Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for August, 2011

First Day of School

Today I hurry off to school,
To work and learn and play.
I’m in a brand new grade this year.
What a happy day!

— Author unknown

When we were originally looking at coming to Uganda, we decided that I would try my hand at home schooling Caleb.  Mostly, this decision was based on economic reasons.  While schools in Uganda are nationalized, they are not free and school fees can get pretty steep if you want to get into a good school.  I was also under the understanding that I would be able to home school alongside one of the other eMi wives who we thought would be home schooling her children, one of whom is about the same age as Caleb.

Unfortunately, as our plans progressed, we learned that the other wife was no longer home schooling her children but had them enrolled in the local international school where she was also teaching.  And, the school at which they were enrolled was full and had no room for any more students.  So I was going to have to venture into the realm of home schooling on my own, especially since the home school co-op at the international school was also full.

While we made a valiant effort, it was a less than successful experiment.  There is a reason that I did not go into teaching; I am not very good at it, at least not in the classical sense of the word.  Caleb, bless his heart, definitely does better in the structure a traditional classroom provides, and he really needs interaction with peers.

Fortunately, we realized all of this fairly quickly and were able to get Caleb enrolled and guaranteed a spot at Heritage International School, a Christian school less than half a mile from our house where all the other eMi children attend.  It was started in 1994 as a school for missionary children, hence the Christian influence.  While it was originally based on an American curriculum, it draws students from a wide variety of nationalities including many Ugandans.  Since it was started as a school for missionary children, self-supporting missionaries get a discount, which is really nice.

Unfortunately, we still had a month and a half of home schooling to go until we could break for the summer.

Summer came and went in the blink of an eye and the much anticipated “first day of school” was finally upon us.  We had made great preparations for it, of course.  Caleb and I had gone shopping for the necessary supplies, which are not readily available here and as easy to obtain as in the States.  A full three days ahead of time, Caleb very carefully packed all of the new supplies into his brand new backpack his grandmother had brought him.  We met his teacher and visited his classroom a few days before the start of school, not necessarily a common practice here in Uganda.

I must admit, I did not approach the day with quite the enthusiasm that Caleb did.  My feelings were much more mixed about the whole thing.  I looked forward to having more kid-free time, but I was also saddened to think that my baby was going to be starting kindergarten.

Finally, the big day was here.  Once the requisite “first day of school” photos had been taken we headed out the door.  While getting a ride to school on a boda-boda is not unheard of here in Uganda, I’m sure Caleb is one of the few mzungu children who gets to school that way.  Of course, Caleb loves it.

And I’m happy to report the first day of school was a huge success.  Caleb seems to really enjoy his teacher and classmates, and we seem to be off to the start of a good year.  And I did pretty well, too.  At least, I didn’t shed any tears.  But still, it is hard to watch my baby growing up.  That, I guess, is universal whether we are here in Uganda or back in the States.

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Donahue Bed & Breakfast

Whenever my aunt moves to a new house, she always sends out an e-mail letting all her family and friends know about their new address and that they are settled in by inviting them to the new location of the “Wallace Bed and Breakfast,” letting everyone know that they are welcome to come visit.  She started this when she and my uncle moved away from Texas and most of their family in an effort to encourage said family to visit.

While I have never sent out an announcement about the new location of “Donahue Bed and Breakfast” after we have moved to a new area, I have always thought it was a fun idea.  Of course, it’s a little far for people to come visit our Bed and Breakfast now, and our facilities are a little lacking.  We only have two bedrooms, no guest bedroom.  And our couch is barely big enough for Caleb to nap on let alone anyone anywhere close to adult size.  Besides, we only have two mosquito nets, one for our bed and one for Caleb’s.

But thankfully that didn’t stop my mom and sister from coming to visit.  We had to find other sleeping arrangements for them (they ended up staying at the eMi duplex where the interns are housed), but they did join us on several occasions for breakfast and we even took breakfast up to them one morning.  As you can imagine, hosting and entertaining is decidedly more challenging in a developing country, but we managed OK and I think my mom and sister really had a good time.

Actually, having my mom and sister here was good practice for our next venture in the world of hosting: hosting a new eMi family, Gary and Erin Hightower, who have come to serve as long term volunteers as well.  It was good timing really, especially for Robert who was acting as chauffer as he was able to drop off my mom and sister at the airport the same morning he had to pick up the Hightowers.  After chauffeuring my mom and sister around for a while, Robert has gotten quite adept at navigating the horrendous Kampala traffic.  I even tried my hand at Ugandan driving, but only in our immediate neighborhood.

As we showed my mom and sister and now the Hightowers around town, I came to the realization that this really is “home” and I have been showing it off as such.  The realization was a little startling at first, but I guess it shouldn’t have been.  Since arriving in Uganda, we have made a concerted effort to truly make this “home.”   And I guess we have succeeded.  Home is where the heart is, and our heart is definitely here in Uganda.  The Donahue Bed and Breakfast is official open for business.  Y’all come see us!

Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Psalm 84: 3-4

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What is My Calling?

When we were preparing to come to Uganda, people often asked what I would be doing while Robert was working with eMi.  My standard answer was that I would probably have my hands pretty full running the household and chasing after Caleb.  And while running a household in Africa is decidedly more involved than doing so in the States, it does not take up near as much of my time as I thought it would.

And I struggled to find things to fill my time.  I guess I thought I would be spending a lot of my spare time with the other eMi wives.  But they all had lives of their own that kept them pretty busy, and they didn’t really have time to babysit a new missionary wife fresh off the boat.  It didn’t help that we were struggling with finding a church home and then where to fit into that church once we found one.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, Robert was able to plug into Kampala International Church (KIC) pretty quickly even if it wasn’t quite a role that he felt fully qualified to fill.  I, on the other hand, continued to struggle.  I volunteered to help with the tea and coffee service after worship, but that was only once every 6 weeks or so.  After some words of insight from my sister-in-law, I pursued the possibility of serving on one of the various praise teams.  I attended one of the Worship Leader Training sessions but quickly decided that I didn’t really want to lead singing as much as serve as a backup singer.  I was asked to sing as part of a team, but so far it has only been once.  Hopefully, I will get more opportunity once school and normal schedules start up again, especially since KIC will be going to two services this fall.

In an effort to get me more involved, Robert signed us up to work with an eMi project trip together.  The project site was just north of Kampala, so the team actually stayed here in town.  This allowed us to participate in the project trip as a family, something Robert has wanted to do for a while.  Our experience is detailed in a previous blog entry entitled “eMi Project Trip, Family Style.”  The project did get me more involved and helped to fill up my summer, but I have determined that I am not really called to serve on eMi project trips.  I will leave those to Robert.

My service to eMi is more in the form of food.  The cook at the eMi office has been wanting to learn more mzungu type recipes, and I was asked to assist with that.  As cooking is something that I love to do, this has been something that I can really get into, and I have.  I poured through all the cookbooks that were already on hand at the eMi office, looked though my own personal recipes and scoured the internet for suitable meal ideas.  It’s not as easy as it sounds to find recipes that can feed 20 people without breaking the budget.  It has been a lot of fun though, and we have developed a good set of menus that we can pull from to provide adequate variety for mzungu palates.

About the same time I was exploring the idea of serving with a praise team at KIC and was starting to work with the menus at eMi, I was approached by one of the eMi wives about helping with a fledgling program.  She and a friend from Canada were teaching women in the area to make cards by punching patterns with pins into cardstock and creating designs with thread.  The idea is to teach vocational skills and provide income-earning opportunities for Ugandan women who currently struggle to meet the basic needs of their households.  The program is loosely modeled after Bead for Life, a program for which the friend from Canada was volunteering.  I thought it sounded like a really neat program and I love crafty types of things, so I eagerly agreed to help.

After months of wondering about my purpose here in Uganda, I went from having not so much to do to being so busy I could hardly keep up.  It has been a really good busy, though.  The card making program really was fledgling and I have had to do a lot of figuring out as I have gone along.  Not too long after I was asked to get involved, the two ladies that asked me to join them left for Canada leaving me to run the program over the summer in their absence.  It has been a lot more involved than I realized it was going to be, but I am really proud of what the program has become and I am eager to watch as it continues to grow.

I feel that this is why I am here in Uganda, to work with this fledgling program.  I love working with the ladies and watching their craftsmanship improve.  I love learning about them and their culture, although the learning is slow as there is a language barrier to overcome.  English may be the national language here, but it is not the native one.  Still we manage to communicate, sometimes directly, sometimes though translation, and I catch glimpses into their lives.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for the program, for my work with it and for the lives of the ladies I work with.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

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Our New Church Home

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. – Matthew 18:20

Upon moving here to Kampala, one of our first priorities was to search for a new church family to plug into.  We thought this would be a fairly easy endeavor, but as we all seem to learn, things tend to be more difficult in practice than in theory.  We joined several other eMi families at their respective churches, including Kampala International Church, a Presbyterian Church, Calvary Chapel Downtown, Calvary Chapel Kololo and Watoto Church, formerly Kampala Pentecostal Church.

We kept going back to Kampala International Church, partly due to it being within walking distance.  We decided to join a newcomers’ lunch to find out more and meet some other folks.  The pastor was at the lunch, talking to both Heather and I.  The next week, he called to meet with me about serving the church as the interim treasurer.  But, I’m an architect.  I also enjoy some graphic design.  Did I mention that I’m not an accountant?  But we really need someone to step in as treasurer.  Let me pray about it.  Sometimes God makes reassignments.  Mary: peasant girl to the mother of Christ; David: shepherd to king; Peter: fisherman to lead the first church; Joseph: baby brother to Egyptian prince.  Now I’m not expecting to become a Ugandan prince, but sometimes God is glorified and His power shown through our weakness.

Kampala International Church is a multi-nations church with about a 60/40 Mzungu to Ugandan ratio.  There are Brits, Dutch, Americans, Ugandans, Kenyans, Congolese and Sudanese.  KIC was started by a small group of families after the Idi Amin regime fell.  It has since grown into a medium sized church with a satellite congregation.  Every six weeks or so, the congregation meets in four zones of the city, meeting in gardens, enjoying smaller groups and often having food to promote fellowship.  Our neighborhood zone meets in a bar which is a fairly quiet place on a Sunday morning.  Some of the bar staff are being reached.  How many of us can say they have had church in a bar?

Heather was asked to serve with one of the several rotating praise bands.  Some use full drum sets, bass guitars and a keyboard, while others, like the one Heather has joined, use an acoustic guitar, keyboard and human voices.  She had been struggling for a while since we moved here to find her place and calling, but I think she has definitely started to find her niche.

Heather has also been enlisted into service at KIC, helping with the tea and coffee ministry.  After morning services, tea and coffee is served to the adults and fruit juice to the kids for a fellowship time to get to know each other a little more.  Having helped out with the dish washing on ocassion, I can say that the tea and coffee ministry entails a good bit of work.  Aside from maybe a retail store, I don’t think I have ever seen that many cups in one place.

Another way I have begun serving at KIC is in the way of graphic design, an opportunity that only opened up after I was willing to serve in the capacity of treasurer.  I redesigned the Sunday bulletins (see above) and an advertisement for a local Kampala magazine (below).  We feel fortunate to have found such a great community of believers while we call Kampala home.

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God’s Creatures

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:24-25

Can you imagine being at God’s side as He was creating the world, watching it all unfold?  I see the world as an amazing display of diversity, creativity, elegance, planning and interdependence.  Mountains, storms, sunrises, ocean waves and stars all show just a glimpse of His power and glory.  With the beauty we see amid a fallen and sinful world, I can only imagine what heaven will be like.

With Heather’s mom and sister visiting us for a couple of weeks, we decided to go on a safari trip to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Preserve to see some of God’s creation.  Masai Mara is world renowned for its’ prolific game wildlife.  The timing of our visit to the park coincided with a unique natural phenomenon occurring in the Mara, the wildebeest migration.  Depicted in Disney’s animated movie, The Lion King, the wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti region of Tanzania during the dry season north into Kenya for literally greener pastures.

We spent one night of our two day journey to Masai Mara in Kakamega Forest Preserve, the last remaining rain forest in Kenya.  In the Kakamega Forest, we saw colobus monkeys and many amazing and unique flowers.  The following day, we drove through Kenya’s tea country and part of the Great Rift Valley.

Some African roads can be brutal to vehicles.  The seemingly indestructible Toyota Land Cruiser we hired to travel to the Mara had a fuel tank leak, flat tire and nearly rolled over in a gulley while crossing a river.  Fortunately, the Land Cruiser high centered on the rear differential, thus preventing a rollover.  Vibrations from roads that looked more like the moon than a travel platform removed none less than a door lockset, the hood prop rod, a cover to one of the batteries and the entire front grille.

The sheer volume of game in Masai Mara was mind boggling as we saw thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebra.  The zebra apparently migrate with the wildebeest, sometimes leading the wildebeests in long lines reminiscent of cattle drives or rush hour traffic.  Other similar game included topis, hartebeests, gazelles, impalas, bush bucks and dik-diks.

With all of this tasty game around, lions are sure to be lurking.  With our Masai guide that we hired from the tented camp where we were staying, we found three prides of lions and two solitary lions.  The largest pride numbered about 18, while the smallest was only four.  We saw lion cubs, adolescents, lionesses and males with huge manes.  The alpha male of the smaller pride was so close to us we had to close our windows while watching him rub the side of our vehicle.  One of the solitary male lions had just caught a wildebeest, which he was dragging over to some tree cover.

A rare sight, we found a cheetah that had just killed an impala.  With several safari vehicles around, the cheetah seemed irritated at these large noisy animals and just wanted to get on with his meal.  Returning later in the day, the cheetah had left little more than bones of the impala on the savannah.

Spotting a black rhinoceros rumbling about, we witnessed another rare sight.  Not surprising, the rhino sighting caused quite a traffic jam of safari vehicles.

Other animals we viewed in their natural habitat included forest elephants, savannah elephants, giraffes, hippos, Cape buffalos, ostriches, warthogs, jackals, hyenas and birds.  God’s creation is complex, elegant and amazing in so many ways.  We feel fortunate to have seen parts of His creation that He took special care in creating.

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” – Revelation 5:13

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