Saturday, June 23, 2012

One Crazy Year Ago, I Was A Mess...And Still Am.

I have different music for different places, times and occasions. I'm assuming that's normal and it's what you do too. Gulu means Mat Kearney, on repeat. For some reason, every time we went to Gulu, I would play him non-stop. I was able to see him in concert last year and as I swayed, danced and sang along, nostalgia took over and I closed my eyes and was brought back to Gulu. The sweat. The dirt. The smells. The people. It causes his music to touch something so deep in my soul. So, here I sit in Gulu, listening to Mat and writing. It’s perfect. So, put on “All I Need”, sway, dance, sing along and read…

A couple friends from my WorldVenture appointee class have written blogs about what happened one year ago. Why? Because it has been exactly one year since we were all appointed to be long term WorldVenture missionaries. Crazy. It’s incredible to look back at that group: such dreams and ambition all together in one room. Our group was headed to all corners of the world, looking towards going out to where God had called each of us. Every one had their own journey.


One year ago. Can I tell you where I was? I WAS A MESS. I didn’t even know how much of a mess I was. Looking back? What. A. Mess. I mean, seriously, all you really have to do is read my blogs from this past year to know that it was a rough time.

One year ago…

…I was experiencing reverse culture shock in ways that took months to identify. I was scared to drive at night, had to adjust driving faster than 50mph and thought all plans were cancelled if it was raining outside. I had panic attacks in grocery stores and in large crowds. I struggled to remember how to talk like an American much less act like one. I had more socially awkward moments than I’d like to remember. I was desperately trying to feel at home in a place that was no longer my cultural home. I was just beginning to realize the weight of cultural homelessness.

…I was an emotional wreck. I hadn’t understood that my goodbyes in Uganda were actual goodbyes and that I wouldn’t see my loved ones for a long time. One year ago, I broke down in sobs in front of an interview committee that would determine if I would return to Uganda. I still can't believe they said yes after that. And, after that, I couldn't stop crying about Uganda.

…I had more questions than answers. Mainly, how the heck will I raise all of this support and when will I get to return to Uganda? There are thousands of more questions beneath those two. There was a helplessness. A loss of control. Living a life of complete unknowns.

Here I sit, back in Gulu with Mat Kearney in the background, and just amazed. Amazed that God can use a mess like me. Amazed that when I was an even bigger mess than normal, He was still there. Amazed at how He orchestrated this past year. I lost control but He gained it. I felt helpless but I was in His arms. I looked towards a sea of unknowns while He steered the boat.

One year later and now I’m back but in the same boat with Him. I have no control. I have no idea what the future will look like. Sure, I have dreams, plans and goals but can God mold and shape them differently than I expect? Oh heck yes He can. And He probably will. It's kind of been His M.O. in my life. I have no idea the details that will get laid out. That’s actually a good thing. I hope that I never leave this boat. I pray that my life is always steered by Him and not by me trying to grab the wheel. Although, why do I have the feeling that He's going to call me to step out of the boat at times?

Oh Jesus, you can understand my struggles more than anyone. I wonder what it was like for You to experience life on earth. Was it ever awkward for You? You probably made it through culture shock seamlessly. I could learn a thing or two (or a million) from You.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Around The Internet In One Blog Post

I've already confessed my habit of having a million tabs open at a time in my internet browser. There's been many interesting articles lately that it's been piling up. I've been needing to clean them out and close some but I just CAN'T because some of them are just so darn interesting. So darn interesting that I thought you might love them too. From missions and charity to Mormonism to old school Christian music and singleness and more, there's something for everyone.

Is Missions About Words Or Deeds? - Relevant Magazine
I’m all for social justice. I’m passionate about it. Christians have to be serving people and loving them not just in word but in deed. But man, if I hear another well-fed, TOMS-wearing evangelical kid quote St. Francis (“preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”) one more time as a justification for their unwillingness to utter a word to anyone about Christ as the one true hope, I don’t know what I’ll do.

When Charity Turns Toxic - Relevant Magazine
Here’s the truth: Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.

Is Mormonism A Cult? - Mark Driscoll 
For the Mormons, it is not Jesus blood that makes us righteous, but rather his sacrifice that gives us grace to be good, which leads to righteousness and salvation. The Mormons do not find the work of Christ to be sufficient for salvation but rather the starting point.

CCM Magazine Was My Teen Beat - Stuff Christians Like
Of course it hurt when I heard that Michael W. Smith had eighteen kids. That he wasn’t dating Amy Grant was enough of a blow. That he was married was a given, a minor inconvenience. But something about all those kids hammered the coffin of our happily-ever-after shut. We weren’t meant to be. (At least I’d always have his Secret Ambition video on VHS.)

Why Aren't You Married? - Shannon Roy
Yesterday, I overheard a conversation at a church event, “How old are you? Oh and you’re not married yet?” Then came silence and awkward laughter. I wondered if the woman who was asked those questions left the conversation feeling discouraged. The question is, why does that question sometimes feel discouraging? Often, if we have the desire to be married, it triggers beliefs that aren’t true about God and about ourselves... (video by Lisa Bishop that's just fantastic)

DIY Laundry Soap, Oxyclean and Fabric Softener
My friend sent me this. While I can't make all of them here in Uganda, I can some! And, for all you extreme couponers, you'll love this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Art of Bargaining in Uganda As A Muzungu

One of my favorite parts of Ugandan life is the markets – and especially bargaining. It’s a love/hate relationship, really. Some days are so much fun – joking with the vendors, bantering back and forth and getting a good deal. Other days are not fun. Those are the days when the men are yelling crude things at me and when no one will negotiate with me because they will straight up tell me that I should pay more because I’m white. I hate those days but luckily, they’re rare.

Last Friday, I went to a local craft market. In the middle of the market, there is a tent full of ladies selling beautiful hand woven baskets. As I approached, another muzungu (white person) was finishing a purchase. Her Southern drawl filled the space as she confirmed the price with the woman – a price that was almost four times what I ended up paying. I shook my head and thought, “someone needs to give these people lessons in how to bargain here”.

As I was bargaining to get my nails painted the other day, my good friend laughed and said, “the student has become the teacher!”. I am insanely lucky to have incredible Ugandan friends who have opened up their lives and culture to me, including teaching me how to bargain. With that, I thought it’d be good to write down some Do’s and Don’ts of bargaining in Uganda. That way, when you come visit, you won’t look like that Southern lady and I won’t laugh at you.

-Take a Ugandan friend with you, especially the first time. A big part of bargaining is knowing how much you should pay for something. If you don’t have someone knowledgeable with you, then ask someone before you go what you should pay for that boda ride/vegetable/basket/whatever. If you don’t, you’ll pay what we call “muzungu prices”. You may be ok with that, but I’m not. See below for why.

-Learn basic greetings in Luganda or the local tribal language wherever you are. This really is a must. If they start out in English with you, greet back in Luganda. That tells them that they’re not dealing with a tourist but someone who knows the culture enough to know the prices. The more you can learn, the better. Truly, one of my favorite things is when I approach a vendor, their face lights up because they think they'll make bank from this muzungu and then I greet them in Luganda and their face falls realizing that they can't cheat me. I inwardly laugh every time.

-Be patient. Bargaining takes time. Why? Because you’re not just buying a product; you’re building a relationship. In a relational community culture, this is pertinent. Take time. Greet them properly. Ask about their day. Go back and forth about prices. 

-Always be very respectful. Respect is a big part of this culture. Find out how to be respectful and act accordingly. For Americans, this usually means “talk quietly”. Seriously, we all know we get louder in groups and that’s seen as rude here.

-Stick to your guns. If you know what you should pay, don’t falter. Be stubborn. It will pay off. However, know when it's ok to compromise a little. But, a little. Not a lot.

-Watch the body language and tone of the vendor you’re talking to as well as watching your own. Imitate the locals around you to see how they interact with the vendors, watching their tone and body language. Be able to note when the vendor is truly at their last price and won’t go down any further. This one just takes time to learn.

-Not negotiate. I’ve heard a lot of different reasons why people don’t want to even negotiate at all. This is about building a relationship. If you don't negotiate, it communicates far more than you know.
1. It says that you have so much money that you can pay whatever price they give you. You look foolish for paying such ridiculous prices. Also, if you don’t negotiate from the beginning, then they know that you’re willing to pay that and won’t go down in price in the future. Save yourself time and money in the long run.
2. It shows that you don’t want to have a relationship with them – that you don’t want to even talk to them. That's disrespectful and rude.
3. It ruins it for the rest of us. Seriously. If they see that this white person is willing to pay that price, then they will expect me to. And I don’t want to. So, seriously, negotiate. Do it for me and every other white person that will follow you. Because if I hear one more time "ah but your friend paid me this", I'll go crazy.                      

- Go alone. Again, either go with someone who knows what they’re doing or ask about prices to someone you trust ahead of time. It’s an overwhelming experience no matter what. Don’t make it harder for yourself.

-Be disrespectful or rude. Hopefully you’re not rude to your friends so don’t be rude to the vendors. 

-Bring large bills and expect to get change. Unless you’re in a big store like Shoprite or Game, do not give large bills (50000 or 20000 UGX) and expect change. Most vendors won’t have it. That Southern lady gave them a 50000 UGX and you should have seen their faces. Stock up small bills for times like this.

If markets and bargaining aren’t your thing and you live in Kampala, you’re in luck. There are grocery stores where you can buy most of what you can find in the market. For Ugandan crafts, there's Banana Boat. You’ll pay considerably more in both places (and I mean, considerably). I think you lose out in experience, culture, relationship and a lot of money but that’s because I love the market experience. Some people don’t. 

Ok, so now you’re ready! Bargain away!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Coffee Maker Saga

Today was one of Those Days. I didn’t have grand ambitions for the day. My main To Do list was:

1.     Buy a coffee maker. I’ve been using a small French press that I had stashed in my storage trunk. With visitors coming soon, I knew I needed one big enough to make more than one cup.
2.     Organize my pantry. I had emptied the entire contents of the pantry last week for the painters to come and paint it. This pantry had not been sorted through since, I’m assuming from the expiration date of the spices and the amount of dust, at least 2009. I’ve already sorted through the spices and other food items. However, there’s a large stack of dusty containers and other such items stacked on my dining table. It’d be nice to have my table back.
3.     Read! I have a lot of reading that I need to do for WorldVenture and I’d like to get a lot of that done.

Clearly, my plans weren’t grand. Today, nothing went as planned.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been searching every store I went to for a coffee maker. Every store was either “out of stock” or they had one poor option.

I left the house around 10am to go to Store #1 that I hadn’t looked at for coffee makers. If they didn’t have a good option, there was Store #2 that I had been to that had one option that I was just going to choose if nothing better came along. I was getting desperate. In Store #1 they first told me “out of stock” but then found the notorious one option. I decided to just bite the bullet. As I was checking out, I asked if I could return the coffee maker if I had not used it. Return policies don’t really exist here and don't get me started about warranties. However, I wanted to check and see if Store #2 had any more options before I settled for the mediocre option. The cashier said “yes” and I went on my way to Store #2 where I found the perfect option. The plug for this one was South African and the worker helping me told me that after buying it, I needed to go to customer service and they’d change the plug for me. I bought it and left the store, completely forgetting about the plug. I needed to get back to the house to drop off the refrigerated items that I bought.

Bonus: In that visit, I realized that both of my toilets weren’t working. Nice.

I headed back out to return the coffee pot to Store #1 and stop by Store #2 to get the adapter. This blog would turn into 500 pages long if I detailed the entire return process for Store #1. Let’s just say: it took forever, they couldn’t give me cash back but now I have a random receipt with three peoples signatures that I can use as a voucher for later. I then headed back to Store #2. I didn’t bring the actual coffee maker with me because I figured they’d just give me an adapter. No, they change the actual plug. Bummer. Another store employee heard what I was trying to do and told me to follow him back to the adapters. I thought he was just going to give me one but he said I could only pay for it. So, let me get this straight: the guys up there will change my plug for free OR I could pay an exorbitant amount of money for an adapter. Thanks, buddy, I’ll go with the free option. I headed back home to have lunch. I was getting cranky hungry. Clearly.

Bonus: In that visit, I figured out how to fix my toilets! I was so insanely proud of myself. Our business manager came by in that time. I told him about it and he didn’t act nearly as proud of me as he should have because, seriously, that was a proud moment.

After lunch, I went back to Store #2 with my coffee pot. As they fixed it, my friend called asking what had happened to our 1:00 appointment. It was 1:45. 20 minutes later, my coffee maker had its correct plug and we were sitting in a coffee shop. I got home around 3:45: still annoyed at the day’s venture and with a raging headache.

My To Do list completion today: I bought a coffee maker. Wow. That about kills my American task oriented self. However, I really need to be ok with this. I mean, I also fixed two toilets (!!!) and had a wonderful deep conversation with a dear friend. It’s also life here. So often, things don’t go as planned. I know it…sometimes it’s just hard to live through it.

In my conversation with my friend, we talked about the need for our kids to discover their value in Christ and not in others. It’s a lesson that I need to learn. My value isn’t found in what I accomplish; it’s found in Christ. Tomorrow is a new day to relearn that same beautiful lesson. Happily, the day will start with a cup of brewed coffee.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Week of Reunions: They Grow Up So Fast!

So often, we fear the unknown. As much as I was bursting with insane excitement to come back to Uganda, I also had some fear (see previous post for what God has been teaching me on that subject). I feared that perhaps I had adjusted too much to America and would have difficulty adjusting back to Ugandan life.

It’s been overwhelmingly beautiful to realize how unfounded those fears were. I landed in Uganda very early Wednesday morning and spent my first day getting essentials (food, internet, phone) as well as reuniting with dear friends. Honestly, it felt like I had been gone no longer than a day. It was all like I had never left.

Well, that was until I saw my kids again.

On Thursday, my friend texted me to come to the Hope Alive! office because another dear friend was there. I just thought that it would be her that I was seeing. Though it was wonderful to see her, I didn’t realize that being there meant that I would see so many others. It was one surprise after another; one squealing shrieking excited reuniting hug after another. Some reunions were especially emotional for me. How do I even put these feelings into words? The immense joy of seeing loved ones again. The recognition of the loss of not being around each other for so long mixed with the joy of being together once again.

You know those running hug reunions? That was my Saturday. I went to Hope Alive!’s Saturday Club and as I was walking up, about 20 kids came sprinting from a classroom and within seconds, I was engulfed in 20 little hugs.  Or, not so little anymore. And that was when I realized that truly, I had been gone longer than a day. Though I was only gone for one year, the kids had grown like I had been gone for 5 years. I could not get over how much each of them had grown up! Many were now either close to my height or taller. Clearly, it doesn’t take a lot to be taller than me but…my kids! Taller than me! Unreal. I felt like a proud mother seeing them so grown; oohing and aahing over them.

I’ve been back for slightly over a week and it has been a crazy time. It’s been full of those reunions but also full of details. Coming back to Uganda and preparing to stay long term means a lot of work. I’m laying a foundation for the rest of my life here. That’s no small task. I’m currently in the town of Masaka preparing for when I’ll return for language study (also reuniting with dear loved ones here). When I return, my new-to-me to car will hopefully be sitting in front of my house and the downstairs will be painted. I’ve been working at getting settled into my house, which will only get crazier when my container arrives.  I’m really looking forward to at last being settled. After a year of exhausting travel and not staying in one place, I am anxious to make a home here.

Until then, there are many more reunions to be had and a thousand more details to be done. Gosh, it’s just so great to be home.