Slice of Ugandan life

29 07 2010

I know it’s been a long time since my last post. I could say it’s because of the slow internet (which is true, I always get a text from my ISP that there is something wrong with the undersea fiber optic from Kenya) but it’s really because I don’t know what to blog about. Work is always very rewarding and I think my colleagues are heroes. The recent bombings in Kampala made me pray more (by the way, everyone in our office is fine although more than 70 people lost their lives in the two blasts. pray for healing) and the new norm is waiting in long lines to be searched to go inside any large store.  So since I’m all over the place, perhaps I can write slices of my Ugandan life over the last few months Twitter style.

  • Met the Archbishop of Uganda. He’s tall and pretty cool. We’re best friends
  • My mukwano gwange (beloved friend) hugged the Bible I gave him. Never seen a person so excited to receive a bible. He texted me yesterday saying he preached two awesome sermons since he got the gift (Yes, he used the word ‘awesome’)
  • Drove up to Gulu (Northern Uganda) with seven other women in the car that is only supposed to seat seven. Guess I’m beginning to be more Ugandan by shoving as many people in the car as possible.
  • Stopped by the roadside to buy machomo (beef on a stick) for .25. Surprised that I didn’t get sick.
  • Preached in a small village church during a torrential rainstorm. Had to yell the message b/c there was no sound system and the roof was made from corrugated aluminum. Felt like an old fire and brimstone preacher (don’t want to do that again, brought back bad memories of jr. high camp)
  • Spent the afternoon with my 2% Aggie friend and saw the cool things she and the company do to help women go to university
  • Finally beat my buddy Greg for the second time in tennis here in Uganda. I rubbed it in and then realized that I’m 2-30ish lifetime against him. That made me sad
  • Gain a new appreciation for football (soccer as it is called in the States) watching the World Cup. Truly fun watching my Mexican friends cheer their country’s victory over France.
  • Got proposed to by a student who helps us with our work in the village. She noticed I was wearing my ring on my right hand and immediately asked me to marry her. I asked her why she didn’t want to date the guys at her school and she said ‘the men in Uganda are polygamists’. And we flew to Vegas the next day and got married…
  • Saw some other friends who are doing great work with a company creating a market for women in Gulu to sell their jewelry.
  • Met some of the clients we helped to get their land back. Very humbled by the meeting
  • Spoke at another church and the members wanted to say ‘thank you’ so they gave me a live chicken to take home. It is very rude to not accept the chicken so I put it in the back of the car. My colleague has it and it is going to see its last days soon…. love me some grilled chicken.
  • Got my iphone stolen. Can you say upgrade? cha-ching
  • Have become an expert in dodging potholes in Uganda
  • Hailing a boda boda by raising my eyebrows is second nature
  • Still learning how to keep my dress shoes from getting covered in dirt by the time I reach the office. How do my Ugandan colleagues keep their shoes so clean.
  • Cried and inspired after listening to a message by Britt Merrick talk about his five year old daughter’s battle with cancer
  • Flew to Rwanda to see friends. So much better than sitting at the bus park for three hours then riding on a bus for ten.
  • Played with some of the children in a village and the mom wanted to take a picture of her children with a Mzungu
  • Saw huge baboons on the side of the road.
  • My fridge smells like kim-chee that went bad
  • Thinking about going to the doctor’s and buying meds to treat bel-hazaria
  • Totally forgot to take my doxy for a month to fight against malaria
  • Got excited to find broccoli at the grocery store. Made broccoli beef and pork tofu for my friends.
  • Still can’t figure out why my dry cleaning smells like wet dog
  • Hacksawed a lock on a gate in broad daylight. No one stopped me (disclaimer: we got permission from the neighbors)
  • Pulled up in a car right in front of a little boy peeing into a drainage ditch. Didn’t phase me one bit since boys and men usually pee on the side of the road (I just want to go up to them one day and tell them if they got to go to have the decency to find a bush)
  • Thankful that the King is in control even when the world seems so chaotic




Mukwano Gwange (Beloved Friend)

25 05 2010

I find myself very inadequate when I speak with pastors in the village. I feel I have nothing in common and get this sense that I am somehow in their way. But those feelings of inadequacy and distance fade away whenever I visit Pastor Mike Obaya. The first time I spoke at his church, he took me by the hand and directed me to the front of his church where he usually sits. He relegates his seat to me and sits on a wooden pew in front. I watch as he directs people in the church to lead songs of praise, to share testimony and to read scripture. The best part was watching him play something similiar to a djembe (but it was an African drum). Most pastors I know in the States are musically and rhythmically challenged so it was a joy to see him slapping a mean Ugandan beat.

My beloved friend has shown me so much about being humble and a servant. He does not draw a salary from his church (he barely makes enough money to support his family), has no formal Bible training yet he is filled with inexplicable joy. During the week, he works on a small plot of land farming and growing vegetables to feed his family. On the weekends, he ministers at his church perched on top of Namawojoolo village overlooking beautiful Mukono district. He is known by most everyone in his village as an honest hardworking man.

Today I visited my beloved friend and he shared with me that the church building collapsed a few weeks ago during a strong windstorm. There were people inside when it happened, but fortunately no one was injured. I surveyed the church and saw that they were slowly rebuilding, reusing the lumber that tumbled and straightening the corrugated aluminum roof. They have been meeting outside for the past several weeks and hope to be under a roof by June. There’s nothing fancy about this church. No electricity, no running water, no walls. It’s just some beams, trusses and a roof. No state of the art sound system, no lights, no projection system. They sing from memory, share from the heart and laugh with such joy. I know their joy resonates from the love of Christ, but I believe it is also because they have a wonderful servant leader who leads by example.

As I got ready to leave, he had a personal request. He asked if I knew anyone that could help him get a large print NIV Study Bible. He currently uses an old KJV but it’s not helpful when he needs to study or read the Luganda version of the Bible (which is translated from the NIV). I told him ‘too bad, if they could read it in 1611, we can read it in the 21st century’. I gave him a fist pound and headed back to the office… j/k. I told him I would ask my friends and see what we can do.

So how about it? Can you help my beloved friend get a NIV Study Bible? If you’re interested in making a small contribution, send me an email and I’ll get you details.





Packages oh Packages Part 2

23 03 2010

“Ray, you’re good with directions”. This is what my colleague told me as we were driving into the village. I told her I didn’t have a choice because there are some days where I don’t have a translator or a driver so I just wing it. I’ve gotten used to driving on the British side of the road, driving aggressively because I have to and four wheel driving in the dirt roads after a rainstorm. Half the time I don’t know where I’m going since there are no street signs so you just look for markers like ‘big banana tree’ or ‘turn left where you see the herd of cows’.

So I drove to the village today and then took a matatu back to Kampala. It never ceases to amaze me how many people they can shove into these tin cans. At the peak of the drive, I counted 16 in my matatu. Luckily it was cool today so I didn’t have to sweat profusely.

Upon getting back to the office I got package #2. Oh Happy Day!

Among the many goodies I received:

  • lop cheung
  • sirracha hot sauce (a must for every Asian household)
  • dried chap chae noodles (time to enlist my Korean friend to cook)
  • SPAM!!! an essential when you’re cooking fried rice
  • chocolate and lots of it
  • little debbie’s snack cakes and oreos!!!
  • hand sanitizers and razor blades
  • lay-see (man I miss Chinese New Year)

Thanks Bay Area friends!!! I would hyperlink everyone so you can read their blogs but only Stan updates on a regular basis.





Packages oh Packages!

10 03 2010

So I received today I hope the first of many care packages. I knew I had one coming but didn’t know how long the Ugandan mail system would take. Apparently USPS international postal service is fairly on time and it took two weeks to get here. Before I show you the loot, I need to write about the mail system.

We have a PO Box where we receive international mail and so I headed over there. I opened the box and there was a slip saying I had a package waiting for me at the main post office. The slip also said I had to pay 3,000 shillings because they had held my package for more than 7 days. I didn’t care because I was more excited about getting something in the mail. So I get to the main post office and waited in line after line after line. This wasn’t going to be easy. I finally got to the right line in parcels on the 2nd floor. I gave them my slip and they said to take a seat. Are you kidding? There’s no one in front of me, I just want my package. Five minutes later they come out with my box. Then they said I had to sign a receipt and show them my ID. No big deal. I started getting frustrated when they said I couldn’t take my box yet because I had to show them the receipt that I had paid the 3,000 shillings. So I moved five feet down the counter to another gentlemen who moved slower than a snail to match my parcel receipt with the original receipt. He then asked for my ID. I told the guy, ‘uh that dude just checked my ID’. He didn’t care and just proceeded to write another receipt for me to sign and then said ‘you can’t leave yet, go take this receipt to the man over there on the opposite wall. So by now, I am just about to go postal (not really, but it would have been funny since I was in a post office) and proceeded to take yet another receipt to another man writing down something on a ledger. He asked for my ID. You have to understand the comedy and inefficiency in all this. All three men can see each other and all three have identical ledgers saying the same thing – I have paid and signed for my package. So I obliged one last time, showed my ID, signed the man’s ledger and darted out the door holding my package like it was Christmas day!!! Total time in line: 30 minutes.

Let’s just say I was not too impressed with the efficiency of the post office.

But it was all worth it because….

I hit the motherload. Thank you Caitlin, Kevin, Harrison, Liz and Hadley. Toiletries check, chocolate check, jif peanut butter check, pens check, magazine check, valentine’s card from Hadley priceless. You have made my day!!!





Cultural Lessons

2 03 2010

One of the things I love about my role is going to the villages. It affords me opportunity to share with strangers what we do in their community. It allows me to listen alot and just soak it all in. The village is one big cultural lesson. When I go out to the village, I am usually with my assistant, translator and jack of all trades – Kaye. He’s great and has been a blessing as we talk about everything and anything in our car rides. Our office administrator calls us siamese twins because if I go to the village alone, I’m hosed. Sometimes the people will speak English, other times in Luganda. The other thing is I have no clue how to get to some of these places without a trusty guide. Like yesterday, we had to take a back road because there was an accident with a overturned truck on the main road. It was raining like crazy and we were on this narrow muddy and steep road. Lots of fish-tailing on the Rav4. Everything looks the same when your landmarks are trees (there are no street names).

So as I had to process all the cultural nuances, here are a few that just boggle me.

Gestures

I remember growing up and giving my friends the head nod as a sign for ‘sup!’. Here Ugandans love to use facial gestures. The problem is they don’t tell me what it means. Boda drivers will raise their eyebrows to get your attention. It looks sometimes as a ‘come on’. My Ugandan colleagues in the office always love to raise their eyebrows to and make a ‘mmmmm’ sound when I talk. Are they affirming me? I have no clue what they’re thinking. I haven’t had a chance to ask Kaye about it yet.

Hand Signals

This is even funnier. Usually if you want to wave down a taxi in the states, you whistle or wave your hand. I tried doing that when I needed a boda here and they just passed me by. The secret is to nod your head with the eye brows raised. How in the world are they supposed to see that from 200 feet away? And then there’s the driving hand signals. I see the thumbs up when people want to signal or turn. Wait a second… there are really no rules to driving. I’ve driven several times and there is no common courtesy. You have to drive aggressively. New York cabbies have nothing on these matatu (taxi bus) drivers and crazy pot holes. The ironic thing is when they want to tell drivers off, they don’t really yell at you, they just shake their fingers towards you like ‘shame on you’.

Personal Space

I was out in the village today with Kaye and we were meeting with some pastors. After that meeting I needed to confirm a future legal education so we went to the edge of our project area to talk with the person who is helping us mobilize this community. I walked around the venue where it’s going to be held (it’s super rustic, see pics below) and it’s great because the homes are right next to the venue. After we left, I knew of a roadside stop where there are a ton of food vendors and I wanted machomo (kind of like kabobs) so we drove down the hill and onto the main road. When we pulled up to the vendors, we were swarmed by 40 people all unionized wearing their blue vests selling machomo, gonja (it’s not pot, it’s grilled plantains), water, fruit, and anything from the animal. Our windows were rolled up but these people pressed their goods on the window yelling do you want water, beef, liver, chicken, goat, gonja? The idea of personal space is kind of lost. Kaye told me that my predecessor Jaime and another ex-pat Suhanya were riding in the village once and stopped at a similar roadside stand. Kaye and Jaime left the car to buy some food with Suhanya taking a short nap in the back seat. The windows were rolled down and when Suhanya awoke, she had whole chicken legs on a stick and other animal parts shoved in her face. Personal space violated. My personal space was encroached on when I road the matatu last week. Now the matatu is a well oiled machine. There are thousands of these mini-buses that drive all over Uganda and can take you from one end of the country to the other dirt cheap. I took the matatu back from our project area which is about 20 km from Kampala for .75 cents. Now the thing about the matatu is the frequent stops. They make their money hauling passengers, dropping off and picking up new ones. When I boarded my matatu, there were only three people in it. The sticker outside the van said ‘not to exceed 12 passengers’. Would they really obey this rule? Silly me, of course not. At the height of my ride and passenger load, there were 17 people in our van which is a little bigger than a Honda Odyssey. I had a lady that was leaning on me, it was a hot day, and it just didn’t smell good. Personal space violated.

The Hand Shake

As Jack Black said to Lawrence in ‘School of Rock’ – “slap it, shoot it, kaboot it”. The Ugandan handshake consists of the universal handshake, then the ‘right on my brother handshake’ and then back to the universal handshake. Now I don’t know but I have followed along and this is how I shake hands with Ugandans. I don’t discriminate, it’s the same handshake when I greet the women (no one told me if we’re supposed to greet them differently). The problem is I don’t know when to stop. We tend to shake hands a lot so I greet the people with a handshake, and then a few minutes later I may greet them again. It makes greeting a fun excercise.

Thanks for reading, I’m sure I’ll be adding more cultural faux pas soon.

This is restricted personal space in the village. Not pictured is the cow tie to a tree five feet from the squatty potty

This pic shows a more calm group of vendors. Mine swarmed the car today

This is why I love going to the village. Great views, clean air, and rural





Mwasuze Mutya (‘Good Morning’ Plural Form)

27 02 2010

In the month since I have arrived in Uganda, this is all I have really learned how to say. I find myself speaking Spanish more to my colleagues Greg & Paloma whenever I can. I guess I have been lazy to start Luganda lessons. I have a great translator who goes out with me to the villages and most people have a working knowledge of English so I haven’t been motivated to start… yet.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about Uganda is the friendliness of most people. There are several children who wave and say hello to me every afternoon as I round the last corner on the hill before my house. The boda boda drivers are always friendly to me… because they want my business. The lady that I buy breakfast from every morning is very nice and asks how the food was the day before. And then there are the many people who want to sell me anything from electric fly swatters (looks like a toy tennis racquet but highly effective to zap the mosquitos at night) to sugar canes.

So it makes me want to be friendly back each time. I get the curious smiles and children following me especially when I go to the villages. Who can blame them, they don’t really see a Chinese American very often. Last Sunday was a great example. I spoke at a church in one of the villages called Takijunge and as we pulled up to the church, two little girls with beautiful braids and their shy smiles stood at the door waiting for us. I had just bought some chapatti (kind of like tortillas) for breakfast and asked if they would like some. I handed one to each of the girls and the response was so Ugandan. Many of the children and women in the villages will bow down to you out of respect when greeting you or receiving something. So these precious children bowed down to receive the chapatti, smiled and slowly ate them. Honestly, the first time this happened to me I was like “no, no please get up!” but since that time I have learned that it is how they show respect to you.

This type of greeting has been frequent especially when we have been doing our case intakes. After our legal educations where we teach the community about how to protect their rights, we invite those participants who may have been victims of property grabbing to stay and talk with us. The first legal ed I conducted, we had over twenty women patiently wait to talk with our staff. Every time they greeted one of my colleagues, they bent down and bowed in respect. I really want to figure out some way to honor them back. You see, these women are the courageous ones. I look forward to talking to these women because their faces light up when we teach them what the law says about property rights. They feel empowered and a sense of hope. As they wait to talk to one of us, I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Perhaps they have been a victim of property grabbing and this is their last option before sleeping on the streets. Or they haven’t had a meal in a few days and came to the legal ed because someone invited them. Whatever the case, I am beginning to understand a little more when Jesus said that he had compassion on the multitudes because they had been with him for several days and had nothing to eat. I think my favorite moments so far in the legal education have been watching my colleagues minister to the women who come for legal advice. Sometimes we are able to take on their case, other times we are not and we have to refer them to one of our legal aid partners. But everytime we hope to treat these women with the same respect that they greet us with. Some believe in God, others don’t. But we want to close each conversation with them by praying. We pray for hope, we pray for the opportunity for their land to be restored, we pray for peace and we pray for many other things. So while it is a case intake situation, it is so much more. It is a counseling session, it is a time of encouragement, it is the hopes that International Justice Mission can bring relief to a victim and secure justice for them.

Below are a few pictures of our legal educations.

Kaye (my translator) and I polling the participants to see what they know about Ugandan law

Here’s a great picture taken by our communications fellow Laura. Pictured from L – R are Jesse Rudy (aka my boss), Pastor Diana and myself. Pastor Diana helped me mobilize this recent legal education and was instrumental in inviting many community leaders. I love her heart for her community and desire to advocate for the rights of widows and orphans.





My Ugandan Home

24 01 2010

Home – it’s a word that I am still trying to figure out. I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the last five months. Although I miss my creature comforts, my own house and the little things, living with just what you can roll and carry has taught me a few things.

First is the amount of excess stuff that I have. I recently watched Up in the Air starring George Clooney. The story is about a man trying who is trying to obtain the Gold Level status of frequent flier miles for American Airlines. He works as a middle man who terminates employees for companies who are too scared to terminate their own workers. Overall I liked it because it was an interesting commentary of how people live their lives (somewhat lonely) yet surrounded by people with no real relationships. But the thing that struck me was the way George traveled. Everything was carry on. He managed to pack suits, ties, shirts and leisure clothes into his rolling carry-on with ease and efficiency. I, however, have not perfected this art. Two back packs and two rolling suitcases is quite difficult as you’re trying to navigate the line to obtain your entry Visa as well as make sure you have your  important documents protected.

As I unpacked into my new apartment, I wondered if I packed enough. Even though I had read previous fellow’s experience and packing suggestions, I still felt that I had forgotten things. I’ve learned since being in Uganda that I should have brought more toiletry items. Why might you ask? Well, one is that everything is super expensive. Deodorant is $6 dollars and hairspray/gel can go upwards of $11. It’s just crazy. I’ll have to email my friends to send me a toiletry care package. The second is availability. You can’t just go waltzing down to your local Wal-mart and pick whatever you want. It’s a creative game of understanding Ugandan brands and buying when available. For example, I bought the last bottle of mustard at the grocery store the other day because I don’t know when they will have more. So I will use sparingly.

The other thing about living with less has taught me is budgeting my finances. I’ve always been pretty good at this but living in a foreign country makes you ask yourself need vs. want. I need to go to work everyday. I don’t need to take the boda. I want to take the boda to save me time and not be a sweaty mess when I enter the office. But how often do I take it? The other is dining out. I can skip a meal and be fine. Besides, not like I need to be packing in the pounds.

So back to my title of this post. Below is a pic of my home. I didn’t take a shot of the actual house, but the view from one of the porches. As you can see, I have a great view but it is an interesting dichotomy of rich and poor because just a hundred yards away is a row of homes that just have tin as their roof (may or may not have running water). Uganda is situated on hills and my hill has a huge radio tower close by. As I write about this year’s adventure, I am grateful to be serving in this capacity (if you want to know what I’m doing click here) and hope to share more about a simpler way of living for me in 2010.