out Ok in the end.
So, after dropping all the team members off, I finally arrived home at 1am – 20 hours after leaving the hotel! By that time, the driver would curl up into a ball and just shiver while we were waiting to unload at each stop. I felt very badly for him, but there was nothing I could do. So after winding down and getting settled, I went to bed thoroughly exhausted around 2am!
The next morning at 9:20am, I received a call from Chad that our two local staff members, Stephen and Semei, had had some terrible tragedies happen. Semei, our office manager and bookkeeper, had found out a couple days ago that his twin brother (around 32 years old) had died earlier in the week, just a few days after being diagnosed with AIDS. Then Stephen, our head of security, had knocked on Chad’s door the night before around midnight and informed Chad that his 3 year old daughter, Comfort, had suddenly died. She had cerebral palsy since birth, but had been healthy otherwise lately. It was quite a shock and a terrible loss, especially since Stephen had just returned from the village the day before after attending his Christian Father’s (similar to a Godparent in the U.S.) burial (another unexpected death).
It’s unbelievable that all of that happened in a span of 6 days, and a terrible tragedy, though sadly this culture sees such tragedy like that routinely. It doesn’t make it easier though, and I’d ask you to join me in praying for Semei and Stephen’s families in this very difficult time. Semei is not married and has no children. Stephen is married and has a 2 year old son remaining.