Monday, January 25, 2010

Peeling Onions

I love onions. They add such a great flavor to every dish (even if my roommate doesn't believe it). Chopping them, however, is my least favorite thing. My eyes start to sting to the point that I can no longer keep them open. I squeeze my eyes in pain while tears form. Is it worth it? I give it a resounding "YES!"

I've been in Uganda now for almost seven months. As I've mentioned before, there is a community culture here, not individualistic. Relationships mean more than anything. But, as with every relationship, it deepens when you go through the layers. I feel as though I'm finally at the point in many relationships here that the layers have been peeled away and a true relationship exists. Seriously, there's this love in my heart that just wants to gush out! God put His love in my heart for the people of Africa 5 years ago. Now, I can look to specific people and friendships and have this overwhelming God-love for them. With every relationship, you start surfacey. The "how are you" and "what have you been up to" type questions. With some, there comes a point where deeper questions begin. There's a genuine care and love. There's a relationship being formed. There's also specific situations that melt my heart. Let me give you some examples.

I look at the friendships that God has provided me here. There are so many incredible God-serving people here that challenge the MESS out of me. I see them as they serve our King and I'm just amazed. As I've gotten to know so many better, I've been able to go deeper with them. Layer by layer.

Those Bible study girls. Gosh, I love them. Seriously. I look at them and love fills my heart. The more we are together, the more I realize how NO ONE else has attempted this before. No one else has tried to speak truth into their lives. No one else has tried to answer their questions. No one else has cared enough to...which is just baffling. These are GREAT girls. I see how God put these girls on Shammah and my heart. I see His timing. I see His incredible love for these girls. I see their life situations and my heart is broken. However, I see their potential and I cannot WAIT to see how God's going to revolutionize their lives. God has filled me with a love for these girls that I can't even describe. As we've discussed everything from our own personal lives to family to friends (and this Wednesday, boooys!), their questions have gotten deeper and deeper opening us into their lives more. I have seriously been amazed by their questions. I love that they feel free enough to ask. It's even led to some huge openings; deep and honest conversations. It's is my absolute honor to even be involved in these girls lives. Layer by layer.

And then there's those heartbreaking situations. I've truly held back on this blog on many things mainly because I don't want to exploit these kids or manipulate you as my readers. It's a hard line for me. However, I know that you pray for these wonderful children and such details help you to pray for them.

With my job, I get to know every circumstance of every child. There's no words to describe this. Reading these often makes me want to sob. Knowing that we're able to make such a difference in their lives is an honor. We recently had three new kids join our site here in Kampala. Their first day at Saturday club, I almost wept. Literally. For Saturday Club, I always wear my most casual clothes since we play games and run around with the kids. A lot of the kids dress up to come as it's a special thing for them to come to. The newer ones especially do this. These particular new ones came for our Fun Day. There I met Lawrence. He stood out as he was clearly wearing the absolute best clothes that he owned: a tattered button down shirt that was once white, navy dress pants that had been worn to threads and black dress shoes. Amidst the water balloon games and tug of war, he proudly wore his best. This was such a big deal for him. He knew his life was going to change drastically and he dressed accordingly. His timid smile revealed how nervous he was. I wanted to sit down and weep at the site of him. I knew what him and his sister had been through.

The third new one has a particularly heartbreaking story. Her parents have both died from AIDS and knowing her age, she had to have watched them die a terrible death. She was then sent to one of her uncles who sexually abused her. An aunt then took her in to spare her the constant abuse only to add her own. How we came to hear about her was because the aunt came by the office to give her to us. She no longer wanted to "deal" with her. After realizing that we provide sponsorship but don't house the children, she decided to keep her knowing that the child's school fees and more would be paid for. The girl is 14 years old. Can you even imagine what her self-esteem is after this? I've seen her thrive in these past weeks. She's gotten involved in Hope Alive! as well as the church. She is one that I always make sure to talk to every time; hugging her, letting her know how happy I am to see her and telling her that she is beautiful. She IS so beautiful. Reading her information sheet made me tear up. Such a sweet precious girl with loads of talent and a beaming smile.

Peeling an onion layer by layer can be like relationships. Sometimes it's painful and it stings. Each layer leads us to the core and though painful and difficult, it is WORTH it. I have been so honored to not only be here but to be allowed deeper into the layers of many people here. The more layers, the deeper the love. They each add such flavor to my life.

Right now, I hate that I have a time limit here. Though I have a year and a half left, it doesn't seem like long enough. I don't ever want to leave this place or these people. How did I get to be so lucky to be here doing what I love? Ah, can't wait to see what more God has in store...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leadership Corps Worship

For some reason, our internet here does NOT like to upload videos to facebook. I have all these great videos to show from my time here but error messages abound and it doesn't like to work. I was hoping it would work on HERE. So, let's try this out. :)

This video is from August!...or September. SO LONG AGO. Each site at Hope Alive! has a Leadership Corps made up of those at that site that are, well, leaders. They get extra leadership training and are seriously amazing. In August (or September...I really need to check), we had them ALL come to Kampala for a Leadership Corps conference. It was SO great to meet all of the kids, see them interact as they discovered cultural differences and see how God is working in their lives. Their last night here, we all met at the head office for dinner and a end of the conference meeting. It started to DOWNPOUR like I've never seen here before. Instead of being bummed that they were all stuck inside, they started to worship God. This is one of those "this would so never happen in America" moments. These are all high school kids who are dancing, cheering and praising God.

At the end, they turned on us...HA! I think they were wanting to put us on some shoulders like they did with those mentors. I think I disappeared upstairs for a bit after that to avoid that... :)

It was my honor to be there and witness this. I hope you can get a glimpse at the love for God that these kids have.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Killer Death Ants and Me: Worst Combo Ever

First, come on, blogging three days in a row!? Is this a record? My New Year’s resolution is starting off AWESOME. Let’s hope I can keep this up. J

We all know those people that things just happen to them. Crazy situations abound and the only answer is, “well of course, this stuff only happens to YOU!”

Hi. I’m one of those. Jill Walker, you’ll also especially appreciate this since you’re one of those as well. For all those others who are one of “those”, I hope you also appreciate this.

As blogged previously, I climbed Mt. Sabinyo last Monday. The most memorable part of the climb was not on the way up but, in fact, on the way down. We had almost reached the bottom of the mountain when our armed guard guy stopped to point something out to us.

“Here, you see the mobile insect. It is very very dangerous.”

(Mobile is pronounced like a mobile phone, not Mobile, Alabama. That’s for all you Southerners out there. J)

I had never heard of such an insect. My mind pictured some grossly large insect that he would point out at a distance that, knowing my luck, would probably dive bomb my face. When I got up to where he was, he pointed down to the ground where I saw a line of what I thought were ants.

Me: “These don’t look thaat bad-ooooh, I see.”

They looked like normal ants until one got a closer look to see the scorpion like pinchers on their head.

“Ah, yeah, I can see how those would hurt. Let’s keep going, shall we?”

We continued to walk on until…

“Um, OW!”

The sharp stinging pain on my thigh told me that something was amiss.

*shriek* “Ooww!”

Then came my knee.

Then the back of my thigh.

A quick look into my pants revealed my worst nightmare. The mobiles (aka. Safari ants) had made their way up INTO MY PANTS.

Let me set this scene for you real quick. I’m in the middle of nowhere Uganda on a mountain. I am with three men: the armed guard guy, the porter, and my fellow missionary Al. I have killer pinching stinging ants all up in my pants.

As the stings continued throughout my body, all I wanted to do was to scream and strip off all of my clothing to rid myself of each one of these torturous insects. Let’s go back to that whole being with three males thing. No can do. Every time that I thought I had gotten rid of them and we kept walking, another would strike. Every new look would reveal more that were climbing, stinging and pinching their way up my body. Though they were mainly on my legs, they stung their way through my stomach, arm and more. I would literally have to rip them off my body as their pinchers had sunk in to my flesh. The further we went, the more I began to wonder about the guard’s “very very dangerous” comment.

“Um, so exactly how dangerous are these things? Like, are they poisonous?”

Translation: Am I going to die!?

Armed guard guy (I somehow never got his name) was vague on exactly how they were dangerous. If the “only” danger was the extreme stinging pain that was crossing my body, then I could deal. If I was about to die in the middle of a mountain from venomous scorpion ants, I wanted to be prepared for that…not that I could really prepare but it would have been nice to know if death were near.

At one point, my porter walked me off the trail and said something to the point of, “check yourself”. He spoke little English making moments like that funny…only I wasn’t quite at the laughing stage. The guys were off somewhere and I took that moment to quickly search if any remaining torture agents remained. I didn’t see any but wanted to wait until I was in serious privacy before an extensive search happened. I could just see, after all that, some other random hiking group happening upon me as I “checked” myself.

I couldn’t find a picture of “my” kind of death ant. The one below will give you an idea. Mine were smaller, brown and had a more defined scorpion look. When I’ve asked my Ugandan friends about this, they all express concern about the danger of the ants and the pain. Apparently the kind that attacked me are the ones that they are more familiar with. You can also read wikipedia’s article on them which, at one point, states that there have been reported cases of people—usually the young, infirm, or otherwise debilitated who could not escape—being killed and eventually consumed by them, often dying of asphyxiation” ( Encouraging, right!?

So whenever you’re feeling down about your life and wondering why things can’t be better, hey, at least you don’t have thousands of death ants wanting to consume you. And, at least, you’re not the lone female in a group of men getting attacked my killer death ants. Your day is totally already better. Trust me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Climbing Mt. Sabinyo

A view of Mt. Sabinyo as we were hiking to the mountain

At last, the time had come. We were climbing Mt. Sabinyo. I had anticipated and dreaded this moment for months. We’d been training for months and I still didn’t feel ready. Maybe that was just fear. Allow me to start by saying that I had never actually climbed a mountain before. I know what you’re thinking: “Sarah, you grew up in IOWA. I can’t believe you didn’t grow up mountain climbing!” This may shock you but…Iowa has no mountains. Should I have had you sit down? I know that’s probably overwhelming for you. There are many beeeeautiful rolling hills in parts of Iowa but those are hills, not mountains. Given, I could have climbed more when I lived in Virginia but after a busy week of work and school, when one weighs out a “Pride and Prejudice” marathon with climbing a mountain, Mr. Darcy always wins.

We arrived in Kabale on Saturday night. Sunday was spent getting things together for the hike. We all had lunch together and then left for Kisoro, the town at the base of the volcano mountains. It was a three hour drive to Kisoro and my eyes couldn’t leave the scenery outside the car windows. It reminded me of Ireland only (I never thought I'd say this about anywhere)…more beautiful. The road to Kisoro was narrow, taking us high up into the mountains offering breathtaking views of the area. Kampala is so huge, dusty and cramped. Southern Uganda is filled with green lush mountains dotted with little villages balancing on the steep terrain. Once we got to Kisoro, we checked in to our hotel, the Golden Monkey. If you can picture a hotel in a rural Ugandan town, then you probably got what we stayed in. The girls and I were lucky to have a bathroom (with an actual toilet!...that only worked for the first 10 hours of our stay there) in our concrete walled room. We were one of the few that did. After checking in, we walked around Kisoro to check in with the Ugandan Wildlife Association (UWA) about our hike and to see the area. We ate dinner at another local hotel where I attempted again to have my fish and chips. I’ve now officially given up until we go to a more reputable restaurant.

We went to bed early that night in order to be well rested for our mountain climb. I barely slept that night. I think that when you KNOW you have to get up earlier than normal, your body goes into freak out mode in order not to oversleep and then you just don’t sleep. Annoying. I was awake to hear the downpour of rain that came down that entire night. It was still raining when we got up in the morning. There was discussion as to if we should still go knowing that the climb would be made much more complicated and dangerous with the rain. Mt. Sabinyo has many wooden ladders to climb and they would have become slick with rain. Jenny and her dad decided not to climb which left the climbing crew as myself, Kacie, Kate, Al, Laura and her two sons Austin and Grant.

We left the hotel at 7:30am for the 30 min drive to the base. The road was volcanic rock with large volcanic rocks in the mix. If one weren’t already awake, that ride would have jolted you to alertness. It was still raining when we got to the office to pay and check in. They provided us with a guide and two armed guards. The guards were in case we came across any dangerous animals, not people. They told us about the mountain, gave us walking sticks and introduced us to our porters. Al and I had decided the day before to share a porter. At that point, I didn’t realize that I was about to spend the best 15000 USH (a little over $7) of my life.

Mt. Sabinyo has three peaks and is about 14,000 in elevation. It was my goal to reach all three peaks but I had no clue about my ability to do so. I was starting out the climb with a cold, which was annoying. Combine altitude with congestion and it’s not fun. I was determined to do as much as I possibly could. It was about an hour hike to the mountain from the base. The trail had become a mud filled stream that we walked up. It was literally like walking through a stream, little waterfalls included. Any attempt to keep my feet dry was done in vain. Soon enough, the water and mud had poured over into my shoes making it feel as though my toes were swimming with each step. We slipped and slided our way up to the mountain. Because of how difficult the trail had become, it was taking much longer than we expected. It was during that walk that Charles, our dear porter, began to see that he had a helpless clumsy slipping and sliding girl on his hands. At the beginning of our hike, I didn’t need my walking stick anymore and it was getting in the way. I tried to ask if I could put it down and just pick it up when we came back. Instead, Charles held onto the stick for me. It was like he knew that I would have been dead without it…and he did. He began to help me cross the muddiest areas without falling and without him, I would have faceplanted it about a thousand times. He spoke very little English which made communication interesting. The rain stopped about an hour or so into our climb. It was such a relief! That, however, did not dry the trail. The climb is truly a blur of ladders, Clif bars, blowing my nose, coughing, pain and mud. I can’t remember much of it. Apparently, from what my experienced mountain climbing buddies told me, most mountain climbs zig zag their way up the mountain. Not so here. It was a straight up climb with very little zig zag. The trail remained muddy and slippery throughout making it all the more difficult. Every step was a decision on where it would be best to put ones foot without sliding and falling. There were sets of slippery wooden ladders and mud "stairs". Between my walking stick and Charles, I made it up those rough ones. I am literally typing this today because of Charles. For some reason, my balance got WAY off adding to slipping everywhere, I seriously almost slid off the mountain a few times. Really, there were some close ones. My lower back had started to kill, my left hip went crazy at some point and weakness came. I could NOT give up. I was living for that first peak.

At LAST, finally, it came! I had one huge bit of steps (were there steps? Gosh, I can barely remember) and I was THERE! Those last steps were ROUGH...but the relief of being on TOP was overwhelming. On the first peak, you are in Uganda and Rwanda at the same time. I collapsed on top in Rwanda’s side just laid there for a few minutes, feeling too dizzy to move. I had to decide if I was to continue to the next two peaks and I knew that there was no way. Physically, I could probably do it. It would have taken me a longer time and with our limited daylight, there wasn’t much extra time. I also knew that I needed energy to go back down. With how slippery it was coming up, it would be even worse going down. I had reached the peak and was thrilled that I even got there alive. With that, Al and I decided to head back down. We took our time at the first peak eating lunch, resting and taking pictures. We headed down with an armed guide and Charles. Before we stepped off the peak, the guard informed us that the climb up was easy compared to going down. So encouraging. He was right, though. With the mud, the climb down was ROUGH. We very slowly made our way down the mountain. I literally held onto Charles almost the entire time. Between him and my walking stick (cannot believe I was about to put that thing down), I got down the mountain. Without either of those two, I would still be on the mountain…or have fallen off. Even with those two components, I slid around and had many near falls. On the way down, I met safari ants which will be a whole other blog that you are SURE to enjoy as it was one of the most torturous and awkward experiences of my life….because, seriously, this kind of stuff always happens to ME.

All of this to say, I’m glad I did it. It was HARD. There were many times where I would have been happy to give up but I didn’t. I kept singing my life song “Lead of Love” by Caedmon’s Call throughout the climb: “I had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view”. Oh, so true.

Looking back You know You had to bring me through

All that I was so afraid of

Though I questioned the sky

Now I see why

I had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view

Looking back, I see your lead of love

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Adventurous Road Trip to Kabale

Last Saturday, we (Catharine, Kate, Kacie, Al and I) took the long trip down to Kabale located in southern Uganda. With our Uganda WorldVenture field meetings starting on Tuesday, we were heading down early to climb Mt. Sabinyo. It would be an 8 hour trip down and we were going to be driving our Prado. At least, that was our plan.

We got the Prado all loaded up with all of our stuff and started it to go pick up Al. Wait, I mean, tried to start it. Kacie says she heard an original clunking noise as she was outside of the car. Besides that, the car wasn’t starting, clicking or making any noise to indicate that it wanted to start. A check under the hood revealed little. We then emptied the Prado and loaded everything into Catharine’s Rav. We picked up Al 45 minutes late and headed on our way. We had given ourselves two extra hours of daylight (driving at night is atrocious and avoided) so we were still good.

We didn’t realize how much we did need that extra time.

We were right before the equator so about two hours in to our long journey. There was a bicycle on our side of the road and a large truck coming from the other direction making it so that there was not enough room for us to pass the bike. Catharine slowed behind the bike and when the truck passed, moved past the bike. A taxi appeared by our side passing us and we heard the CLUNK as it hit us. “Did he knock me?” Catharine asked, using the Ugandan term for getting hit. Kacie, who was mere inches from where the collision occurred. The taxi had already zoomed past us showing no attempt to stop. Catharine accelerated and passed the taxi honking the whole way. She pulled in front of the taxi, slowing down in order to force him to slow down. We pulled over. What happened next was one bit of cultural hilarity after another. Catharine got out of the car to talk to the taxi driver. We looked back to discover about 5 men conversing with Catharine so we told Al to go out and support her. The three of us girls stayed in the car. One of the male passengers in the taxi walked right in front of Catharine’s car, squatted and preceded to um, GO to the bathroom. On the side of the road. Now, we see guys peeing on the side of the road all the time. In Kampala, if we see a guy near a ditch, we just assume he’s doing his deal and we look away. This was no #1. This guy was straight up doing #2 approximately 2 feet away from us. What was happening behind the car was apparently more interesting, as we found out when Catharine got back in the car about 10 minutes later.

When she got out of the car, the taxi driver stayed in the taxi while a few of the passengers got out. They told Catharine that everyone in the taxi agreed that it was their fault but that they were on their way to an event so couldn’t she just forgive them and let them be on their way? Dead serious. That’s what they said. They kept repeating that everyone agreed it was their fault. We were thrilled there was a consensus. The huge dent in Catharine’s car wouldn’t allow her to agree to their form of forgiveness. The taxi driver came out at some point telling Catharine that he had no insurance (most likely a lie). He stated that he knew that it was his fault but couldn’t she “please just accept me as I am”? We’re not sure exactly what that means. Accept that you’re a crappy driver and hit us? Done. We can do that. Driving away like nothing happened? Um, no, we can’t do that one. Catharine got their vehicle information and we all drove off. A phone call to Robert, our kick awesome business director (referenced earlier as the one who took care of all my passport stuff) informed Catharine that she needed to report this to the police. Ah yes, another stop on our long journey. We then searched for a police post, which is way easier said than done. We at last found one underneath a sign for Sleeping Baby. Can YOU find the hidden police post?

We waited in the (hot) car while being surrounded by children who kept repeating “mzungu” over and over again. We were like our own little mzungu zoo. The police promised to track down the taxi driver and we again headed on our way to Kabale.

With all that behind us, we stop for lunch. Stopping for lunch here is no quick McDonalds stop. We knew it’d be a bit but again, got more than we bargained for. Three of us ordered fish and chips, Al ordered a hamburger and Kacie ordered a tomato and cheese sandwich. After a LONG wait (even for Ugandan standards), our food arrived. My tilapia looked…weird. Like this:

Cutting into it was tough and we soon realized that there was no way that this was fish. Chewing it was another indicator. Catharine went to find the waiter who went to the kitchen area to see what happened. All of the kitchen staff looked at the order sheet and agreed that yes, it said fish but instead, they had given us pepper steak. So glad that again, we have a consensus on that they were in the wrong but alas, again, who was to pay? Us. Al wasn’t much better off than us. His hamburger consisted of mystery yellow meat (oh yes, yellow) on sandwich bread. It looked like-a this:

The only decent meal was Kacie’s tomato and cheese sandwich. She utilized that moment to try to convert us all over to a vegetarian life. No dice, my friend.

After all that, the rest of our trip was happily uneventful. We arrived at the Slater’s house in Kabale excited to spend time with their family with no extra adventures included…

…well, until we climbed a 14000 ft. mountain two days later…