Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for April, 2011

A Rebellious Son

We have often joked that with Robert and I as parents, Caleb got a double dose of stubbornness.  This weekend we really got to experience it.

As a precaution against malaria, we have been taking mefloquine, a prescription prophylactic, once a week on Sunday evenings.  Caleb takes a quarter tablet, a very doable size for a five year old boy, and does quite well with it, too.  Until this weekend.

We were out of town this weekend, so I took the mefloquine with us.  I actually forgot to give Caleb his pill Sunday evening, so I had to give it to him Monday morning.  When I gave Caleb the pill, I didn’t have a cup readily available, so I just gave him a water bottle that was handy to take his pill with.  Big mistake.  While Caleb is fully capable of drinking out of a water bottle, he has a kind of funny way of doing it and has a tendency to backwash back into the bottle.  Well, this happened while he was trying to take his pill and it backwashed right into the bottle.

I had only brought one pill with us for him to take, so I didn’t have another one to give him.  We thought that he could just drink the pill out of the bottle, but after drinking a good bit of the water he still hadn’t gotten down what was now a rapidly disintegrating pill.  Then the water started turning bitter due to the pill dissolving, and he didn’t want to drink it anymore.  Unfortunately, by this point we were committed to having him drink what was left.

We tried everything: coaxing, reasoning, bargaining, begging.  Finally, we told him that he had to drink the rest of what was in the bottle before he could get anything else.  We marched down to breakfast with the bottle in hand.  Caleb sat in front of his bottle of bitter, medicinal water while the rest of us ate breakfast.

When we got into the vehicle to head home, one of the eMi interns traveling with us suggested to try adding some drink power, the kind you add to a bottle of water to make it into something like Crystal Light or Gatorade.  Caleb liked the idea, but didn’t want to do it right away.  When he was finally ready, he chose an orange flavor.  I added what I thought would be an adequate amount to the bottle.  Caleb took a sip or two and wouldn’t drink anymore.

A little bit later, I thought it might help make the water more palatable if I added some sugar to the water.  Caleb seemed keen on the idea as well, so we stopped at a supermarket in the largest town we traveled through on the way home.  But when I got the sugar added to the water, he wasn’t interested in trying it.  At one point on the trip home, he decided he was hungry enough to try the water with the added sugar.  He took a couple of sips, and wouldn’t drink anymore.

The entire way home, I maintained that he had to drink the water before he got anything else.  And the entire way home, Caleb wouldn’t budge.  He would say that he was hungry, and I would tell him that all he had to do was finish the water, but he wouldn’t.

When we got home, we upped the stakes, saying that he couldn’t do anything like go over to Grandma Maggie’s or play until he finished the water.  He sat at our dining room table with the water bottle sitting in front of him and still wouldn’t drink it.  I added more sugar to try to make it more palatable.  We tried having him take it off a spoon (the way I remember taking medicine as a child before they had those nice dispensers).  That lasted two spoonfuls.

Finally, I was at my wits end.  By this point, it wasn’t so much about making him take the medicine as it was standing our ground as parents.  I was afraid that if we gave in and let him abandon drinking the rest of the water, we would lose a major parenting battle.

So, I did what any good parent would do: I talked to a grandmother.  Since I can’t just call up my own mother, I went over to talk to our wonderful neighbor, Grandma Maggie.  Her thought was that we were all tired, and by this point the battle wasn’t worth fighting.  We have been on Mefloquine since before we arrived, and the chances of him getting malaria are not terribly great.   She said we should let Caleb know that we would be sad for him if he got malaria because he didn’t take his medicine, but that it was his choice.  So that’s what we did.

Caleb may have won this battle of the wills.  But we didn’t completely lose, since a grandmother’s ruling always overrules a mother’s.  Right?

“If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.” Deuteronomy 21:18-19

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African Time

“African time (or Africa time) is a colloquial term used to describe a perceived cultural tendency, in some parts of Africa, toward a more relaxed attitude to time. This is sometimes used in a pejorative sense, about tardiness in appointments, meetings and events. The term is also sometimes used to describe the more leisurely, relaxed and less rigorously scheduled lifestyle found in African countries, especially as opposed to the more clock-bound pace of daily life in Western countries. As such it is similar to time orientations in some other non-Western culture regions.”

– Wikipedia

We have heard it said, “Americans have watches, Africans have time.”

“Africa time” is one of the things that drive us mzungus nuts about Ugandans, but it is one of the things that we probably could benefit the most from if we truly learned to embrace it.   It is not so much about “a relaxed attitude to time,” although it is partly that, as it is a heightened attitude toward relationships and respect.  Ugandans feel that the relationship they have with a person is more important than the time it takes to accomplish a task.  Consequently, they see deadlines and meeting times as fluid, dependent more on the time required to cultivate a relationship connected with that deadline or meeting.  For example, if a Ugandan is involved in one meeting, he will not move on to the next until he is satisfied with the relationship that has been cultivated with the first even if it means being an hour or more late to the second meeting.

Another example of relationship cultivation is the Ugandan greeting.  Ugandans greet with “Hello” always followed by “How are you?”  If you greet a Ugandan without additionally asking the question, they will often answer “Hello, I am fine” anyway.  This is not just an inquiry by rote; Ugandans are genuinely interested in how you are doing.  And they get offended when you don’t inquire of them.  I have, on more than one occasion, failed to ask the question of someone I was greeting and gotten the conversation or task at hand off to a rocky start.  Fortunately, Ugandans are very forgiving of mzungus and the relationship is quickly mended after a short time.

In fact, just this morning, I was trying to get the attention of the guard on duty to prevent him from doing something that I would later have to undo, but I didn’t greet him in the proper Ugandan fashion first.  When I was done explaining that I didn’t want him to do what he was doing, he asked how I was.  I of course responded and asked how he was, so the relationship was quickly mended, but it was definitely a goof on my part.  I think our guards, as well as many of the other Ugandans that I deal with on a regular basis like the boda drivers, realize that I am a relatively new mzungu and am still learning, so they give me some extra leeway.

And Ugandans take their greetings to the streets.  Because this is a largely pedestrian society, you meet many people walking along the road, and many will greet you even if they don’t know you.  This is particularly true when you have a child in tow.  Ugandans love children, and apparently feel it is important to teach the children (all children whether they are theirs or not) this custom of greeting.  Caleb is still getting used to being asked how he is, particularly by complete strangers.  Sometimes, particularly in the more metropolitan areas, people on the street will have a more serious or gruff demeanor and not always greet you.  But Robert has observed that when you greet them in the proper Ugandan fashion, their faces just light up and they are quick to respond.

Tied to the Ugandan importance of relationships is their attitude towards respect for one another.  Ugandans are, by and large, very humble people, and always regard the person they are greeting as more important than themselves.  This is often seen in the way they shake hands.  Ugandans will often touch their forearm or elbow with their left hand while they are shaking with their right.  I believe, the closer the left hand is to the elbow of the right arm the greater the respect is being shown.  Women will sometimes drop to their knees in a bowing motion when they shake hands, but I haven’t seen this as much.  I’m slowly remembering to use the sign of respect when I shake hands, but it is not as intuitive you might think.

There are many other subtle ways that Ugandans show respect and cultivate relationships, and I could probably go on for a while longer.  It blows my mind how humble these people that we have come to serve really are.  Ugandans are such a wonderful example of the humbleness exemplified by Christ that we are to emulate.  I hope that I can pick up even just a fraction of the Ugandans’ humbleness and carry it throughout the rest of my life.  I really think I would be a better person for it.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:12

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First Mzungus in the Village

Northern Uganda has endured many hardships over the past few decades.  After several dictatorial regimes, including the tyranny of Idi Amin, all but three of the last 25 years has been scarred by war waged by a group ironically called the Lord’s Resistance Army.  The LRA ravaged villages, raped women, killed men and enlisted child soldiers.  Northern Uganda is still reeling from the effects of the war that finally ended in 2008.  Broken families, destroyed villages, thousands of orphans and refugee camps that cultivated the spread of AIDS were just some of the effects left by the LRA’s terror.

I spent most of the last week in Northern Uganda serving two ministries that feel called to help heal the wounds inflicted by the LRA.  Our team consisted of Dan Untch, a structural engineering intern serving in our eMi East Africa office and myself.  Dan and I caught a public bus at one of the taxi parks in downtown Kampala, which was quite an experience.  There were several street hawkers on the bus selling everything from newspapers and bags of coffee to chapatis and cheap knockoff watches.  A few of the hawkers even rode the bus through part of downtown with us trying to make that last sale before stepping off.  After about a five hour ride, we arrived in Lira and were soon picked by our first ministry contact.

The first ministry we served was Saving Grace in Uganda, begun four years ago by an American couple, Al and Val Bransdorfer, who were living in Lira and serving in refugee camps.  They noticed many street children living in Lira.  Immediately following the murder of one of the children by a bread vendor, Al and Val opened the home they were renting to 26 children and Fred Ojok, a Ugandan man who had already been working with the street children.  In meetings with Fred, he shared with us how they are working to heal the wounds of children that may have witnessed the murder of their parents or been used as soldiers themselves.  In healing these wounds, they lead them to the Great Physician, Christ.

Dan Untch used a GPS survey equipment we have in the East Africa office to singlehandedly survey an 8-acre site in about 3 ½ hours!  I was very impressed.  It is quite an improvement from the previous generation two-person total station systems or even older generation transits of the past.  After praying over the site and a morning of surveying, we met with Fred Ojok in the afternoon to discuss the vision and architectural programming for their properties.  Over the coming weeks, I will work on developing a site master plan and architectural renderings to assist them in their fundraising efforts.

After a couple of pretty restless nights swatting mosquitoes due to a lack of nets and worrying about contracting malaria, we were picked by the second ministry we traveled to serve.  True Life Ministries International was begun by Dr. Toli Simon, one of 11 siblings who were born in a remote village on the north side of Lake Kyoga.  Having endured the regime of Idi Amin and the LRA, Dr. Simon shared stories of he and his brother running away from soldiers, hiding in trees, witnessing the murder of an uncle, then hiding in grass waiting as soldiers poked the grass to find men to kill.  Soldiers took their cattle, roasted their goats and raped their women.  Many in the area began to lose faith, yet this family held firm in their faith in God and to Romans 8.  We were told this story after I preached in the village…maybe I should back up.

Stopping in the last town before the village, Dr. Simon wanted to introduce his guests at a local primary school, who sang songs for us and wanted each of us to share some encouragement from the Word.

After hours on rough roads stopping to buy bananas or fruit from people Dr. Simon knew, we left the end of the road and began driving along a footpath, narrow enough that the small Mazda car we were driving was being scratched by brush on both sides.  We met a man who Dr. Simon knew walking along the path who was carrying a chicken.  Dr. Simon felt compelled to help his friend out and bought the live chicken, placing it under his feet as he continued driving.  A bit further on, we had to all get out of the car to lessen the load and raise the clearance in order to allow passage through a rocky section.

After 5½ hours to travel 50 miles, we finally arrived in the village as women danced, hollered and surrounded the car.  Upon exiting the car, we were escorted to special plastic chairs covered with doilies in a place of honor behind a table covered with a larger doily. They were presenting their very best for us.  Greetings and introductions of everyone present ensued, describing family connections and relating some stories of names, including a brother of Dr. Simon whose name in the local language translates to “Gospel Power.”

Dr. Simon introduced me as “a preacher of the Gospel who also happens to be an architect” and asked me to share from the Word while we were waiting for lunch.  I felt I was living Acts 1:8 “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Later finding out that Dan and I were the first mzungus (white people) that had ever been in this village made it a very unique experience.  At the end of my sermon, I used Romans 8 as an encouragement that, no matter what happens on this earth, nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ.  After speaking, Dr. Simon was very encouraged and shared that Romans 8 has been his favorite passage and inspiration through many of the trials he and his family has endured through the years.  Pretty amazing how God works!

For lunch, we enjoyed some goat meat and liver stew, rice and cabbage.  Asking Dr. Simon about the grain storage in the village that was empty, he explained that due to recent lack of rain, the village has no food aside from the poor nutrition of cassava they have planted in the area.  Despite this, they had goat meat and rice for us when we visited.  African hospitality is very humbling.

As we were walking the site to begin the survey, an adjacent property owner began arguing about the future orphans being too close to his property where he has been building a home for the last several years.  Keep in mind that property corners, particularly in rural Africa, are trees and bushes.  Dr. Simon was very humble and sacrificial, offering to give several feet of the property intended for the school and orphanage to him to make peace and attempt to satisfy all parties.  Later discovering the potential for an orphanage, school and clinic, the village elders sat down to discuss the situation and decided to trade some land Dr. Simon owns in another area for more land behind the property being surveyed, effectively making the property about 2 ½ times the initial size.  It was amazing to witness this and made me think of Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

While Dan was surveying, I played with some of the children in the village even though we did not speak the same language.  The kids were fascinated with my pale skin, wanting to touch my hands and arms.  They pushed my shirt sleeves up, I think to verify that my skin color was not a paste and I was really dark like everyone else.

Dr. Simon, born in this remote village without roads, water or electricity, went to primary school in the nearest town, secondary school in another town, Makerere University in Kampala and holds a Doctor of Theology from Oral Roberts University in Kansas City.  Wow!  After talking with Dr. Simon about the God-printed experience regarding the land boundaries, he asked me about the strange device Dan was using for the survey.  I explained about GPS, satellites and small computers using trigonometry to calculate locations in three directions.  Then, he explained the system to the school children and villagers that had gathered in their local language.  He told me they had never seen anything like it and it was like seeing a rocket ship.

It was an amazing and impacting trip.  I pray that the use of my architectural skills will provide images and tools that empower True Life Ministries and Saving Grace as they seek to serve the people of Northern Uganda.

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Our Little Missionary

It was suggested to me when I was complaining about one of our rainy Ugandan days that I have Caleb write a blog entry.  This isn’t that blog, but I thought I would take a moment to share about the youngest member of the Donahue missionary team and give you a glimpse into his world here in Uganda as seen through his eyes.  His grandmother gave him a camera for Christmas (thankfully, a seemingly indestructible thing) that has allowed Caleb to capture his own images of his life here in Uganda.  I have selected a few out of the hundreds that he has taken to share with you.

Caleb likes to take pictures of people.  Mostly they are pictures of people directly involved in his life, but some are of activities he has witnessed by sitting out our gate and watching the world go by.  He had taken many pictures of Robert and me, but I don’t need to share those here.  He had also taken several of Grandma Maggie, our neighbor and adopted grandmother, but unfortunately I could not find one that is not blurry.  He did take a very nice picture of Rachel and Miriam, the daughters of Maggie’s housemate, Florence.  Rachel and Miriam live with Maggie and Florence and tolerate Caleb probably about as much as you would an annoying kid cousin.  They play with him some, but mostly I think they just let him play on their computers.

He has, however, managed to very much win the hearts of our guards.  Jackson, who was the day guard during the weekend when we first arrived but recently has been serving as the night guard, really took a shine to Caleb.  He would often come over to see if Caleb would like to go with him to walk the dogs or run errands with him.  I was very sad when he got moved to nights, both because I enjoyed having him around but also I knew Caleb really enjoyed “playing” with him.  Then Samuel, who had been working nights, moved to days and the playing really began.  Samuel loves to throw the football with Caleb and will even make moves to tackle him, in play of course.  I think Samuel is just a big kid at heart, probably the most kid-like of our guards.

Caleb has also taken pictures of our house help, although not as many as they are not around quite as much as the guards.  They are busy working pretty much the entire time they are here and don’t really have the time to play with Caleb, although they do enjoy carrying on conversations with him.  Caleb hasn’t been able to get a picture of Stella, but I understand that she doesn’t particularly like having her picture taken.  But he got a really good picture of Monica, capturing her impish smile quite well.

Now, I know dogs and cats aren’t really people, but the ones that run our compound are very important to Caleb.  Siraf, the puppy, has become Caleb’s playmate in the absence of neighbor children to play with.  They seem to wear each other out quite well, although sometimes I think is an attitude of mutual tolerance rather than brotherhood.  Sophie, the cat, isn’t so much a playmate as she has become a fixture around our house.  I made the mistake of letting her lick a tuna can and now I can’t get rid of her.  She is actually Maggie’s cat, but she seems to prefer our couch.  She tolerates Caleb, and he, in turn, is learning the proper way to “respect” pets, something we have been struggling with recently.

One of Caleb’s favorite pastimes is sitting at our front gate watching the world go by, usually waiting for Daddy to get home from work.  On one particular occasion when he was sitting at the gate, the utility worker who had just trimmed our tree in preparation for a new utility line came by and started visiting with Caleb.  They talked for probably an hour.  Caleb told him all about our trip from the States, American football, and I have no idea what all else.  The guy was so impressed with him that he bought Caleb some ice cream from the neighborhood ice cream man, a guy that rides around on a bike selling ice cream from a cooler strapped to the back of it.  I didn’t realize it, but Caleb watched the utility guys the next day as they were actually installing the line.  We even saw the utility guy that had bought Caleb the ice cream later when he was working on a pole along a route that we take to get to Robert’s office.  As mzungus, we have a tendency to stand out as we walk down the road.

Even though many of Caleb’s photographs are of people, most of them are of things.  I guess inanimate objects are easier for a budding photographer to capture.  They don’t move around as much.  A couple of his prized possessions here in Uganda are his chair that sits on the veranda and our new boda-boda.  The chair is of particular value because it has a smiley face on the back of it and what little boy wouldn’t love a chair with a smiley face and because it is blue.  The fact that it is blue is of particular interest because we had sent Ali, our weekend day guard, down to get some plastic chairs for us without specifying the colors, and he brought back a large red one (my favorite color), a large green one (Robert’s favorite color) and a small blue one (Caleb’s favorite color).  The guys were very tickled by this coincidence.  And the boda-boda is prized because, well, it’s a motorcycle and what little boy wouldn’t love to have a motorcycle as his main mode of transportation.

There is still a lot to learn and experience here in Uganda and probably a lot more pictures will be taken (I hope I have enough storage space on my computer), but I think Caleb is proving to be a wonderful little missionary.  Sometimes, I think he’s doing better than us big ones.

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” – Isaiah 11:6

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