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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Resting

Philip decided we all needed a quiet day today. People are still not feeling well. Of course, Joshua and I didn’t really listen. We decided it was time to go explore. Caution took over to some extent and I left my camera behind as we got onto the boda-boda for a trip to the market for some coffee and to experience a bit more of Jinja. My first ride on a motorcycle since I was a kid and the first words out of the driver’s mouth were “you big.” Gee thanks. In spite of the fact that I was bigger than his bike, we made it safe and sound. It was a great time for the two of us to connect and share more of life.

Later in the day we took a boat ride to the Source of the River Nile. Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world, second only to Lake Superior. It is also the starting point for the Nile.

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.

 

Hope in Soweto

This afternoon we went to a small school in the Soweto of Jinja. This is one of the two largest slum regions of the city. Help Primary School was started by a man whose name I forget. The meaning of his name will stick forever.

The Traveler.IMG_2275-EditHe grew up on the streets of the Soweto. At some point in his childhood living on the streets he contracted cerebral malaria. He walks with a limp and a crutch. He persevered through struggles in a community that is known for disease and poverty to start Help Primary School in order to give the children of Masese an education and help them find hope for their future.IMG_2224-Edit

In order to get there, though, you have to travel through the slums. You wonder how people live in a place that resembles the destruction of a tornado. But they do. If they are lucky, they have some form of a store in the front of this building that also serves as their home. If they aren’t, there is no store and no home. Some live inIMG_2226-Edit buildings made from cargo containers, setting up shop to sell what they can.

Once you pass through the gates of Help Primary School you would wonder if you are in the same community. Yes, like the entire country of Uganda, HPS shows signs of a poor economy, but they also provide a place for the students that might in fact be a place of rest from the struggles of the outside world.

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As I took this picture of the school building it hit me. Everything in Uganda is the color of terracotta. The grounds were not overrun with grass and weeds like outside the walls of the compound. The kids laughed and some were kicking a flattened soccer ball around. IMG_2266-Edit

School, Help Primary School to be exact, turns out to be a place where an education, where time in school, may give a chance for someone who started out as a traveler to in fact leave the slum that has been their life with the help of Traveler.

Shalom Children’s Home

Meet Julie.IMG_2195 Julie and another woman started Shalom Children’s Home in Jinja about 10 years ago. This came about in part because of her own experiences living in “foster care” with family.

Julie is pretty incredible and she’s done a lot over the years to help children and their families. Unfortunately the program is struggling to make ends meet. In fact today is the first day of the new school term and they don’t have the funds to pay for some of the fees. It sounded like many of the staff go without pay a lot of the time to make ends meet.

Julie started with nothing but her heart for kids. She found someone to come alongside of her in this journey. They found land sitting on a hill overlooking the city and Lake Victoria, land beneath the king’s home. In time they built this home and program.

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Julie has an incredible heart and a bigger voice.  If I understood her correctly, she has recorded some music that she sells in order to help pay the bills.  IMG_2204-Edit

Today was the first day of school, so many of the kids were not around. Julie said that they provide help to around 65 kids right now. Their system is not completely unlike the child protective services system and foster care programs in the U.S. If a child is found in need they are removed from the home.  The initial removal seems to be about 6 months and can be extended to 18 months or 3 years if necessary.

While the children are in the home, the staff are working with the family to correct the problems. They provide training on finances and nutrition. They provide them with mosquito nets and other necessities.

The difference between the two systems is that the government does not seem to pay any of the costs. Where CPS in Nebraska can’t order aIMG_2218-Edit.jpg family to services without providing money for the costs, the system in Uganda provides that if you are a children’s home you provide the training and support necessary to reunite the family.  Family reunification is also the desired outcome. There is a recognition that the family and the village are a necessity to the child, so complete removal and adoption are not looked at favorably.

Julie and I talked the same language. Abuse, victimization, removal and reunification were just a few of the common discussion points. In fact, I had to ask about an acronym in their guides because it is one we use in our line of work. It was slightly different, but it was so similar that I had to laugh.

This program has a lot of needs ranging from basic financial assistance to things like a new website. Julie was able to tell us exactly what her annual budget was, though I honestly forgot. Given the work they are required to do I was actually surprised it was so low.

 

Church at Budondo

Today we traveled to the village of Budondo for church services.  Church there is considerably different than in the U.S. from the buildings they are held in to, well, just take a look.IMG_2096-Edit

You find yourself sitting on crude benches unless you are a guest. If that’s the case you get to sit in plastic lawn chairs. I don’t say this to suggest that it is less of an experience, but instead just the opposite. The American church is often caught up in the color of the carpet or what the pews look like. We get upset if the air conditioning is not cool enough.

Those things are not even an option in the churches we visited. Yet, look at the smiles on the faces of the people. Does our emphasis on the perfect church impact us negatively? Are we willing to smile like this? Do we see Sunday’s as a day of obligation? It is going to be hard to go back home.IMG_2141-Edit

Lana took the kids outside for a lesson. This lasted until the rain started to fall and even then it wasn’t a rush to get back inside before you got too wet. Sitting in this rudimentary building with a tin roof listening to and smelling the rain was just as much of an experience with God as anything I’ve had.

After another meal we planned to visit a small farm that the mission has leased.  The goal of having the farm is to help this church and others in the community become more self-sufficient with both food and income. They grew their first crop of corn last year and paid for the lease with that one crop. Philip said that they can grow two crops a year with their weather.

As we started down the road we soon realized that the visit was probably not wise.  IMG_2192-Edit

The roads are almost like a clay gumbo. When wet the top layer becomes sticky and slick. Philip found a place to turn around. This was the front door to the home. If you look closely into the home you see that there are at least four people. There were one or two others outside.

Mayuge

Today we ventured out for a full day in the village of Mayuge. The mission has three goals that include pastoral development, bettering the lives of women and children, and sustainability. While the day was described as a pastoral leadership conference, it really focused on all three goals of the mission, but honestly, my interest is really in the last two goals so I sat myself down by the door during the time people were speaking so I could go outside and sneak back in to take a picture every now and again.

What I found is that kids are hard to take pictures of. The kids in these villages rarely get the opportunity to see a white man so they are automatically trying to get your attention. When you add a camera into the mix, who knows what will happen.IMG_1874-Edit

What I found was that once I showed them their image on the back of my camera everyone wanted to be a star. I would get one or two kids off to the side so I could shoot a picture of just them, step back to get my camera set and the next thing I knew they were crowding all around and the ones I tried to shoot were hidden in the back.

The visit to Mayuge was a full day, so they fed us lunch. In reality they fed the rest of the group lunch. IMG_1972-EditI didn’t eat, but it wasn’t because I was afraid of their version of Montezuma. During the morning I found Moses outside and we began to talk. I don’t remember how it came up but we started talking about the agriculture and how people lived. He said that they had just gone through a drought that ended sometime during the last year. During that time, many of the people in the villages went without food. At that point, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the quantity of food that I knew they would set in front of me. So I stayed outside playing with the kids and taking pictures, not ungrateful for what had been prepared. It is sad that in the U.S. we have an abundance of food and we throw away a lot of what we buy while looking at the number of people who can’t put food in their stomach consistently.

In order to help provide, the women in Mayuge are starting to learn crafts. The goal is to be able to increase their income just a little to help provide for their families. IMG_1953-EditThese women were doing a lot with fabrics and beads. They had made several purses and other items that they hope to sell.

One thing that I learned talking with Moses is that even though life is hard, people won’t complain about their circumstances. They view complaining as being selfish and ungrateful. So instead they focus on what they do have and they strive to be grateful for it.

While we may have gone to Africa hoping to help, I think in reality there is much that we as society can learn from them.