Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for March, 2011


We are now the proud owners of a boda-boda, which will be our mode of transportation while living here in Uganda.  The term boda-boda originates from pedal bikes with side panniers that were used to transport and smuggle goods and people from border to border.  It is now also the term used to describe motorbikes, from 50cc to 100cc.  They are two-wheeled taxis one can hire for transport that I affectionately call “the workhorse of Africa.”  I have seen boda-bodas carry everything from crates of chickens to automobile transmissions and furniture to an actual wooden coffin.

Since used bodas sell for about ¾ of the new purchase price and they are often run pretty hard around here, we opted to purchase a new one of our own.  The purchase process began with a trip downtown to the India-manufactured Bajaj dealership with Semei, our office manager.  I looked at the options for a boda and decided to go for the cheapest one, which you see all over Kampala, a 100cc Bajaj Boxer.  There were three options of features for the Boxer…red, blue and black.

With about a ¾ downpayment, I ordered a black boda the week before I left for a project trip to Burundi, knowing it would take ten business days before delivery.  The week after I returned from Burundi, I received a call from the dealership notifying me that our boda was ready.

Caleb had been quite excited to get the boda and wanted to go with us to go pick it up.  Semei, Caleb & I hired a couple of bodas to take us downtown to the dealership.  The driver Caleb & I rode with was apparently new and still learning.  On the way downtown, we sideswiped a guy on a bicycle, dodged a lorry truck, ran my knee into a car (at low speed) and smacked another boda, running us into a curb.  We eventually made it to the dealership and I was ready to have Semei drive.

The process of finalizing the purchase was interesting, utilizing visits to at least six different desks.  We first checked into one desk, that told me to go finish the payment at the cashier desk and obtain a receipt, then return.  The first desk then began preparing the paperwork, which is all transcribed by hand onto several pages.  During this process, several  of the Ugandan employees tried to talk to Caleb, who was being quite shy.  We then were transferred to another desk to process the insurance, with some more transcribing.  Then, back to the first desk for still more transcribing.  Then, they sent us to another desk to process delivery papers, get our license plate and give us one helmet before having an employee bring the boda out.  After describing maintenance and features of the boda, we were then asked to give our papers to another desk for final verification and one last hand transcription.  Rather than just drilling holes into the license plate, we decided to hand carry the plate to a Ugandan shop to have a license plate wrap made.

We took off for the shop, getting pulled over on the way by a walking police officer because our plate was not attached to the boda.  The irony of it was that we were only about a block from the shop to get the license plate taken care of.  Semei talked to the officer for several minutes, raising his voice several times.  I didn’t know what was being discussed, since they were talking in Luganda, the indigenous language of the Kampala area.  Semei finally convinced the officer to let us go.  I later asked Semei and he confirmed my thoughts that the officer was asking for a bribe.

Caleb has enjoyed sitting on our boda, pretending to be a boda driver.  A typical boda driver will sit at a boda stage, a wide spot at an intersection where they can pick up passengers.  One can also call these bodas to pick you up at home and other locations or send them to pick up goods from markets.  Caleb has been pretending to take mommy and daddy to local markets and deliver items.

He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.  Psalms 104:3

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Healing the Burundian Genocide

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

My first major project serving here in East Africa was joining a design team in Burundi, returning to the land where I served in 2005.  Burundians are warm, hospitable and friendly.  Despite a dark past, they have a hope for the future.

Denise Patch spent several years of her childhood in Burundi with her missionary family.  Leaving Burundi at the age of 15 to return to the United States, she was forever changed by her love for the Burundian people and her family’s compassionate lifestyle.  Eleven years later, in 1993, Burundi erupted into ethnic conflict that eventually wiped out hundreds of thousands of people, mostly men.  Many of them were husbands and fathers of families Denise knew personally.

The civil war lasted for more than a decade leaving in its wake thousands of widows, orphaned children and struggling families.  The average Burundian widow, in her 40s, is caring for at least 4 children and commonly additional orphans.  In this culture, widows are outcasts.  Having no income, no government aid and no advocates, they are frequently victimized.  Burundian widows struggle to meet the basic daily needs of their children and themselves: food, shelter, medical care, clothing, and education.  Although public education is available for children, they cannot attend school without proper supplies and clothing.  Without an education there is no hope for a better future.

Joy Buconyori has true empathy for her widowed countrywomen in Burundi.  In the ethnic violence of 1972, Joy’s childhood was shattered by the country-wide massacres that eventually struck her own village.  All five of Joy’s older brothers were killed.  In 2004, Denise contacted Joy about a way to help Burundian widows and orphans and it was a God-ordained match.  Joy had already been carrying a great burden for the plight of the widows and orphans of her country as the wife of a prominent bishop and the former director of a child sponsorship program.

Both women were convinced that doing nothing was simply not an option. Merging their spheres of influence, Joy began profiling widows for sponsorship and Denise began sharing the opportunity with the women of her church.  By December 2004, dozens of widows had been connected to sponsors and Sister Connection began.  You can read more at

Our team of eleven from four different countries met in Bujumbura, Burundi to serve alongside Sister Connection to master plan a site donated to them due to their recognized service to the widows and orphans of Burundi.  The site is on half of aptly named Mount Hope just south of Gitega in the highlands of central Burundi.

Our team L to R: Jackie Branberg, an agricultural & IT specialist from Colorado Springs, CO; Chad Gamble, a civil engineer from Sacramento, CA who served with eMi for seven years, including six in the East Africa office; Jennifer Ho, a Hong Kong-born architect from Toronto, Ontario; Byron Meliefste, an electrical engineer from Edmonton, Alberta; Amanda Ruksznis, a civil engineer from Seattle, WA; a crazy mzungu living in Kampala, Uganda; Patrick Aylard, a civil engineering tech from British Columbia, who was our team leader and serves in the eMi East Africa office; Miriam Wallace, an architect from Alice Springs, Australia; Jessica Fitz-Gerald, an intern landscape architect serving in the eMi East Africa office and attending the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada; Steve Ulrich, our team co-leader, an architect from Calgary, Alberta who has served with eMi since 2000 and founded the eMi Canada office in 2003; and Hannah Beatty, an intern civil engineer from Shreveport, LA serving in the eMi East Africa office.

We developed a phased master plan for the hilly 20-acre campus to include a central campus with auditorium, dining hall and administrative offices, dorm complex to house over 500, vocational classrooms, site staff housing, guest and teacher housing, conference center and agricultural demonstration fields.  We also schematically designed most of the buildings for the campus, developed water supply and wastewater strategies, electrical demand strategies and agricultural recommendations.

On one Sunday, our team attended a rural church where Denise and her family had worshiped years ago in the bush outside of Gitega.  An Anglican/Romanesque brick church atop a prominent hill, this structure had been used as headquarters for a guerilla faction army during the atrocities of the civil war that ravaged this country.  Now a vibrant energetic church, I was struck by the contrast of its recent past and the birth out of the ashes.  It is a reminder of how God can create good from bad and how the battle is already won.

I ended up preaching about a 15-20 minute sermon at this church as our team was asked a couple of days prior to ‘share a few words.’  As we entered the church, I was asked to join several pastors and the ministry leaders of Sister Connection on the platform at the front of the church.  The sermon is typically presented at the end of African church services, which tend to be 2-3 hours long.  Needless to say, I was quite nervous, sweating and feeling much like Moses…not gifted for speech.  After our entire team was introduced early in the service, there were many songs, choir dance presentations, prayers, announcements, two offerings and, after what seemed like an eternity, I was on deck.

It started raining very heavily just before I got up to speak and after I gave a greeting in Kirundi and several halleluias and praises, an incredible clap of thunder clapped.  I responded with, “So then God speaks!”  I told the crowd of 400+ (although one of our team members counted rows and thought there was more like 1,000) that I was going to try to become a Burundian.  I grabbed a local cloth and draped it around my body like many Burundian men wear.  I then asked Miriam, one of my teammates, if she thought I was now Burundian.  She responded, wiping my very white arm, and said, “Nope, you’re still a mzungu!”  Then, I had another idea, taking a wood staff, often used by men and asked the same question.  Again, I am still mzungu.  I then asked if learning to play the drums would make me Burundian.  Miriam’s response…”You can’t sing very well and you don’t have much rhythym!”

It was a huge hit and I tied the object lesson into the fact that I will never be Burundian and I cannot escape the way God made me.  I used 1 Corinthians 12 which uses the analogy of the parts of the body and the body of Christ.  I told them that each of them was special, made by God and unlike anyone else on the planet, tying into Ephesians 2:10.  I then talked about my gifts as an architect and that I use them for the Kingdom.  I shared that I have colored pens and markers that I use to design buildings and master plans.  I told the church that each of them are like those pens, each with a beautiful color that has a place in the work of the Kingdom.  I told them that God can paint a masterpiece with our colors.  I then wrapped up with an encouragement from the end of Romans 8, explaining that nothing on this earth can take the gift of Christ or the love of God away from them.  A couple of other team members also shared a few words of encouragement, including Chad Gamble and Patrick Aylard.

I also had the pleasure of visiting a project site I helped design in 2005, briefly visiting the ministry leader from that trip and visiting yet another ministry site I assisted with 3-D drawings in 2006.  This ministry is also pursuing eMi for potential design assistance with the next phase of expanding their campus in Bujumbura.

I have been impacted and moved by many of the ministries I have worked alongside throughout my years of serving with eMi.  However, this ministry struck me as being very near the heart of God, ministering to some of the most vulnerable in one of the poorest countries on the planet.  I feel God is honored by the work of this ministry and I have been blessed to be just a small part as the hands of Jesus to help design their campus.

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Oh! The Things You Will Do!

When I was in high school, a book written by Dr. Seuss was published that has since become a popular gift for both high school and college graduates.  I don’t remember if I was given the book as a gift, but I do remember giving it on one or two occasions.  The book is actually quite well suited for graduates as it begins with “Congratulations!  Today is your day.”  Then it launches into a string of all the places “you” will go and things “you” will accomplish.  Probably the most famous line in the book is “And will you succeed?  Yes! You will, indeed!  (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”

When I was graduating from high school and college, I’m pretty sure Uganda was not high on the list of places I thought I would go.  But here I am.  And I’m fairly certain I never dreamed I would be doing some of things I am doing now.  But with God’s help, I am doing them.  He has an uncanny way of forcing us out of our comfort zone so he can show us what we are capable of even when (or maybe I should say, especially when) we don’t think we are capable of much.

Let me explain what I mean.

The first weekend we were here in Uganda, Caleb started running a fever on Friday evening.  The fever stuck around off and on all weekend.  Monday morning rolled around, and he was still running a fever.  So I took him to the doctor.  By myself.  In a country I hadn’t even lived in a week yet.  I had to go by myself because Robert had to go to work, and Monday mornings is one of the two days a week that Maggie, our wonderful next door neighbor, goes into the office.  Fortunately, Maggie had given me very explicit instructions.

She said I was to call Robert, the boda driver, to come pick us up and tell him to take us to “The Surgery.”  A rather daunting name, I know, but that is the actual name of the clinic.  She said we needed to be sure to get there as close to 8:00 as we could because if we waited until 9:00 we would be there all morning.   So, I got up, got Caleb up and called Robert, and then we waited for what felt like an eternity but I think was closer to 15 minutes.  Robert came, my Robert helped us climb on the boda and get situated, and we were off.  Mind you, this was my first experience on a boda, and we were on the back of this thing with a driver I had just met going all the way across town.

We got to The Surgery, went up to the reception desk and I told them that we had just moved to town, that Caleb was a new patient, and that we needed to see the doctor, just as Maggie had told me to do.  And then we sat down and waited.   God must have known that He had thrown me way out of my comfort zone and that I could really use a familiar face because while we were waiting, a gal that we had met briefly at the airport when we arrived came in and sat down next to us.  We recognized each other and starting talking.  I don’t remember the gal’s name and I will probably never see her again, but I am so glad God put her in my life when he did.

We got to see a mzungu doctor, British I think.  He was very nice and had a great manner with Caleb.  He said that Caleb had a cold virus that he probably caught on the plane.  He also said that Caleb had an ear infection, which is what I figured was the problem.  He gave us some Amoxil (yellow instead of the pink stuff you get in the States) and a nasal spray decongestant and sent us on our way.

Then we were back on the boda, across town, and home by midmorning.

Now, if you had asked me before we left the States if I thought I could do all that within the first week of our arrival here, I probably would have looked you in the eyes and said “Are you nuts?!”  But I was able to handle it because God was holding me together through it all.  Just like He is now while Robert is gone to Burundi.

I have to admit that I was anticipating Robert’s departure for this particular project trip with a healthy amount of anxiety.  We have only been in this country for about a month, and I’m still learning my way around.  Think of the stress and anxiety you have moving to a new town and multiply it by ten.  But God is holding me together and giving me a peace that only He can provide.  Amazingly, I am calmer staying “home” here in Uganda than I ever was staying “home” in the States.  I don’t know if it because I have such a wonderful neighbor who is familiar with what eMi wives go through or what, but I sure am glad God put her in my life when he did.

You know, I’m probably a long way from “graduating” from this life, but God has already given me a book that is especially suited for me.  And will I succeed?  Yes!  I will, indeed!  100 percent guaranteed.  (If God has anything to do with it.)

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

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Lufuka-Suubi Community School

I just finished my first project for a local ministry here in Kampala and thought all of you might like to see it.  This is a site master plan that will be used as a fund raising tool for the ministry.

Sayuni Education Uganda is a local ministry that has been started by Peace Nabikolo, a Ugandan woman who initially heard her calling to education and teaching when she was graduating from secondary school.  It was at a Youth With a Mission (YWAM) School of Discipleship that she first heard that calling; however, she chose to ignore that call for about ten years.

Fast forward ten years and Peace became involved in ministry with the Kampala Pentecostal Church.  At a leader’s retreat for the church, Peace realized the role of education in discipling a nation and why God had called her to be a teacher.  She returned to YWAM for biblical teacher training and later enrolled at African Bible University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Community Leadership with Education and she is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Education.

Peace’s vision is to transform an entire generation of Ugandans through Biblically-based education.  Her mission is to develop an education model based on Biblical truths, provide educational outreach programs for the surrounding community and develop a church for the community.

Despite a small urban 1/3 acre site, she has a lot of vision for the site, including 16 classrooms for a preschool, primary and secondary school, multipurpose dining/assembly space, administration offices, a conference room, kitchen and grass courtyard assembly space.  This project was a challenge to fulfill the program, provide circulation/ separation, not use soft stories (open columns on ground floor) and keep buildings to only two total stories.

The SITE PHASING PLAN illustrates the order of potential construction phases, the building footprints and paving areas vs. vegetation areas.  The SITE MASTER PLAN illustrates an overhead view with the roof layouts, trees and shadows that help your eye see everything in 3-D.

“All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of God upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.” 1 Chronicles 28:19

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