Friday, February 25, 2011

Uganda Trip - Part II of III

A couple of the nearby village kids who delivered our food supplies each day. It's always amazing and humbling when the local kids help out in hosting the EMI teams. The kids love interacting with Westerners and the team is always so blessed to talk and play with the local children.
Monday, January 31
Today was our first real work day. I think everyone was a little anxious to get to it, so after morning devotions and breakfast, the team split up into their various disciplines and went to work. The civil engineers split up – two of them took the hand auger out to dig bore holes for the percolation tests (these are the tests we use to figure out how well the soil will disperse the wastewater), and the other two went down the road to test the closest water sources, which happened to be the well at the church we visited yesterday and a nearby neighbor’s well. The architects got back to work on the master plan and drainage plans. We got a great look at how things are currently draining later in the day when we had our first major thunderstorm blow through.
The civil guys performing the ground percolation tests - studying how well the soil will receive the wastewater seeping out of the soak pit. If it seeps too fast, we could contaminate ground water. If it seeps too slowly, their septic tank could back up all the time.
The electrical engineer Tom started collecting data on the existing electrical systems, and Anna Rose (structural) walked the site looking at the various existing buildings to evaluate their structural integrity.
Things went pretty well for most of the day with a lot of progress in all areas, but around 4pm it clouded over (after a morning without a cloud in the sky) and an authentic Ugandan thunder and wind storm blew in, effectively shutting us down. It was the first wind/rain storm the ministry has experienced since moving onto the site in December, so they found out where blowing and flowing water is going to cause problems on the sloped site…which is basically everywhere! The windows have glass louvers that don’t close, so most every building got soaked on the inside – including the computer lab and the room where we’re staying. Fortunately, the workers moved the computers and we moved our beds to the middle of the room before they were too drenched.

It's amazing how quickly the dust and dryness can almost be overwhelmed but the massive quantity of water falling from the sky.

Something I really miss from our time in Uganda - sitting out on a covered veranda and watching the violent thunderstorms blow in.

Earlier in the day, there wasn't a cloud in the sky!

One of the best pictures taken by our group. I'm not sure who snatched it, but it captures how awesome and beautiful the mixture of storms and sun can be in the Uganda sky.

I suppose I should introduce the team before I get too far into this trip report:
Jonathan – volunteer civil engineer from Indianapolis
Ryan – volunteer landscape architect from Denver
Gary – volunteer architect from Georgia
Anna Rose – volunteer structural engineer from North Carolina
Rhett – volunteer civil engineer from Ohio
Tom – volunteer mechanical/electrical engineer from Ohio
Ben – volunteer civil engineer from Denver
Alex – EMI engineering intern from Wisconsin
Phil – EMI engineering intern from Northern Ireland
Jeff – the American ministry contact and also a friend of mine from our time in Uganda
The team is getting along great and it was great to have our first full work-day.

The team: Top row (l to r) Rhett, me, Jonathan, and Tom. Bottom row (l to r) Alex, Ryan, Anna Rose, Ben, Phil and Gary

Tuesday, February 1
Well, last night was interesting – came close to one of the worst-case scenarios (in my book) for a trip! No danger or anything like that, but as far as my anxieties go on trips, it’s one of the worst-case scenarios. I went to bed at 11:15pm, but couldn’t fall asleep until around midnight. At 1:15am, I woke up to go to the bathroom (short-call), but started realizing quickly that I wasn’t feeling good. This feeling of nausea and general stomach unsettledness continued progressing for about an hour. In the meantime, a thunderstorm began to brew pretty quickly outside and before long it was raining hard and windy with lightning strikes were all around.
I started thinking about what my plan was if I continued on this path of getting sick. The toilet we’re using is a pit latrine that is about 150 yards away, down a little dirt path that has a couple of steep parts that are a little tricky to navigate even when the ground is dry. Add a heavy downpour and it becomes quite a slippery mess, not to mention the fact that I’d be drenched inside of 10 steps out in this kind of rain storm. There really was no solution – if I suddenly had to throw up or go to the bathroom, there is no way I’d have made it 150 yards in the pouring rain to the pit latrine (which is not exactly an ideal place to be throwing up or sick, I should mention!).

This shot, taken from about halfway to the pit latrine, shows how far of a walk it was from our sleeping quarters (the far end of the building on the left) to the latrine.

Our toilet for the week - not the most hygenic thing to use, but compared to the first couple of days of not having a seat to sit on it felt like the lap of luxury!

The pit latrine before we upgraded it!

So, the only thing I knew to do was to pray. I prayed that God would somehow make this sickness go away as I had no good option for how to deal with it. So for the next hour or so, as the heavy rain turned to a more steady rain, I layed there praying (after moving my bed away from the window to avoid getting wet). And by no small miracle, I slowly started feeling better.
I never did throw up or have to leave the room to make it to the pit latrine. In the end, I only got about 4 hours of sleep (including that first hour before all the fun). But given what it could have been, I was just fine to be feeling alright come morning and not having to battle sickness on a trip. I figured out afterwards that I think I had done it to myself – right before bed I realized I hadn’t taken my malaria prevention medicine, so I took it even though I knew doing so right before bed and on an empty stomach was not advisable.
The rain hung around but gradually decreased to a stop around 10am. It was nice that it cooled things off and cleaned the air, though everything on the ground turned to mud.

One of the outdoor stalls where we took our bucket baths during the week.

The main problem for the day was power though. It had gone off during the storms in the night, and stayed off all day. Jeff (the ministry leader) tried calling the power company, but as we experienced so many times while living here, they were largely unaware of what was going on (or at least claimed to be largely unaware!). Jeff even commented, “Don’t you miss this Brad?” We had a good laugh…and the answer is ‘no’, I don’t miss that aspect of life in Uganda!

Ministry rep Jeff Atherstone with structural voluteer Anna Rose

Finally, around 4pm, the power came back on and we were able to get going again. We lost more than a half day’s worth of time though, so that will be a setback. The ministry has a generator, but since they’ve moved onto the site they have never lost power for more than an hour at a time. Consequently, they hadn’t yet bothered to hook it up, and today was the only day the electrician on staff was not on site! Gotta love how things always seem to go here – when one system breaks down, the three backups to that system will be typically be down as well!

Wednesday, February 2
I finally slept through the night…mostly. I woke up once around 4am but was able to go back to sleep within 15 minutes. That’s the first time in a week I’ve got as much as 6 hours sleep, and it felt good. We had a good discussion during our devotion time about how we are called to give up our liberties sometimes in order to minister to other people (based on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). It’s a great passage that I think we Christians should think about more often. There’s kind of a dual application for the verse: 1) we need to be willing to lay aside the common things in life that we call ‘rights’, such as our right to justice or our right to hold people who aren’t Christians to the same standard we as Christians try to live by (key word is “try” to live by, as all too often we hold others to standards we ourselves aren’t even able to keep); and 2) we need to be willing to lay aside our liberties we gain from our faith in Christ in order to not offend other Christians who have different convictions. It was a good conversation that brought up a lot of good thoughts.
After the devotion time and breakfast, I spent a lot of time trying to make sure everyone knew where they were heading in their disciplines and to be aware of what we needed to present on Friday. I think we’re on a good track, but there is still a lot of work to get done before then. The architects have been doing a lot of background work to make sure the master plan is accurate given all the various grades and slopes around the site. Consequently, while we are now pretty ahead on what we have done as it relates to the final project report, we are behind as it relates to our presentation on Friday. I’m not too concerned yet though, as both architects seem to know what they’re doing and what they need to get done.
The afternoon and evening was all spent working in the work room. All the field work is done so the whole team was in the room.

Architect Gary working hard on the 3D model of the site.

The closest thing we had to a mad scientist on the team was landscape architect Ryan! There is genius hiding there amongst the chaos of paper, colored pencils and drawing aids!

The work room in action!
It’s a fun team with a lot of good personalities that make for interesting conversations. Tonight, we played a little game called ‘Ask the group’, where someone asks the group a question and everyone answers it. Ok, so I pretty much made up the game on the spot, but it sounded good and worked out well. The question I asked was: Have you ever experienced a miracle? There were some very interesting stories told – pretty amazing actually. I shared our story of Jonah’s skull miraculously rounding out overnight (thereby avoiding a very invasive and potentially dangerous serious of tests and surgeries) when he was a baby, and others told stories of unexplained medical success stories that they’d experienced too. It’s always interesting to hear a little more about other people’s lives and what they’ve experienced and how they’ve seen God work in their lives.
The team having dinner one night -they were all good sports but by the end of the week we were all ready for anything but Ugandan food!
At night, volunteer Jonathan and I walked volunteer Anna Rose down to the house where she’s staying. We’ve actually done this each night since the place is about a quarter-mile from our workroom on the site. Jonathan has come with me each time so I don’t have to walk home alone. He’s a real quality guy and I’ve very much enjoyed having him on the trip.

Volunteer Jonathan - I'm hoping he becomes an EMI regular!
It’s actually been a fun little time each night to connect with both of them. Afterwards, it was just me and the architects in the work room working on getting stuff finalized – mainly the architects working on their drawings and me working on, well, this! This site is easily the most challenging site I’ve worked on as the grade change is severe and the existing buildings were not laid out in a manner that makes grading around them very easy. Add to the mix the requirement of adding accessibility ramps throughout the site and you have the perfect storm for difficult sites! (Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that the University is providing a campus with accessibility for disabled students is an amazing blessing to the country of Uganda and it’s disabled citizens! …I just wish they had a flat site to provide it on!)
This was a funny thing - the previous owners of the site had purchased a vertical, metal water tank and a horizontal stand...then installed the tank diagonally! What's more, if they had simply moved it about 100 ft up the site the grade sloped up enough to where they wouldn't have needed to purchase a stand, they could have just set it on the ground! Anyway, needless to say, it is worthless to ARU and they actually asked us for advice on how to safely take it down!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gaba Bible Institute (GBI) – Uganda Project trip Jan-Feb 2011

Looking down on part of the site from our work room. The pit latrine and showers that we all used during the week are seen in the middle distance (small grey buliding with red roof).

Part I of III

Travel – January 27-28
For some reason, leaving this time was especially hard. I should look back at previous blogs to see if I’ve said that before! Part of the reason I think it was hard this time was because of how it went down. Since my flight wasn’t until late in the afternoon (5:20pm), I had much of the day to kill before leaving for the airport. So I decided to go to the school to say goodbye to Alisha and the boys. Well, I think that was a mistake as it made me sad to see them in their school environment and realize that I really knew little about their normal school day (since I never see them there). Then seeing them get choked up saying goodbye to me was really hard too. In the end, Alisha walked me to my car and I drove off a blubbering mess!
I decided that the best remedy for this was to pray for them, so I went home and I walked into each of their rooms and prayed for them. That was very soothing, and though the tears flowed as I did it, I really felt God’s peace come on me as I realized I needed to put my trust in him instead of my own ability to take care of them.
Anyway, we got to the airport and the three of us (me and two interns) met up with two of our volunteers, who happened to be from Denver. The flight to London was so nice. The plane was very empty so I got a full three seats to lay down. Out of the 8 1/2 hour flight, I estimate that I slept at least 6 hours! In London, we basically had just enough time to get to the gate for our next flight. Actually, I was the next to last person on the plane. So I walked through to make sure all 10 volunteers were on the plane too – but I couldn’t find one of them – Anna Rose, the only woman volunteer on the trip, was missing. I spoke with the flight attendant and after checking for me, he told me she was booked on the flight the next day. He let me borrow his phone so I called and left Anna Rose a message letting her know that I would be there to pick her up at the airport the following day.
I actually slept really well on the flight to Uganda too – sleeping another 4 hours. This proved to be a problem later that night as I wasn’t able to sleep for more than 3 hours once we arrived at the site.
Arriving in Uganda was weird, surreal, and fun all wrapped up together. It felt a lot like home of course and very good to see the familiar sights, sounds and smells. It took us an hour and a half to get to the site, so by then we were good and tired as it was well after midnight. And that began the rough night of sleep!
Saturday, January 29
I woke up at 8am after a restless night – I was up from 3-6am. I was the last one to wake up, so I felt a bit panicked as we were to start the morning worship and sharing time at 8:15am. Because one of our volunteers wasn’t there, I changed the schedule to do testimonies the following day so Anna Rose could be a part of it. Instead, we just shared how we came to know about EMI and what we hoped to get out of the trip. The worship time was great too as intern Phil (from Northern Ireland) is a very talented guitar-player/singer.
After that and a quick Ugandan breakfast – ‘rolex’, which is basically a Ugandan version of a tortilla (think thicker than a ‘normal’ tortilla and moist from grease) with an omelet-style egg all rolled up with grilled cabbage and tomato – we met with the ministry representative, Jeff Atherstone, to begin discussing the program for the site. They had had a previous EMI team come to their former property and master plan a new campus for them, however, after everything was done the local community rejected it outright and that essentially killed the project right then and there. The community apparently was unhappy about the project because they felt it wasn’t the best use of the land as far as the community’s financial interests were concerned.

Walking the site with Jeff (front right). As you can see, there are many buildings and partial buildings on the site, which made our job much more difficult.

The upstairs room of this building served as our work room.

Our work room during the week. It was so nice to actually work right on the campus.
Of course the ministry was very discouraged about this, but Jeff explained how this new site was something God had worked out as they raised the large amount of money required to purchase the land very quickly with a few large gifts. They also quickly made some key connections in the area, with a powerful governmental official living very nearby. They are involving the community in this new project by encouraging people to build hostels all around the site since they are hoping to have up to 1000 students at the University, but only 250 will live on site. The hostels will be a great source of income for the community, and allows them to develop something themselves that will greatly improve their lives by giving them a steady income. Anytime we can help people create business and income on their own, it’s really the best case scenario for mission-work.
There are a number of existing buildings on the site, which always makes master planning much more difficult as we have to tie in the new with the old. Fortunately, the survey on this project was done ahead of our arrival so that has given us a huge headstart.

Volunteers Tom (left), Rhett (center) and Jonathan (right) got right to work!

Volunteer landscape architect Ryan was like a mad scientist all week - spreading out his sketches and drawings all over the place, and thinking with a pencil. In the end, he developed some amazing sketches, and worked hard on figuring out the site drainage and handicap ramps.
Jeff explained that they are wanting to expand their current campus of 50 students in a two-year accredited program to a full, four-year accredited, Christian university that offers such programs as public health, agriculture (to give the students a practical skill), and disabilities studies. The disabilities studies is particularly interesting and exciting as it will give opportunities to people who otherwise would have none, as people with disabilities are very often tossed aside as worthless in this culture. The university is in touch with ‘Joni and Friends’ from the US (Joni Erickson-Tada) and they are planned to help GBI install ramps and other disability-friendly improvement on site.
At night, I went back to the airport to pickup Anna Rose. Traffic was terrible as this is the first weekend back for schools in Uganda (follows the British system of running the school-year with the calendar year). It took 2 hours and 20 minutes, but I was there plenty early and Anna Rose was in great spirits as she walked off the plane. Because she missed her flight, British Airways put her up in a nice hotel and gave her 3 hot meals! Apparently, she arrived in London just 20 minutes after our flight had left the day before.
We made it back to the site around 12:30am again, so it was another late night. But since I had powered through all day, I slept very well until around 7:00am.
Sunday, January 30
We finally had our team all together this morning so we took the chance to share testimonies as a team. I know I say it every time, but it is always such a blessing to hear people’s stories – each one is so different and personal, but in each case it’s a life that God has touched in a special way that has made them want to do something crazy with their life like getting on a plane to come to Africa to serve alongside complete strangers for two weeks. This trip is no different, as our group of 10 comes from all over the country (and Northern Ireland!) to meet up here and each one felt God’s leading in joining the team.
After testimonies and breakfast (the cook Sam is a great guy, though he gravitates towards the local eating schedules which has pushed our breakfast later and later – this morning’s was at 10:15am), we headed off to the nearby church. The building was actually pretty big and mostly full of women and children. I’d estimate probably 150 to 200 people. We came in and they sat us in front, and immediately asked one of us to share something. Volunteer Jonathan – a civil engineer from Indianapolis – had agreed beforehand to share if we were asked, so he got up and shared a bit about the importance of the bible in our lives. Next intern Phil got up and led a song with his guitar. It was a cool experience for both of them. Ironically, the local pastor’s message was on the same topic Jonathan has spoken on.

Walking to church - it was probably our hottest day.

Volunteer Jonathan sharing a message - I was glad that for once one of my team members volunteered to share a sermon message since I usually end up doing it!

Intern Phil leading the local church in a worship song.
Church was about 2 1/2 hours long, but afterwards they had a drama presentation that they performed for another hour. It was funny, but in the local language so we didn’t really know what was going on. As we were leaving, the pastors asked us to come for a drink in their home to visit with them, so even though we were quite anxious to get back to the site to work, we couldn’t say no. We had a soda with them, and they told us about the history of their church and asked if we could help them with their building. I told them that was a question for our local office, but first we had to ask Jeff since we are here as his guests. They agreed to come meet me tomorrow to discuss it further. I was pleased to be able to tell them we had an office locally, as it would have been very tough for us to fit in more work during our time here, but also because I was glad that EMI would be able to help this little village church.

The church building was actually pretty nice looking for as remote as it was, though the quality of construction was not what you'd hope for.

This guy was part of the drama show, which included a funky dance group. He reminded me of a Ugandan Elvis - good moves and the faded hairstyle!
(Funny sidenote: We learned a new word in church today – “anyhowly”, as in, “Some people eat this way, some people eat that way, some people eat anyhowly.”)
Returning to the site, I had a quick lunch as the driver was there to take me to the EMI East Africa office in Kampala to pick up a few tools we need for our trip. Driving into town got more and more surreal as we went. The guys who came along with me (volunteers Rhett and Tom, two engineers in their mid-60’s from Cincinnati, Ohio) were probably getting tired of hearing me talk about the many familiar things I was seeing the closer we got to the office. It was bizarre to drive on the roads and streets where I had driven many, many times during our time living here. In some ways, I was feeling very sad that we weren’t still living here, and then in other ways I couldn’t believe we had actually lived here. But mostly, it made me miss living here and the slower-paced, relaxed and family-oriented lifestyle we were able to live.
Arriving at the office, I got to see one of our old guards Patrick and current staff member Phil Greene. I gave Patrick a big hug and we exchanged “how are you’s”. It was so nice to see him, it made me a little sad that the boys couldn’t be here since they (especially Jonah) spent so much time with the guards. They really were good to our boys and did a lot of things for them.
We saw a number of familiar spots and I noted a few changes that had occurred in the past 8 months – most notable was the fact that the main road leading to our house (Kiwafu Road) was now paved. What a huge difference that would have made in our standard of living – no dust, much less dirt in our house, and a much faster trip to wherever we were going!

Me and volunteers Rhett and Tom (far right) with part of the EMI East Africa crew.
We stopped by a few places for various errands, and I was able to say a quick ‘Hi’ to a few of the people who worked in the various stores where we shopped (I was both amazed and touched that so many of the local people remembered us). We returned back to the site shortly before dark, so I took a shower (actually, a ‘bucket bath’ in an outdoor concrete stall) before dinner. At night, we plotted the next days’ work schedule as these first two days had been pretty choppy work-wise with church and the trip into town. The architects were making some progress on the master plan so the team was ready to start plugging away at some of the engineering data collection – percolation tests in the soil, evaluating the buildings, testing the nearby water wells, and dissecting the existing electrical systems. I’m really happy to have another structural engineer here so I can focus on the project leading side of things as well as help the architects move forward with the master planning and coordinating the team needs with the ministry.

A candid shot of the team looking out on the site below, charting out their various plans.

...the same shot, except this is what happens when you tell a bunch of engineers/architects to 'act' candidly and ignore the camera. Hats off to intern Phil (far left) who pulled it off nicely.