Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gulu: Feelin' Hot Hot Hot

Ahh, it’s been a MONTH since I’ve written. I’m totally kicking myself over this. I had been doing so well too! Blaaaast.

For this particular post, you’re going to need to do a couple things to really feel like you’re experiencing it. First, put Mat Kearney on your iTunes. Particularly the entire City of Black and White album but putting “All I Need” and “Fire and Rain” on repeat would be perfect and doing what I did for the entire trip. Now, put on three pairs of heavy socks, thermal underwear (top and bottom, please), three long sleeve t-shirts, a sweatshirt (or two, if you can fit it), sweatpants (snow pants would be a bonus), hat, gloves and a scarf. Or you could just turn the temperature in your house up to 95 degrees because that was the temperature of our hotel room in Gulu. Literally. Once you are covered in sweat from your head to your toes, start feeling the sweat drip down your body and wonder if you have the beginnings of heat stroke, you may proceed to the rest of the blog.

I had wanted to go back up to Gulu ever since we first went in August. At last, the chance came up again. The big difference is that we went in dry season. Not sure what dry season is like? Let’s go back to that whole 95 degrees in my hotel room deal. There’s no winter, spring, summer and fall here. It’s just rainy and dry season. Dry season is HOT, really really HOT. Also opposite from the States, the north here is hotter than the south.

Quick Uganda geography lesson for you: Kampala is south of Gulu. (See? You learn somethin’ new eveeery day)

Gulu is in the north. All that to say, it had been ridiculously hot in Kampala before we headed up to Gulu. I was nervous as to what Gulu would be like.

And for good reason.

We (Kate, Catharine, Al, Richard and I) piled into the Prado early Wednesday morning to head up north. The ride up was filled with naps (for me, at least), counting speed bumps, talking and games of “Would You Rather”. We reached Gulu around noon and the heat was stifling. We stopped first at our feeding center and greeted Shem (or as I call him, Shem Diddy Shem. He’s secretly ghetto, like me), our assistant site manager. Our feeding center is located in one of the IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) camps around Gulu. Since the war is over, it’s emptied out considerably. There’s still half naked children that yell “Mzungu!” and run alongside your car with huge smiles when you drive through, but not near as many as there used to be. I even noticed a difference from when we came in August. We then drove to the church to greet Alfred, our site manager.

If you hadn’t noted, greeting is a big deal here. When anyone enters a room full of people, you go around and shake hands with each person and ask how they’re doing. Quite different than the American “hello” that encompasses the entire room and takes some getting used to.

Our trip to Gulu was not one filled with cute kids but instead, meetings. While I’m not a fan of meetings, especially all day ones, they were much needed. As stated, the situation in Gulu has changed considerably over the years. Whereas before, all of the kids were together in the IDP camp, they have now all scattered into various far reaching villages. In ways, this is great! There is at last peace and the children are free and safe to be in the villages. However, it makes what we do as Hope Alive! more difficult. One of my favorite things about Hope Alive! is the active involvement in the child’s life. Each child has a mentor that visits their home, gets to know their life and helps them spiritually. With the kids so far out, it makes it difficult for the mentors to visit them. There’s also not as good of schools far out in the village. We had come to discover that one in a fun way. Shem had gone to visit a school one day and discovered that only one teacher had decided to show up that day. He visited a different school another day only to find out that they had only taught one math lesson the entire year. Seriously, can you even imagine!? Clearly, we needed to change some things around with what schools our kids attend and how to reach them best.

It was fun seeing this logistics side of things, especially hearing Alfred and Shem brainstorm over the best possibilities. The longer I’m here, the more I realize how little I know. With two trips to Kenya under my belt, I came to Uganda thinking that I had at least a small grasp on the culture. Oh, how wrong and naive I was. I had always heard about cultural layers but didn’t truly understand it until now. I’ve only been here for seven months and feel like I still know nothing in comparison to the vast amount of cultural knowledge that there is. Sitting listening to the wisdom of Alfred and Shem showed me how much cultural understanding makes such a difference. Part of my job also has me sitting in on the Hope Alive! Advisory Board meetings. The board is full of people from a variety of backgrounds that understand the culture in such deep ways that help us know how to do what we do best. I can’t imagine doing anything here without Ugandans. That may seem obvious but obviously many try to separate themselves. I am so lucky that we get to work with the amazing people that we do. I am especially lucky that these people have let me into their lives, are ok with me asking lots of questions, not understanding things and doing lots of things wrong (especially their traditional dance. I do that really really wrong).

We got a lot of things worked out in Gulu and I can’t wait to see how it makes a difference in the lives of the kids. Though we had meetings during the day, we had fun at night. I had wanted to go up to Gulu with Richard at some point since he’s from the North and it would just be so much more fun. We watched Shem play basketball at nights. Kate joined in one night while I opted to read (“Shake Hands With The Devil”. Amazing) AND cheer at the same time. I’m a woman of many talents. Clearly. Nights were also a time of much prayer. Every night when I went to bed, I prayed (begged?) that God would keep the electricity on so that the fan in my room would keep going. Even with the fan, I woke up numerous times each night swimming in pools of sweat. The last night, God decided to show me why He chose hell to be hot instead of cold. I’ve thought in depth about this. If you’re too cold, you die. If you’re too hot, you SUFFER. I get it, God. I do. Really. But, I apparently hadn’t REALLY gotten it. That last night, the electricity went off at 2:30am and never turned back on. I was awake when it happened and was then awake the rest of the night…sweating…profusely…tossing…turning…begging. My little battery powered fan helped some but couldn’t do the work that was needed. Are you still wearing those heavy layers of clothes? It’d really help me if I knew you were suffering like we did. J

Pray for Gulu. Pray for the leadership there, from the site directors to the mentors; that they would honor God in ALL they do and lead with integrity. Pray that God would fill their hearts with love for the children. Pray for the kids that they would desire to honor God in ALL they do, including their studies. Pray that they would not just see what’s happening in their life now but would look to the future and see how the choices that they are making now will effect the rest of their lives. Pray that I would continue to work through the layers of this culture and in turn, love the people even more.

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