Sunday, August 19, 2007

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.

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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.