Saturday, August 25, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 25

The trip home

The plane ride to London was uneventful, which is always nice. We didn’t change time zones, so there wasn’t any real jet lag, though we were tired from the late night dinner followed by an early morning to the airport. Most of the people from the dinner were there to see us off. We ended up leaving late because of the huge electrical storm that blew in. I saw at least two lightening strikes on the other side of the airfield followed by the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard in my life. Hillary, I think she was joking, said God must be mad that she was leaving Uganda. We landed in London, tired but doing well. Mary’s sister, Sarah, and her brother-in-law, Vasant, were there to great her and they had a great hug and went off together arm in arm. Mary was staying with them as they happened to be in London at the same time.

We exchanged some American dollars for pounds and had hopes of taking a shuttle to our hotel, getting settled and then zipping in to London to look around. If we didn’t feel up to that, I thought we might go in the morning instead. Well, since the shuttle, which is FREE in the United States, took half of our money, along with fact that the bus ride to London was forty-five minutes each way and would take the rest of our money, we decided to just go back to the hotel and relax...much to my chagrin. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to England, so I really wanted to see some “historical stuff.” I’ll admit it, I got a little grumpy about this, but after a nice warm bath, I felt better and really clean. I was a little sad to see the last of the Uganda soil go down the drain, but I’m sure I’ll find some more in our clo-thez.

This morning, we took the same walk through a neighborhood that we walked through yesterday. We saw this cool church and took a few pictures. Leslie noticed a gravestone for some men who died in World War I. We decided we wanted to have a morning tea, but none of the little restaurants and pubs opened until ten, so we ducked into a little coffee shop. We decided to have some breakfast and ordered two breakfasts to share. One was “traditional” and the other was “healthy.” It was really fun to see some subtle differences in breakfast. Baked beans and large pieces of ham, called bacon, were part of the fare. It was really enjoyable and very English. I noticed “black pudding” on the menu and asked the server what it is. She scrunched up her face and said in a charming accent, “It’s pigs blood, fried in sort of a circle. I don’t know why anyone would ever eat it.” I decided to take her word for it.

After breakfast, we packed and headed off for the airport. The shuttle driver asked for our tickets, so we handed him the round trip passes that we got yesterday. One problem; they were “One Way” passes. He was really nice though and didn’t make us pay. Leslie and I decided if we ever came back to London, we’d have to really do some research on how to explore it on a budget since things are so expensive.

We got to the airport in plenty of time. Hillary and Courtney wanted a picture of a double-decker bus with Harry Potter on the side, but couldn’t find one, so they settled for just a normal double-decker bus. We got in line and, when it was our turn, checked in. Since we booked our flight way after Hillary, the only seats that were available when we booked were “Plus” seats, which are more roomy than the economy seats. That was really nice for the flight from Uganda to London and they were nice enough to bump Hillary up so she could join us. Today, when we checked in, we found out that there were no seats available in that section so they bumped the three of us up to Business Class, which was a nice surprise. However, the lady at the counter informed us that Hillary would have to be on “standby” because there were no seats available. I decided if that happened, I would be the one to stay behind. Furthermore, she explained that we would have to wait until the last minute to discover our fate. This thwarted our plan to meet up with Mary inside the terminal after passing through security.

We found out Hillary made the flight, and we tried to get her upgraded to Business Class with us, but didn’t have any luck. We would’ve had to sell one of our cars to make it happen, but they did upgrade her into the "Plus" area again, which was very nice. Courtney’s carry-on suitcase, which carried the food we were going to snack on once inside the terminal, was red flagged. We didn’t realize the jar of peanut butter would be a problem since it made it through the Ugandan checkpoint. So, we had to slowly unpack everything in that suitcase while they checked it for explosives. The peanut butter was confiscated, and we were on our way.

By this time, our flight was already boarding, so we still hadn’t connected with Mary. We hoped that she made it on okay, because we had no other way of contacting her. There are no “Courtesy Phones” at Heathrow. The best we could do was to leave a message for her at the ticket counter. At the gate, they wouldn’t tell us if she had already checked in for privacy reasons, but I told them her initials and they said no one with those initials had checked in. We found out later that they arrived at the airport too late and missed the flight. Her parents told us she was pretty upset about this, but at least she was with her sister.

When we arrived in Seattle, we found out that one piece of luggage hadn’t made it...the one with all of our dirty clothes. That should be a treat to go through when it arrives! Don Windham, the director of ICN, picked us up and took us to Mary’s house for a wonderful dinner. We shared with them some of our experiences, but after a while, we started to fade a bit and knew we still had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us with both cars, so we left and headed for home, where we arrived just past midnight. I think we’ve been up for about twenty-eight hours now. It’s weird to be in our own house. Hillary’s friend, Stephanie, who house sat for us, did a great job taking care of things while we away. It really gave us peace of mind having her here. My father-in-law did some work on our lawn and it looks better than ever. I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed...and dream of Uganda...without the dogs barking throughout the night.

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 23

As I fly over the desserts of northern Africa toward London, It’s hard to imagine that it’s been a whole month since I passed this way heading south to Uganda. In many ways, it went so quickly and yet it feels like we packed a lifetime of experiences into this time.

Yesterday was an emotional day for us. I spent a lot of time in the morning trying to track down some supplies to fix some of the things we had broken. As you can probably imagine by now, in Uganda, you don’t just take a quick trip to Home Depot and Lowes to grab all of the things you need. You drive through an amazing amount of traffic then fight for a parking spot in the district where these types of supplies are sold. I would estimate that the district we went to spanned at least ten square blocks, packed with hundreds of tiny shops that are very specific in what they sell, often in very strange combinations. Yesterday, as we passed a boda-boda with its driver balancing a large, boxed television on his lap, his passenger cradling a large boxed component stereo system, I saw a shop that sold only car engines and office chairs. This hardware district was full of such combinations.

We were looking for a piece of glass that needed to be cut to replace the one that I broke on the coffee table that I sat on (Mom, you were right, I WAS going to break something). We were able to get this quickly and they cut it for us while we waited. Then we looked for a part for the towel rack in the bathroom. I’m not sure we really broke it, because it didn’t look like it had been installed well, but we thought we should replace it anyway. After trying about twenty-five shops, however, I was about ready to give up. Resty had assured me this was a very common item, but Jemba Moses and I were really striking out. We even had the help of “agents” who guided us from store to store. Moses explained to me that these agents get paid a commission by store-owners when a customer buys something. We were assured, time and time again, “No, no! It’s no problem! I know the store where you can get these!” only to be disappointed. We finally found the piece, but as soon as the owner saw a “Mzungu” walk into the shop, visions of an early retirement danced in his head. He would only sell them as a set and at a high price. I used a little “tsst” sound that I had heard Moses use and started to walk out of the store (it’s the sound you make when you have something stuck in your teeth). The owner wanted to negotiate and came down in price, but there was no way I was going to pay for his kid’s college with my purchase of a simple towel rack, so I walked out. The agent soon came running after us and had another offer. “Nedah (no) I don’t want to buy both of them. What am I going to do with the extra one? Take it back to America with me? TSST! Nedah.” He walks back into the shop only to reappear moments later with another offer. Moses and I walked off with a wave and went looking for glue instead.

After this little journey, we picked up a few things for our trip home and then went to Lusaka to attend another choir practice. They didn’t really have choir practice, but all of the kids were there anyway and the boys were working on their drumming routines. I sat in for a little while and they laughed when I tried to play the drums. I could do the bass drum okay, but the smaller drums were exhausting and they have to hit them so hard to get the right sounds. They are really amazing. My hands still hurt today.

While some of the boys were drumming, the rest of the kids were writing letters to their sponsors and to us. As I’m typing this, Hillary is across the aisle of the airplane reading them. We have so many letters; I want to share them later in this journal. The kids went back and forth between being happy that we were there for one more day, and really sad that we would soon be leaving. I’m so attached to these children, I can’t imagine what Hillary must be feeling after being with them for four months. As I read them I can’t help but get tears in my eyes thinking about their smiling faces, despite their difficult lives.

After they were dismissed, we went to the “boys’ home” about a half mile away from the school. We wound along dirt roads in this poor part of Kampala and rolled up to their house with a van full of kids that either live at this home or, like Yvonne and Julius, were just not ready to say goodbye yet. It’s not a Boys Home like an American might imagine. It’s simply “the boys’ home” because it’s the place where all the boys live that Moses and Hopkins have rescued and taken in. They’ve taken in so many children that they had to buy another modest home. The girls live with Moses and Hopkins and twenty-one boys live in this small home. The boys range in age from eight to sixteen and seem to love it. The garage area has been converted to a kitchen, but not a kitchen like an American would have. It was basically two propane burners on the ground with large pots to make chicken, or rice, or posho, or cassava, or matoke...whatever is available. I have a feeling the cassava we got as gifts in Gulu ended up here to feed these growing young boys. “Uncle” is the one who cooks for them and runs the household. A man named Joseph, who is a friendly teacher at St. Mbuga Primary School, also lives here. Other than that, there are no parental figures on a permanent basis. Pastor Moses stays with them sometimes, but not regularly.

We took a tour of their place and I was amazed that you could fit twenty-one boys in this small building. Several three-story bunk beds filled one small room. There were two large tables that filled another room. It was explained by the proud boys that this was the room for homework and eating. Several boys set aside their homework while our tour walked through. I can’t really describe just how small this house is. It made me think about the times I’ve evaluated that our three-bedroom house was just a little too small for our four-person family. I’m starting to think we could probably house fifty boys in it. As crowded as it was and sparse as it was supplied, not one of the boys had one complaint. They seemed happy to be there and love living together. I wondered what their original living situation was, that brought them here. I know some of them live there because Pastor Moses or Hopkins simply said, “you will now live with us.” After negotiating with their often-uncaring guardians. I enjoyed this part of the afternoon. These boys are a treasure and I know many of them will grow up to become leaders in their community. According to Bruno and Eric, they “sometimes” live in the home. I think it’s more like “usually” but they sometimes live with their guardians.

Eric and Bruno took us outside to the area where they play. Eric said he like to play in this small temporary structure that looked like a small shed. The sides were lined with jagged metal sheets and nails stuck out everywhere...a lot like some of the forts I built with my friends as a kid. This one doubles as a place to store things, since there isn’t much of a place to store things inside the house. Bruno and the older Julius showed me were they have planted some beans to eat once they are ready. The boys were all very proud of their house. Many of the boys in the choir live here. It’s going to be strange to invite them to my mansion when they come to the U.S.

We said goodbye over and over again. I can’t get the image of Bruno sitting over by the fence with a seriously sad look on his face as he nodded goodbye to his friend...and sponsor...and mother...Hillary. In his letter to me, he informed me that he now has three names. He now shares my last name. No complaints here. Eric gave me one of his patented smiles and said, “Don’t be sad! We shall see you again so, so, so, soon!” I couldn’t hug all these boys enough.

We finally broke away and headed down to say goodbye to Yvonne’s mother. We were hesitant to go there again, since we had heard that our last visit had caused a problem for her family. But, Yvonne was insistent. “My mother has said that she really wishes you to come and say goodbye to her.” How could we refuse that? We walked up to their tiny dwelling and were greeted by her smiling mother. She hugged us and thanked us over and over for all we had done for her family. It really made me proud of Hillary for the way she had integrated herself into this family. I told her we were sorry that we had caused a problem for her with her neighbors. She said, “I don’t know what you mean! There is no problem! You can come here any time! Our neighbors haven’t said anything!” I felt relieved as she said this, though I’m not convinced she’s being completely candid. She loves her kids so much, I don’t think she really cares WHAT the neighbors do. It was really hard to say goodbye to Yvonne, but according to her, she’s getting much better at it now, since she’s had to do it with Hillary two times before. I’ll never forget this sweet girl. I pray that God will protect her in her environment, which is often unkind to girls.

After the goodbyes to all the kids, like Julius, Jane, and Annita, we headed back to the apartment to pack. As we drove off, I saw Julius sitting on the steps of the church. He was having a hard time keeping it together. Right now I prefer to think of him dancing and singing. I don’t want to think about leaving him behind. I also saw Jane, who had held my hand any time it was available throughout the afternoon, and her big sister, Annita, who thanked me in a letter for being nice to her little sister. Her intelligent eyes sparkled as she waved goodbye.

After packing we went out to dinner with Pastor Moses, Hopkins, and their team of leaders who weren’t out of town working. We had a wonderful time talking and laughing and reflecting on our trip. I thought it was funny that our last night was spent eating Chinese food. It was great though; a really great way to end our trip. Sam Straxy and Sam Lawrence kept us laughing with their funny stories, while Hopkins just cracked us up all evening. She is an amazing person who manages a lot of people and I hope I never stop hearing her voice in my head...
“Our hunger is increasing!” (as we waited for our food to arrive)
“I think that I might-a have to divorce this-a one!” (nodding at Moses).

After we ate, they spent a long time complimenting on our work there. Moses went on a long time about how Americans usually aren’t as nice and flexible as we were. He really went out of his way to compliment us. It was humbling. Hannington, Straxy, and others took their turns and then they wanted us to share. Mary, Courtney, Hillary, and Leslie all shared their thanks beautifully. There were so many things that I wanted to express to them, that I didn’t know where to start. This trip has been so many things to my family and I. I feel like we gained way more than we received. I did the best I could, but didn’t come close to expressing the depth of my gratitude.

Then it was Hopkins turn. She talked about our love for kids and complimented us with such intensity, that it looked like she would fight anyone who dared to disagree with her or ever said anything bad about us. The laud we received this evening was humbling from this group of people who have literally given their lives to serve others. They were so grateful that someone would come to care about what they do. They made me feel like the captain of a ship being greeted by a group of people who had been stranded on a deserted island. I think maybe our roles were actually reversed. I’ll never be the same.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 21

Tuesday Morning:

Well, it’s 6:30am and I didn’t sleep very well. Sure the dogs barked a lot, but there was something else. After a great morning with the girls, shopping at the open-air market by the taxi park, the afternoon delivering a package to Compassion International, and the evening relaxing and talking, I got ready for bed. As usual, I made sure all the camera batteries were charged up and ready for the next day. I wanted to put the video camera in its dock so it would be charged up too, but I couldn’t find it. I hadn’t used it since Sunday morning at church when Julius sang a solo. I looked in the normal places where it might be and found nothing. Panic swept over me as I thought of all the footage of the choir that we needed that hadn’t been backed up. Soon everyone was searching our whole apartment for it. It was gone. We tried to retrace our steps and we realized that it never made it home from church. We called Hopkins and Straxy to see if anyone had turned it in. Sam checked the bus that we rode in and couldn’t find it. They told me they would call all of the ushers and see what they could discover. We waited up for quite awhile, but finally decided to go to bed. We never got a call.

So, right now, we have no video camera. Hillary seems confident that it will show up at the church, but I don’t know. I’m really frustrated with myself for not being more careful with it. I’ve spent the whole trip packing around all of this equipment and trying to get great footage for the promotional materials and for our own memories. I know there is a lesson to be learned, but I can’t figure it out right now. Last night I laid on my bed and just let the tears come out. I felt like such and idiot to not take care of the camera. I’ve never been one to tightly hold onto my possessions and it has cost me several times in my life. My response is usually, “It’s just stuff. Things can be replaced.” But this time, those video clips cannot be replaced. I’m not sure where to file that in my brain. It’ll be hard to make those payments on a camera that doesn’t exist.

The thing that kept coming to mind, as I struggle to sleep, is the passage in the Bible that says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve been saying that to myself all night. As I’m typing that verse, I realize the hardest part for me is the “with thanksgiving” part. I really wanted a visual record of our memories, but I’m thankful, I still have my memories and a LOT of photos. We didn’t lose all of the footage. I’m thankful for every moment that we’ve spent in Africa, and I’m not about to let this ruin our trip. I’m thankful that God knows exactly where that camera is, even if I never find out. I’m sure all of this will eventually bring me peace. It always has.

Tuesday Afternoon:

Well, we had a bunch of leads today, but nothing concrete. We’re still hopeful, but definitely leaving it in God’s hands. Courtney and Leslie reminded me tonight that everything we have is God’s anyway, including the video footage that was lost. He knows what we need to properly promote Matsiko and doesn’t need all of my hard work to get the job done right. I just need to trust him to provide the results, it’s not up to me. This is a lesson I’ve relearned many times, but needed a refresher. I was lamenting a little about making payments on a camera that we don’t own and Courtney said, “It will just be a good reminder that even if you have something that is of really good quality, it can be taken away in a moment, so we shouldn’t hold on tightly to our possessions.” She’s a smart kid.

We were talking tonight about how great this trip has been for us as a family. Our relationship has changed to a more adult friendship. We’ve had the best time together and had very few moments of strain between us. I feel very thankful for that. This trip has really come at a good time for us. I’m so proud of my wife and kids and how hard they work, how much they care about others, and how wise they are. I have much to be thankful for. I think the peace I was talking about this morning is growing stronger.

Today we said goodbye to the kids in the choir, but not the REAL goodbye. We’ll be seeing many of them tomorrow too. It was still really hard though. I talked to Eric alone and told him Leslie and I are going to pick up the other half of his sponsorship. The choir kids have a choir sponsor and a school sponsor and Hillary thinks he only has one. I call “DIBS!” on Eric. He lit up when I told him and said, “I just LOVE the Sell family!” He’s such a great kid. Every time he saw me the rest of the day, he gave me another hug.

Video camera? What video camera?

As I'm typing this, the song "It is Well" is playing in the coffee shop.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Monday, August 20, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 20

Yesterday, at church, they had us go up to the front to say goodbye. It was really hit us that we don't have very much time left. Even though we're going to see the choir kids several times before we leave, they were sad and Jane was crying and wouldn't stop hugging me. It's going to be really hard to leave. With only three days left, I found a better internet option, but will probably only get online one more time after today. Oh well, at least I can pass it on to the next team that comes.

Today, we walked to an open air market and had a great time. It was really crowded and crazy with people yelling at me to bring my Mzungu money to them. It surrounds the taxi park where hundreds of Toyota vans are parked with hundreds of taxi drivers asking, "Mzungu, where are you going?" or "Where do you want to reach, Mzungu?" It was a really interesting atmoshphere and we were able to barter with people. I was able to buy a set of five pans for the child that my friends, the Scotts, sponsor. We spent the afternoon arranging a ride, getting a location, and finding the Compassion International office. Mission accomplished. It was great to get that delivered. We still haven't delivered another package for one of our fellow church members, but we are hopeful. It's just so hard to make arrangements in a town so overcrowded.

We are excited, yet apprehensive about our last few days in Uganda.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 18

After a great night of sleep, we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast. During breakfast Pastor Moses dropped by to tell us that we would be going to visit the centers later than we expected. The locals heard that he was in town and asked him to spend a half hour speaking on the radio. He wanted me to “help” him, but since I had just sat down to breakfast, he let me off the hook. Whew! If I ever come back to Uganda, I better have several sermons prepared, practiced, and ready to deliver on a moment’s notice. Here, if you can preach, by golly, you preach!

We had a little time to kill, so we walked down to the other hotel where the rest of our traveling companions had spent the night. They were just sitting down to breakfast, so we sat and chatted with them. One young man, Ben, invited me to sit with him, so I spent some time getting to know him as he ate his cow hoof for breakfast. That’s right...cow hoof! It looked like, well, a cooked cow’s hoof...a good-sized leg bone surrounded by, what looked like, a healthy amount of fat. He offered some to us, and Leslie was quick to say, “No thank you, we just had breakfast.” I, on the other hand, enjoy a well-marbled steak, so I thought, “why not?” and took a bite. Resty and Ben insisted that it wasn’t fat, but it sure had the texture of fat. I think that it’s just skin, but it actually tasted pretty good. Not something I’d go out of my way to order, but definitely edible. Ben thought it was funny that I had learned some Luganda, so he taught me a few more phrases, and kept grilling throughout the day. It was a very enjoyable second breakfast.

After Pastor Moses got back, we headed outside the city of Gulu to the new school that had just broken ground, thanks to Moses’ team. We met two of his sisters and his brother James. One of his sisters works for World Vision, so Moses had partnered with them for this project. World Vision had gathered all of the biographical information for the kids that needed to be sponsored, so all we had to do was take photos of two hundred kids so that ICN can try and get these kids sponsored in the United States.

The drive out to this remote area was on the worst road we have encountered thus far. It was barely a road and was swampy from all of the recent rain. It’s the rainy season in northern Uganda, so the roads were well watered. It felt like we were driving in a bog. Fortunately, our van has four-wheel drive and our driver, Moses, is amazing and very experienced. As we drove, I surveyed the beautiful landscape. It’s hard to imagine that just three or four years ago this area was being ransacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army, slaughtering innocent people as they moved through the area like hungry locusts. As I mentioned earlier, this group became famous through the movie “Invisible Children” for their practice of kidnapping children to increase the size of their army. I learned that the LRA has a beef with the Ugandan government, so they are just trying to cause trouble. They are currently stationed in the Congo, I believe, and are in peace talks with Uganda, but no one here trusts them to ever be peaceful. By the time the movie came out, the problem outlined in the movie no longer existed, but there were still a lot of problems that the LRA had left in its wake. I found out today that the “Invisible Children” campaign is finally starting to do some good in the Gulu district, focusing its resources on setting up educational centers for the children. There are 400,000 children in this district alone. We passed by several camps where temporary housing have been set up to house the thousands of displaced people. It was quite an awe-inspiring experience.

We finally reached the education center. Pastor Moses told us that not many white people make it out this far. The movie has generated a lot of attention for Gulu, but most white people just fly into Gulu city and don’t venture out into the district. It would be like someone wanting to write an article on farming in Nebraska, yet never venturing outside the Omaha city limits. It wouldn’t be a very thorough or accurate report.

The center boasted a brand new building with the foundation under construction for a teacher’s quarters. Unlike the established schools we’ve visited, the group of people waiting for us consisted of guardians and children alike. The guardians seemed so grateful that we had come there just for them. From the school you could see the tree and bush filled plains stretching out on all sides. It was just beautiful. We took all of the pictures and then the girls played with the kids, while I was engaged in a conversation with a group of older high school boys who had built the school building and were working on the rest. I found out later that some of them had been captured and brainwashed by the LRA. They had been counseled through this and were now helping where they could. They “worked me” for money for a while, as many of the older kids here do. Hillary told me not to pay so much attention to them, but I already knew what they were up to. They were basically nice guys though. As Ben said, “When your stomach is empty, you don’t always wait for the coconut to fall.” Next thing I know, Ben’s carrying a live chicken that some appreciative person in the community had given our group. Out of earshot of the locals, Mary said, “I’m not riding with that thing!” (I don’t think she knows it’s in the van as I write this.) As we left, another group waved down our van so they could load two huge sacks of cassava into it. We had to unload them out of the sacks so we could pack them in next to the chicken that was tied to the leg of the back seat.

As we drove to our next center to take photos, Moses expounded on the many problems facing Uganda and its people. There are so many, that I can’t really begin to mention, but he was quick to add, that it also has a lot of great things about it, and many things are improving. I can now say I’ve seen this first hand. Uganda is a living illustration of contrasts. As much as they are quick to aggressively, and not so subtly, angle for American dollars, they are quick to help their fellow man. Every day, I see strangers jumping to the aid of their fellow man as a truck gets stuck here, or giving a ride to a stranger. As probable as it is that a Ugandan man will leave his family to fend for itself, only to start a new problem with another woman, someone will volunteer to take in a homeless child and add them to their family unit. It’s at the same time disturbing and wonderful...annoying and endearing...pitiful and hopeful.

As I sat down to a relaxing dinner of rice, Irish potatoes, and goat stew, I looked across the table at my family and my new friends and thanked God for this experience. Every day that I’m here, my world becomes larger and more full.

The trip home was tedious, but uneventful, except for one thing...the baboons. We drove by a place where there are usually a lot of baboons on the roadway during the morning and early evening. Just as Pastor Moses was wondering aloud if the recent rain had sent them back into the shelter of the forest, a mother baboon jumped onto the highway, her little baby wrapped around it’s stomach, holding on for all it was worth. I scrambled to get my video camera rolling and Leslie snapped a bunch of photos as we threw bananas out of the van windows. Soon another baboon joined the party. We only stayed for about a minute because we didn’t want to hold up traffic, but it was fun to see real wild animals in their own natural environment. I would’ve liked to stay longer, but the locals that were traveling with us see them all the time on this road. Usually, when the weather’s better, there are a very large number of them along this stretch of highway. I was just grateful we got to see some animals besides cows, goats, and chickens on this trip.

Although the Ugandans that travel with us don’t seem to have a problem with it, I find it impossible to get any sleep while traveling here. The abrupt jolts of slamming into a surprise pothole...the sudden swerves to stay on the smooth part of the road...the speed bumps that seem to be randomly placed to keep traffic under control...the police checkpoints...the regular honks of the horn to warn pedestrians and boda-bodas to move over...and the quick application of brakes to ease through potholes that span the width of the highway...make it impossible for me to shut my eyes for more than a few minutes at a time. Pastor Moses slept peacefully behind me until we rolled into Kampala at about 11:30

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 17

Today we left for Gulu at 9:30 Uganda time...which is to say 11:45. We needed to get an early start since it’s a five-hour drive. (Yes, when I say “early” I’m being sarcastic.) The waiting around doesn’t really bother me at all. Since I’m usually the one who’s always late, I finding it refreshing to be waiting on others.

It took us a long time to get out of Kampala. Traffic, in many places is horrible in Kampala. There are just too many people for the roads that have been built. These areas make our rush hour traffic look like the highway drive in the middle of Wyoming. The thing that intrigues me is that there are very rarely any disputes on the roadways. When I tried to explain “road rage” to our driver, Moses, he just laughed. He couldn’t really understand it. The worst I’ve seen here is one time a driver gave Moses the “you’re not using you brain” hand signal. I just learned that one from Hopkins the other day. You start by placing your closed fist on your forehead and then you throw your fist forward while opening your hand. Its not an obscene gesture, but is quite effective. I also found out that when you point to the side of your head and make circles with your finger (like we do when we say someone is cuckoo) it means you’re intelligent, using your brain. If you say someone is “smart” it means they look attractive or are dressed well. These are just a few random facts to amuse and astound your friends.

Once we finally got out of Kampala, we headed north toward Gulu. It was a beautiful drive. I’m trying to think of other words besides “lush” and “green” to describe it, but none come to mind. All the buildings you see along the way are quite a contrast to the green. They are usually dirty and brown and look really run down, but they have a certain charm to them. Most of the really permanent buildings here are made of brick, which the people make themselves. Hannington showed us the process one day. They dig up the right kind of dirt, which is everywhere, then they mix in water and stomp this mixture into forms with their bare feet. Once the bricks have dried enough to safely take them out of the forms, usually one to two days, they are stacked in large rectangle stacks that look like walls, about five feet high, four feet wide and as long as you want. They are then covered with grass so the rain won’t ruin them, where they remain for several days. Next they are stacked like pyramids with the top cut off. These stacks are usually twelve to fifteen feet high with two tunnels at the very bottom of the stack that are large enough for a man to crawl into (though I wouldn’t advise it). The outside of the stack is packed with a thick layer of mud to keep the air inside and long thatch is laid across the very top. Finally, they put wood inside the tunnels and light a fire. They keep the fire burning hot until the heat reaches the top and the thatch starts to burn. This is the signal that it’s time to close off the tunnels with bricks and seal it with a layer of mud. They let it continue to cook and it sits there for about a week and the process is complete. There is a certain kind of mud that is grey and makes stronger bricks that are more expensive, but the red clay bricks are everywhere.

Many of the buildings have the bricks showing, but some cover the outside with a type of plaster. Many remain a tan or grey color but some are painted like huge company billboards. Resty told me that companies approach building owners and ask if they can paint their structure. Most accept it because it’s a way to have a nicely painted building without having to pay for it. Two phone companies, MTN and Celtel, seem to use this marketing technique the most. You can see their bright colors and company logos plastered on buildings even in some very remote villages. Everyone here uses cell phones that are the “pay as you go” type. You can buy cards to add minutes to your phone on almost any street corner in Kampala and usually several places in even the smallest villages, including the one we stopped at today.

About two and a half hours into our five-hour journey, Moses, the driver, said something in Luganda to Moses, the pastor. We pulled over in the small village of Lewega for what we thought was a short rest stop to stretch our legs. Actually, Moses had noticed that the brakes weren’t functioning well, so he pulled into a mechanic’s shop to have some adjustments made. Moses talked to a couple of friendly looking mechanics and explained the problem. They immediately took both of the back tires off and began to work. We were getting a little hungry, so we walked further up the highway where there appeared to be an open air market with grey smoke rising from it. We were hoping to purchase some grilled corn, Hillary’s favorite roadside snack. They didn’t have any; it was too early in the day, according to Resty, so I bought a couple of beef kabobs (not the Uganda term for them). I gave one of them to Moses because he looked like he needed to take his mind off of the trouble in front of him. Now there were five mechanics squatting down next to our car...more Luganda...more squatting...more looked like we were going to be a while. Soon dark clouds blew in, and with them, buckets of rain. All work stopped as the area around our van became a roaring stream of water. We were invited inside a small restaurant next door to be sheltered from the storm. Finally about a half hour later, the rain slowed down enough that Moses got up and walked toward the mechanics...serious Luganda aimed at the mechanics...laughter from the mechanic and a gesture toward the sky...quicker and sharper Luganda from Moses with a gesture toward the car...more Luganda from the mechanic to the other mechanics who were holed up in a car to stay dry...finally we were back in business. I purchased a fresh pineapple from a kid on a bike across the street and he cut it up for us right there. Our protector, Resty, gave the kid a long speech about not touching the pineapple with his dirty hands. He looked apologetic and held onto the stock throughout the whole process. Talk about SKILLS. He was quick!

While we waited for the mechanics to try and find a part for the one that was broken, Pastor Moses and I talked about Uganda. It was really the first opportunity I’ve had to spend any real time with him since we’ve been here. He shared with me some of the challenges of this country that he loves. Because of war and diseases, the number of men is much smaller than the number of women. As I said earlier, women are only valued if they can bare children, so there’s a real problem finding men for marriage. Consequently, many men marry multiple wives and rule over their personal “baby factories” with an iron fist. They choose to marry the more uneducated and very young, because they have more power over them. So, it’s hard to encourage bright young women to stay in school and become educated. It’s even harder to encourage them to not marry a man with several wives. They’re trying to change the polygamy laws here, but women are fighting against it. “Whom will we marry?” is their cry. He really loves Uganda and his family has a history of being difference makers. I have no doubt he will give his life to encourage positive change.

After three hours, our quick little adjustment was completed and we were again on the road toward Gulu. The road stretched out ahead of us in what looked like smooth sailing. Unfortunately, a closer look revealed thousands of deep potholes, as if meteorites had showered the highway. Actually, the word “pothole” doesn’t do them justice. “Crater” is probably a better description. Moses deftly avoided most of them by zig zagging back and forth across both lanes of the highway. After more than an hour of this, we hit a nice stretch of two-lane highway that was straight and true, about 150 kilometers from Gulu. Everywhere we looked there was thick green trees and tall grass on the flattest area of land we’ve seen thus far. As darkness started to fall, I was captivated by the splendor of this land. The darker it became, the less chance we had of seeing some wild African animals along the way. Instead we were treated to one of the most brilliant electrical storms I’ve ever seen. We don’t get much lightning in Oregon, but as a young boy in Nebraska, I used to love watching it light up the sky. As we neared Gulu, it was so dark outside that we couldn’t even see the terrain. But, as the intense flashes filled the sky to our right, to our left, and in front of us, we discovered that we were on a plain. Outside I could hear millions of crickets and then a chorus of insects that I’ve never heard before. It sounded like a countless amount of tiny coconuts clapping together or small wooden bells. I couldn’t really tell what they were, but there were certainly a lot of them. The closer we got to Gulu the less the other drivers and pedestrians obeyed the unspoken laws of the road. Pastor Moses had warned us about that. I’ve become so accustomed to the hypersensitivity of those in the south. There, it seems like everyone knows what everyone else is thinking. Here, it seems like they couldn’t care less. As we passed through a village at 100 k/h, oblivious pedestrians seemed to wander aimlessly along the roadside, and a white pickup truck darted into our lane. Moses skillfully avoided both pickup and pedestrians while giving one solid honk of the horn. This has rarely been heard since we’ve been here. Usually, the horn is tooted quickly to say, “I’m about to pass you and you don’t appear to have a clue, so please move over.” That happens hundreds of times on each trip. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful thanks to the expertise of our driver. One of these days, I’m going to figure out the secret code of the turn signals and flashes of the headlights that alert oncoming drivers some covert message. We arrived in the city of Gulu at 9:00, got checked into our room, and had a nice meal together. I enjoyed a nice, warm shower and fell asleep on a very comfortable bed, wondering what tomorrow would hold for our team.

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 16

Today I fell in love. My marriage to Leslie is as strong as ever, but I have another love...Matsiko, the children’s choir. We spent the day with them on the outskirts of Kampala and at the Botanical Gardens along Lake Victoria. It was another work-day for me. We had to get video footage and photos of them in their performance costumes for the promotional materials. Work has never been so fun.

Moses pulled up to our apartment in a small bus. It had more seats than the van, but it wasn’t as big as a school bus. As he pulled up, he ran out of gas, so we had to coast down the street to the gas station. (It reminded me of my first date with Leslie, where we coasted off of the highway and had just enough momentum to get to the gas pump.) Anyway, we got gassed up and were on our way, one hour late on American time, right on time in Uganda.

We drove to Lusaka to pick up the kids. When we got there, Straxy was pulling the costumes out of grocery bags. Apparently, last night, when he went to pick them up from the dry cleaner, they hadn’t done them as they had promised, so he just took them as they were. Resty pulled out an iron and started pressing them, so they’d look good for the camera. The kids got dressed and into the bus and we headed for the hills of Kampala, two and a half hours late Uganda time. I told myself the morning sun I so coveted wasn’t really that important.

We spent the next hour or two taking photos and videos in some remote hills. The kids were great, but were starting to lack focus and energy. I didn’t see the same fire I normally see, so I suggested we get some food in these kids. We made stops at several stores along the road and cleaned them out of chapattis, splash juice boxes, mandazi (which are supposedly donuts, but taste more like bagels), bananas, and water. Their enthusiasm in the bus picked up as soon as they had some water and madazi. We then drove to the Botanical Gardens for lunch and afternoon filming and play.

Many of the kids had never been to the Botanical Gardens, nor had they seen Lake Victoria, which is only a small distance from Kampala...maybe a half hour drive. As soon as they saw the water, the volume level went up as twenty-six children excitedly chattered about what they were seeing.

We entered the gates the gatekeeper to not overcharge us for entry (they charge extra for cameras and even more for video cameras). While the kids went to use the restroom, our driver, Moses asked, “Did you see that monkey? There!” As I looked up a black and white monkey ran away from us and over a small hill. I ran to get my camera, but he was gone. Leslie and I headed with Moses toward the place where we had last seen this fairly large primate. Then Moses pointed up into a large tree and said, “There!” We looked up and couldn’t see anything at first, but sure enough, there were four monkeys up in that tree. We walked right up to the tree and took some photos and video as they looked down at us. We tried to coax them down later with a banana, but they wouldn’t. So, at least I have one picture of an animal we don’t see in the US.

After lunch we spent the next couple of hours moving around this beautiful park. The choir behaved and performed wonderfully. Sam has really trained them well. This talented, twenty three year old man has really dedicated his life to these children. He’s really tough on them, but loves them intensely. He dreams of running his own music studio, and I have no doubts that he will accomplish it.

After I had gotten all of the photos and videos I needed, I told the kids to grab a friend or two and find a location and I’d shoot their picture. They excitedly grabbed each other and headed for a spot to get their picture taken. I had no idea how excited they would be about this. They moved from spot to spot forming new combinations and poses as they went. We slowly move across the park, as they worked in front of me and yelled, “over here!” as soon as I snapped a shot. The resulting photos were the best shots of the day. They were having such a fun time, that I quickly filled up the card on my camera and had to download them onto my laptop so I could shoot some more. The thing that amazed me was how much the groups intermingled with each other. No one seemed to care WHO they got a picture with. They were hugging and posing and laughing, until we started losing the light and it was time to go home. We got some photos with the kids we sponsor, but soon several others joined us. They’re ALL our kids.

Our kids

At one point, as Leslie was taking a photo of me with Julius, he wrapped his arms around me and whispered, “You’re my dad.” Hours later, I still can’t think about it without tearing up. I get the feeling he likes how it feels to be able to say that to someone. I hope I make a good dad.

Julius, me, and Jane

On the ride home, I loaded all of the rest of the photos on the laptop and started going through them to see how we did. The kids started standing up on the bus and commenting about each picture. It was a lot of fun for both them and me. Rarely does an amateur photographer get such instant and positive feedback. It was really fun.

We dropped them off at church. They prayed together and then Sam warned them that it was getting late and that they needed to go straight home. He emphasized this several times and finally said, “You know I have the authority over you, and I will spank you if I hear you stopped somewhere on the way home! Understand?” “Yes!” “Are you sure?” “Yes!” “If I hear that you didn’t go straight home, you might as well start preparing your backsides for a good spankin’! Understand?” “Yes” “Okay, give these people hugs and go home now.”

We got the best hugs...and I have no doubt they went straight home.

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 15

I don’t have much time to write today. I’ve got to get things prepared for filming the choir tomorrow and get some much-needed sleep.

Today, we went back into the bush to Kamasenene. Hopkins wasn’t very happy with the reception we got there, but I absolutely loved it. She said it didn’t even look like the teaching staff knew we were coming. She really likes, and expects, a well-organized presentation when we get to the schools. You can tell these schools are her pride and joy and she runs a very tight ship.

One of her frustrations was that not very many kids were at the school. It was kind of a holiday, I think. I think once the official exams are over, they have holiday, or vacation. I haven’t really figured it out yet, because they still have school in some situations. She said something like, “The kids at Lusaka will be on holiday next week, but they’ll still come to school...just a half day.” I don’t think I’d be a happy camper if they made us go half days during spring break or summer vacation!

Anyway, Kamasenene was beautiful. The school was located in a thriving, green valley. The scenery was breathtaking. I think I could’ve stayed here for our whole trip. Next to the school, there was a tree filled with spherical nests. One of the teachers who came with us from Lusaka school told me they were Weaver Birds. There were maybe sixty of these bright yellow birds nesting in this one tree and they sang beautifully and constantly. It was really a relaxing setting. The fact that there were a smaller number of children was nice too. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming when there are so many kids vying for our attention. We were able to take a lot of pictures without gathering a crowd too, which was nice. I’d love to take a SLOW journey through the countryside of Uganda and take pictures. I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity as long as Moses is driving. He’ll stop anytime I ask him to, but we’re usually trying to get somewhere. I’d feel weird stopping the van full of passengers to take a photo of a cool rock!

Almost everyone fell asleep on the way home, but Hopkins kept answering my millions of questions. I learned a lot about her past, growing up without the love of parents. Fortunately, she had a loving grandma that she lived with until seventh grade. In high school, she moved in with her aunt in Kampala to go to high school. She had some questions for me too. She wondered about the United States, how we live, how we get educated, and why I keep saying “bless you” when she sneezes. I explained that it’s just become a habit for us in the States. I happened to recall that the origin had to do with the superstition that evil spirits would enter whenever you sneeze (or was that when you yawn?) so you need a blessing. She thought that was pretty funny.

I got to try my first sugarcane on the way home in the van. I think I’ve found my new favorite vegetable. It was another great day and our group is very tired. Everyone just came home and I’ll do the same.

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 14

This morning I checked out a less expensive alternative for the internet. I must’ve gotten there too early, the squirrels that provide the speed by running on their treadmill hadn’t been fed yet. Translation: It was inexpensive, but VERY slow. I had to bite the bullet, but by the time I got to my usual spot, I was running late, so I didn’t get all the photos uploaded.

For lunch, Hillary and Resty made this really nice meal, which included a tasty cabbage dish. I’m not a big fan of cabbage, but this was really good. We also had matoke, which is a staple here along with rice. Matokes look like green bananas, but are yellow when cooked, and taste like tangy mashed potatoes. Supposedly it’s a great source for hydration when you don’t have water available. Mary loves it, while I’m a little undecided, and Courtney eats it only to be polite.

After lunch, Hillary and I went to Lusaka to the St. Mbuga school to interview some of the Matsiko kids. We had Resty interpret so the kids could be comfortable telling their stories without having to concentrate on the correct English words. I keep teasing Resty, “why do we need an interpreter if English is the official language?” I tease her about this every chance I get. Many of the TV shows are in Luganda, all of the locals speak Luganda when they really want to explain something, many adults don’t speak much English at all, yet they insist it’s the official language. I’ve heard there are about fifty-two other languages spoken here, so they needed a common language to minimize misunderstanding. Uganda has British roots, so English was chosen.

Anyway, the interviews went pretty well. Sam Straxy gave us a list of kids that would be good to interview: Sulaina, Agnes, Yvonne, and David. Yvonne was home from school with some sort of rash, so we interviewed the other three. We had several things working against us for these interviews. THEIR CULTURE: people here are reluctant to share their true feelings. A Ugandan man will never tell you he’s tired even if he’s been awake for three days. THEIR PAINFUL PAST: these kids don’t want to relive their past, and for good reason. So many of them have lost a large number of relatives close to them. They protect themselves from getting hurt again. THEIR LANGUAGE: they don’t speak English very well yet, but are learning it in school, so it’s difficult for them to get very descriptive. THEIR AGE: I sometimes forget, these are just elementary school children. How many of our kids would be comfortable sharing deeply and descriptively with someone they barely know from another country? With these first three children, we also had the challenge of shyness. All three of them are very quiet, so even when they were speaking Luganda, they didn’t say much. In addition to this, I haven’t really found a place yet, in the city, where there aren’t a bunch of noises. During these interviews, we battled the sounds of chickens, children playing, a bottled soda delivery man, people walking by and saying things to us, loud birds, and of course, the ever present bane of my existence...barking dogs. The kids did a great job, but I’m not sure how much we can use from this first group. Sulaina told of her mother dying and the trials of living with a mean stepmother. She sounded like Cinderella as she described her life. Even though there are other children in the home, she was forced to do ALL of the housework and wouldn’t let her do her homework or go to choir practice until it was all done. She didn’t go into detail, but there were regular beatings as well. Sam Straxy and some of the other leaders went and talked to the step mom and convinced her to be kinder, so things are a lot better now. I really wish we could learn the whole story, but I think a lot of it will stay inside her.

We decided we needed to interview someone we knew better to try and get a little deeper into his or her stories, so we pulled Julius out of class. I love this kid. He has the most expressive face...his eyes say so much. He started out a little shy at first, but he opened up and ended up sharing a very painful time in his life. As the tears started rolling down his perfect little face, he recounted the story of losing his parents. It was all I could do to keep the camera rolling and not just pick him up and hold him forever. I was so proud of him. That was really hard for an eleven-year-old Ugandan to do. He lives in different places, but a lot of the time with Dr. Pauline. They announced one day at church that he needed a place to live and she stood up and volunteered to be his new mom. And that was that. That’s how it’s done here. If they had to go through a big court case for every displaced child, the courts would be gridlocked. As hard as his story is, it’s one that is told over and over here. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has several siblings or parents that have died. Early death is so common here. I think that’s why these kids are so attached to their sponsors. It’s truly a lifeline. If I have anything to do with it, Julius will have his way paid through will Yvonne...and Bruno...and...I have a lot of work to do.

At the end of each interview, we had each of them sing their favorite song. The beautiful melodies, sung to a backdrop of chickens, traffic and birds, will be something I treasure for a long time. After the interview we gave them each a soda. Fanta seems to be the most popular choice in Uganda. Do we even still sell that in the States?

When we were done, Hillary decided to check on Yvonne. We have to be careful where we meet her now. Apparently after our last visit where we met her mom, their neighbors have been giving them a bad time. I may have already written about this, but when Mzungus visit locals, the neighbors make the assumption that we dump loads of money on them, so they refuse to trade or loan anything, or help them out in any way. “You had five Mzungus at your house yesterday. You’re in a different class from us, you don’t need our help anymore!” is what they said to Yvonne’s mom. This makes it very difficult for the family, because community is so vital to their survival. We were really upset that we might have caused a problem, so hopefully it will blow over.

We sent Resty over to her house to see how she was doing and tell her we’d like to take her to Dr. Pauline’s clinic to see what was wrong. She was very happy to see us, as usual, and gleefully hopped into our van. On the way there, we grabbed some beef kabobs from a street vendor. It was a little tough, but tasted really good. I offered some to Yvonne and she quickly said, “Yes!” and took some.

Dr. Pauline greeted us with a huge smile and gave me a hug. She had brought her clinic guestbook to the place where we live and hadn’t yet thanked me for what I wrote. She is one of the sweetest ladies I’ve every met. With her ever-present grin, she said she wanted me to teach her how to play guitar (pronounced jee-tah in Uganda). It would probably take about five minutes to teach her all I know. She happily welcomed Yvonne into her clinic and the little soon came out with a bundle of pills, medicine, and a special soap. All for about $10 US dollars. The woman is a saint...I mean that in every way possible.

On the way home we grabbed some roasted corn from another street vendor. We asked if Yvonne was hungry. She said, “I already had supper.” “What did you have?” Hillary asked. “We take tea.” was her reply. After a little prodding, we discovered that she drinks tea for breakfast, goes to school where she has a cup of porridge (a watery, milky drink) at about 10am followed by posho and beans for lunch, then it’s tea again for dinner. So the only real food she gets is what the school gives her. I know I may be sounding a little preachy with all this sponsorship endorsement, but it’s hard not to when you see how these happy little kids live.

I told her I wasn’t very hungry and asked if her mom would like the rest of my corn. “Yes!” a huge smile brightened her face.

As we drove away, I slunk down into my seat trying to avoid detection from the neighbors, and I thought about all of the food we’ve thrown away in the past year. I hope they didn’t notice the three ears of corn tucked close to her side.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

courtney's uganda journal - Aug 12

It’s so crazy as I think back over this whirlwind of a summer I’ve been having! Thinking back, a lot of my summers have been pretty much the same…and they all seem to blend together in my memory. Hanging out in the sun, relaxing with my family, reading, sleeping in, swimming, going to the beach…and of course celebrating my birthday—which was always a highlight when I was little:) This summer has been totally different from anything I’ve ever experienced…and I’m loving every minute of it! Working at Starbucks for a month, going to India—a dream come true, resting for 3 weeks (surprising Ryan in Washington for his birthday), traveling to Uganda with my family…and getting to celebrate my 21st birthday in this beautiful African country! This has definitely been a birthday—and an entire summer—I will never forget!!

Last Sunday when all our sponsored kids came over to hang out with us we celebrated my birthday with cake and ice cream:) It was so funny…in the van when we were driving to our apartment, mom mentioned that we would be having dessert to celebrate my birthday and Deborah got so excited, “It’s your birthday?!?” and so her and Mable (I was sitting between them) started clapping and singing happy birthday as the van full of kids joined in singing to me. It was so much fun…and, of course, it sounded beautiful because all the kids are in the choir, so they have amazing voices:)

My actual birthday was yesterday, and we went to watch the choir practice which was so much fun! I just love hearing them sing (and watching them dance)!! I could sit and watch them for hours:)

Today Dad, Mary and I led worship at church today!! We sang about six songs just the three of us, and then dad sang one song with Shakina (the worship team). I wasn’t too nervous singing like I thought I would be, and it was fun because the congregation got into it more than we were expecting. When we sang “In the Light” a lot of the high schoolers recognized it and sang along with us which was a lot of fun:) After we were done, Mary and I went up to the balcony for the rest of church where a bunch of the high schoolers sit. While the worship team continued singing all the kids around us were singing and dancing like crazy…it’s so much fun to watch:) One little boy was dancing the entire time (Hill thought he looked like a little Michael Jackson…doing all these crazy moves). During the sermon we sat with him and his little sister (they were so adorable!!) I found out later that they are Deborah’s younger brother and sister…they look so much like her:)

I have been having such an amazing time in Uganda. I’ve totally fallen in love with all the kids…they make me smile so much!! They are all SO sweet, I’m really going to miss them when it’s time to leave…but I’m trying not to think about that!

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 13

Well, I officially hate Ugandan dogs. They barked and fought throughout night. At one point, I went out to see what they’re doing when they go crazy. It’s so dark here at night that I couldn’t really see much, but it looked like the neighborhood kids were intentionally getting them riled up. If only I had my Uncle Robert’s pellet gun…for the dogs, not the kids.

5:15am came too soon, but a quick, cold spit bath did the trick to wake me up. We were supposed to leave at 6am, but the van couldn’t get into the fenced compound where we live. The girls and I decided to go down and try to go out to the van instead, but we were locked in. There are two guys who live here and their main job is to open the gate whenever anyone honks their horn to enter or leave. The older one is really nice, but moves pretty slowly at times. The younger one, who I’ll call Grumpy isn’t very motivated. It’s especially noticeable at 2 or 3 in the morning when someone is trying to get in after a night on the town. They can sit and honk for twenty minutes or more before grumpy decides to open it up.

Anyway, this morning, as we walked down to the gate I heard someone unlocking a door in the living quarters, so I assumed he would be out soon. After several minutes of hearing someone working on the lock, I decided to investigate. The older gentleman was trying to get out of his room, but couldn’t. I turned the knob and PRESTO! He was free. Unfortunately, he doesn’t keep the key, Grumpy does. So we had to wake him up and soon we were on our way. Onto the good stuff…

The drive to Kitongo was beautiful (It’s pronounced Chit-ongo. The KI makes a “ch” sound). There was a soft fog over the hills and valleys as we drove, again at breakneck speed. I think that’s Moses’ only speed. Today I told him he drives like my mom. I’m not sure he knew what that meant, but he smiled. To get to Kitongo, we passed Kasanda, where we would be visiting later in the day. We drove along some of the narrowest roads I’ve ever been on, especially at the speed we were traveling. The road was so narrow that whenever we would pass people walking or riding their bikes, they would dive into the thick brush on the side of the road. At one point we were going up a slight hill, and a slight curve, and we passed a guy carrying large gerry cans of water along the road. Nothing unusual there. He stopped and stared at the white people. Again, nothing unusual. Suddenly, to boys came roaring around the curve, oblivious to our presence. As soon as they saw us, both sets of eyes instantly tripled in size and they went careening off of the road and into the guy standing with his bike and water bottles. All of them tumbled to the ground in a mixture of bottles, tires and feet. It looked like everyone was okay, so we sighed a sigh of relief and then Moses and I had a little chuckle. He and I both have a little bit of an evil sense of humor. He doesn’t speak much English, but he and I are having a nice bond in the front of the van. It’s become my official seat, which I hope is okay with everyone else. Hopkins says she can relax more when I’m in the front seat because the police don’t stop cars with Mzungus in them. Interesting.

When we arrived, the kids started screaming and running to their welcoming spots. This has happened at several of the schools, but today was especially cute. They crowded our van and as soon as we stepped out, they started grabbing at our hands and were saying things like, “We well-uh-come you our vistahs” and “We are happy to well-uh-come you.” I most definitely felt welcomed.

They went through their awesome little routines and songs. Hopkins did her normal introductions, but his time she said something like, “this is Curt, soon you’ll be calling him Uncle Curt.” I like that. So, then we had to get down to the business of sponsorships and letter writing. It was a little confusing and Hillary definitely gets pushed to her limit. But we worked through that and got it done. Then we were offered tea and African pancakes. The pancakes were about three inches in diameter and tasted like a deep fried banana bread. Their made with bananas and cassava flower. The tea was made from things they grow right at the school…tea leaves, some spice that tasted a little like cloves and something else. That was the best snack I’ve had in Uganda. It was delicious.

After our snack we started mingling with the kids. As I was mingling and taking pictures, I saw a girl cleaning some kind of large fruit at the water pump. I was trying to make conversation so I asked her, “What is that? I’ve never seen one of those before.” She giggled a little and told me it was a “papa” which is the Ugandan way of saying papaya. Later I found out she was washing it off to give to us as a welcoming gift. She gave it to me a little later and I thought she was just being nice and said, “no, you don’t have to give me your papa” but she insisted. That was the plan all along. Soon other kids were bringing me things. Passion fruit, freshly picked coffee beans, and eggs. These were sacrificial gifts from very poor children. It was hard to accept, but they feel so grateful when they get to meet people who sponsor children. They have such a hard time figuring out why someone who lives on the other side of the world would love children enough to help them. They don’t really care why though. But they definitely feel grateful.

We played and walked around with the kids. They followed us wherever any of us would go. If we took their picture, they wanted to see it on the screen. Soon, everyone’s crowding around, straining to see. It becomes a bit of a madhouse, so I have to put the camera away. Courtney sat and talked with a large group of girls, as usual. I didn’t see Hillary much. Leslie had quite a following as she played with them, handed out stickers (which are like gold here! “Me madam! ME! Please Madam!”) and pulled out some super balls. She handed them to me and I threw them as high and far as I could and watched the kids scramble for them. We played this until the six balls were gone. Some were not about to give them up once they had them in their possession. Mary found that the kids like to copy, so she was leading them around the school doing different crazy things that the little girls would copy. It was really funny.

At one point, near the end of our time there, I snuck off down the road with my camera. Suddenly, I heard a timid voice saying, “Uncle Curt.” I thought maybe I was hearing things at first but then, I distinctly heard a little boy say, “Uncle Curt” and he came walking out of the bushes. He had been at the home of a neighbor to the school. He had a little piece of fruit in his hand and told me in broken English that the neighbor sells sugar cane and fruit to the children. He had a really genuinely sweet disposition and I enjoyed just sitting by a tree talking to him without a crowd around us. I asked if I could take his picture and he was happy to comply. Soon, another crowd had gathered. It was harder at this school to move around without gathering a crowd. It was a really nice moment for me though. One I’ll cherish. The picture is another one I will frame when I get home.

My time standing under the shade of this cool tree was interrupted by a summons from “Madam Hope” (Hopkins). It was time to go. The little boy said, “Don’t leave yet, I’m going home to get you some eggs!” I told him, “You don’t have to do that, the picture I have of you is the perfect gift.” But again, he insisted and took of sprinting down the dirt road.

I slowly sauntered with my entourage to the van, stalling for time. I knew we had to get going because we had another school to visit, but nothing was going to prevent me from waiting for this giving little boy. After about fifteen minutes of stalling, I finally said, “We’re not leaving until the little boy comes back with the eggs!” Just then I see him flying up the road in his Rockport t-shirt (a gift from his sponsor) carefully holding onto the pocket of his blue shorts. He’s got a huge smile on his face and as he huffs and puffs he pulls three fresh eggs from his pocket. This may be the best gift I’ve ever received in my life. Just thinking about the gifts from these children brings instant tears to my eyes.

We drove back to Kasanda and spent some time there as well. The kids put on an amazing program in this comparatively modern school. These kids were very sweet and took Leslie an I on a tour of the grounds. I was latched onto by a boy named Kayemba Sabiiti, in second grade (P2), who wanted to show me his classroom. Kayemba had a great smile and I noticed his eyes were kind of cloudy, but sparkled just the same. We finally worked our way there, but at the time, Leslie had started blowing bubbles for the kids, so a huge crowd was gathering around her. I asked if he’d rather show it to me later, he said “no” so we continued to his room, hand in hand, where he and a friend got a special pleasure out of explaining all of the posters and other artwork hanging in the room. It was another wonderful, quiet moment with a couple of great kids. As the time drew near for us to leave, I almost lost it when this little guy said, “I love you so much!” and gave me the biggest hug. Just taking the time to listen to him elicited such a powerful response. I believe with my whole heart that he meant it too. I told him, “I love you too!” because I do. I made sure Hillary took a picture of the three of us. I’m going to frame it when I get home. I think I may need to build a new wall.

What a great day, I’m exhausted. Tomorrow is an internet day and then I’m going to tape some interviews with some of the kids in the choir for the promo video. I hope I can get their real story out of them. Tonight I’m going to try counting dogs jumping over a fence…into the awaiting arms of a dog catcher!
Oh the other day I made up a joke after walking around in downtown Kampala…

Q: Why did the Ugandan chicken cross the road?
A: No one knows. It never made it!

I’ll keep my day job.

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 12

Yesterday and today have been kind of a whirlwind. I’m starting to realize that we’re more than halfway through the trip and the kids in the choir, especially those we sponsor, are starting to really latch onto us. I’m beginning to understand why Hillary didn’t want to leave Uganda her first two trips. These kids are so special and are so quick to give you their love.

This morning, many of them stayed in the “big people” church service instead of going with the kids as usual. They wanted to hear us lead worship and my preaching. It was so great to look up into the balcony where they were sitting and see the huge smiles on their faces. I really wanted to have an African drum beat on one of the songs, so I asked Bruno at the last minute if he would play with us. He smiled and said “yes.” He played beautifully. So many of these kids are so talented. He’s got a great feel for drumming. You’ll get a real kick out of him when the choir comes to the states. Mary, Courtney, and I led the congregation in six songs then I got to fulfill one of my dreams. I’ve always wanted to sing with an African choir behind me. It was awesome. The congregation really got into it too. They were all dancing, the way only Africans can dance, and singing at the top of their lungs. It went on for quite awhile, but I think I could’ve done it all day!

After the choir sang some more songs and then some more choruses, it was time for me to get up and preach. Before that I snuck out because I had to use the restroom, I had consumed so much liquid to try and get my voice to work. I know this is a weird topic of discussion, but this is a journal, so excuse my stream of consciousness. The usher pointed me outside and showed me where the restroom was. I really didn’t think any men’s restroom setup could confound me…I mean how complicated can it be? But, this one really stumped me. When I got there, it was a series of walls set up like kind of a maze. The walls were only about four feet high and there was no ceiling. I could see there was already someone in there, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to join him, or if the maze was several different “stalls” or what. I decided to wait and when I went inside, it was basically three walls with a drain on the floor. I think several people use it at the same time. This wasn’t gross or anything, just something I had never experienced before. I never found out what the other divisions were for. I’ll investigate when it’s not so busy.

Anyway, preaching was also a new experience. Oh, I’ve preached many times over the years and, at times I’ve spoken in front of youth groups two to three times per week. But I’ve never needed an interpreter before. Well I might have NEEDED one, but I’ve never used one. It was very strange to speak in phrases, waiting for the interpreter to repeat it in Luganda before continuing. Fortunately, Pastor Dithan was my interpreter. He has a great sense of humor and always makes the congregation laugh, so he was able to adapt my funny stories into Luganda. They laughed at all the right places and said, “Ah-mee-nuh” (or Amen) when they really liked something I had to say. I’ve been worrying about this since the first day we got to Uganda when Pastor Moses said, “On the twell-eth (twelfth) it will be YOUR Sunday.” (I love how they add syllables to words. It makes it more poetic.) Running our own worship service has kind of been hanging over my head, but, as usual, my worry was unwarranted. After I was done, I sat down next to Pastor Moses and he complemented me and said, “Next time you come to Uganda, you’ll be preaching every Sunday you’re here!”

When I went up into the balcony after the service, I was greeted by a bunch of the kids. Eric said, “Your preaching was very good. I enjoyed it very much.” I said, “Was it understandable enough?” “Oh yes! It was very valuable and informative.” was his reply. I officially want to take him home with me, and I’m not kidding. I know I’ve talked a lot about him before, but I’m really in awe of him. He’s been through a lot of pain and suffering in his short life and he’s like a 30 year old in a twelve-year-old body. Today, after the choir led their own choir practice (that’s right, they led it THEMSELVES), they had a time of prayer like they always do. They all start praying out loud and it’s amazing to watch. No one is paying attention to what other people are doing. Some get down on their knees, some stand in reverence, and today both Eric and Jane were walking around inside the circle. I have never even seen adults pray with such sincerity. I’m completely humbled by these kids. Jane had this angelic look on her face and was praying with such passion. Eric paced back and forth across the room and was in deep conversation with God. He was imploring, and pleading, and worshipping all at once. At times he had his hands folded behind his back with a serious look on his face, at other times he made motions with his hands, palms up, as if he was pleading a court case with a huge smile on his face. It was one of the most amazing displays of devotion I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I’ll stop now, because there’s no way my words can do it justice.

After this was over, they went around and hugged each other and then each of them took turns hugging us too. I love these kids. I just can’t believe they did all of this with no adults in the room. Then they all headed home, with no parents to pick them up. Most walk, some hang around for awhile, some, including our little man Julius, take a boda-boda. I don’t want to even think about leaving them yet. It’s too sad for me to think about. I’m just glad they’re coming to the US this year for the choir tour so I can see them again soon. I’m not sure how we’ll manage it, but I’m going to make sure we do whatever it takes to get the kids we sponsor through college.

Tomorrow we go to Kitongo and Kasanda (I think that’s how they’re spelled) to collect more sponsorship information. It’ll be a great time, but I’m sure we’ll be exhausted when we get back. Tuesday, we have a day off, so I’ll probably videotape the choir in their school setting for the choir promo videos. Wednesday, we go to another school in the bush. Thursday, we take the choir to a remote location to take promo photos and video for their trip to the States. Friday, we go to Gulu, a five-hour trek to northern Uganda. We’ll be in the area two days and we’re going to try and stop by a wildlife area on the way to try and see some cool animals. My cousin Brenda will never let me live it down if we don’t see some animals that you don’t see in the United States. The place we’ll be going is the setting for the movie “Gorillas in the Mist,” the story of Diane Fosse, who lived with the gorillas of northern Uganda. Gulu is the area that received a lot of attention from the “Invisible Children” documentary. It told the story of how many families were driven from their homes by rebel forces and the children were forced to become soldiers. The rebels have since been driven from the country, but the displaced families remain in refugee camps. This is where we’ll visit.

As a side note, the country is not very happy with the “Invisible Children” campaign by most accounts. Uganda, whom Churchill called “the Pearl of Africa,” relies on tourism for a lot of its economy, and “Invisible Children” scared away a lot of tourists even though the problem with rebels no longer exists. So the financial hit the country has taken from a lack of tourism far outweighs the money brought in my “Invisible Children.” It’s a case of someone trying to do the right thing but not really weighing the impact before jumping in. Just throwing money at the problem is not always the answer. Anyway, that’s my political editorial for today.

I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to post this, it’s going to be a busy week. I know in the Old Testament, God shut the mouths of the lions so that Daniel wouldn’t be eaten. I’m hoping that he chooses to shut the mouths of the dogs outside our apartment!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 10

This morning I got up early to head to the place where Hannington digs. I ignorantly thought of American farming, so I jumped in my flip flops and shorts and headed out the door with the farmer/preacher/assistant superintendent. The drive was about 40 kilometers outside of Kampala. I’m still not really sure of the kilometer to miles ratio, but it took us about an hour and a half to get there. On the way we had some fried and salted cassava, which tasted a little like French fries. We also had a bottle of coke, luke warm and served in the bottle with a straw. It was a fantastic breakfast. As we drove, I asked a million questions which he was more than happy to answer. We discussed the differences between our countries, including government roles, school systems, highways, and how the poor are cared for. Hannington is a talker and every question I asked was met with a dissertation on the subject at hand. He’s also listened intently to my explanations of American life. He has some very strong stereotypes of Americans that I needed to dispel, but he seemed to enjoy our discussion.

As we got closer and closer to his house, I started to get the feeling I was not dressed properly. This was deep into the bush and was the closest thing to a jungle that I’ve been in. My flip flops and shorts were not going to cut it. All around the countryside was lush green, and very tropical looking. Vibrant colored flowers were everywhere. We pulled up to a small, nicely manicured hut and Hannington announced, “We’re here.” We were instantly met by his grandma. Well, not his grandma, but the sister of his cousins aunt, or the mother of his aunt’s cousin…somehow they were related and she was older that him so he called her his grandma. That’s very common in Uganda as I’ve said before. Whoever you live with becomes your relative. I kind of like that tradition. Before we had arrived, he told me that his grandma was watching the place because his wife was staying with her mother due to complications in the birth of their eighth child. She couldn’t work the land, but was keeping people from stealing their crops while his wife was away and he was on the road checking up on the schools.

This tiny lady greeted me with the warmest smile and handshake and looked at me like I was the queen of England. She made me feel like royalty. I’d like to learn how to make my guests feel that way.

Hannington then took me on a tour of his acreage. We walked through a jungle area that had been somewhat cleared and he pointed out all of the different crops he was growing. He had jackfruit, bananas, matoke, coffee, sweet potatoes, corn, and sugar cane among others. This is a diversified plantation. All of these plants were on the side of a hill and then sprawled down into a beautiful valley. I’m not good with sizes, but it was a bigger plot of land than I had imagined. I got pretty chewed up as I walked down the side of this hill in my flip flops videotaping the whole way. I asked Hannington a few leading questions to get him going and just rolled tape. The man is a talker! It didn’t really matter what I asked, almost all of his answers came back to funding the schools to help the children. He is one passionate dude.

When we got back to the house, Grandma was waiting with warm tea in milk and a bowl of jackfruit for me. I noticed no one else had milk in their tea, but didn’t really think anything of it. It was really good and the jackfruit was an interesting new taste. I really liked it. Later I found out that one of the neighbors down the road likes Grandma and gives her a cup of milk every day. Today it was MY cup of milk!!! I didn’t find out until we were on the drive home. I wanted to turn around and give her a big hug and buy her a milking cow!

We met Hannington’s neighbors before we left. We had to do this so they would know I’m a guy who loves the children of the village schools and not some rich fat cat Mzungu who was loading Hannington up with cash. We needed to establish this because he wanted to make sure his prices didn’t get jacked up next time he went to market. If word got out that he was hosting a Mzungu, the assumption would be made that he was now wealthier and could afford steeper prices. The neighbors were great and got a real kick out of it when I took pictures of them and then showed them what they looked like on the camera’s screen. I guess it doesn’t happen to them that often.

We spent the afternoon attending a school debate. A three hour marathon with the honorable Eric as the residing chairperson. The subject was: Knowledge is more important than wealth. The debate went on for what seemed like hours…oh…because it was. Once in awhile, teachers would poke their heads in, but for the most part it was ruled by Eric. Arguments were laid out and were often interrupted by children jumping up and shouting, “Point of order!” or “Point of defense!” or “Point of Education!” among others. Eric, looking a combination of aloof, bothered by their interruption, and bored, would say, “Point of order accepted” or with a don’t-bother-me wave of his hand, he might say, “Point of education NOT accepted.” Sometimes after he did this, he would look over at Hillary and I, sitting near the door and his bored look would turn into his bright smile. It was hilarious. Near the completion of the debate he asked for points from the audience. A few people got up and gave points, but I think the crowd was getting restless. Then Eric said, “Are there any point anyone else would like to make? Such as our honored visitors?” and he looked directly at us and smiled. While the crowd cheered, Hillary shook her head “no” while his pleading eyes said, “please?” I couldn’t resist, so I gave a little speech on the fact that you can’t just throw money at problems and you can’t eat money. I ended with, “For me, I’d rather be poor and smart than rich and stupid!” It got a large round of applause. I’m not sure if it was because it was a good point or because they thought it was funny that a Mzungu got up and spoke. For the record, Knowledge won over Wealth.

Tonight, I went to practice with the choir. On Sunday, I’ll be leading a couple of songs with the worship team which is about 20 or so singers. I thought I’d be following them, but they really wanted me to tell them EXACTLY what I wanted them to do. Although I’ve led worship before with a band, I’ve never led a choir before, so it took me a little while to gain confidence, but it ended up being a lot of fun. I’ll write more later about how it goes. For now, it’s been a really long day. Okoye (I’m tired).

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 9

Today was kind of a rest day. We did some cleaning around our place in the morning, then Hillary and I headed out to use the internet. It’s amazing what a grand excursion this is each time we want to simply check our emails and post on the blog. I definitely took it for granted before. Here are some other things I took for granted:

Consistent Electricity…it seems like several times a day it goes out. The lights are on a different system, so sometimes we have lights and no electricity and sometimes the other way around. The lights don’t ever work during the day. By the way, if you turn the coffee pot on, the refrigerator stops working. I really wish my friend Bob was here (otherwise known as McGuiver). He’d have this whole apartment complex rewired by now and he’d probably find a way to use a frying pan to bring in a satellite signal for internet. I’ve said this several times on this trip. If I ever come back to Uganda, he’s coming with me. End of discussion. (See you at Starbucks in three weeks from today, my handy friend)

Hot water…We have a hot water heater, but none of us has ever figured it out, plus it’s about the size of the coffee pot, so when we do get it, it doesn’t last too long. I don’t think I ever realized when I was home, just how many times I use hot water to clean things. It’s handy to have around.

Drinking water out of the tap…I’m getting used to the taste of our boiled water, but I definitely miss being able to just go in the kitchen and grab a cool class of water. There was a recent article in the local paper claiming the water here was deemed safe by the World Health Organization, but there was another article refuting it. All I know is they used the word feces in both stories, so we’re not about to take any chances.

Easy internet access…In recent years, it’s become such a part of my everyday life, like this morning, when we were trying to remember some really important information (“What movies has John Cusack been in?” We came up with three, but know there were more). It’s also such a quick way of communicating. But, when you have to plan your day around it (a boda-boda to Mateo’s Restaurant, a walk down the street to buy an hour’s worth of internet time…$6, logging out whenever possible to save time, multitasking every second online, calling our driver to pick us up, waiting for him to make his way through traffic, then back to the apartment, whew!) you start to wonder if it’s really worth it.

Washers and Driers…It took me about two hours to wash three pairs of socks and some underwear tonight. Okay that’s a slight exaggeration, but it is quite a process. I think I remember struggling as my mom grilled me over and over again on the difference between the “perma press” and “delicate” settings.

A quiet night of sleep…why don’t Ugandan dogs sleep at night? Every time I see one sleeping during the day in the hot sun, I want to scream, “WAKE UP! AH-OO-OO-OO-OO-OO-OO! RUFF RUFF! AYE AYE AYE!!!” Next time my dog at home gently woofs at 3am to politely tell me that he needs to go outside for a bit, I’m going to hug him and give him a gigantic slice of bacon.

Okay, before you think I’m just being a typical, spoiled, whiney, American. I’m just saying I took those things for granted, not that I can’t live without them. It’s been surprising how easily we’ve adapted to this way of living and our apartment life is way nicer than most of the people in this neighborhood or those who work for the organization we’re here with. In fact, much of the world lives without all of these things and doesn’t even know the difference. Tomorrow, I’m spending some time with Hannington at the place where he “digs” (the Ugandan word for farming). He took out a fifteen-year loan to get this piece of land, so he’d have food for his family and a source of income so that he can afford to be the assistant superintendent of the schools. I can’t wait to see his home.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Today I got a haircut at a place called “Dark and Lovely” that doubles as a video rental place. Almost every business here dabbles in something else. I don’t know about the video selection, but for haircuts, you can’t beat the “Dark and Lovely.” It cost $2 and was the most detailed, spoiling haircut I’ve ever received. At home I can buzz cut myself in the dark if I need to, so I’m not really used to this type of experience. It included a shave and several steps including scalp massage, ear hair removal, and Hillary’s favorite, the forehead shave. (I didn’t even know I had any hair there.) When he started in on my eyebrows, I politely put an end to it. I’m not really into the perfectly tweezed look myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… It was all Hillary could do to keep from laughing. After every step, I would say, “That’s great, thanks.” And then he’d go into another part of his routine. I now feel both darker and lovelier.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 8

Today, we woke up before the crack o’ dawn to head out to the school in the bush village of Lugazi. I’ve been saying Loo-GAH-zi, but our driver Moses corrected me. It’s Loo-gah-ZI. We drove out into the country at breakneck speed, flying down a narrow two lane highway at 110 k/h (nearly 70mph). Moses knows how to put the pedal to the medal. I know 70mph doesn’t sound that fast, but when you see the roads, it feels like 100mph. They’re full of potholes that he swerves to avoid. Meanwhile along the side of the road are scads of little children walking to school…bicycles loaded down with things to be sold in the market…boda-bodas swaying back and forth and passing one another…oncoming traffic, swerving to miss their own potholes…and faster cars passing slower cars, darting back into their lane just in the nick of time. In most places there are no lines on the road, so it’s every man for himself. Passing lane? What’s that!?!

Moses is a great drive though, so we feel really safe. He really knows what he’s doing and has extremely quick reflexes. He’s the man!

Anyway, the terrain gets more green and “jungley” and is more mountainous than Kampala. It was really beautiful. At times it made me think of Oregon with the towers of green on both sides of the highway, but instead of pine forest, it’s more tropical with brightly colored flowers and banana trees filling in any gaps. As beautiful as the drive was, nothing could prepare me for the beauty ahead.

We exited the highway and drove for several miles on another “bike path” looking road filled with huge holes filled with water. Finally, we pulled into the St. Mbuga School of Lugazi, a quaint and very rustic school. The children saw us for a second, made sure it was us, then turned and sprinted like nobody’s business. They started singing the “welcome visitors” song that we’ve heard before. As I looked around, the level of poverty impressed me. They looked more ragtag than the groups we had seen earlier. Some in their school uniform, some not. I found out later that they were expecting us tomorrow, so many of them had washed their uniforms and couldn’t wear them today. They were a little upset about that. They really like to put on their “Sunday best” when “viztuhs” come. I liked it more though. You got to see them as they are. The beauty I saw in these children was awe-inspiring. These were VERY poor country kids, and there was a sadness to them, but still, the JOY came through in sparkles that grew the longer we stayed. They put on a show for us, and although it wasn’t as polished as it might have been had we been there a day later, I absolutely LOVED the rawness of it. They gave us their all. At one point, Hannington, the assistant superintendent of all the schools, jumped in and danced the traditional dance that some of the older girls were performing. He was hilarious as he shook his hips and stayed in perfect harmony with their choreography.

We spent much of the morning taking pictures and collecting sponsorship information. This is a daunting task, that is fairly unorganized, but Hillary has done a great job of keeping it organized this summer. I think some of the problem is the lack of communication to this remote area. Leslie and I do kind of the easy part of taking the pictures. It’s tiring, but I Courtney, Hillary, and Mary are work much harder. Today, Hillary checked and rechecked the list and kept everything straight with Hopkins and Hannington, while Mary and Courtney helped the team of people collect biographical information from little kids that don’t speak much English.

After this was all done, we all spread out and did different things with kids. I found Hannington, running as hard as he could, pushing the merry-go-round and laughing his hearty, contagious laugh. Soon, Hannington, Mary, and I went to play soccer with a gargantuan group of kids. We tried hard to represent the USA well, but I am not a very skilled soccer player. They did have a pretty hefty home field advantage though. In the middle of the field were a few large trees, a large pile of dirt, a huge stack of bricks, and various large rocks and brick strewn throughout for effect. I discovered the rocks when I was going for a breakaway early in the game. I was all alone, with nothing between me and the goal but the goalkeeper. Advantage: Large Mzungu!

…As I laid on my back in the Ugandan dirt, I reflected about what had brought me to this point in my life…I questioned my decision to play American football in high school instead of soccer (which would’ve been very helpful)…and I wondered if the 50 plus children would ever stop laughing at…er…I mean WITH me. I also contemplated a rematch on my home turf at Aloha High School. Let’s see how they run on that artificial turf with NO ROCKS! It was the first of many such falls during the match, and I think I might have broken one of my fingers (probably just jammed), but it was a LOT of fun. The USA lost to Uganda 7-6. I ducked out of the game early to give my team a chance to get back in the game. Mary continued on, representing our country very well.

I found Leslie reading a picture book to a large group of kids while Courtney sat with a large circle of children. These kids just ate up any attention we gave them. A tiny girl named Mabel (another one) and was just staring at me as I pulled my camera out of the van. I motioned her to come to me and she took my hand. Then she just cuddled into me. I think that may be what I miss most about Uganda, the affection of children, even strangers. Leslie snapped a picture of the two of us that I will have framed when I get home. I wanted to take some pictures, so I handed Mabel to Leslie and I just wandered around. Since I was already dirty from soccer, I got an up close and personal picture of a pig. I took photos of kids in various stages of play. I took pictures of kids talking, playing keep away, playing soccer, eating sugar cane…I even saw a girl hoeing in the dirt, just for fun! I wandered into a classroom and found a kid singing to himself. He was in first grade and seemed to enjoy my presence. He had his homework book out, so I asked him to show it to me. I asked him questions about each page, quizzing him on what he had learned. He was eating it up. He seemed so proud to show off what he knew. I was taking the example of what I had learned from Eric yesterday. Soon, we had a crowd in this quiet room and four or five boys listened intently, as this boy grew prouder and prouder. I showed them my camera and some of the pictures I had taken. They practiced their English by naming everything in the pictures. I asked them if they wanted me to take their picture and they started jumping up and down. The result in the doorway of that room was a keeper.

We also met the little girl my friends, the Wards, sponsor. Leslie spent a lot of time with her and read her a book. I haven’t talked with her yet about that experience, but I’m sure she’ll share. At the end of the day, Leslie gave her the book. I saw a big smile on her face. Earlier in the day, it was everything we could do to get this shy little girl to smile. By the end of the day, the smile was quick and beaming.

Lugazi was a great experience. I enjoyed every minute of it and hope to keep in touch with the principle, Julius. He’s a great young man who loves the kids and is proud of his school. He hasn’t finished college yet, but hopes to eventually go back and finish, then come back to this school. He can’t afford it right now, but hopes to soon.

On the way home I saw a boda-boda with a queen sized mattress rolled up and loaded on the back. I also saw one loaded with at least 20 dozen eggs. What did YOU see on the road today?

Uganda Photos (click on photo to change)

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the latest on the sells

As of May 27, 2009...

Wow, it's been almost a year since we've updated this. Our family had a wonderful experience traveling to Uganda two summers ago, which prompted us to keep a journal on this blog. You can read our daily journal from our month long trip

This year brings new adventures. Our eldest daughter, Courtney, after graduating from George Fox University with honors, left for her third trip to India to spend nearly a YEAR to work at Happy Home for the Handicapped in Shimoga, India. You can read about her first trip to India and the impact it had on her life here. She'll also give us new updates from her current trip on this site (here). As of this writing, she is just starting to settle in and is very excited to be there. She has been looking forward to this for a long time!

Meanwhile, Hillary spent all of last year
touring the western U.S. with Matsiko, the choir of children we grew to love as our own in Uganda. She journalled about her experiences in Uganda if you'd like to see what that was like. At some point during this tour, she felt led to join the U.S. Army. Quite a big decision, and one she didn't take lightly. After moving through Basic Training with flying colors, she is now at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio training to become a combat medic. It's a very intense training, but we're sure she'll do well. Our whole family was able to travel to South Carolina to watch her graduate from Basic Training. What an awe inspiring experience!

Leslie is having a great year of teaching 5th graders. She's also in a Master's program, which takes a good chunk of her time. She's still finds time to read a TON of books. Literally, a ton!

Curt was overwhelmed by his experience as a first time overseas traveler and kept up his journal here (you can also read his random posts on everyday life here). The busyness of life and keeping track of his traveling kids has slowed down his writing, but he hopes to begin writing on a regular basis again soon.