June 2

I hate June 2. Today is the second anniversary of dad’s death. I dreaded today as much as I did last year. Honestly, it felt strange today being halfway around the world with 8 hours on the clock separating me from family. Last night was a rough night of sleep knowing what today meant and not knowing what today would have in store. Lying there listening to the minutes tick by on a non-existent clock in our room, hoping that the day would stop before it got started.

It didn’t.

We decided last night that David and Mary Jo would not go out today. Philip anticipated that it would be a rough journey. Joshua and I were to meet him in the parking lot at 5 a.m. mzungu time. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.

As we got up and not knowing the level I despise this particular date on the calendar, Joshua told me he starts every day reading Psalms 139 and he wanted to read it out loud to me. That was the start of our adventure, one that I will fail miserably to describe in ways that anyone will understand.

Philip picked us up a few minutes after 5. We needed to be at the ferry landing at Kiyindi well before 7. We picked Moses up and headed to the ferry.

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As we waited at the landing, Stephen and several others joined our group as did fishermen and others who were heading to the island of Buvuma. I watched a tree full of weaver birds and egrets and reflected on the omen told earlier in the week. Joshua bought several chapata and handed them out. Philip was cold and maybe the warm chapata helped a bit.IMG_2642-EditAs we left Kiyindi for the hour-long ride on the ferry, one couldn’t help but notice that we might be stepping further and further away from the world we knew.

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As we landed on Buvuma we began our journey. First trying to find transportation. The transportation that had been pre-arranged didn’t work out, so Joshua, Philip, Moses and I ended up in a car that couldn’t have held anyone else. Stephen and his brother got on a boda-boda and we began our journey across the island.

The roads to the first village were pretty decent. In fact, many of the roads throughout Uganda reminded me of some of the old dirt roads I grew up on in Nebraska. IMG_2688-Edit

And if you were lucky you might even spot a boda-boda on them or some other sign that there was life on this island.

Even the isolation getting to the first village wouldn’t prepare you for what we found.

As with any place we go we find it is easy to make friends with the kids. I think I’ve mentioned that it is hard to take pictures of one kid without a frame full of everyone around. Joshua sat next to this one young boy who seemed very shy. Joshua and I made eye contact and I wanted to take a picture of the two of them without anyone else around. As you can see, it just doesn’t happen that way.

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Similar to other places we’ve visited, the mission has provided the women with materials they need to make things to sell. The women in this village were still learning how to do beadwork, but they seemed to have the best baskets that we had seen. Joshua and I both bought two.IMG_2789-Edit

After Joshua handed out Bibles and toothbrushes and toothpaste to the women we started our journey to the second village on another part of the island. I can’t even begin to describe the roads other than to say, as you can see from these next two pictures shot through the windshield of our car, that we shouldn’t have been driving on them.

When we arrived at the village we found something similar to what we found before, but something not so similar. It was another fishing village. It was the definition of extreme poverty as we know it, but something seemed like it had adapted better, that the people were more self-sufficient and had a little higher income, though that doesn’t say anything at all after visiting the poorest place I have ever seen in my life.

We were fed lunch at this village. Fish, more fish, cassava, fried cassava, and more fish. It may sound as though I’m being flippant, but I’m not. There was a pan of small silver fish, heads, tails and everything in between. I was NOT going to try them. There was boiled Nile Perch and deep fried Nile Perch. The cassava was either boiled or fried and I honestly couldn’t tell a difference between the flavor of the two. The fried perch was delicious. Joshua finally talked me into trying the sardine-like fish. They were hard and crunchy and I later realized that they had been laid out to dry. Before eating someone brought a jug of water in for us to wash our hands with. The man poured it into our hands and I learned that it was a blessing ritual.

As we left the village to start our journey home we had about an hour to get back to the ferry and we only needed 45 minutes. That seemed like plenty of time. It did until the car broke down. The boda-boda that was traveling with us went back to the village to find other boda-bodas to take us back to the ferry landing. We emptied the car out while we waited. My camera gear is in my backpack. Joshua takes the baskets we had purchased. Philip grabs the food and water.

It might have been a 10 minute wait, but it seemed like it took the entire hour we had given ourselves. Philip instructs me to get on the back of one particular boda-boda and the driver takes off for the ferry landing before the others are ready to go. The others catch up with us and pass us. Then we pass them. I don’t know how fast we were going, but riding a boda-boda in the jungles of Africa on an island with a backpack full of camera gear is fun and nerve-wracking at the same time.

We made it to the landing and ended up waiting for the ferry to arrive from the mainland. As we headed back across the water Philip told me that the boda-boda driver I went with told him that he had just purchased his new motorcycle. The night before the driver had a dream that he would be giving a mzungu a ride on the island. Mzungu on Buvuma are rare.

Philip had told me a bit about the island when we first arrived. The fishermen in the village use their money for alcohol and sex. The alcohol is distilled onsite and often causes alcohol poisoning. I asked him about HIV and AIDS since he had mentioned that it was prominent in the villages. He suggested that probably 80 to 85 percent of those living on the island have been infected. Without proper treatment and nutrition, things they cannot afford, he said that most will die within three years of learning of their infection.

Joshua and I tried to process the day. Difficult, yes. Today, though, was a day that cemented in me a longing to come back to this place. This, this is Africa. TIA.

Psalm 139

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Hospitals, Schools, and More

Today has turned out different than it appeared on our agenda, but before we get there we added a new team member.IMG_2322

Joshua has known David and Mary Jo for a few years. He comes from the Seattle area and has helped the mission with some of their building projects. He came along in order to see what might be involved in building a new children’s home.

Meeting Joshua yesterday afternoon took me by surprise. He gave an American handshake. I realized during the introduction that greetings are much more significant outside of the U.S. Handshakes last forever in Africa, it’s kind of nice. Someone described that a handshake and greeting involve a blessing of the person you are connecting with.

I also have to say that just in the first few hours of meeting Joshua he is a pretty cool guy. This picture makes him look tough and intimidating, but he’s not. He has a big heart for mission work. He helped build a school in South Sudan a few years ago. He said he travels a lot. He will work for several months and then head off to some other part of the world.

Joshua, David, Mary Jo and I went to breakfast at the hotel. We were all going to visit a school this morning. After breakfast, David became dizzy. Philip came to pick us up and it took all of us to convince David he should probably go to the International Hospital in Jinja to be safe.

After dropping David off at the hospital, Joshua and I joined up with Lana and Lawrence at Naranbhai Primary School. IMG_2343-EditThe visit was arranged by Elizabeth, also known as Madam Beth to the students. She and I talked quite a bit about education in Uganda, trying to compare it to schools in the U.S.

I honestly still don’t understand how the grades operate, but what I do know is that the student to teacher ratio in Uganda is even more disturbing than back home. I told her that most schools try to have about 1 teacher for every 25 students. She said that the law states they have to have 1 teacher for every 45 students. She went on to tell me that they have a couple of teachers who are running about 1 to 65 and that there are some schools where it is even 1 teacher for ever 90 students. She walked Joshua and me around and showed us that they are building a “University” within their compound. IMG_2327-Edit

Lawrence and Lana held the kids’ attention quite well. Lawrence did a presentation on HIV and AIDS prevention. The rate of HIV and AIDS has been on the decline from the research I found before the trip. The research suggested that it is because of programs like this that are in the schools. Still it is a huge problem in the region and Philip has mentioned that we will see more of it in coming days.

Afterward, Joshua and I were invited up to introduce ourselves. Joshua has a way with the kids, you can tell where his heart is.

Madam Beth and Joshua then gave out sunglasses and Lana gave them candy. Of course all of these things are wrapped in plastic and, in case you haven’t noticed it, Uganda has a significant problem with pollution. There is little regard for the environment and with such a large population there is garbage everywhere. IMG_2333-EditThe first thing Joshua told them prior to handing out the gifts was that they could not just drop the wrappers on the ground, they had to find a trashcan and throw away the garbage. I don’t know if it was a lesson learned, but it is one that needs to be taught.

When Philip came to pick us up, David and Mary Jo were in the van with him. Prognosis was dehydration. Still the group decided not to go back out during the afternoon, giving everyone a chance to rest up a bit.

In spite of the health issues, today was a good day and ended well. Joshua and I had dinner together since David and Mary Jo weren’t feeling up to it. It really gave us a chance to connect and talk. Joshua is a great guy, with a big heart. He asks questions and prods you to think and at the end of the day I think he knows more about me than many people I’ve known for years.