Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Delirious In First Class

I'm planning on having an entire first class post later but let's be clear, the state of my mind at this point is not ready for that. You, internet, are not ready for that. My flight to Amsterdam was supposed to be my sleeping Ambien induced flight. Didn't work. Ugh. So now I'm even groggier than ever and just...woozy. Woozy sounds like nausea's involved which it isn't. It's more like a "woooooooooo" where everything is kind of spinning and you think you'll find your head near the ceiling.

All this to say, I'm in Amsterdam and I got here FIRST CLASS. I seriously kept waiting for them to come up to me and say, "ma'am, I'm sorry, we've made a mistake. We need you to move to the back of the plane where you belong...". But instead, I was treated like a queen. Amazing. More details on that later.

Since my eyes keep opening and closing, I'm taking that as a hint from my body that I should stop typing things for people to see when I'm in this state...although I'm sure at some point this would get entertaining.

See you in KAMPALA!! :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Before I tell you what the last 19 hours have been like, I must note how much traveling gives me the opportunity to blog more. Kind of nice. :)

So, I flew from Moline, IL to Atlanta yesterday afternoon. I got into the ATL at about 3:30. Per tradition, I took the tram straight to Terminal A for my traditional ATL airport eats: Great Wraps and Dunkin' Donuts. I happily consumed my gyro which was especially good. I think they knew it was going to be my last American meal so they just made it extra yummy. That's what I was thinking each bite, at least. After that, I headed to Terminal E for my Amsterdam flight. I had just sat down when they announced that they were looking for volunteers with flexible schedules to go on another flight. They offered an awesome amount of money in Delta vouchers plus meals, hotel, etc. My first thought was, "no way, can't do it".

Allow me to give you a little back story. Jill and I were going to meet up at the airport here during my layover to hang out one last time. If we were going to meet up, I was going to bring my American cell phone for us to be able to meet up easier. She would then ship it back to my parents. That morning, Jill found out that she couldn't come due to work. Knowing security would be extra insane, I figured it was for the best as well.

Back to Terminal E. On two ends, I didn't think I could even check to see if changing my flight would work. I didn't have my cell phone to communicate with Jill and I had no way of contacting my roommates in Kampala to tell them of any changed planes. As I sat, I thought of how great it would be to see Jill again AND get kick awesome vouchers. I packed my things and got into line to see what changes would need to happen and if it would work. The cute Asian Delta woman (I love Asians :)) explained that I would be taking the exact same flight tomorrow and therefore would need to spend the night in Atlanta.

This was it.

Decision time.

I had about 15 seconds to make the decision.

My mind went from Jill wondering if this would work for her to my roommates and if this would cause major problems with them to what I would do with the voucher money.

"Ok, I'll do it!"

Wait, did I just say that?

She started clicking her computer and immediately I started second guessing my decision. I had NO way of getting in touch with Jill and knew I'd have to find internet somewhere in the airport to get on Skype. I didn't know what my roomies had planned for this week and was praying that nothing was planned the next night. There was a man next to me who is also flying to Kampala that took Delta up on their deal. We chatted a bit since, I mean, Kampala isn't your "normal" destination from Atlanta. :) He requested first class instead of the Delta money voucher. After I received all of my vouchers, I headed towards a gate in hopes of internet. Two weeks ago when I was here, I could find free WiFi everywhere so I had high hopes...

...that were soon dashed to smithereens.

I went through the process to pay for internet and it still wouldn't work. By this time, it was about 5:30 and I knew Jill would have already left work. I didn't know what her plans were for the night but I knew I had to get ahold of her soon for anything to work out. I started to get REALLY frustrated. My brilliant spontaneous plan was not going well. There was a guy and a girl across from me so I decided to brave it and ask to borrow one of their cell phones. The girl agreed. Feeling flustered and frustrated, I call Jill.

*speaking 500004938 miles an hour* "JILL! I did something crazy! They asked for volunteers and I said YES and so now I'm here until tomorrow what are you doing RIGHT NOW and tomorrow and will this work for you!?"

Jill laughed and we planned out for me to take the MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rail Transit...Something) where she could pick me up. She had to call her friend to find out which station for me to go to and told me to call her back in five minutes. Hm, easier said than done. Not wanting to bother the nice people any longer, I packed my things and left to find a Delta counter where I could perhaps use a phone. I found a Delta station where they had phones. It was too late when I realized that their phones only called Delta agents. Not helpful, my Delta friends, not helpful. I looked at some pay phones, which I don't think I've used since perhaps junior high in order for my mom to come pick me up from a movie. However, since I don't quite live in America anymore, I don't have American change to use the pay phone. Frustrated, I looked around to see if I could find another nice person who would let me use their cell phone. There were some Delta workers and I went up to explain my situation and ask if there was a cell phone I could use. One of the guys pulled his out. I called Jill quickly and we arranged to meet at the Doraville stop.

I hauled my carry-ons towards the tram once again. I should note that my rolling carry-on weighs approximately the weight of a checked bag. My arm is seriously sore. Anyway. I headed to the MARTA to ride across the ATL. The train hadn't arrived yet and it was then that I realized what would be my main concern for the night: it was cold. Really cold. Really really cold. It was a decently long ride. My iPod kept me company as I also people-watched. My stop came, I got off, and that earlier concern about the weather became a reality. Jill had mentioned there was horrible traffic so I knew I was in for a wait in the cold. Considering she had just rearranged her night and life for me, I wasn't about to complain. :) I carried my carry-on down the stairs (seriously, people, the weight of this thing is ridiculous) and looked around wondering where to go to meet her. Oh, meeting her. Gosh, I hadn't even thought to plan WHERE in this place to meet. I walked down one way for a bit before I realized that it was a parking garage that I probably didn't want to go to. As I walked back the other way, I saw a girl waiting and prayed that she'd be my third cell phone to borrow. She was dressed kind of punkish but had the most Southern accent ever. Made me smile. She was SUPER nice. I left Jill a message as to where I'd be. The Southern punk girl asked if I was from this area, where I was going, etc. She pointed me in the right direction.

I headed out in the cold and waited...and waited. I think I was there for about 40 minutes. The temp was I think in the 20's-30's at most. Brrrr. I also prayed for Jill like crazy. Things like, "Lord, please move that traffic and guide Jill here and ooooh Lord it is COOOOLD". God and I had some well needed and good conversations during that time.

Jill picked me up and we met Amberly at a restaurant for dinner. Jill mentioned on the drive to the restaurant that she'd be leaving for NYC with Amberly and others the next day so she would already be heading to the airport. WHEW. What a God-thing! It hadn't even crossed my mind how I would get BACK to the airport if Jill would have been at work. After dinner, Jill and I went shopping for last minute NYC items for Jill. With that, we didn't get to Jill's home until after 11:00pm. Jill packed while I showered. She even washed my clothes so I didn't have to wear the same outfit three days in a row unwashed. Ah, great friends are...great. :) I Benadryled up due to the cats in the house and was asleep by about 1:30am. We left the house this morning at 8:45, met up with their friend Reggie and then off to the airport. We all checked in and then hung out until they left for their flight at 11:30. I AT LAST found free WiFi in this airport and am now happily connected to the world (and you!). My flight is in a little less than five hours so I have lots of time to be connected.

One more tidbit of happiness. When I checked in this morning, my seats were changed and I saw that I was in the fourth row of the plane. Wait...huge plane...row 4...FIRST CLASS!? For my flight to Kampala, I'm now in row 10 which I have no idea if that's first or business but HOLY COW! I have no clue how that happened. Since I'll be out on Ambien my flight to Amsterdam, I won't get to fully enjoy first class unless they have like, flat beds. I wonder if they will! First class on an international flight. Whoa. This is going to be INSANE! I'm seriously waiting for them to be like, "oh ma'am, sorry, we meant to give that to someone who owns a multi-million dollar business not you" which may happen. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Delusional Ambien-Related Travel Moments

As I'm waiting in the airport for my flight back to Uganda, I'm reminded of my many travel incidents. I'm sure many of you and your distant cousins have heard of a particular delusional moment on my first trip to Kenya related to Ambien. If you haven't, meet Maria Marsico. She'll exaggerate a tale for you with crazy noises. :)

The trip to America was mainly non-eventful...or so I thought. It came to me in two different instances. While at Wal-mart this past week, I saw their Redbox rental machine and noted that I could rent "Up". I had heard about "Up" and had really wanted to see it so I happily rented it. I popped it in that night and realized that I HAD seen it. It was on one of my flights to America. While mom and I were watching it, I kept thinking, "gosh, this movie is SO short. It's going to end soon right when the house lands by the waterfall". The house landed kept going! I then realized that I, in fact, had not seen the entire movie. That made me start to attempt to remember that flight...and it all was fuzzy. I couldn't tell you WHEN I saw the first part of "Up". Was it at the beginning of my flight? Near the end? No clue. I couldn't even tell you one detail about the person I sat next to because I don't remember a thing. Here's what I do remember. I brought a water bottle on the plane (security was AWESOME in Kampala) so I could take my Ambien right away since that was my sleeping flight. Otherwise I have to wait until they serve drinks and you don't know WHEN that will be and you're losing good sleeping time. See? Totally makes sense.

Another fun detail. I was uploading my HUNDREDS of pictures from the past month and a half from my camera onto my computer. I came across this picture:

I have this vague memory. I took my Ambien. They gave us drinks. Then, a meal came. I remember that there was something funny about the meal. I remember thinking, "Ha, that's funny. I need to take a picture of this". That's it. Nothing more. It looks like there's bananas on there? But I somehow remember chicken? Mashed potatoes maybe? NO IDEA.

So I'm thinking that maaaaybe I was watching "Up" while I ate my meal and then passed out for the rest of the flight. That's the only thing that makes sense to me.

Things like this make me wonder if just maybe I should not take Ambien when I'm in public. But oh, how amazing it is to conk out for an entire flight instead of to attempt to sleep, be drowsy and stare aimlessly at movies. Oh, that's another flight detail about me. I'll watch movies on planes and then remember nothing. I can usually barely remember the titles much less what the movie was about when I deplane.

I have issues.

So, as usual, my reality is surreal. I'm sitting here in the airport awaiting my flight to Atlanta and then onto Amsterdam. Oh, security there right now? Can you imagine? I don't want to. THAT reality is not going to be fun. My Ambien flight this time around is the one from Atlanta to Amsterdam. Get excited. Stories will surely abound. From Amsterdam, I head HOME to Uganda. Ahh, I can't wait! :)

Goodbye America. Helloooo Uganda!!

(And Ambien, hello to you toooo...zzzz...)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Surreal Life

Surreal. That’s how I’ve been describing my time so far in America. It doesn’t seem real that I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing. This is seriously a different world than what I live a continent away. Did I really get to hold Hudson and kiss those little cheeks? Did I really get to awkward side hug Marsico? Did I really get to sit in small group again and laugh at Chris’ endless jokes? Did I really get to eat yum yum sauce again? Did I really get to eat a ridiculously Southern brunch with Jill?

Absolutely surreal.

What’s not surreal was the blast of frigid air that hit me as I exited my flight in Detroit from Roanoke. I’m sure the Iowa air will feel equally as “real”. (Another unreal thing is how insanely short the skirt of the girl that was just sitting across from me. She just stood up and I looked in surprise at the um, “length”. She must be FREEZING!) As we were flying into Detroit, I noted all the perfect little grids of neighborhoods below. As Mrs. Reesman drove me to Roanoke for my flight this morning, I noted the well taken care of road with no mountain sized speed bumps, “diversions”, oversized trucks stopping traffic, car-sized potholes, boda bodas weaving in and out, taxis recklessly cutting everyone off, etc etc etc. It was so calm. I’ve adjusted pretty quickly to driving here again. Parking lots are seriously the hardest (think right…think RIGHT). It was almost boring at times. It was so easy. I had zero near death experiences. I mean, what a yawn. The “order” of America is so planned out, implemented and obeyed. Truly amazing.

Right now, I’m looking forward to getting off my flight in Moline and hugging my parents. I can’t wait to go to Michigan to spend time with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. I look forward to seeing my brother Matt and his wife (and eating the blizzards he brings me…butterfinger? Pleeeeease? J). I am so excited to hug my grandparents, especially with my grandpa’s health not doing well. I am so anxious to go to my home church and just feel…home in the family of God that has cultivated my relationship with Christ for so many years.

Right now, I’m also missing Uganda terribly. I miss the people. I miss my friends. I miss those kids so much. I miss those hugs and smiles. Oh, those smiles. Nothing in the world like those smiles. I miss the music. I miss the dancing. I’ve even kinda missed the food (I seriously craved posho the other day. Whaaat?).

Before my flight from Kampala, I had dinner in a coffee shop in the airport. In typical Ugandan style, I sat at a table with two other men who I didn’t know as there was a seat available. One was a Ugandan headed to Kigali, Rwanda and the other an Indian from Nairobi who’s flight had just been cancelled. I ended up talking to the Indian man for about 20-30 min while I ate my meal.

Here I sit prior to my flight to Iowa. Everyone around me is absorbed in their cell phone, iPod or just their own world. There’s a low hum of conversation but most sit silently like myself.

Oh the contrasts. I feel like I’m living in two different worlds and it’s weird.

The arctic air is seeping through an open door for another flight. Brrrrr. Why did I come back in winter again?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Random Delirious Thoughts While On A Layover

Well, it's official. I'm in AMERICA! I have all these random thoughts running through my head of all the random and interesting (well, you can decide that one for yourself) things that I've gone through these past 4000503409 hours of traveling...of which I'm not even done. I'm on my 5 hour layover in Atlanta and desperate to make the time go faster. You receive the benefits of this.

-For some grand reason, I thought getting an ICED drink was a brilliant plan. Since I don't normally get things iced in Uganda, I was treating myself. I didn't factor in the general coldness of this place. My teeth are currently chattering and I'm slightly shaking. Why did I come back in the winter!?

-My whole check in process in Uganda was one hilarity after another. No taking my computer out of my bag, or my liquids. He pointed out this water bottle I had but I went through on the plane with it.

-Before my flight in Entebbe, I had dinner at the Good African Coffee there. In typical African form, I joined two random guys at their table. One was an Indian who was born and raised in Nairobi who is a Mason. Yes, an Indian Kenyan Mason.

-I took two Ambien on my flight to Amsterdam. I remember very little from that flight.

-Upon my arrival in Atlanta and about to go through my 100000 security line, I saw a man with an Iowa Hawkeyes hat AND shirt. I couldn't stop my grin.

-During another security line, the guy that was checking my entry pass commented on my necklace which is a paper bead necklace that one of our bead ladies made. He said he liked it and asked where I got it from. I resisted gushing all about Jennifer, the one who made the necklace but I wanted to tell him ALL about her and how they make the jewelry and how much I LOVE her. Instead, I said, "I live in Uganda and got it there". Concise enough, right?

-I keep wanting to say things with a Ugandan accent and have to stop myself.

-I keep wanting to call people "sabo" (sir) and "nyabo" (ma'am) (which I know I totally spelled them wrong but let me blame jet lag, ok?) but knowing that they wouldn't know what I was meaning. Those are the two things that I have to mentally go through whenever I speak the most.

-...but really, I haven't spoken a lot in the last 193948 hours of travel.

-It's hitting that point where my head is getting fuzzy. 5 more hours to go until I land in Lynchburg. What will my head be like then?

-When I got to Atlanta, I at last looked into a mirror. Amazing what traveling across the world does to one's appearance. Yikes.

-I seriously wish that Atlanta had a gym or at least a treadmill. I really want to run right now. Been.Sitting.Way.Too.Long.

-I'm kind of envying people with their cell phones right now. 5 hours till I get my American cell phone back.

-At LAST, I'm close to the time zones of everyone in my family! It will be so nice to not have to coordinate these crazy times zones.

-It is SO weird to see SO MANY white people! My first thought was, "where are they all coming from!?" and then I realized where I was and how obvious the answer to that is.

-Um, I want to hug an African...

-The guy I sat next to from Amsterdam to here was African-American and I almost said the above comment to him about wanting to hug black people but I didn't think that would go over so well...

-...but for real, if I see anyone that looks African, I'm going to have to resist.

-Do you people even KNOW how incredible the internet is here!?!? Holy crap, it is SO fast and consistent and just amaazing! I'm going to get spoiled here and then go back to Africa and hit the reality of crappy internet again. Until then...ooh, soo niice!

Ok, this has to be enough. Who wants to read deliriousness? Hope to SEE all of you soon. Here's to hoping that you don't have to deal with this insanity in person.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Miracles: Big and Small...and a little more. :)

Tomorrow, I fly back to America. Whoa. I’ll be there for three weeks over Christmas but in ways it seems like forever. I don’t know if I’m ready for America yet. So, here I sit, the night before. We’ve been listening to old school John Mayer while making an impromptu Mexican fiesta. His music is nostalgia and greatness mixed in one. This is seriously the most organized I’ve been before a flight in my life. It’s probably because I’m barely packing any of my actual stuff. I have no clothes that I’m bringing besides what I’m wearing on the plane. I will pack my one sweatshirt that I brought to Uganda. I’ve yet to wear it here.

These past few days (weeks?) have been crazy. My main concern? Being able to leave the country. We’ve been waiting for my special visa to get cleared and in that process, those government offices need my passport. That’s cool and all unless you want to like, leave the country or something. I hadn’t really remembered it until Saturday when I started to get nervous. You can’t quite get through airport security without one of those bad boys and I didn’t know what I would do if it didn’t come through.

On Sunday, I talked to Robert, the amazing guy who works on all those details for us. He expressed concern and doubt that everything would go through before Wednesday but said he would “shake” them on Monday. I wasn’t sure what shaking included but I was a fan for anything that would get me my passport back.

Enter Monday. I text Robert and don’t hear back.

Enter today, Tuesday. We have a holiday program for the kids called Breakaway. During that time, Robert stopped by. I joined him outside to talk visa business. He said, “Sarah, I don’t think you’re going to be able to go to the US tomorrow”. I, thinking he was joking, said “are you serious!?” in a semi-joking way. He replied that he was indeed serious as he didn’t see how it would happen.

Oh, it hit me then. Worry flooded my stomach making it tighten. I mean, what if? What if the office refused to put my visa through quickly? What if they lost my passport, like has happened to many others? What if this wasn’t done in time and I couldn’t get on my flight? All the plans I've made so far with friends flashed in my head and I prayed that I wouldn't have to miss out on such times.

Questions pounded through my head as I prayed throughout themorning for God to work some kind of miracle. I prayed that Robert’s existing relationships in that office would help things run smoothly. I prayed that they could find my file and my passport. I prayed that the office would not require a bribe for everything to be completed. I prayed that God would miraculously make this happen.

Robert came by at some point to tell me that it would be ready by 2:00pm tomorrow. While I was thrilled that they had a time, it’s Africa. Things don’t necessarily happen at the time that they are planned. In fact, they rarely ever are. I’m leaving tomorrow for the airport at 6:00pm. It didn’t give me a lot of space for error.

This afternoon, Robert stopped by the office beaming with my passport in hand. I was THRILLED! I couldn’t believe how fast it all happened! Robert voiced surprise at how quickly everything was taken care of but I KNEW why. I KNEW Who was in control. Tomorrow will consist of getting all of my last minute details and packing together. I am seriously the USPS for the Ugandan missionaries. My trunks are full of letters and packages that everyone is sending to their loved ones for Christmas. Wait, does this make me Santa? I need to find a USPS uniform or a Santa costume, whichever one is warmer so I don't die of frostbite as I enter the arctic.

I look forward to seeing many of you during my time home. If we hang out, let it be indoors where I can be warm and pretend that I’m in a tropical climate again, ok? Ok.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Humanity Behind The Headlines

We're a headlines culture. We like to know general facts but don't delve in deep. We may even read two or three paragraphs about something but go on with our lives. I'm one that has always liked to keep up with world news and am more than guilty of knowing general headlines but not knowing the depth of a situation or story.

I remember being in grad school and longing for the day when I could read for FUN again; reading a book because I wanted to not because I was required to. Ever since I've arrived here, I've been reading a lot of books consisting of personal stories of turmoil in Africa. Being here so close to these places makes me want to learn about them. I've seen so many headlines about Gulu, the LRA, Rwanda, Darfur but what do I really know about what went down? I know headlines, sure, but I don't know the people. I started out with "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" that detailed the history and circumstances behind the Rwandan genocide as well as the aftermath that has effects that are lasting to this day in Rwanda and especially Congo.

My roommates recently commented on how I need to start reading some "light" books as all I read are heavy books. I can't help it. That book created a hunger in me to learn more about the area that I'm living in now and what people have experienced. It doesn't help that the bookstore I go to here has a steady supply of incredible biographies and true stories of atrocities that I've only read headlines of. I've been voraciously devouring books as my hunger for knowledge of the history around me increases. From child soldiers ("A Long Way Gone") to LRA abductions ("Aboke Girls") and much more, my mind has been constantly learning and yearning to know and understand more.

Two of the more recent books that I have read have helped me understand the plight of women in Africa. "Infidel" is written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her life growing up in Somalia as a Muslim. Though I'd studied Islam before, Islam in Africa is another deal. Animism gets tied in to every major religion here and as I've seen that with Christianity here in Uganda, she experience in Somalia with Islam. It also gave me an incredible background to the absolute insanity that has taken over Somalia now. In the end, she turns towards atheism as the answer which saddens me. Her journey, however, opens a door to the world of Islam in Africa. Absolutely fascinating. "Tears of the Desert" is the story of Halima Bashir, "one woman's true story of surviving the horrors of Darfur". What really got me to buy the book was a review on the book stating "Darfur has found its Anne Frank". Done. Sold. I read it in a little over a day. I couldn't put it down. The book started with her being gang raped as an adult and then zipped back to her loving childhood and went from there. So many parts of that book left me speechless, with only tears in my eyes.

Headlines. How many headlines have I read about Darfur? How many stories have I heard about the atrocities that have happened there? It's almost become "normal" to hear about it. Another village attacked. Hundreds dead. Normal. What's lost in headlines is humans. You don't see the lives that are impacted. I think of this so often when I look around to those that I love here. What if genocide hit here now? No one would know that this particular girl was so bright and smart. No one would know how talented this guy was. No one would know all that this one has already gone through in their lives and not only survived but risen so far above it. They would be summarized in a dead headline and dismissed with the next news story. That breaks my heart beyond what I can put into words. It is what the authors of these books are screaming out to the world...

...but who is listening?

Humanity is lost within headlines. It is the same with stories. I could tell you hundreds of stories about people here. The stories would break your heart. You would perhaps even shed tears. It's unreal, which is perhaps why it is so easily dismissed. It doesn't seem like the reality of the situation effects our lives and so we go on. What is lost in those stories is the humans that live those lives. I get the honor and privilege to see these lives. It's not like you hear a story about a girl who has been abandoned by her family and is struggling to survive and go back to your life. No, I see that girl as she LIVES her life this way.

My hunger for knowledge growls within me. I'll keep pursuing that as much as I can with a heart that grows heavier for God's most wondrous creation: humans.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
(Psalm 139:13-16 NLT)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Musical Memory Lane

As most know, I love music. All kinds. Most genres. Love it. I believe strongly in the power and influence of music, for both good and bad. Different bands and songs bring me to different memories and times in my life. It's been interesting to be here in Africa reminiscing of some of these times. It's like being a world away from these long ago memories...of which, I am. Some specifics for you...

Last week, I took a random last minute trip to Jinja, the town where the source of the Nile is, to see a couple friends there. It was my first time experiencing the public bus system here. I rode down with my friend Lori but rode back to Kampala the next day alone. I had brought my roomie's iPod (mine is in the States getting fixed) to keep me company while I rode. I flipped the iPod to Jack Johnson. Oh...Jack. The familiar songs, the calming strums of the guitar. It's the kind of music that takes you to a quiet beach or reading inside on a rainy day, all cozy on a comfortable couch.

Let me describe the situation for you. It had been pouring all day in Jinja. I was carrying this large painting with me that I had bought there. I was sitting in the last row of the bus in order not to be a nuisance with my ridiculously large painting. There were apparently holes in the roof by my head as dirty brown drops of water would hit me in different places throughout the ride. Since I was in the back, every pothole and speed bump (which since we're talking about Africa here, was A LOT) thrusted me out of my seat usually causing a "huuuah" to come out of my mouth. As we flew past fields of banana trees, naked children running alongside the road, shacks selling various items and the wide open space of the countryside, I often had to blink a few times to take me back to this world.

On Thursday, we had a day off from field meetings. Oh, there is just no way to tell you how exhausting those meetings were and how much a day off was needed! Since it was two days before my birthday, all three of us roomies celebrated by going to a local pool to lay out and swim. My standard laying out by the pool music is David Gray. I think it started on a spring break (which since we were all full time workers, it was more of a vacation days break) where Jill, Julie and I headed down to Clearwater, FL to spend some time in the sun and have fun. It was a memorable trip with so much fun had by all of us! I remember laying by the pool and by the beach there, relaxing to David Gray. Since then, it's been more of a tradition that I always listen to his "White Ladder" album when I lay out. Always. It's no different no matter what continent I'm in. That morning, I had the Beach Boys in my head. With the sunny day and a cloudless sky, "Fun Fun Fun" was in my head all morning. I started out by listening to them, tapping my toes to the tunes. I truly believe that everyone should start listening to Beach Boys while they are in California. It just fits. I remember being with my family in Monterey, CA as we drove around seeing the amazing views, stopping at Pebble Beach and eating by the shore. With my brother living in CA, there's been numerous visits to the state making it one of my favorite places to go. Listening to Beach Boys always takes me back to Monterey though. The Beach Boys were listened to first...but then I went to my staple David Gray.

Laying out in Africa was a new one for many reasons. First, the pool was right by this conference room where men in suits and women in skirts were having a serious meeting. I had my iPod on so I wasn't fully listening but it was something about children dying. And there we were, in our swimsuits, laying out. I KNOW. It was weird...and semi-awkward...ok, really awkward..especially when they took a break and were walking around the pool their business suits...with us in our swimsuits. Nothing like yanking someone's mind out of Monterey, CA with that awkward situation.

So, I'm making new memories with my musical memories. What's your musical memory lane like?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I’m The Hot One…and How the Last Year of My Life Has Been Insane

I’m the hot one.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sarah, how obvious, we’ve always known how ridiculously attractive you are.” No no, I’m referring to something else (but you can still keep that above thought. I won’t stop you).

My whole life, I’ve been the one that’s always cold. At work, there was a sweater that I would put around my legs for warmth. I lived in my cardigans and jackets. Liberty DID have a tendency to freeze us out but I was always especially frozen. The guys that answered my work orders for freezing temps started getting sassy as they heard from me so much. At any home I’ve lived in, I was always the one covered in blankets and sweatshirts as others walked around without such heavy covering. I have ALWAYS been the cold one…

…until now.

I am now officially the hot one. I have NO idea how this happened. When my other friends are searching for their jackets, I’m wiping away sweat. I had a ceiling fan installed in my room a few weeks after arriving due to that I was SO HOT at nights that I would wake up sweating. In addition to the ceiling fan, I have a fan by my head that I use on extra hot nights (which is most, to me). At the same time, we got a ceiling fan installed in the living room and it is I that always begs to have it turned on. Lately, due to rainy season, it’s been much cooler here in Kampala. One night, I even pulled out a blanket and put socks on. I haven’t have socks on my feet since I arrived (I think. This can’t be confirmed because I really don’t remember). It does increase sympathy towards all of my family, friends, co-workers and roommates that I’ve had, especially the ones that were always hot. So, to you I say, I’m sorry. I now know how you feel. It’s not fun. I probably put you through all sorts of hot and uncomfortable temperatures and for that, I am sorry.

All this to say, I am most likely going to die when I’m back in the States for Christmas. I’ve gotten more used to this tropical climate and I cannot imagine what cold feels like anymore which, frankly, is an awesome thing. For those that I will see in Lynchburg and Cedar Rapids, get the warm blankets ready. I’ll bring my own socks.

I was thinking today of how insane the last year of my life has been. Last June, my life was thrown a part. I cancelled my plans to move to Thailand and wondered what in the WORLD God was doing. July and August were spent searching various organizations to see where God was guiding. I had many long conversations with different organizations and friends. I remember when God had closed doors so that the only two options left were missions organizations. Missions!? Lord, are you serious? Raise support? Be dependent on people?...and even more, be dependent on You? Missions was a big one to swallow but even after that, I had to make a choice. I was getting antsy. I just wanted to GO into the world and serve Him but I was stuck. I had to choose an organization to go with first. This decision was the hardest for me. As much as I would open my arms wide and shout to God, “I am willing to go ANYWHERE for YOU!”, He would whisper in my ear, “I have put specific passions and desires in your heart for My glory”. Oh, but I was willing. I got a gold star in willingness. Unfortunately, in that willingness, I threw aside all that I knew God had put in my heart to do.

I remember the conversation clearly. I was talking with Jeremy at WorldVenture. Jeremy still deserves a huge raise for dealing with me during this time…or at least some kind of extra cool jewel on his crown in heaven. We had many conversations on where God was leading me and why him and his wife had chosen WorldVenture. I always knew that WorldVenture was the best organization, I just wasn’t sure if it was best for ME. In that conversation, Jeremy asked if I needed options to see to help me decide. I emphatically said “YES!” and he sent me about six options in Africa. I read through the descriptions and stopped on this option with an organization called Hope Alive! I went to their website, read what they did and…stopped. I got this weird feeling in my stomach. Chills began on my arms. Everything they did fulfilled the passions and desires that God had put on my heart. It was almost too good to be true. I quickly sent the link to Maria and called her.

Me: You need to go to the website I just sent you…like, now.
Maria (while reading): Sarah, this is everything you’ve ever prayed about. This is YOU!
Me: I KNOW! Isn’t it SO SCARY!?

At that moment, I knew what God was doing. I couldn’t believe it. I was so willing to go to a place that I knew I would hate to do something that I wasn’t passionate about and…why? God had the PERFECT option for me. He is too good to me.

That was…September, I think? I started the application process for WorldVenture in which they searched every nook and cranny in my life to see if I was normal. Officially, I am normal. Whew. I didn’t find out those results until late December/early January. The pressure of knowing if I was normal or not was overwhelming. Ok, not really. Those months in between were so up in the air. I just kept thinking, “what if I’m not accepted? What if God has something else up His sleeve? Could He? This seems so perfect.” I wondered if I should have some kind of cool back up plan if this didn’t pan out. I remember being at the Catalyst conference, exactly a year ago. As I wandered the arena looking at the different booths that were set up, I wondered if I should even stop at any. Should I talk to other NGO’s? Missions organizations? Step by step, God kept the door open. Step by step, I passed the different tests until I found out that I was officially accepted. God had paved the way.

Once I had been accepted, life went crazy. The thought of raising support with the addition of the unknown timeline of when I’ve be moving thousands of miles away to another continent made me shake. While God provided friends who came alongside me during my church visits (Mary!!!) and those who prayed for me during that time (You!!), He was paving the way. Step by step.

In ways, I still can’t believe I’m here. In ways, I can’t believe HE did it. Wow. I am blessed in more ways than I could ever deserve. This past year has been insane and I could never imagine all that He would do.

And step by step He leads me, and I will follow Him all of my days…

Thursday, October 1, 2009


This past Tuesday, we had our monthly Fun Day as a staff. We went bowling at this huge mall, Garden City. I was nicely reminded how poor my bowling skills are. Despite my skills, or lack thereof, it was a blast! We all had fun together! For some, it was their first time to bowl. I’ll insert here something I’ve referenced before. The most random music from America makes its way over here. Much of it, I want to apologize to Africa for. They deserve better American music than this. In the midst of our bowling, “Barbie Girl” came on. That took me back to high school where I remember never wanting to hear that song again. Hope it now gets in your head all day as it was in mine. "I’m a Barbie giiiirrl…in a Barbie wooorld."

Anyway, back to happy thoughts. Catharine started not to feel well during our bowling time and thus asked Kate to drive her car back. With us taking everyone different places, that meant that I was taking a Prado full of people to various locations. With my comfort ability higher in driving these days, I was only slightly nervous. This was mainly due to the part of town we were in (traffic!), the time of day it was (traffic!) and the fact that any error on my part would hurt not only me and the Prado but everyone else that was stuffed into the Prado. Details like that. It all ended up being fine. At one point, I remembered that Kate and I had talked about our need to pick up things from the grocery store. Tuesday is the one day that we go into work and leave together so it’s most convenient to grab things on those days. I called her at one of the stops (because it is SO illegal to talk on the phone when driving here and I have no urge to meet with the traffic police again) to ask what we needed and told her I’d pick it up on my way home. When I parked in the ShopRite parking lot, a memory came to mind.

My first two weeks in Uganda were busy due to that I had come at the same time as a team from the States. They were from Holly’s church. Holly had been here for a year last year and came back for over a month this summer. One day, while we were in the midst of getting something done, Holly left to drive to the grocery store to get things needed for dinner. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait until I’m adjusted enough to do that.” Adjusted enough to know where I was going to even get to a grocery store. Knowing which grocery store is best to go to. Knowing which one has what and which one does not. Not to mention the biggie; feeling comfortable enough to drive there all by myself. Those details seemed unfathomable.

I smiled as I parked the Prado thinking, I did it! I’ve at last gotten to the point in living here that I can get around, do things that I need to do and…LIVE. I am LIVING in Kampala. When people ask what I’ve learned here, I constantly say how much different it is to live in a country than it is to just visit one. The differences are to numerous to count but perhaps the above story sheds light on that.

On another Sarah is LIVING in Africa note, I got an African dress made! I bought the material a few weeks ago and took it to this tailor in the Nakawa market, one of the closest markets to our home (is that right? I actually think there might be another....somewhere…closer?). It was definitely an adventure trying to tell the tailor what I wanted when she spoke only Swahili and French with very little English. I had been to the Nakawa market a few times but definitely didn’t know my way around. Since I’ve had to go back for different revisions to the dress these past couple weeks, I’ve really gotten to know the market better. There’s so many stalls and twists and turns that confused me before. Now, I feel like I got the layout somewhat down. Down enough that I feel like I could go and buy whatever I need. I feel comfortable enough to negotiate for vegetables. I mean, people, I have an AFRICAN DRESS now. I can do anything! (you can laugh at that) I’ll try to get pictures of the dress up here at some point.

Home…what and where is home? Kampala is becoming more like home. The insanity that was once intimidating now has a sense of normalcy to it. I often wonder how it’ll be to be back in America for Christmas. Will I have a hard time adjusting back to my own culture? Will I remember to drive on the right side of the road instead of the left? Will I die once the frigid air hits my tropical climate adjusted skin? Will I gain 20lbs by eating all the Mexican food I can get my hands on? You know, important things like that.

So, where is home exactly? Help me figure that one out…

Monday, September 28, 2009

The South Meets Uganda

I'm sitting here in a coffee shop waiting for my roommate to get done tutoring. I was originally sitting in a seat but moved to a table with another random girl so a larger party could sit there. Strangers sitting together. Only in Africa. At first, the party consisted of one Ugandan man who was soon joined by three really cute Ugandan boys. All of a sudden, the Southern invasion began. Three white women who are very obviously from the South joined. They are all obviously in a hurry and were discussing if they had time to eat. They kept asking each other how fast they think this place would be. I started to silently laugh at that question. We are in Africa. There is no such thing as "quick" service here. Food is meant to be enjoyed; not rushed. Posing the question is in itself hilarious.

When the waitress came, one of them asked the waitress. I forget the exact wording but it was almost downright rude. Something like, "will our service be fast?". The waitress said that it would. I silently laughed again. My next laugh came when she ordered. She asked for a muffin and then for a "waTer", emphasis on the "T", and then repeated it about five times. It was as if out of all of the Southern accented words coming out of her mouth, she thought water would be the one that the waitress couldn't understand.

When I see random white people here, I often wonder what brought them here, what they're doing, etc. These women are like a comedy act. Their Southern accents bring back memories and are such a crazy contrast with the Ugandan accent. Southern accents are difficult for Ugandans to understand. I mean, they can be difficult for me to understand. I remember how long it took me to understand my freshman year North Carolinan roommate. For awhile, I feared that I wouldn't be able to communicate with her.

There should be a movie: Steel Magnolias Meets Simba. Something like that. Because that's what's happening five feet to my left.

I could not NOT post about this. I have been laughing over here and trying to hide it. Hope you've enjoyed. :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Post-Riot Thoughts and Culture Shock

I realize that the amount of blogging I’ve done has slowed down a lot. Why? Well, the answer perhaps doesn’t make sense: Internet. Not less access to internet, but more access. I know, confusing. We at last got internet at our house (YAY!) which means I don’t have to go all the way to a coffee shop to get internet. When I did, it was this focused time of internet where I had to do everything I needed to do on the internet at that specific time. Now…not so much focused. Anyway, I’ll try to pick it up!

Last Tuesday, we had some errands to run in downtown Kampala. It was three days after the riots and we expected the effects of the chaos to be everywhere. Oddly enough, you couldn’t tell that just a few days prior that it was a free for all of insanity. Everything was back to normal, including the roads filled with cars and people trying to get to where they needed. A few days prior, the only ones that dared to go down these streets were the rioters themselves. Life has gone on…but everyone is talking about “next time”. Encouraging, right? With none of the issues resolved, all the anger that spilled out on the streets two weeks ago is shoved just under the surface. Everyone has their own opinions and thoughts about what happened and what will bring.

When I see someone for the first time since the riots, I always ask if they and their families were safe. In my last appointment with my chiropractor, the riots were an obvious topic of discussion. Him and his family were safe but they’re also Bagandans (Bugandan? I still get confused with Baganda, Buganda and Luganda all meaning the same group of people but in different ways). It was fascinating to hear his side of how it all went down. He obviously wasn’t out there rioting but agreed with the frustrations that took place. His most interesting observation (for me, at least) was why the Kabaka, king of the Bagandans, did not answer President Museveni’s phone calls in the past two years. I had heard that fact earlier and had wondered why the President’s calls were ignored. My chiro compared the situation to the Queen of England. If you wanted to talk to the Queen, you would not call her directly but present your concerns to the Prime Minister. Therefore, one would not contact the Kabaka directly but the Prime Minister. Not being from a monarch, this whole concept is foreign to me. I also disagree with his comparison since the Kabaka is still subject to the President here. Since he was adjusting my neck at the time, I just made comments like, “interesting”. J

Last Saturday we had Saturday Club. It was so great to see the kids since we’d cancelled the Saturday before due to the riots. I had been dying to know if they were all ok in the riots. Two different situations came up with these questions that highlight some insane cultural differences. For privacy reasons, I’ve refrained from using names of kids on my blog and will continue to do so until I’ve gotten it cleared that it’s all good to do so. Even so, I probably won’t for their sake. Onto the stories. One of the girls I had talked to on the Sunday before so I knew she was safe during the riots. On Sunday, her face was beat up. There were obvious scratches and some other wounds that I couldn’t identify what had happened. When I had asked her about it on Sunday, she explained that her mother had beaten her. When I asked why, the answer wasn’t completely clear. On Saturday, her face was still looking rough if not worse. I asked her about it again and she replied that her mother had beaten her again. Another girl that I had yet to see since the riots was there. I asked her if she kept safe during that time and how her family was. She said that a policewoman came into their home and beat her and her family. Both stories shocked me. I mean, there are huge debates on spanking in America going on…beating? Out of the question. Could the girls have been lying? Making something up to cover for something else? Exaggerating? Of course. I have no idea what was behind both of these situations either. There’s much that was not said in both situations. Both situations are culturally normal though. Another child was brought up in a meeting that isn’t doing well in school and doesn’t want to go because her teacher beats her on the head every day. The suggestion was made that perhaps the teacher could beat her elsewhere so it doesn’t affect her head. It’s culturally normal here.

You can insert a big dose of culture shock for me right here. In all the above situations, I’ve wanted to be like, WHAT IN THE WORLD!?!? I’ve yet to process my thoughts on all of this. Does the normality of domestic violence and in school have any connection to the insanity of the riots? Thoughts like that…still in process.

I’ve had various conversations here about the cultural differences that we all have between us, which can be some funny and interesting conversations. There are commonalities though. I was reading in Philippians today about how we need to stand firm “in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27) and “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Chapter 2 continues to talk about how we are to follow Christ’s example and humble ourselves. I can be as prideful as I want about my American values, priorities and culture and it will get me where? Nowhere…well, maybe back to America. I boast in Christ alone, unite with my fellow believers to strive for the faith of the gospel. This requires following Christ’s example by emptying and humbling myself “by becoming obedient to the point of death”.

“for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:13-15).

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rioting in Kampala: The Sarah Perspective

As some of you know, Kampala has been a little crazy these past few days. For those that don’t, let me inform you, American style. I say that mainly because the complexity behind all of the violent riots isn’t understandable by American perspectives. Though there are protests in America, rarely do they get violent especially violent enough for deaths. There’s rarely that sense of chaos. The thought of being so upset with our government that we would take to the streets, burning buildings, police stations and killing people? Unthinkable. Why? Well, I have many thoughts on that. Perhaps because no matter what, we have a government that we know we can trust. No matter what decisions they make, we can trust they are making decisions for the betterment of our country. We can disagree with them but can trust them. For example, I believe that Obama thinks that this form of health care reform is the best thing for our country. I can’t believe that he would purposely want to mess up our country. In his heart, he believes this is the best option. Do I disagree with him? Yes, but I don’t doubt his motive. We can trust when a police officer stops us that it is to protect us and those around us. Here, you try to involve the police and government as little as possible. Why? There’s no trust…and for good reason. Feel free to read my previous post on getting pulled over for further justification.

Onto the story…

News is slow here, mainly done by word of mouth. Therefore, almost all of my information was found out through other Ugandans and Ugandan news websites. There’s different tribes in Uganda and the Buganda tribe has their king, the Kabaka. The Kabaka wanted to visit this area, Kayunga, where part of the tribe was. That part of the tribe that he was going to visit wants out of the tribe and didn’t want him to come…or something like that. The government, ruled by President Museveni, sided with that part of the tribe and wouldn’t allow him to go. Why? They said it was for “safety reasons”. The Kabaka said that he was still going and the Buganda were mad that the government was getting in the way of where their king was going to visit. Hence, the Bugandans took to the streets to show their anger. The government brought in the military and they both battled the streets of Kampala. If any Ugandan would like to correct me on my details, please please do. I have enough confusion in all of the details. (Sassy Andrew, I’m talking about you here.)

Thursday was a normal day in the office. I got a lot accomplished including finishing a project I’d been working on for weeks. Around 4:00pm, Kate came into my office to let me know that our co-worker, Richard, told her that he thought we should go home early. I went into the main office to inquire further. Richard mentioned that there were riots in town and that it might be safest for us to go home now instead of later. He went back and forth on this decision until finally deciding that yes, we should leave now. Right before we left, another co-worker, Francis, came in. He had been attempting to go into town but things were too crazy and he had to come back. That solidified our decision. As we were about to drive out, Richard came running to the car and asked if we wanted to see what was happening downtown on TV. We agreed and huddled around the TV in Francis’ office.

It was unbelievable. The screen showed piles of tires being burned on the main streets of Kampala, people getting caned by the police, a body laying on the side of the street, heavy military vehicles, people throwing stones and more. I felt like we were watching scenes from a country far far away instead of streets that were a 20 minute drive away. It felt unreal. We left and headed home where we would remain for the next two days. With fears of the riots spreading, we were told to stay in the compound. I made all sorts of comments about being “compound bound” which is seriously not exciting, perhaps even the opposite. It’s one thing when you want to stay home all day, it’s another when you’re forced. Details. We were blessed with safety. We kept up with our friends that we knew were close to the riots. Their stories made it all seem real. Knowing that my friends were close to this chaos was frightening.

News websites were showing pictures of burned out cars, flames from burning tires, relatives mourning their dead and more. News reports differ on how many were killed. The last I saw was 14. 14 lives taken away and for what? It’s amazing all that can happen in three days.

Now, it’s over. The riots have stopped. Life is back to normal…for now. Nothing has fully been resolved. The Kabaka has postponed his visit but for how long? No matter what, the underlying issues are still there. It’s hard for me to understand the tribal differences, as, in America, we’re all Americans. We may think differently, disagree and argue but we’re all Americans.

I had pictured a situation like this prior to coming, more as a “what if?” What if I’m in Uganda and things get crazy? What happens then? Will I be safe? Will I be cowering under my bed fearing for my life? Running for the airport? So many what if’s. In this particular instance, I was completely safe. I had absolutely nothing to fear and didn’t fear at all for my personal safety. I had more concerns for my friends and the kids. The thing is, no matter what, God is still control. My life is still and always will be in His hands. Please, continue your prayers for Uganda. It’s much needed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Day I Got Pulled Over By The Traffic Police

Let me begin by stating the following:
1. I'm really really tired (ie. my sentences have a high chance of not being coherent).
2. This story is about a month old but I just kept forgetting to blog about it.
3. I'm really really tired.

I'll attempt to remain positive about the police on here but also be honest. Hm, that's a tough line. Bottom line, we try to not involve the police as much as possible because everything becomes more complicated and bribes and more money gets involved. Ah, bribes. Illegal in America and expected here. I had training on traffic police as part of my orientation and knew what I needed to do (ie. apologize profusely again and again) but was so scared for whenever it would happen. Since I am white (which to them equals a lot of money. I've truly debated on getting a shirt that says, "I may be a mzungu, but I'm really not rich. Really."), the chances of me getting pulled over for money were high. I knew it. This only added to my fear of driving in this crazy chaotic city.

Catharine's niece and nephew, Calista and Stephen, had just come into town that week. It was a Wednesday and even more important, it was Kate's birthday! Because of this, Kate had taken the day off which meant that *I* had to drive to the office ALL BY MYSELF. Freak out session included. Stephen and Lonnah joined me on the ride to the office. To help Kate with her party preparations, I planned on leaving the office at noon. I knew that I would be driving home all by myself with no one in the car to help which seriously scared me. The vehicle that I drive is a huge lifted Prado. Check out this beast:

The Prado had been up in Northern Uganda for awhile and was lifted for the terrain up there. My little 5'3" self has to literally climb in. If I was standing next to it, I think I go up to the side mirrors. Not only is the Prado high but it is wide. I am used to my little two door Honda Accord. This vehicle is perhaps three times the size of my little Honda. Add to this that the roads are narrower, filled with people, unclear lanes, pot holes, gargantuan speed bumps/mountains, crazy boda boda drivers, even more crazy taxi drivers and your every day crazy driver. Insane.

I was about to leave the office for my first trip alone. I called Kate to tell her that if I wasn't home in 30 minutes to call and make sure that I was still alive. Me? Dramatic? Nooo. But seriously. I wanted to make it home alive. Just as I was about to leave, Stephen asked if he could ride back to the compound with me so he didn't have to stay at the office all day. Could he!?!? YES, what an answer to prayer. We left the office and headed home. I made the scary turn onto Kampala/Jinja Road and got to the right turn onto Port Bell Rd. Going onto Port Bell is usually easy because there's actually a light. The turn signal came on and the long line of cars began to race through. As I started turning, the light turned yellow. As I turned onto Port Bell, there he was: khaki pants, khaki shirt and those notorious white sleeves. It was a traffic policeman and I'm sorry, what is he doing? Wait, is he waving ME over? Oh. My. Gosh. I pull over and he comes to my window. I roll the window down.

Me: "Hello sir, how are you?"
Traffic Policeman (TP): "I am fine. We have already arrested your friend behind you and are going to take you to jail."
Me (after I told him that the guy behind me was not my friend but he didn't mean that anyway): "I'm so sorry sir, what did I do?"
TP: "You ran that red light and you are now going to jail for it."

Tears threatened to come into my eyes as my anxiety increased. What do I do? What do I say? I knew from my training not to argue with the officer but to just repeatedly apologize. Stephen, however, did not have such training. I had to hold back a smile as he tried to argue with the officer about how I did absolutely nothing wrong. At one point, I told him to stop talking or something like that. Those details are hazy (Stephen, feel free to add any details that I'm forgetting. It was kind of a crazy time in my mind). The officer asked for my license and I handed him my International Driver's License. He then told me to unlock my doors. I did so and he got into the backseat and told me to drive.

Me: "Sir, where do you want me to drive?"
TP: "We're going to the police station. Just drive."

As I begin to drive, he starts small talk: "How are you enjoying Uganda so far?". I think my response was something like, "Great until now". We talked some more as I drove. I continually apologized and then asked what I could do. Ah, that was the key question he was waiting for.

TP: "Oh, do you mean what can you do for me?"

Realizing that all this was purely about money, I reluctantly said, "yes". We agreed on a price and he had me pull over. At one point after we agreed on the price he said, "This is only if you're willing". I wanted to laugh. Willing!? This guy clearly only wanted money. I did nothing wrong but he would take me to jail if I didn't offer him money. What in the world. After I pulled over, I handed him the money. He left and that was the end of it.

There's interesting discussion about bribery here. In these situations, you have two options on who to pay money to. Police officers get paid about $25-40 a month. They have families to take care of on top of this. When they complain to their supervisors that they need more to survive on, they are told to get it in any way they can. Enter bribery. I was driving around lunchtime. The officer was most likely hungry and in need of lunch. His family is also extremely poor and in need. Enter option 2. You can forego bribing the officer and get taken to the Central Police Station (CPS). I've yet to go there but have only heard the stories. Before entering, you'll be approached by another officer attempting to get a bribe before you enter the dreaded court scene. No matter what, in every court situation here, you must plead guilty. The American in me goes crazy with this. You'll be charged at least five times the amount that you could have given in a bribe plus this money goes into the pockets up the higher up and more corrupt. There is a third option which involves you talking your way out of things with the officer and not having to pay a bribe. That's the option that I'd like the most but I need to work on my "talking out of" skills. Not there yet.

The situation itself was NOT fun. It could have been worse and I learned a lot about culture through it. As much as I pray that it will never happen again, I KNOW it will. Now, I'll hopefully be more prepared.

Whenever I see a traffic police officer now, I cringe inside and pray that I won't get pulled over...

...and sometimes, I glare at them behind my sunglasses.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gulu: Day Three

Day Three: Saturday Club! We woke up earlier this morning as at every Hope Alive! site Saturday is Saturday Club! Things are a little different here in Gulu. The kids show up early and clean the place. Yeah, seriously, they do. There were so many times today that I thought, “kids in America would NEVER do this”. When we arrived, they were mowing the grass, Ugandan style. I need to remember the word for it but they pretty much take a machete like thing and cut the grass with it. Others were washing chairs with many more doing other various tasks. I got to know quite a few names and to my happy surprise, many knew English! It was this that made me realize how incredible Hope Alive! is. The other kids in the IDP camp don’t have their education paid for thus, they didn’t know English. The Hope Alive! kids are able to get an education through sponsorship and thus are educated and know English not to mention have knowledge in so many other subjects. Life change is an incredible thing to see. The kids were then all gathered together for a time of praise and worship. None of the songs were in English and at one point, I closed my eyes and praised God that He doesn’t just hear in English, but also Acholi, Lugandan and every other language in the world. Catharine spoke to the kids about how they have a HOPE in Christ and encouraged them to have good influences in their life that encourage them to continue their education and focus on God. Many of the kids have little encouragement from their families and friends to get their education but instead to get money by farming or doing other small tasks. The temptation to receive money instead of an education is high. The long term is given up for the short term. Heartbreaking doesn’t quite cover it. After Catharine spoke, everyone divided up in age groups and had Bible study. I joined the little kids. It was all in Acholi so I mainly played with the kids. After that, we all joined together again where the kids did different presentations. There was a play, a couple songs and a lesson. All from what they had just learned. Amazing. Their retention is stunning. Lunch was served afterwards. There was cassava, cabbage and tea. The cassava and cabbage were delicious! Oh, please, let me tell you about this tea. It was like hot sweet tea, like Southern sweet. (Nikki, I think you would have approved. Yeah, that’s how sweet it was). We left Saturday Club around 3:00pm and headed back to the hotel. We walked around the streets for a bit to get some things and stopped at a bakery Catharine had showed us earlier. I had some of the best samosas that I’ve ever had there. Mmm. We relaxed this afternoon, watched an episode of “Chuck” together, ate dinner, watched another episode of “Chuck” and here we are. It’s currently storming outside which will probably translate into the power turning off tonight. We’re actually currently running on a generator as the power went off earlier. Here’s to hoping that no matter what, my fan stays on.

Since I’m posting this later, let me add some more details. The mowing the lawn deal is called slashing. Kate and I talked about it later and she noted how crazy it is that these kids use such sharp machete like things to do this and how again we’d never do this in the States. Kate also mentioned how the genocide in Rwanda took place with these such every day materials. Insane. The storm that night was pretty intense and the power was off almost the whole night. I thought we’d be eating dinner in the dark until the generator at last kicked in. That night, little worked in the room. I know the fan stopped working at some point and I praised God for my battery powered fan and my headlamp.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gulu: Day Two

Day Two. 

The morning was relaxing…besides my first glance into the bathroom. I had closed the door the night before to prevent any friends joining me in my sleep. I turned the light on…creaked open the door…whew. No bugs. I’m still wary of the bathroom. Breakfast that morning was nice. We sat outside on the veranda, drank fresh juice, ate my Spanish omelet and enjoyed the cool breeze. God and I continued our conversation from the night before, mainly with this verse: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). Huuuah. One more sucker punch from God.  The sucker punch was finished off with v14: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”.  I wondered what it looks like when the world has been crucified to me. How is that fleshed out? And what does it look like to boast ONLY in the cross? Wow. Imagine…

Catharine had a meeting that left Kate, Calista, Stephen and I to our own fun. We decided to walk around Gulu and explore. Kate thought that I could maybe find some mascara somewhere. I was glad at the thought but had already worked through not finding my identity in make-up the night before so I was good without finding it. We wandered through the streets of Gulu and ended up at the Gulu market. It was so nice to experience a smaller town market! The Kampala markets are so chaotic and insane. The Gulu market was so nice and calm in comparison. The night before there was a horrible storm and the mud on the streets and in the market still showed evidence of it. Our search for mascara took us to a few places and landed us back at the market at this random stall. Where else can you pay $0.75 for mascara? 

We then decided to just walk…and walk. We went through parts of town, got to a roundabout listing various NGO’s and followed the signs. I’ll interject here to say that I, Sarah Pisney, have renamed Gulu. Gulu will now and forever be known as Gulu: NGO City. Our first morning here I attempted to count the number of NGO vehicles that drove by our hotel. I lost count after 10 minutes and gave up. Back to the day. We followed signs for the UN and WHO as Calista wanted to see their offices. We followed the arrows to the street and walked…and walked…and walked. We past their offices and hoped that we would happen upon some awesome short cut back to where we wanted to be as we were meeting Catharine and Alfred for lunch soon. The hope of a short cut kept us walking along with Kate’s somewhat certainty that “at the next street” there’d be one. No such short cut came and once we stopped for directions, we realized that we would have to retrace all of our muddy tracks to get where we needed. The cool morning had turned into a very very hot day. We were all pouring in sweat and getting tired. Kate called Catharine to see if she’d be able to pick us up and (praise JESUS) she was! We started the trek back and met up with Catharine along the way. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated an air-conditioned car as much as I did when we entered. Ahhhh, it felt amazing.

 We had lunch with Alfred and then headed to the Hope Alive! Feeding Centre (not a misspelling, things are spelled British style here). We met up with Shem, the Assistant Site Director whom we had met the day before. We checked out where they’ll be raising chicks in order to make the center have income generation making it all less dependent on Western money. There were some kids from the IDP camp that came in. They spoke zero English so we communicated in other ways. Tickle spots are great ways to communicate, I’ve discovered. This also reminds me of when my brothers (read: Jeff) would tickle me until I couldn’t breathe as I child and I hated it. I hate being tickled to this day. Hence, I feel kind of bad about this form of communication but it gets smiles out of these kids and it’s fun…and I don’t tickle until they can’t breathe. I’m kind and merciful unlike some others (read: Jeff). After that, we headed back to the hotel. Catharine had a meeting at the hotel and though Kate and Calista joined, I opted for a nap. Mmm, it was nice. When I awoke, I joined everyone in card games, dinner and our nightly watching of an episode of “Chuck”. I had never heard of it but Kate got a season for her birthday last week so we’ve watched that every night here in Gulu. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gulu: Day One

This past week, Catharine, her niece Calista, her nephew Stephen, Kate and I headed to Gulu to visit our site up there. I decided to write about our days there. I'll post them day by day as well, it got longer than expected. God taught me a TON during this time as well as seeing things that I've never seen but only heard about. Enjoy. :)

We arrived on Thursday afternoon due to a verrry early morning wake up call to leave. Catharine had a meeting with Alfred, the Gulu site leader in the afternoon. We all squeezed (literally) into Catharine’s car for the ride. My anticipations were high as I’ve wanted to go to Gulu for so long. Soon after arriving and checking into our hotel, Hotel Roma, we went to lunch at Diana Gardens. The Rome themed names humored me as northern Uganda has no resemblance to Italy.  Calista, Kate and I sat in on Catharine’s meeting with Alfred. It was interesting to hear of all that a site leader has to deal with and amazing to see how Alfred’s mind worked to solve many of these problems. That night we all played card games. Everyone else satisfied their stomachs with cookies while Stephen and I ate at the hotel restaurant next door. I thought that prior to coming to Uganda, I would escape the Obama-mania of America. Ah, but to no avail. The hotel restaurant had a huge Obama calendar proclaiming “It’s Time For Black Power”. 

That first night I realized two discouraging things. First, I had forgotten my make-up bag. Not a HUGE deal but the realization that I’d be officially looking like trash for our entire trip was an annoyance. The second was higher on my annoyance list. When I was getting settled in my room, I noted and killed quite a few little baby cockroaches. They were little so it wasn’t the hugest deal but I wasn’t exactly excited to have them in my room. It was when I entered my room that night that it became a problem. I opened the door, turned on the bathroom light (the closest switch that actually worked), glanced in the bathroom and saw all sorts of movement. Big cockroach movement. I’m not a verbalizer during times like these; I’m a soundizer. No words came out but this loud moaning scared whine noise came instead. I had already warned Stephen that if there were any more bugs, he’d get a knock. I’m glad he was prepared. I think it was my soundizer that clued him in as apparently even Kate who was two doors down heard my noises. She thought it was someone speaking in another language. Nope, just one really freaked out American. I waited in the hall with Kate as Stephen killed everything that moved in the bathroom. He wouldn’t tell me exact details of all that he killed so I’m waiting until we leave the infamous Hotel Roma (now referred by me as “Hotel Roacha”). I carefully walked back in the room and quickly arranged my mosquito net over the bed. Inside the mosquito net, I put my battery powered fan, headlamp, cell phone and book. The power had already gone out a couple times so I was happy for my battery powered fan and headlamp.

 God and I had some time to talk after I settled myself in (and tucked in the mosquito net to make it roach proof despite the large holes in the net). I explained to God how we’d just gotten here and these two discouragements had done just that: discouraged me. I don't think God needed my explanation; it was pretty clear. I was frustrated. Annoyed. Not wanting this trip to be like this. These weren't what MY plans were. I then realized that I hadn’t really hardcored prayed over this trip to Gulu. I started praying for the people that we had met that day, those who we would meet and more. It then occurred to me: this trip isn’t so much about me. I know, real shocker, right? You know when God just kind of sucker punches you to put you in your place and you feel like “huuuuaaah”, big punch just took the breath out of you. Yeah. That’s what it was like. God knew I needed some kind of smack in the face. He’s a good face smacker. I started listing off what I had instead of what I didn’t. The bed I was in was actually really comfortable. The power was on and a fan was blowing on me. I was secure and safe. I had a bathroom in my room. I had a shower with hot water. Most of the people in Gulu have none of the above. Who am I to complain about no make-up and roaches? I mean, REALLY. I’m currently sitting here in my hotel room, fan blowing on me, typing on my laptop. I have more than I have not. I’ve learned a lot more about what true necessities are and what luxuries are. I live a luxurious life compared to so many…and I complain!? I know that God must just shake His head at me and wonder when I’ll actually get things instead of relearning and relearning. Good thing He’s patient...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Day of Contrasts

I had mentioned in my last e-mail update (insert random plug for my e-mail update. If you're not on that and want to be, let me know) I mentioned how one of the biggest transitions I'm having is that Kampala is such a contrasting city. I had such a day yesterday.

Friday's are my day off (oh blessed day off!). After making a bazillion flour tortillas the night before at Brian and Renee's, Renee and I planned to go to lunch the next day. She told me that she had the perfect place in mind. We drove into town and went to the Serena Hotel. As we walked in, I stated that it felt as though we were no longer in Kampala. That was the point. It was like our own little getaway without having to spend a bazillion dollars to spend the night there. Out of the five restaurants there, we chose to eat poolside and the little snack place down there. This should show you my view: click here


Surrounded by palm trees, a beautiful pool and a cool breeze, we caught some sun (I currently look related to a lobster), chatted and ate. It was so relaxing. 

After that, I went with Dorothy and Kate for home visits. From an upscale hotel to a slum.

What a contrast.

It doesn't seem like these two places can exist in the same city and yet, they do. It's insane.

I've been looking at the size of my bedroom lately. By American standards, it's a decent size but nothing incredible. Since I've visited many of the homes here, I've come to realize that my bedroom is larger than most of the homes that I've been visiting. These are some random people I'm visiting. It's families that I know. It's kids that I've come to love. Entire families of five or more living in a space smaller than my bedroom.

What insane contrasts. I have so much more than I deserve.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Miracles: Big and Small

One of the coolest things that God’s been doing is providing computers for Hope Alive! Before I left, I heard that the IT department at Liberty gives their old computers to the mission field. I got in contact with them and they’re donating 20 computers to us! With that, I’d like to give a HUGE shout out to Jonathan Lesley, Jonathan Gilbert and Ron Banks. Liberty is great because of employees like these. When I told Catharine of these prior to coming out, she mentioned what an answer to prayer it was as they’ve been praying to have a computer lab for the Kampala site. Incredible! The question then became, how are we going to get these computers out here? Shipping them is too expensive and the amount of custom and duty fees that they would charge us here would be ridiculous. I brought two with me when I came. God has provided two amazing friends, Patrick and Maria, to handle the rest of them. We’re shipping them to people as they come to Uganda to bring them as luggage.

Ok, that’s the set up. Wait, you thought the computers were the whole miracle? No no, God’s doing even MORE.

Catharine’s niece and nephew arrived on Tuesday. They got the four computers on Friday to bring with them for their flight on Sunday (Thank you, Patrick!!!). They checked in for their flight and the airline sent them on their way to the gate. Calista, the niece, realized that she hadn’t paid for their extra luggage, the computers. Being $175 per box, it was going to be quite the sum. She turned back and asked them about it. The Emirates representative told them that their travel agent had taken care of the fee.

They booked their flight online and had no travel agent.

This past week, I got another e-mail from Jonathan asking if we needed video projectors out here as well. God just keeps on giving…and it’s incredible.

A couple prayers requests come with this miracle:

1       First, that we’d get all of these shipped easily. There’s a team coming out next month that could take the rest of them. We just have to see if they’re able to do it. That would keep us from having to drag out the whole shipping process.

2.    Second, space! The computers were obviously unplanned and we’re in need of a space in Kampala to have a computer lab for the kids. Pray that a space opens up that’s close to where the kids are, that’s reasonable in rent and has everything that we need. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hot and Cold

My first month here in Uganda has been perfect weather-wise. Every day was just gorgeous; not too hot, not too cold.

That is until this past week. It has been SO HOT. I don't think I realize how hot things are until there's no AC to cool off in. I've woken up every night this past week drenched in sweat. I bought a ceiling fan that will hopefully be installed soon to let me sleep in coolness. 

Speaking of cold... 

I caught one on Sunday. I held this ADORABLE baby girl on Sunday. She started getting fussy so her mom came and took her from me. As she took her, she informed me that she was sick and that's why she was getting fussy. Um, thanks for the warning ahead of time. Luckily, today, I feel a TON better than I did yesterday. Hopefully the congested exhausted insanity will be done soon.

I realize that this is such a riveting blog post after my previous one. I am, however, THRILLED that many of you told me your dumb stories. I feel MUCH better about myself. :)

OH, and I drove to work this morning! I'll be driving ALL BY MYSELF to work tomorrow. Yikes. Kampala morning traffic. Me in my huge Prado. I need some prayers.

Friday, July 31, 2009

"What was I THINKING!?"

Ever have one of those moments? You do something, realize how dumb it was and wonder what on EARTH you were thinking? If you haven't had this, please, stop reading now. You'll have no sympathy for me and I'd like as much as I can get at the moment. If you have, enjoy. You're not the only one in the world that does stupid things...and luckily, I know I'm not alone either. :)

Yesterday, I had my third driving lesson. Since we now know the vehicle that I will be driving the most, Brian and I headed to town in the Prado. The biggest praise? The Prado is an AUTOMATIC! PRAISE JESUS! Though I know that I will still need to know how to drive a manual, it will (Lord willing) not be what I will have to drive every day. I think I could have gotten used to driving it, but driving it PLUS dealing with the non-sensical chaotic insane traffic? Too least for right now.  I've been learning on diesel cars and they are different in their own way. When one starts the car, you have to half turn the key, wait for 10 seconds, and then continue. When you turn the car off, the car has a timer that keeps it running for about 30 seconds.Anyway, back to the drive. Since I need to learn how to drive in the non-sensical chaotic insane traffic, we headed to where the worst of it is. I was nervous. Very very nervous. Since I'm used to driving my little two door Honda Accord, the Prado is a monster in comparison. The hardest part for me is knowing where I'm at on the road, trying not to hit all the people walking on the road, and figuring out exactly how close my vehicle is to the one next to me. In crazy traffic, you're literally inches away from the car next to you. It's frightening. I managed it decently well, including navigating through some INSANE round-abouts. Holy cow. Those were scary. We got into the middle of Kampala and Brian needed to stop at a store. This meant that I had to parallel park on a major Kampala road. I thought death was near. A spot neared and I prepared to park. I started to silently pray. 

Somehow, I parked PERFECTLY.  It was amazing.

Brian remarked how good of a job it was and how he was jealous. I put the car in park. He then began a conversation about the locks and how though I may hit the automatic lock button, when I close the door, I need to hold up the handle in order for it to completely lock. He had me go over to his side to see this as I had already shut my door. As he was shutting his door, he turned to me and said, "Keys?". I said a quick "yes" and we went in. 

As we got in the store, I couldn't remember if I really DID have the keys. I've only locked my keys in my car once, and once was ENOUGH. I'm not one to do this so I couldn't believe it if I had. 

So...I searched my purse.
House keys? Check.
Office keys? Check.
Random keys for the States? Check.
Car keys?...NO WAY.

The keys weren't there. There was a pause in Brian talking to the clerk. 

"Brian? Um...about those keys..."

I went outside to check the car. Oh yes, the keys were the ignition...with the car STILL ON. 


I still can't believe that I did that. I must have gotten distracted with the locks. I was used to hearing the sound of the car still on as we exited, thanks to it being a diesel. What in the world. 

Unfortunately, AAA doesn't so much work in Uganda. 

Luckily, Brian was very calm assuring that it would all be ok. Once we confirmed with Kate that there was NOT a second set of keys to open the car, we had to try to get it open ourselves. By "our", I'm really meaning "him"...which turned to "them". As Brian tried to open a back window, about five Ugandan men came to investigate what the mzungu's (white people) were doing. Once they figured out that the keys were locked in the vehicle that was still ON (gosh, I'm such an idiot), they all pitched in. It truly became hilarious. I feel as though I learned more about the Ugandan culture in those minutes than I have in the past month. These five men tried to get one of the windows opened. The idea then came to get a wire to get into the car to unlock the doors. Scrambling occurred and within a minute, a large thick wire was produced. I have NO idea where it came from. As they were all on the driver's side (and in the very busy road), I was on the passenger side looking in, watching it all happen. People would stop, ask me what was going on and then say, "I'm so sorry". They'd stay for a few minutes, shake their head, repeat their apology and go on. A couple guys decided to try their hand at getting in where I was. One guy came with a thin wire and tried to get the lock to go up. At one point, there were about 15 people around the Prado, all trying to get it unlocked. 

Please. Picture this all in your head. 15 people surrounding the Prado. Brian on the hood directing them to the right button. Guys on my side sticking wires in through the door handle. 

And there I am, sweating, watching, praying and feeling like a VERY dumb mzungu. 

It was incredible to watch Ugandan culture happening before my eyes. Americans are very individualistic while Ugandans are HUGE on community. The community came around us in our time of trouble and did everything they could to help us. It was truly an amazing site.

It took about 20 minutes for them to get it unlocked but, they did it! Whew. Brian turned off the car, locked it again, handed me the keys and we were on our way to do some shopping. We then drove back to the Davis household where I dropped him off and DROVE BY MYSELF to the office. I remembered which turns to take, didn't hit anything (besides forgetting about one speed bump but what's one out of five, esp. when none are ever marked here?) and made it. Whew. That was kind of huge. 

All in all, it was a good driving day. I learned a lot and did better than I expected. And heck, this makes a GREAT blog, doesn't it!? Totally worth it...kinda. 

Let's just pray that I never do that again, ok? Ok. So, if you could all share your dumb stories, that'd really help. Really. Your turn...