Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for October, 2011

License to Drive

I am happy to announce that I am the proud owner of a Ugandan motorcycle driving permit.  When applying for the permit in March, I might have chosen to dismiss the entire process if I had known it would take nine trips spread over 7 1/2 months before having a permit in hand.  This does not including five trips taken by our office manager on my behalf.  I think this sign could graphically exemplify the process.

The process began in March when we purchased our boda-boda.  I asked Semei, our office manager, to pick up an application for me, since you cannot find them online (Trip 1).  The application required a medical exam, so I walked to find a clinic in Kansanga (Trip 2).  After trying three clinics to find one with a doctor (“the doctor is not in today”), I ended up returning to the clinic another day (Trip 3) when the doctor was actually in.  Semei attempted to submit my application to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Vehicle Permitting Office (Trip 4) for me but was told that I could not apply until I had an approved work permit.

Despite applying for a Ugandan work permit in Dec 2010 and being told it would be ready by late January 2011, I did not receive it until late July 2011.  Trying to be as legal as I could, I have full coverage insurance on the boda and carried my international vehicle driving license with me.  I figured I could plead ignorance if I was stopped.  With my motorcycle permit application collecting dust for months, I had forgotten about it until the middle of September.

Now with an approved work permit in hand, I asked Semei to try submitting the motorcycle permit application to URA again.  Semei submitted the application (Trip 5), was told I could have submitted without a work permit, and came back with a payment request slip for the driving test fee.  With the required fee, Semei went (Trip 6) to the only bank that URA allows, paid the fee and went back to the permit office.  That was the extent of what Semei could do on my behalf.

My portion of this saga began with a trip to URA Face Technologies (Trip 7).  Presenting the receipt Semei had given me, I checked in with the front reception window, sat waiting for a while, then was called up to go sit in another sitting area to cue for picture taking.  The woman taking my photo must have been accustomed to darker faces, because she was having some difficulties getting the lights set right.  I then was directed to another counter to pay another fee, then directed to go to the URA testing facility the following day.

The following day, I went to the URA driver testing facility (Trip 8).  Unfortunately, I had some difficulty in finding the place.  I asked several boda drivers and finally asked a motorcycle policeman, who asked me for a full tank of petrol and also wanted “something for himself.”  I took off before he was able to make his request again.  At the testing center, I discovered yet another application I had to fill out, strangely enough the same as the initial application.  I was directed to have a medical test (I thought I already had one), an eye exam and complete the application.

I then embark on (Trip 9) to get another medical exam, which entailed talking to the doctor, who wrote “mentally coherent” on my exam.  Next, I was off to get an eye exam, so I went to an eyeglass store.  Since they didn’t actually administer eye exams, they directed me to an optometrist on the north side of Kampala.  Successfully having completed an eye exam, I headed to a passport photo place for another set of photos for the application.  With the application seemingly complete, I headed back to the testing center where I was told the person who checks applications would be there tomorrow and to come back then.

The following day, I went back to the testing center to submit the application (Trip 10).  The police officer checked the application and told me to come back next week for the test.  I never could find any information on road signs, laws, etc. to prepare for the test.

Returning the following week (Trip 11), I was directed to another office and the officer who does the testing.  While waiting, I noticed a poster with Ugandan road signs.  Waiting in offices is a common occurrence here, so I took advantage of the time to “study” before my test.  Eventually, the officer asked me to sit down with a blank sheet of paper.  He pointed to 20 different signs and asked me to write what each meant.  I only missed one.  He then asked me about my experience at driving a boda.  I thought to myself…”Uh, I’ve learned to drive in one of the craziest traffic cities on the planet…I dodge potholes, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, carts, chickens, other bodas and six headlights coming at you on two lane streets.”  I decided to just tell him I first learned when I was in junior high.  His response, “So, you’ve been driving for ten years or so.”  I said, “That sounds good.”  I was thinking, “Do I really look that young?”  So, without a physical driving test, he stamped my form and told me to go to the main URA office in “a week plus a day” to pay the permit fee.

In a week plus a day, I journey to the URA office (Trip 12) to pay the permit fee.  I had to go through a security checkpoint, stand in line at one counter, submit paperwork, obtain a payment request, go back out of the security checkpoint, go to the specific bank URA uses, stand in line, pay the fee, get a receipt, go back to URA, pass security, stand in another line at another counter and submit the receipt.  Then I was told to go to URA Face Technologies the next week.

The following week, I ventured (Trip 13) to Face Technologies, checked in, waited to be called, sat in another waiting area, and created lighting problems with my light colored face again.  Then I was told to go to another counter and pay another fee.  Finally, I was given a temporary paper permit and told to come back in two weeks.

Two weeks later (Trip 14), I returned to Face Technologies.  I checked in, waited to be called, waited at a counter and signed away my temporary permit to finally receive a real Ugandan motorcycle driving permit.  It only took 14 trips and 7 1/2 months!

We here at eMi strive to do everything by the laws and regulations of our host country, refusing to pay bribes or encourage corruption.  This often means that it takes us much longer to get anything done.  But, we hope the Christian principles and example we set will make an impact for the Kingdom.

But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21

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Cain and Abel

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. — Genesis 1:8

The struggle of brother against brother is almost as old as humanity itself.  It began with Cain and Abel and has taken many forms through the years.  The term “brother against brother” is often used in histories of the American Civil War, describing the situation faced by families in which loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy. There are numerous stories of brothers fighting on opposite sides of a battle and even of brothers killing brothers over the issues.

I think the term “brother against brother” can also be used to describe many of the conflicts on the African content, both civil wars within one African country as well as wars between African countries.  When Europe divided up the continent during the “Scramble for Africa,” there was no attention paid to tribal lines and loyalties, causing divisions within countries and across borders.  Even when a tribal area was left somewhat intact, the colonizing country often found a way to use tribal organization against the native people, sending them into a tailspin of self-destruction.  Such was the case for Rwanda.

We had the privilege of visiting the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali this past week.  It was a very sobering experience, one I hope I will never forget.  There was a lot that I didn’t know about the Rwandan genocide, particularly how premeditated it was.  It didn’t just happen.

Genocide is any of the following acts committed with intent  to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Genocide as defined by the UN Convention of 1948

The roots of the genocide in Rwanda can be traced back its colonization.  Before colonization, the primary identity of all Rwandans was associated with eighteen individual clans.  The distinctions of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans and could change with personal circumstances.  Under the colonial rule of the Belgians, the distinctions were made racial with the introduction of identity cards in 1932.  Those with ten cows were labeled as Tutsi, while those with less than ten cows were labeled as Hutu.  This distinction applied to all the generations that followed.

The Belgians then used this imposed ethnic distinction to divide and conquer the population.  Power was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy Tutsi minority.  When Tutsi leaders began calling for independence in 1956, Belgium switched their allegiance to the Hutu majority who favored a more gradual and prolonged timeline towards independence.

Tutsi bloodshed began with the “Hutu Revolution” in 1959 which was instigated by the death of the head Tutsi political leader.  An estimated 20,000 to 100,000 Tutsi were killed, while another 150,000 were driven from the country and force to resettle as refugees in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In 1962, Rwanda gained its independence and the Hutu majority came to power, introducing quotas for Tutsis that limited their opportunities for education and work.  A new round of bloodshed followed, resulting in thousands more Tutsi deaths and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the country.

On October 1st, 1990, forces of the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) attacked Rwanda from the west in an effort to reclaim a homeland, and to force the government into a power-sharing agreement.  But foreign troops were called from France, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Hutu led Rwandese Armed Forces (FAR) was able to contain the concentrated assault.  With foreign support assured, the FAR went on a rampage against the Tutsis and any Hutu suspected of having collaborated with the RPF. Thousands of people were killed, and countless others were indiscriminately arrested.

After the RPF invasion in October 1990 and subsequent skirmishes, pressure from neighboring countries and the international community brought the two sides to the negotiating table.   On August 4th, 1993, an agreement was reached and the Arusha Accords were signed, addressing issues such as the rule of law, power- sharing, integration of the armed forces, resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, and elections. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) was created to oversee the implementation of this agreement.

Then on April 6th, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda was returning from an implementation meeting with the president of Burundi when their plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.  The source of the missile is unknown, however many believe it was Hutu extremists who had been promoting ethnic cleansing over the airwaves.  The plane was shot down at 8:23pm.

By 9:15, roadblocks had been constructed throughout Kigali, and houses were being searched.  Shooting began to be heard within an hour.  The death lists had been prepared in advance.  No Tutsi was exempt.

One of the first to die was the ‘moderate’ Hutu prime minister, as well as 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers, prompting the immediate withdraw all Belgian troops, precisely what the FAR wanted.  Rwanda was left to its own devices, paving the way for the slaughter of over 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu sympathizers in 100 days.  The world stood by and watched and did nothing.

What I have come to realize as the root of it all, however, is the fundamental indifference of the world community to the plight of seven to eight million black Africans in a tiny country that had no strategic value to any world power.  An overpopulated little country that turned in on itself and destroyed its own people, as the world watched and yet could not manage to find the political will to intervene.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Alain Dallaire, who served as force commander of UNAMIR during the Rwandan genocide.

It was estimated that as few as 5,000 UN troops with authority to enforce peace could have stopped the genocide.  Instead, the UN mission was recalled, and the UNAMIR who was present throughout the genocide was powerless to prevent the killing.

There was a glaring and tragic lack of political will to intervene to stop the genocide, especially on the part of the most powerful member of the UN organization.

Ibrahim Gambari, Former United Under-Secretary General of the UN

The murderers used machetes, clubs, guns, and any blunt tool they could find to inflict as much pain on their victims as possible.  The most shocking part about the whole thing is the enthusiasm with which ordinary Hutu men, women and even children as young as 10 joined in the carnage.  They were caught up in a wave of blind hatred, fear and mob mentality inspired, controlled and promoted by their political and military leaders.

Eventually, the RPF was able to push the FAR into Burundi and the DRC.  Finally in July, the UNAMIR was reinforced and given a more open mandate, but it was “too much, too late.”  The genocide was over; the RPF had taken control of Kigali.  More than 1,000,000 men, women and children were dead and another 2,000,000 had fled their homes and their country.

The memorial grounds are the burial site of over 250,000 of those killed in the three month period of the genocide.  The memorial itself is a convicting educator of what happened.  I have to admit that since I had Caleb in tow, or rather he was pulling me through the museum, I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked to.  But that’s okay; I probably would have ended up sobbing my way through it.  It was difficult enough to make it through what I did get to see.  I think the hardest part was the section dedicated to the children killed in the genocide.  There were life-size photos accompanied by intimate details about their favorite toys, their last words and the manner in which they were killed.

I did my best to explain to Caleb what the museum was about and why we were there, but I’m not really sure he understood it all.  It is probably just as well.  I’m not sure I’m ready for his innocence to be crushed by the sins and cruelty of the world.  That will come all too soon, I’m sure.

Rwanda is doing a remarkable job of healing after their horrific past.  While the Hutus currently outnumber the Tutsi four to one, the government is predominantly Tutsi with Hutu representation.  But rather than adopt an attitude of retaliation, the Tutsi government has done an impressive job of promoting reconciliation and restoration of trust.  They are attempting to build a society with a place for everyone, regardless of tribe.  “There are no more Tutsis, no more Hutus, only Rwandans.”

I pray that something like this will never happen again.  But looking back at history, I see all the genocides that have been committed over the years, both those universally recognized (the Holocaust of World War II) and those that are not (the Armenian genocide of 1914-1918).  And I wonder, will humanity ever really learn?

When they said ‘never again’ after the holocaust, was it meant for some people and not for others?

Rwandan Apollon Katahizi, who survived the genocide.

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Nudges and Billboards

Last week we reached the half-way point of our time here in Africa.  Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking: “Half-way?  Your math is a little off.”  And you are right.  The half-way mark for the year commitment we initially made to eMi was about two months ago.  But we feel God calling us to stay longer and have extended our commitment to eMi through the end of May, making our new half-way point last week, roughly speaking.

Our decision to stay longer was based on many signs and occurrences, some subtle, some as bold as a billboard.  The first sign was within a few months of coming here.  Caleb started saying that he wanted to stay longer, not a request one would expect to hear from a five year old.  It felt more like a nudge from God.

The small projects Robert works on, which were the initial draw for him to come to Uganda in the first place, keep coming in.  There continue to be more ministries applying for eMi design services than there are personnel to perform these services.  In fact, just this past week, the number of small projects on Robert’s list for the fall was increased by one, now up to six.  Another nudge.

As far as Caleb is concerned, we feel it makes more sense to wait until the summer to head back to the States rather than trying to move during the middle of the school year.   Transitions made in the middle of the school are bad enough from one city or state to another.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to transition from one continent to another.  So Caleb will be able to experience his entire year of kindergarten here in Uganda.

And lastly, after a seven month struggle and multiple trips to the immigration office, Robert’s work permit was finally approved earlier this summer with an expiration date of 06 June 2012.  That one didn’t feel like a nudge.  That one was the billboard.

So we have answered the call to stay longer and have embraced it with much eagerness.  That is the easy part.  The hard part is raising the money to allow us to do this, not one of our strong points.  However, we know that if God has called us to be here, he will provide us with the means to do so.  We are continually amazed at how He provides for us.  Since we are now planning to stay longer, we are looking at additional costs, including our return airfare next summer, Caleb’s school tuition for the spring and housing, food, design project trips, etc. for the spring.

You might be questioning why we have to raise additional funds for our return airfare and why we did not plan for this in the first place.  Initially, we did have round trip tickets.  They usually do not let you into the country without a return ticket or a current work permit (which we did not have yet).  We bought our tickets with the intention of rescheduling the return dates (you can’t actually reserve plane tickets a year out).  However, when Robert went to reschedule the tickets, he learned they were only valid for six months despite “one year” being clearly printed on the tickets, and could not make changes without a hefty reservation change fee despite being told we could have one free reservation change.  All this was learned after a visit to the local KLM office, a partner with Delta who actually issued our tickets.  After multiple failed attempts to contact Delta directly in an effort to resolve the issue, we ultimately were forced to abandon the tickets.  We are now left without return tickets back home to the States.

Tickets or no tickets, we still feel called to be here.  Heather has become very involved in a card ministry serving local Ugandan women and both of us have become quite involved with our local church, Kampala International Church.  Our service to eMi has also increased in that Heather has starting working in the office in the mornings while Caleb is at school, providing much needed drafting support.  Since her work is not full time, we joke that eMi is getting one and a half architects for the price of one.

All joking aside, we ask that you prayerfully consider whether God is calling you to begin or continue support of our work here in Uganda.  Your support empowers us to be the hands and feet serving ministries as we strive to design a world of hope.  Not everyone is called to move their family to Uganda.  Those of you who financially support us are a vital part of our team.  Likewise, those who pray for us are a vital part of our team, although we might argue they are the most important part.  Just as we read in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, we all have different gifts, but are all of one body and one Spirit.

One-time or monthly support, all tax deductible, can be sent to Boulder Valley church of Christ or directly to engineering Ministries international, whether by check, credit card or electronic check.  eMi has also just launched a new page (link here) on their website with even more secure fund transfer and the ability to set up an online account to track donations.  eMi prefers the use of this new electronic check option as it lessens overhead costs.  For more information on supporting our ministry (at least financially), please see our website under the tab “SUPPORT US” or click link here.

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – Ephesians 4:16

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Uganda Cranes We Go

“We Go, We Go, Uganda Cranes We Go!” can be heard yelled in Kampala’s Namboole Stadium when the Uganda national football team plays.  I had the opportunity to attend the recent match between Uganda and Kenya, a qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations.  Uganda needed a win to qualify for the first time in 33 years.

Assembling a list from eMi and others who wanted tickets, I collected money and Semei, our office manager, fought rabid crowds to purchase our 20,000 shilling ($7.27 USD) tickets.  With excitement mounting the preceding week, we noticed street vendors selling flags, jerseys, noisemakers and even vehicle mirror wraps.  Crazed fans with plastic noisemaking vuvuzelas started their cacophony of honking the day before the game.  After several months with no success finding a Cranes jersey for Caleb, we finally found him one the day before the match at a local craft market.

Unfortunately, Caleb became sick the day before the game, including a high fever.  Heather decided to stay home with him and take him to the Surgery.  The last time one of us had a high fever, I ended up with malaria, so we have learned not to take chances.  After some ibuprofen to reduce the fever, Caleb felt well enough to at least put on his jersey and take a picture with Daddy.  By the way, Caleb ended up wearing his jersey all day, including the trip to the Surgery.  He is a very loyal fan of the teams he roots for: the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and Uganda Cranes.

Our group of three Ugandans and thirteen mzungus had originally planned to meet at the eMi office at noon to head over to the stadium, some eight miles away.  Hearing horror stories of oversold tickets and 3-hour traffic gridlocks, we wanted to get there early.  The day before the match, Semei heard the gates would be open at 9:00am and people would be getting in line at or before 7:00am.  Keep in mind that the match was not scheduled to begin until 5:00pm.

We decided to meet at 10:00am and head out.  Arriving at the stadium about 11:15am, there were already lines of people that had no apparent terminus.  Walking toward the lines, we were approached by a Ugandan man claiming to be able to get us around the lines up to the gate (for a fee of course.)  After some discussion with Semei, we were escorted by at least three men over to a side gate.  Other discussions ensued with the police at that gate and the Ugandan man grabbed the gate forcefully, raised his voice and made a lot of hand gestures, somehow eventually convincing the police to let us through.

Once through the ticket checkpoint, we went through 2-3 security pat downs and bag check stations, entered the stadium and found some seats, often having to fight through crowds just to get through.  Looking at the stadium clock, I noticed we had over five hours until the match began and the stadium was at least 70% full.  So, I became perplexed as to why many Africans are often late to church, meetings and other occasions, yet arrive 6-8 hours early for a football match…

The pregame show (for lack of a better name) included “We Go, We Go” chants, people dancing on the field like this guy wearing a Uganda flag and catching coins thrown to him, some fights along the Kenyan fan section and a naked guy running onto the field.  Other groups of people dressed in all types of costumes paraded through the stands chanting, banging drums and carrying a framed photo of the Buganda tribe’s king.

. The game itself (once it finally started) was very exciting.  The Ugandan team was quite aggressive and kept the ball on the Kenyan side of the pitch for most of the game, with several opportunities to score.  Unfortunately, the game ended in a 0-0 tie.  Uganda ended up not qualifying due to the tie and Angola’s 2-0 win over Guinea Bissau, which vaulted Angola into the 16 qualifying teams.  Near the end of the match, the apparently upset Ugandan fans began throwing vuvuzelas, noisemakers, plastic bottles and even burning road flares onto the field.

In all, it was a great cultural experience; however, I think I will enjoy the next Uganda Cranes match by a television in a restaurant or with some friends.

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School Days

I can’t believe we are six weeks into the school year already!  With all that has happened already, I can’t imagine what the rest of the year will be like.  I’m sure we will come to a time where we will be ready for the end to come, but right now it is just absolutely flying by!

As I’ve mentioned before, Caleb is attending Heritage International School, a Christian school less than half a mile from our house.  It was started in 1994 as a school for missionary children, and while it was originally based on an American curriculum, it draws students from a wide variety of nationalities including many Ugandans.  While the school calendar follows a western system, i.e. starting in the fall as opposed to starting in January as the native schools do here, holidays follow the Ugandan calendar, which is a mixture of Christian, Muslim and national holidays.

The campus is home to both primary and secondary students, as well as nursery and preschool kids, so Caleb goes to school with kids from the cradle all the way to those preparing for University next year.  The campus is wonderfully picturesque with a central area with trees, paths and streams running through it.  I think it is one of Caleb’s favorite parts of the school, next to the playground.  The primary and secondary schools are housed on either side of this central area, with the nursery and preschool kids close to the entrance on the primary side.  The administration building is at the back of this central area with the library off to the side and the cafeteria and kitchen behind.  And the campus is expanding due to growth in the student body.  They are currently building an additional classroom block to house the music and art classrooms which were displaced when additional primary classes were added.  I must say that it is probably the prettiest school campus outside of college and university campuses that I have ever seen.

Unfortunately, Caleb’s kindergarten career did not get off to a very picturesque start.  Within the first week, he was having trouble keeping his hands to himself and was being generally disruptive during class.  The school utilizes the “Stoplight” behavior system.  Each day the kids are given a color according to how the day went.  If they stayed on “green,” they had a great day.  If they got on “yellow,” they received a warning for something they did behavior-wise.  If they got on “orange,” they had a time-out sometime during the day.  And if they got on “red,” they were being continually disobedient or disruptive and were possibly sent to the principal’s office.

We continued to struggle with Caleb’s disciplinary issues, as his Stoplight sheet become ever more colorful with an alarming number of yellows and oranges.  Things finally came to a head when Caleb came home with a red, prompting an emergency conference with his teacher, Mrs. Trina, and her assistant, Mrs. Gladys.  And I must admit, a meeting like that is not the easiest way to start out the day.

It was a good meeting, though.  We all really love Caleb, and we were all struggling with how to best help him adjust to the classroom setting.  It was helpful for us as parents as well as the teachers to voice concerns and observations about what was going on with Caleb.  We were able to really work together to come up with a plan to move forward with his disciplinary issues.

After talking at length the night before the meeting with Caleb about what had happened, Robert and I discovered that Caleb had in his head that if he got on a red, he would get kicked out of school.  Apparently, this was his goal.  We have never completely understood why, especially after he was so excited to start school in the first place.  The best we understand is that he really likes recess and PE, but not a whole lot else about school.  Actually, I don’t think it is that he doesn’t like to learn, because Mrs. Trina says he always does his work, and usually does it well and gets it done before anyone else.  I think it is more that he doesn’t like to sit and be confined to his desk all the time.  Who does?  But Caleb is an especially active child, and has trouble sitting still for extended periods of time.  And he seems to have particular trouble keeping his hands to himself, so the teacher has set his desk by himself to avoid temptation.

So after talking with Caleb’s teachers, we have decided to try a new behavior system in addition to the one currently in use.  This one tracks Caleb throughout the different periods of the school day according to how well he has done concerning one particular behavior.  It rates him with a “smiley face,” “no-smile face” or “frowny face” concerning that particular behavior.  It allows us to focus on one behavior at a time, and we have chosen to start with “Positive Touching,” i.e. no hitting, especially with the granddaughter of the President of Uganda attending Heritage.

The new system seems to be helping.  I wish I could say that has been all “greens” and “smiley faces” since we started, but not quite.  While Caleb seems to struggle to control himself at times (he gets that from his mommy), there has been marked improvement.  We are even starting to talk about things he can do when he feels like hitting someone, like sitting on his hands.   And I think he is starting to get it.  The other night I overheard him praying to God to “help [him] make good choices.”  There is hope for the kid yet.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance,” – Proverbs 1:5

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