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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the address to view my pictures. There are some from our first house, some from the new house, the weekend at the Nile, and some kids at Jordan House. Sorry, some of the pictures uploaded sideways and I can't figure out how to change it.
The inevitable moment while you are in the faraway and unfamiliar- the first time you just want to go home. The moment when you are sick of being misunderstood and unambiguous, when things happening at home seem to need your attention more then the long endless work you are haphazardly attempting in a foreign land.
Of course I had been expecting this moment to come, but it was frustrating and emotional none the less. Thankfully the next day was independence day, which brought a weekend full of fun distractions including going dancing with friends, buying beautiful baskets and ceramics at the market, laying out at a pool, seeing the President of Uganda at the independence celebration, and attending an incredible outdoor jazz concert at a ritzy resort on Lake Victoria.
After all of the merrymaking, I was finally ready for the reflection my soul was craving. On Sunday I attended Calvary Chapel for the second time. It was started by a young American Pastor, who remains as the Senior Pastor, which is nice because it gives the services a familiar Western feeling. And yet over 90% of the people who attend the church, lead worship, and serve are Ugandans which is so important to me because I think it's dangerous to be part of the exclusive mizungu social circles.
I spent that evening reminding myself of the reasons I am here. It is harder then I expected to spend money while making none, and asking family and friends to support me during a global recession. At this point, if I do not raise $4,000 I will be returning home mid-January, which makes it very hard to plan with longevity. This fact has been like a weight tied around my neck, distracting me from my work and preventing me from feeling anything but stress and frustration in all situations remotely involving money. Thankfully Chelsea and I took our concerns to Russell and Jenny, who I'm convinced are the most incredibly patient, wise, lovely bosses I will every have (and I have had MANY good bosses). They put so much in perspective- reminding us that we are here as faithful servants, who saw an aching injustice in the world and left our homes, our families, and our jobs to offer ourselves fully to the never-ending task of taking care of the orphans, the widows, the dying, and the poor.
I am embarrassed to say that I had forgotten.
I had forgotten the joy of expressing love through service. Forgotten the wonder of seeing new sights everyday as I make the incredibly slow journey to work through the traffic jams. Forgotten the opportunity I have been allowed to stand looking directly into the grotesque face of Death and and to still see the inextinguishable presence of New Life. Forgotten it is my daily work to empower and encourage people towards creating sustainable, holistic methods of freeing themselves from the bondage of poverty.
Ready to change the world today, I hurried to use the bathroom (a pit latrine) before a meeting at work. Apparently I was rushing a bit too much and ended up peeing all over my foot and sandal. Lesson learned: Some days you cry, some days you laugh, and other days you pee on yourself. Life is good.
1. The Muslim call to prayer for our area is projected from a place that is about 30 feet from our bedroom window. So every morning at 6 am we are blasted into a new day with slightly out of tune arabic.
2. There is a cat who insists that it lives in our house and keeps coming in despite our yells and large hand motions. Now it runs up behind us and freaks us out every night when we come home and tries to get in our door when we open it to go inside.
3. We started a blessing wall where we are posting pictures, notes, quotes, etc that remind us of the blessing we have been receiving. We put many pictures of you all on it, then woke up in the morning to find them sadly face down on the floor... hopefully that's not a sign.
4. We have a car- which is funny in the first place because driving in Uganda is CRAZY and on the left side of the road. But even better is that the car's a stick. Russell insists that with a few driving lessons we will be totally fine. Right, that's also what my dad said the first and last time I drove a stick 6 years ago.
5. We keep seeing people we knew two years ago and the first thing they say to chelsea is, "oh my friend, what have you been doing at home to get so fat?" (They mean this as a compliment, and ironically chelsea has not actually gained weight)
6. I was reading outside around 7 o'clock the other morning and heard a marching band. Chelsea verified that I wasn't hearing things and we ran to the street to see if it's a parade. Oh no, just a full marching band and at least 50 people dressed in the fancy ugandan traditional clothes standing on both sides of our street. We ask around and find out that they are "waiting for a visitor." They were still there at 9:30 when we left for work, hopefully their guest didn't keep them waiting much longer.
7. We are diligently practicing luganda (the language here) and besides some greetings I know the words for chicken, passion fruit, slowly, sleep!, you look like a turkey, and I will beat you. Such useful things to know.
8. The matches here have a brand name of "baby" and come with a cubby white baby face on them. CREEPY.
9. This morning we found an ant hole opening in our kitchen and decided to super glue the whole shut, we'll see if it keeps them out of our sink.
10. There are slugs in Uganda. No do not plan on licking them. They are much stickier and smaller than Oregon slugs, which believe it or not kind of grosses me out.
"The first week felt like three weeks, but the second week only felt like a day, and the third week... well that just felt like a normal week..."
I cannot believe it has been so long since I have had the time or energy to post on my blog. Things have been going well to say the least. I have been making friends, learning Luganda, getting things done at work, and staying safe and healhty. It feels strange to even have a blog at this point because really, life is just life.
Our house has been quite full for the past week. Two middle age women came to lead a conference at Jordan House and stayed with us. I can only say that living with them was a daily test of patience and endurance. To be fair, we did have some normal interactions with them, good talks and movie watching. But the strain of trying not to laugh at every awkward encounter left us more then ready for the weekend. The same day they left, three of our friends spent the night and chelsea became violently ill. In between making pancakes and cleaning up puke, I enjoyed a service at a new church that hopefully I will be returning to next week.
Today is the end of Ramadan, which means a public holiday for us! The down-time is much needed because tonight the ladies return and so does another girl who lived here before us. She is coming back to get her things (including her movies and books, which we have been enjoying in her absence). AND this weekend we are moving... into a freakin' mansion. No joke, this house is bigger then anyone I know has lived in. I am very sad to be leaving this place we are in, but I trust that we will make our new giant house a home too.
Breathless Tales by Janet
I would rather
clutch my invitation
and wait my turn in party clothes
Prim and proper
Safe and clean.
a pulsing hand keeps driving me over
peaks, ravines and spidered brambles…
so I will pant up to the pearled knocker
and full of tales.