Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for February, 2011

Security, African Style

In the States, you might or might not have a home security system.  And if you do, it is probably monitored off-site by a company like ADT, Brinks or First Alert.

Here in Uganda, particularly because we are mzungus, we definitely have a security system.  Since we are white and very much the minority, we have a tendency to stand out and thus become targets for thieves and scam artists.  But we don’t have a home security system or company to monitor it.  The security systems here are a little more personal and come in the form of human guards, guard dogs or, in our case, both.

We actually share our guards with our neighbor, Maggie McNeil, who also works with eMi and was very instrumental in preparing our house for our arrival.  There is a door in the wall between our compounds through which the guards can pass.  We have two day guards, one on the weekdays and one on the weekends, a night guard and three guard dogs that are as much pets as they are part of the security system.  They mostly just “work” at night.

Jackson (on the right) is our weekday day guard.  He is very sweet and mild mannered.  He is also a very hard worker.  He has done everything for us from planting our bougainvillea to playing toss the football with Caleb.  He seems genuinely fond of Caleb, although he may never have seen a football before Caleb brought his.

Ali (on the left) is our weekend day guard and sometimes fills in as night guard as well.  He is eager enough to please when asked, but has a tendency to go and hide so that he won’t be asked.  He loves to sit and visit and will talk your ear off if you give him the chance.

Samuel (pronounced sam-well) is our night guard.  He was the first person we met when we arrived at our new home as he was the one to open the gate for us.  Apparently, he is a pretty mean rummy player.  He’s got a photographic memory of the cards that have been played and by whom.

And now meet our guard dogs.

The big one on the left is Simba.  He can be pretty loud and he seems pretty intimidating when you meet him on a dark path, but mostly he is all bark I think.  Give him a good head rub and he’ll be your friend for life, once you’ve been properly introduced of course.

The medium one on the right is Tiger.  She also happens to be Simba’s mother.  I haven’t quite figured out the size difference, but there it is.  Tiger was a street dog that Maggie rescued.  You really have to watch her because if she gets loose, she will be gone for days checking out all her old haunts.  She is also the ring leader of the three.  Don’t let her size fool you.

And the puppy is Siraf (in the picture by himself), a recent rescue from the streets.  He is already showing signs of a good protective guard dog, but mostly he just wants to play.  He is the only one of the three that is allowed off his chain during the day, and he sometimes likes to pay us visits mostly just to nip at our heels and steal our shoes.

When we first got here, Maggie would leave the door in the wall open so the dogs had free reign to run back and forth.  Apparently, they really like our yard as that is where they would spend most of the night barking at the passing cars and people.  And they are quite loud, especially when they are all three barking.  Some nights I felt like they are running laps around the house.

This week we have tried a new tactic.  Maggie gets Tiger and Siraf on her side, and we get Simba with the door closed between.  We feel that it is a much better arrangement.  It is definitely quieter at least.  I’m not sure Simba is too fond of the plan, though.  I think he gets a little lonely all by himself.

“May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” Psalms 122:7

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It’s Not Good or Bad, It’s Just Different

Moving to a new home always brings with it changes, challenges and differences, so you can just imagine the changes, challenges and differences that come with moving almost halfway around the world.

When Robert was in Colorado Springs for orientation, the interns who were going through orientation with him adopted a phrase: “it’s not good or bad, it’s just different.” We are trying to instill this attitude in Caleb, especially in light of his latest favorite expression “that’s weird.”  I think “that’s different” sounds much better.

One of the first differences that we were faced with when we arrived is that we are the minority.  And I do mean the very small minority.  They call us mzungus here, which is derived from a Swahili word for white person.  After we left the airport, I don’t think I saw a single mzungu, except the director who came to pick us up, on the entire hour and half ride to our new house.  I’m starting to notice more mzungus, both in our neighborhood and in the areas where I shop, etc., but still, we are definitely a minority, which is to be expected.

When we got to the house, one of the first differences we noticed right away was the lack of air conditioning.  The house was completely shut up and was quite stuffy, so we set about opening all the windows to let some air in.  Unfortunately, it is quite warm here, and since we are just off the equator, temperatures don’t vary much.

The open windows also helped us realize another difference: the noise level, which is a little louder than what we are used to.  Our house is on the corner of a very busy street, so we get quite a bit of traffic noise from early in the morning to late at night.  And while we have a fairly sizable lot as far as Ugandan houses are concerned, some of our neighbors do not and are quite packed in, so we get a lot of chatter and noise from them as well.

Africa seems to be generally dustier, especially since the rains haven’t started yet.  This adds a whole new dynamic to trying to keep things clean, including everything from clothes to the house to our son.  Normal bedtime routine begins with washing off the feet so you don’t get the sheets dirty.  And if I want to give Caleb a full bath, I have to wash his feet and legs off before I run the bathwater so the water doesn’t turn brown as soon as he steps into it.

Cooking has a whole set of differences all its own, from the available food to the way you cook it.  I do have a microwave, toaster and a hot pot for heating water, but those only work when the electricity is on which is not a guarantee.  Most of the cooking is done on what is called a “cooker,” a stand-alone gas range and oven something a kin to the standard American stove only smaller.  Unfortunately, the temperature control on the unit I have isn’t the greatest, and getting the burners low enough to just simmer has been problematic.

The differences in shopping have definitely been an adventure.  We have been taken to several different “supermarkets” in the area.  That is what they are called here, but I use the term loosely.  It would probably take at least 10 of the largest of these supermarkets to fill your average Super Wal-mart in the States.  The average supermarket here is probably just slightly bigger than a good sized convenience store in the States.  But they seem to be able to stuff more in them.  The isles are tighter and stuff is crammed in every nook and cranny.  The variety of some things is limited, but the variety of others such as such as juice is much more varied.

There are many more differences that I’m sure we will learn as we continue to live here, but one thing remains the same: we are all God’s children and we are all live on this planet together.  The color of our skin may be different, and the way we go about our daily lives may not be exactly the same, but our hearts are still fashioned and called by God and love is spoken in every language.

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We Have Arrived

Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that we have gotten everything figured out, which we most certainly haven’t.  But we have arrived safely in Kampala, Uganda after a fairly uneventful trip.

I really think God was watching out for us on this trip (He must have known I was pretty nervous about it), because right off the bat things seemed destined to run smoothly.  When we got to the airport, we had one of the nicest airline employees I think I have ever met checking us in.  He was very patient with all of our tubs and zip ties (which were to keep the tubs securely closed).  He seemed a little surprised when after 4 tubs, we put a couple of suitcases on the scale.  He was also very kind in providing gate passes for Robert’s parents and my mother.  The Austin airport only has one restaurant on the non-secure side of the airport which is more like a cafe/bar.  Since it was quickly approaching lunch time by the time we got checked in, we were really glad that we were able to spend a little more time together before our departure.

The flight from Austin to Atlanta was uneventful, and the layover was so quick that we hardly had time to even think about what was coming next.  While the flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was probably the most eventful of the three legs, it still wasn’t too bad.  Caleb got sick to his stomach early in the flight, but soon recovered and won over the sympathies of one of the flight attendants who brought him ice cream from Business Class.  Now, some of you may know how hard it is to sleep on a plane, you should try it with a 5 year old.  We put Caleb in the middle with Robert and I on either side.  Caleb used Robert as a pillow and me as a foot rest.  Caleb was quite comfortable, and I managed to get some sleep in between kicks, but poor Robert wasn’t able to get any sleep as he couldn’t get comfortable underneath Caleb’s head.

Needless to say, we were all quite grouchy on our layover in Amsterdam due to lack of sleep, but we were able to get some breakfast and take care of a seating mix-up on our flight to Entebbe.  We even tried to take advantage of the airports wireless access, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.  The flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe was long.  It may not have been physically the longest (the flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was longer by 45 minutes), but it sure felt like it.  Caleb slept through most of it, and this time I got to be his pillow so Robert could try to get some sleep.

We finally made to Entebbe after 22 hours of travel (with almost 19 of it spent on one plane or another), only to discover that one of our tubs hadn’t made it.  Actually, we figured it was pretty good odds considering that some folks were missing 50% or more of their luggage.  Unfortunately, it was the one with all of Caleb’s toys, so we are doing the best we can entertaining him with what was in his carry on and what few items got stuck in other tubs.

Our long journey wasn’t over yet, though.  It was still another hour to an hour and half car ride to Kampala.  We finally made it to our new home.  And I really do think that we will be able to make it a home, too.  It’s not very big by American standards.  Just a little 800 square foot, 2 bed, 1 bath house, but it is huge by Ugandan standards.  But it is a house with it’s own yard and wall, which is a good thing in Kampala.  And it comes with a wonderful neighbor, Grandma Maggie, who has already done a wonderful job of taking care of us and seeing that our transition to a new life in a new country is as smooth as possible.

Now comes the part of figuring everything out, at least as it relates to our new life here in Uganda.  I don’t know that we will ever have everything totally figured out.  And I don’t think God really wants it that way because if we did, we wouldn’t need Him anymore.  But I’m here to tell you that I do need Him, and I’m going to need him a lot as I try to figure out how to run a household in a new world.

We may have arrived in Uganda, but I hope we never “arrive.”

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We’re Off!

It’s hard to believe we are actually saying that after months of planning, preparation and packing.  At some point, all of this transformed in our minds from an idea to a reality, probably about the time we reserved plane tickets.

As we embark, I want to take the opportunity to thank a host of people who have empowered us, confirmed our calling, provided support, become ambassadors for our ministry, prayed over us and just loved us.  First and foremost, I want to thank God for calling us to serve in Uganda.  It is so humbling and such an honor to be the hands and feet of a God who can create the world, part the Red Sea, give sight to a blind man and choose to be the payment for our sins.

Of us humans, I would like to first thank my parents, who have by far been the most significant supporters of my calling to serve with eMi since 2002.  And, we’re not talking about just a trip or two.  The trip to Burundi in a few weeks will be my 16th project trip with eMi.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

Next, we thank Elaine, Heather’s mom, who opened her home to our family this fall, has been with us for every one of Caleb’s birthdays (including plans to visit us in Kampala this July,) shares wisdom from her experience on the mission field in Zaire in the early 70’s, offers her life as a testament to Divine strength, prays for us without ceasing and supports us in so many ways.  Thanks Elaine!

It is difficult to find the words to thank our sending church, Boulder Valley church of Christ.  What an amazing community of believers.  We have and continue to be so blessed from our time with all of you.  Looking back, we see how you helped prepare us for our current calling.  Just one example…you encouraged me in public speaking (amazing considering some painful past experiences) and helped develop those skills that will undoubtedly be of use this year.  Thanks to all of the individuals from BVCC who have and continue to support our ministry.

While living with Elaine this last fall, we were blessed by another wonderful church family at Round Rock Presbyterian Church.  Amid their own significant transitions, Round Rock reached out to our family and encouraged us as we prepared to head overseas.  Thanks to the BOB group, Yahweh Sisterhood, the Praise Band, the Sunday Bible class, the Madderas, BJ, Braon and Dusti Moseley, Bruce Shell, Jim Carssow, Karen Black, Pastor John Poling and the Mission Commission.

Thanks to Jim and Marynell Wallace for your support and for being some of our biggest advocates.  Thanks to Peace Presbyterian Church in Charleston, SC for your support.

Thanks to the Men’s Breakfast at Evangelical Covenant Church in Fort Collins, CO for your brotherhood when we lived there, for keeping my rudder straight while things around me were humanistic, for your support and for your prayers.

Thanks to Doug and Carole Hall (otherwise known as Mimi and Pappy) for your adoption of our family in Fort Collins, for loving our son as though he were your own grandson, for your support, your encouragement, your prayers and for just generally loving us.

Thanks to Peter Way for helping us set up our website and for hosting it.  Thanks to Mark Tarrant for his pro bono work on our will and estate planning.  Thanks to our parents for donating laptops for each of us.  Thanks to Larry Walrath for setting up our laptops.  Thanks to Glenn Gilbert for donating an additional seat of Autocad for our second laptop.  Thanks to my dad for other software he donated.

Thanks to other eMi volunteers who have or are providing support, including John Boldt, John Rahe, Mark Kaems, Martin Eskijian and Glenn Gilbert.

We thank all of you (even those not specifically mentioned) for your encouragement, support and prayers.  You are all partners in our ministry and investing in the Kingdom of God.  It is exciting and scary to be God’s hands and feet.  My prayer is that the people we serve will not see us, but see Jesus in us.

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