Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Awkward Dance of Culture

I've heard culture described like an onion: full of numerous layers, difficult to get to the core and sometimes, stinky to deal with (ok, I added that last part). Culture is complex. Some days I feel as though I’m fitting into Ugandan culture whereas other days it’s like dancing the wrong steps in a dance.

Oh wait, that sounds familiar.

The bride and groom!
My good friends Chris and Kevin (a girl’s name here) are getting married soon and a few weeks ago they had their kwanjula, the traditional wedding of the couple. Bride prices are a part of the culture and the night before the celebration, the groom and his family come to bring the price that the bride’s family has given. If the bride’s family accepts, then the party can go on as planned. After the kwanjula, the couple is traditionally married but law in Uganda requires a church wedding as well.
Lonnah and I waiting in the bride's room, dressed in a gomesi. Check out those shoulders!
 I was honored when Kevin asked me to be a part of her bridal group for the kwanjula. Well, honored and uncertain. Though I’ve been to many Ugandan weddings, I had never been around for the kwanjula. The only thing I knew about the day was when and where to be.

The dearest of friends: Lonnah, Dorothy and I waiting for the festivities to begin
 The bride and her girls were hidden away most of the day until it was our time to bring out the bride. I think it was then that it was casually mentioned that we would be dancing our way out.

Dancing? Not so much my “thing”. Dancing in front of a few hundred people? Oh man. I tried to reassure myself that all I would need to do was to sway a bit to the beat…while walking…and smiling…and holding up my gomesi (seen above) so that I wouldn’t fall. No. Biggie.

And then it happened. Every one else started dancing the same choreographed dance…a dance that I didn’t know. Panic started to rise and I fumbled, attempting clumsy moves.

Kevin and I
In that moment, I felt so out of place. Sometimes living in a different culture is like awkwardly dancing a dance that everyone else seems to know the moves to besides you. We all want to belong and yet, some days, living in a different culture makes you feel like you never will. When everyone else knows the dance of living in this culture and you stand out, making the wrong steps with language and misunderstanding cultural meaning behind things. Uganda is home to me but my skin color will always make me stand out, no matter how many years I'm here. There are some discouraging days when my being a foreigner is just so obvious. It’s a difficult thing to trudge through. It’s awkward. It’s clumsy.
And, as there are those days, there are many others that balance that out.

Later on in the night, the bridal party sat on a mat on the ground while the groom’s family danced and brought gifts to Kevin, welcoming her into the family.  The music was loud. The beat was infectious. In a line, the family danced in, smiles so big and cheers so loud that it took over the whole place. As each family member brought their gifts, everything from fruits and vegetables to crates of soda and more, they danced, cheered and celebrated. In that moment, I struggled to hold back my tears. I felt completely humbled and honored. True, I’m a foreigner. I’m not from here. Yet, I have the dearest of friends that open their culture and lives to me. They open up themselves and let me in. They extend their love and friendship to me. They see all of my missteps and awkward moments and guide me. They answer my millions of questions. They love me.

Georgina and I, the best of friends
In that moment, I felt so honored to be a part of that day, awkward dancing and all. What an honor to stand by two of my dear friends at such a big day in their lives. What an absolute honor to not only live in Uganda but have dear friends who are willing to share their dance moves to a crazy white girl.

A most beautiful bride and friend
I am seriously blessed.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Story of a Foolish Girl and Her Sandy Foundation

A classic Sunday School song for me was the one about building your house upon the rocks, not the sand. The wise man built his house upon the rocks (ie. God) and the foolish man built his house upon the sand (ie. anything but God). The rains came down, the floods came up and I took special joy when the house on the sand went SPLAT. You too? I knew it wasn’t just me.

God’s been teaching me about building lately. He’s been showing me that what I’m doing now is building a foundation for life in Uganda.

This foundation process has been as slow as stinking molasses. It’s killing me. I’m all “but God, when do we get to the GOOD stuff? The walls, the windows, the d├ęcor!?” and God’s all, “seriously, the foundation is pretty important.” I so want to rush through this process. I want to at last be settled in Uganda (for the love, can’t a girl just get her container already!?), fly through language training and just get to curriculum formation, discipleship, and forming this crazy awesome school. You know, the GOOD stuff.  I don’t want to live in the present stage that God has me. Really, what that says is: I don’t want to be where God has me now. That in itself is a life long struggle for being content where God has me.

I was so busy rushing through this stage that I was wearing myself out. I about near had an emotional breakdown. And the state of my foundation? I’m a foolish woman. I was building this foundation on my own strength and effort.

The new Hillsong album has a song “Cornerstone” that has been wrecking me. It’s like God wrote it for me for this time. Not only am I building a foundation for life in Uganda, but Christ must be my cornerstone.  Fleshing that concept out in my life has been well, life changing.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly trust in Jesus' name

Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong, in the Savior's love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of All

I was so busy, reconnecting, traveling, busting through To Do lists and I mean, Christ was there but…my Cornerstone? Hardly.

Situationally, it’s been a really difficult last few months. The rains have come down, the floods have come up and I’ve felt like I was drowning.  It’s Christ alone. That’s the only way this can all happen. I have to be so deeply founded in Him, wholly trusting in Him,

The day before I left Uganda last year, I got a call from my friend saying God had given her husband a message for me. What he told me has rung in my ears and heart ever since. He told me that what God was going to do through me would not just affect me but would affect generations to come. Because of this, I was not to lose focus. I must remain focused on God and be in His Word.  My life affects more than just me. That’s true of all of us.  Those words have especially been ringing in my ears lately, reminding me of my purpose. 

I’m beginning this crazy awesome life in Uganda. My foundation must be firm. My Cornerstone must be Christ. This house is being built by Him and for Him. No need for any SPLATs.