my country tis of thee

Being an American is a funny thing. Growing up in a country of intangible heritage and undenialable culture. Having the ability and opportunity to go half way across the world, fall in love, change your life, only to once again find yourself ordering a non-fat extra-hot five dollar coffee... as American as ever.

I never thought I could simultaniously love and hate a place so much as America, but now I'm thinking that it's a dicotomy that accompanies all places of "home". Without a doubt I have left a part of my heart there, a part of my family, a part of my life.

But despite the fact that I feel a similar incompleteness that was so common while living in Uganda and missing America, on this side it is a bit different. My ability to function here is almost as natural as breathing. I can instinctually locate a bathroom or a drinking fountain. I can read even subtle body language and pick up information from overheard conversations.

Maybe it's because this is my first home, and maybe it works like first love. Even if it's not the home you're currently seeing, or the one you choose to commit to- it's always the first. The best known, the longest loved, the most easy to return to in times of great fear, saddness, of joy. There is something there that doesn't need to have explinations or appoliogies. The deep unspoken connection is both comforting and disturbing in turn, but generally unchagable.

I don't know what it will be like to readjust, to be myself in this place again. But I do know that there is a time for everything under the sun-
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones,
A time to embrace and a time to turn away,
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
And I'm convinced that now it is time for me to return to my first home and see what awaits.


Four friends, two bikes, and a dirt road

The past month has been stressful to say the least. There were some wonderful things (like having BOTH my mom and best friend come visit me), some tragic things (two deaths in our community), and some big choices (I am officially coming home in the first week of March and applying for grad school at PSU). On top of it all lots of moving- our bosses moved back to Auzzie, we moved into their house, and a new family we hardly know moved in with us.

All of this resulted in a building desire to let go, laugh, and perhaps doing something a bit risky. Apparently being a responsible adult who can move across the world does not exempt me from the mindset of being young and invincible. (then again, maybe that’s how I could move across the world…) Anyway, Chelsea and I called our boda driver friends and explained our predicament. Apparently 18 year old boys with motorbikes only adds to invincibility. Chelsea DROVE all over our neighborhood, up and down the dirt roads, as I rode backwards on the bike in front of her in order to capture the whole thing on tape.

I have done a lot of funny things in Uganda, but never have I seen so many Ugandans double take and laugh hysterically. And never have I been laughing so hard that I almost fall off a moving vehicle. Don’t worry; the only accident was two girls crashing their bicycle as they tried to race Chelsea while responding to the nonsensical luganda phrases I was yelling at them.

And now I feel it’s time to buckle down again. To turn off the hip hop and get back to Mozart and Excel. To focus on finishing the work I came here to do. To turn the corner into the home stretch, pouring my heart into a place I’m going to leave sooner then expected.

But at least I know that I won’t have to rip my heart away in march, because I have decided to leave it here. Not all of it of course, but a piece large enough to keep me tied to the place that has both broken and healed me, a place I love and hate in equal measure. Being a sojourner is a funny thing. I wish I had word and wisdom enough to explain it…

But since I don’t please enjoy a few funny pictures:



Here is a link to the UPDF pictures:

And this if for Zanzibar:

thankful belonging, marrying a masai, and a few of my favorite things

No one told me I could catch a bus from Kampala to America. After 14 hours the driver said we had reached Nairobi, but judging by my immediate culture shock, I was clear it wasn't the East Africa I knew. Nice cars, trendy clothes, huge buildings, malls... with elegant christmas decorations... with health food stores. The other thing that convinced me I was home was having Thanksgiving with family. Not my family exactly, but Janna's family! I cannot even put into words the warmth and generosity they welcomed us into their home with. And while the food was the traditional delicious american feast, the group was quite international- many americans, an Egyptian family, a Korean friend, and a Kenyan baby! As the hodge podge of us spent the day together talking, laughing, and telling our stories I could not believe how accepted and comfortable I felt. Finding home in a group of strangers is a precious thing and one I will be thankful for for many years to come.

After several refreshing days, we continued on to the Kenyan coast where we were again surprised. We thought we were going to a nice resort, but it was more like a geriatric ward for skin cancer. Everyone was over the age of 60, and most of them were wearing their swimming suits from high school. If that wasn't creepy enough, so many of them were there with young beautiful Kenyans. It made my heart ache to see what absorbent amounts of wealth and vacations can lead people to do. Since we weren't planning on making many friends with the residents we spent a lot of time talking to the hotel staff and a group of Masai men who sold things on the beach. Most Americans know something about the Masai, they love cows, kill lions, and wear lots of beautiful jewelry, but I was not prepared for actually being friends with them! Besides being some of the most gorgeous unique looking people I have ever met, they were so kind to us and told incredible stories. Our last night at Mombassa our friends and 20 of their cohorts came to the hotel and did their traditional dances. I don't know if I have ever been so captivated by anything in my entire life. In fact I may have caught myself wishing that one of them would come steal me away to be their wife and live in the bush where I could wear red dresses and raise beautiful lion-killer babies. Sadly I did not become a captive, but one of them did give me his business card... so if I never come home you'll know what happened to me.

Finally it was time for the last leg of our trip- Zanzibar. My grandma's half sister has lived there for 4 years, working with the Clinton foundation and has now started her own NGO called Participate Now. She is an amazing networker and was a great hostess. In a letter I wrote to a friend, this is how I described Zanzibar-

this island smells like spices; nutmeg, ginger, cloves... also like inscents, and of course, it smells like the sea. the rainy season has just ended and still the humidity sticks all over your skin and you breath it in with heavy mouthfuls of spicy air. The sun's intensity burns any exposed skin, no matter how tan, so it's best to cover up with a shawl that will be damp and heavy within a few minutes of stepping outside. Everyone is covered up anyway though, because Zanzibar is a Muslim island. The call to prayer sets the cycle of daily life and it's easier to tell time by Arabic then by the sun. But you wouldn't have to know that to know that Zanzibar is a spiritual place. Like the humidity, you feel it to your core. It's a safe spirit however, not oppressive or distressing, and it gives a sense of security and wonder as you wind your way around town. Winding, of course, is the only way to get anywhere there. The streets are so narrow that cars can only pass down a few, causing the innards of the town to feel like alleyways, mysteriously inviting and surprisingly clean. It's almost certain that you will get lost, and just as certain as that if you walk long enough you'll reach the ocean. Wandering, even lost wandering, though the town is comparable to touring an art museum. The buildings, with influence of Portugal, Arabia, Oman, Great Britain, and the local motif, are the most uniquely beautiful I have ever seen. Then, if that weren't enough to keep your attention, the people themselves are equally as modge-podge, blending and contrasting in ways that an artist would be lucky to be able to capture. There are spiraling staircases, old pirate-looking sail boats, deep slave caves, mangoes, mosquitoes, mosques, bikes with baskets on the front, big wooden doors and a million other things that would make anyone fall in love with this strange place.

As you can tell, I had a wonderful vacation. But it is SO good to be home. Back to friends and freedom, back to a schedule and my room, back to work and back to church. And best of all... back to CHRISTMAS! Chelsea and I bought a fake tree and ugly ornaments, so tonight will be the decorating extravaganza! I hope you all are doing well and getting excited for winter holidays.


working out with the UPDF

Yesterday, instead of heading over to Jordan House at 8, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to head down to a Ugandan Military base to join the soldiers for a day of formations and physical training. Already this morning I am sunburnt and sore. So sore in fact I can hardly walk. But more then that my mind is swimming trying to figure out how to process this crazy experience that I never in a million years thought I would have. There are many reasons I would've bet against it, but I'll only mention two.

Reason One: I hate working out. Any of you who know me well enough can easily see through the once a month facade I put on about loving to exercise. Despite being aware of it's health benefits I would take coffee and a book over the gym any day. Knowing this, I cannot understand what confused state I was in when I decided to go try and work out with the military. I did less then a third of what they did, and I'm still not convinced that my legs can carry me down the stairs to get lunch.

Reason Two: I don't like soldiers. There is something in my brain that tells me to be afraid of them, to not look them in the eyes, and certainly not to trust them. You can imagine my urge to flee as I walked onto a Ugandan military base wearing a skirt. Even before I became a pacifist two years ago this is the way I felt. I'm beginning to get the feeling God is not in support of this attitude.

Somehow I'm starting to see that in typical Divine fashion this realization has been long coming. Slowly and almost imperceptibly the foundation of this jump has been laid. As some of my best friends from high school joined ROTC I could admit I still loved them, because after all, I knew them before they were soldiers. And this summer when a soldier heading to Iraq became one of my best friends, I tried to shake it off as an ironic coincidence. And then here, some of the only young Americans, and thus some of our tightest friends, are all ex-military here to work with the UPDF (Ugandan military who come in shifts and head out to fight in Somalia once their training is over). When they invited us out to see what they do all day I was expecting to see soldiers, but surprisingly what I saw, was people.

Although my theology on war is far from developed, one thing I hate about it is the way it dehumanizes. A quote from a book I just read called The Passion by Jeanette Winterson says this, "There is no such thing as a limited victory. Every victory leaves another resentment, another defeated and humiliated people. Another place to guard and defend and fear. What I learned about war in the years before I came to this lonely place were things any child could have told me. 'Will you kill people Henri?' 'Not people, Louise, just the enemy.' 'What is enemy?' 'Someone who's not on your side.' No one's on your side when you're the conqueror. Your enemies take up more room then your friends. Could so many straightforward ordinary lives suddenly become men to kill and women to rape?" But I don't think war only dehumanizes the defeated. I know very little of what soldiers have to do. But of what I do know- the places they have to go, the things they have to do once they're there, and what they are required to think about it- those are things that are better done by machines. But sense we have not created robots yet, we create soldiers, asking men to put aside their hearts, pick up a weapon and become something slightly less human then they were before.

This is where my conviction comes in. My fears and stereotypes and assumptions of soldiers have only added to their burden. I have spent years withholding love, dignity, and humanity in a pathetic form of protest. Today I admit to being a pitiful pacifist, doing the very thing I hate, fighting fire with fire and doing nothing to stop the house from burning down. If I desire to free the oppressed in a way that also frees the oppressors, if I long to see the homeless taken in without the rich sleeping on the streets, if I want to follow what I believe Jesus was doing as he ate at tables full of losers and still did not withhold grace from the winners... then I still have a long ways to go.

So what does this mean? Am I suddenly okay with the idea of using intimidation and power as a means to get what you want? No. Do I think it is ever okay to take the life of another person? No. Am I okay with insulting soldiers in training by kicking sand in their faces and calling them "Women" and "Homos" implying that both of those are lesser people groups? Definitely not. But it does mean that I am going to stop passing out judgements that aren't mine to give. It means that I am going to try my best to have ears to hear and eyes to see people for who they are... people. All of us, hippies and soldiers, equally undeserving of Grace and yet deemed worthy of Love.


everything and nothing

It is amazing how time seems to move faster then me, even when I'm running.

The past few weeks have been full of everything and nothing. Things at work are moving slowly but surely. The preschool now has a projected budget and a uniform design. The storage room is 3/4 finished with my organizational wrath. Matty can now spell his name with out any help. And today I became an accountant. Don't worry, it's mostly data entry stuff and how hard is it to balance an equation? Not hard. Plus I get to hand people their wages, which is always a good feeling. I finally got out of my is-the-work-I'm-doing-really-making-a-difference slump when I read the chapter in The Prophet on work. In summary it said this- Work is the manifestation of love. Every work you do, do it as though you were working for your beloved. If you cannot work with love, it's better to become a beggar and collect your wages from those who can.

In other news, I am finally feeling like I have a community, humble as it is. The boda drivers who we now call mukwano guange (my friends). The staff and parents at the international school who finally remember my name. The church we go to, where we don't know most people's names, but where we want to. Coworkers who are more like compadres, and friends that we can just chill with and not feel awkward. It's far from my vast network of loved ones at home, but I think it will work at sustaining life.

And I have to confess... today I played pretend. Holding my cup of coffee up to my face I closed my eyes and traveled all the way across the ocean and land masses to Court St. in Salem. I was at starbucks. I could smell the pumpkin spice lattes and overprices pastries. I could see the newspapers and laptops busily being poured over by rushing business men and overheard the prayers and gossip coming from a few pastors, as well as a teenage girl talking a bit too loudly on her cell. I saw the rain outside and the people bundled in Northface and Ugs to keep out the mucky damp leaves and prickly November cold. I thought about leaving, going to my car and driving down the road to my home, or just up I-5 to portland to meet some friends on 23rd or at Whole Foods. As safe and comfortable and wonderful as it was to be home, in that familiar moment I missed Uganda. I missed the unpredictability, the black skin, the sunshine, and the near death experiences on every boda ride to work. I missed knowing my need. I missed my friends, my work, and being literally dirty every day. And so I decided to come back. It was a quick journey because of course I only had to open my eyes.

The educational lesson here: Playing pretend is not only a vital part of child development.

And so now, back home in Uganda I am writing to send you my love and let you know all is well.


Some Funny things: part 2

11. At a 14 year old slumber party I chaperoned, the girls didn't paint nails or gossip- they laughed hysterically at the fart machine and took turns pretending to shoot each other down then turned off the chick flick so they could put in iron man.

12. I have never been more thankful to not have carpet. On two different occasions we have covered our floor with massive amounts of water. Once when I dumped out a whole bucket of muddy water as I finished mopping. And a second time when chelsea filled a huge tin with water and didn't notice it was leaking until the water's surface tension on our counter broke and we heard it gushing on to the floor.

13. The 80s are alive and well in Uganda, apparently a new trend here- roller blades. Despite huge potholes, lack of side walks and horrible traffic, we have already seen 4-5 people rollerblading down various roads, each time wearing brightly colored parachute pants.

14. Sign posted at golf course entrance: Golf balls kill, enter at your own risk

15. Chelsea has a boda driver who is a Muslim and is named Jose, the cultural mix reminded me more of america then Uganda.

16. We had two very odd visitors stay with us for a few weeks. When they left they gave us a card. Inside, the first words were "beans and cabbage." We immediately burst into laughter wondering when (and why) they gave us those nicknames, but were quickly sobered when the card continued onto recipes for none other then beans and cabbage.

17. On the way to work we pass a hotel called "The Ghetto Guesthouse" which I think should be the name of a Kanye West song.

18. I kid you not, this is the first paragraph in a newspaper article I read:
"A young man who was allegedly bewitched for having an affair with a neighbor's wife sent residents in a panic when he
vomited three rats in a coughing spree."

19. People here call planners "diaries." I was running some errands with a very manly Ugandan man and we parted ways as I got onto a Matatu taxi. I was sitting near the window and thus was able to hear someone calling "my diiiiiaarrry!!!" as we began to drive away. I had forgotten I was carrying it in my purse and quickly passed it out the window... heaven forbid a man lose his diary.

20. Expatriates love to talk about their poo. Regardless of age, gender, location, or timing of the conversation, it is always appropriate to give a full detailed report on the state of your last bowel movement. If you can say you are regular (and have been for a while), you're bound to move up in social status and be the talk and envy of your social circle.