Saturday, August 25, 2007

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.

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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.