Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for November, 2011

Time to be Thankful

One of the adjustments to living in a foreign country is different holidays.  There are 13 national holidays celebrated annually in Uganda.  They are a conglomeration of patriotic and religious holidays with two days honoring the laborer and women thrown in for good measure.  Because Ugandans are predominantly Christians and Muslims, each faith’s religious holidays are celebrated.

Earlier this month, the Muslim holiday of Eid was observed, essentially the equivalent of Christmas.  Literally meaning ‘festival’ or ‘celebration,’ Eid is actually a pair of holidays.  The first occurring in August, Eid al Fitr, is celebrated after the fasting month of Ramadan, and the other, Eid al Adha, is celebrated about two and a half months later and is a festival of sacrifice and pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.  Each celebration focuses on time with family and friends.  Everyone invites others to their homes for snacks and munchies, and then they go to someone else’s house to do the same.

Sounds kind of like Thanksgiving to me.

Uganda does not have a day set aside for a Thanksgiving holiday like the United States and Canada.  Since this is a tropical equatorial area, there really isn’t any specific ‘harvest’ time.  Something always seems to be in season and is getting harvested.  There is never a time when all the crops have been harvested and the land is dormant.

So, Thursday, November 24th was just another day for us here in Uganda.

Since the eMiEA office includes people from the United States, Canada and Uganda, we can’t just decide for the office to observe a US holiday.  They made it the next best thing though, a Day of Prayer.  Better, I think.  The entire day at the office was spent focusing on God and prayer.  There is at least one Day of Prayer per semester, with each having a different theme.  This one explored the Greatness of God.

During the Day of prayer, we enjoyed an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, including roasting raw coffee beans, pounding the beans in a wooden mortar and pestle and steeping the coffee, all over charcoal.  After the Day of Prayer, we had a catered meal of Luwombo, a delicacy meal for people of central Uganda.  Luwombo is made of meat (chicken, beef or goat), vegetables and seasonings that are wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.  It is served and eaten from the leaf with each person getting their own banana leaf.  We topped the meal off with a potluck dessert, including pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate cake, pumpkin mochi, and cupcakes, kind of a cross-cultural Thanksgiving meal.

We did have a more traditional Thanksgiving meal on Sunday afternoon hosting part of our eMi family.  Although challenging to fit eight people around our little table that normally seats four, we managed with the help of the little table we had made for the kitchen.  It was a wonderful meal of chicken (turkey is available but has to be preordered and is significantly more expensive), dressing, gravy, rice, sweet potato casserole, green beans, roasted potatoes and two kinds of bread.  And there were wonderful desserts to top it off: pecan pie (Robert’s special request), pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin snickerdooles and pumpkin blondies (we had a pumpkin theme going).

And there was wonderful fellowship.  We shared about what we were thankful for, mostly centering on our eMi family.  And as any good family should after a Thanksgiving meal, we played games: a couple of mean rounds of UNO.  Unfortunately, the evening ended all too soon and everyone had to go home.

In all, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving, even if it did not fall on the day the US government set aside.  But, I do not really need a specific day to be thankful.  I am thankful every day.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Caleb’s Friends

I’m sure I am no different from other mothers in my concern about my child’s friendships.  Living in a third world country adds a whole other dynamic to that concern.  Caleb is an extrovert (I’m not sure how two introverts had an extrovert, but we did) and he easily makes friends.  In fact, he craves interaction with other kids, so I feel I have to be particularly diligent in finding him friends to play with.

As part of a mission organization, seemingly automatic friendships are formed with children of other members of the organization.  Unfortunately, some of the friendships that already existed in this realm were pretty tight, but after some initial awkwardness, Caleb seems to have integrated into the circle of friends fairly well.  There are two little boys that are very close to Caleb’s age.  Unfortunately, they are a year ahead of him in school, so they tend to play together while Caleb plays with one of the boy’s little brothers.  But Caleb doesn’t seem to mind.  He’ll play with just about anyone.  He particularly likes to play with the “big boys” of one of the other families.

Caleb has also made some fast friendships with kids at church.  There is a Dutch boy, Reuben, who is about the same age, that Caleb loves to pal around with.  They seem made for each other as they are both active, rambunctious boys who don’t necessarily relish the idea of sitting through a church service.  Before church, they can usually be found running around together, but once the service starts they will find their way to the very front row, sitting next to each other until the kids are dismissed to Junior Church.

The church we attend strives to be an “all nations” church and there are many Ugandans that attend.  Caleb has made friends with many of these Ugandans both young and old, but it is the kids who come to play.  Two in particular, Alan and Frank, have come over several times.  They are a bit older, so I worry a little about the dynamic but it seems to have worked out.  Mostly, I think the boys are interested in all the cool electronic toys that Caleb has, so we have had to coach Caleb on keeping an eye on things when other kids are around so toys don’t walk off.  So far we haven’t had any problems.  With both boys in school, we haven’t seen much of them lately.  This is especially true of Alan, who attends a boarding school somewhere away from Kampala.  Caleb took these two pictures of Alan and Frank.

School is often a great place to make friends, and Caleb has made many.  Leroy, a Ugandan boy, was his best friend, but apparently they have had a falling out.  Leroy has come to play here at our house and Caleb has gone to play at Leroy’s a couple of times.  I hope they can mend their differences as they really seemed to play well together.  Caleb also talks a lot about Noah, an expat American kid in his class.  I think Noah is one of the “cool kids” that everyone thinks they want to be like.  Caleb really seems to admire him.  There are many others and Caleb wants to have them all over to play, at the same time.  I told him I thought I might be able to handle one or two at a time.  So he has a list, at least a mental one, that we need to start working on.  The picture above shows part of his class wearing penguin costumes for Heritage International School’s Rain Festival. Caleb is the penguin behind the bunny in the foreground, Noah is the “cool” penguin in the leather jacket beside him, and Leroy is the tan, skinny polar bear next to Noah.

There are lots of neighborhood kids to play with as well.  But I get a little nervous about just letting Caleb run around and play, so we have the kids over to our compound to play.  When we first arrived, I tried to encourage Caleb to play with the little boys who live behind us.  Our guard took Caleb over to see if the boys would like to come play with him at our compound.  Samuel, who is a little older than Caleb, and Conrad, who is a little younger, did come to play a few times, but they didn’t really seem that interested in playing until recently.  Now they want to come all the time.  The boys actually play really well together.  Caleb has improved about sharing his toys, although he can still be quite bossy at times.  Samuel and Conrad also like to bring their toys to share with Caleb.  It has been interesting to watch the friendships grow.  Samuel, who is already in school, speaks English quite well, but Conrad, who is still at home, struggles.  However, Conrad’s English is improving probably due to playing with an English-only speaker.  Samuel and Conrad have been trying to teach Caleb some Lugandan, and Caleb does try to use it although he mostly gets things mixed up.  Oh, well, at least he’s trying.  Caleb also took these pictures of Samuel and Conrad.

Actually, I’m kind of jealous of Caleb.  The diversity of his circle of friends far outreaches what I could have even dreamed of at his age.  I hope that he can take what he learns from his cross-cultural friendships, both African and European, and use it throughout his life.

“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” – Proverbs 12:26
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

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Chez Donahue

I have recently been asked what we eat here.  Do we have things from home that we eat or is it all new cuisine to fit the region?  The simple answer is that it is a combination of both.

While we have adopted many new African culinary items like chapattis, rolexes and samosas into our diets (see “Not by Bread Alone” dated 22 May), I still fix a lot of American dishes.  Having to modify some of my recipes for what is available here, I try to use as many fresh ingredients as possible.  While canned goods can be found here, they are imported and typically more expensive, so I try to avoid them.

One of our staples is spaghetti.  Ground beef is relatively inexpensive here, so we tend to use it frequently.  And my spaghetti sauce recipe is very compatible with other ingredients I can find.  The recipe calls for tomato sauce, but I use tomato paste and add water since a can of paste is considerably cheaper than a can of sauce and goes twice as far.  I suppose, if I wanted to go all natural, I could stew my own tomatoes which are readily available and cheap, but that is just a little too much work for this city girl.

We do enjoy a lot of pasta here, both of the meat variety and vegetarian.  It is interesting to note that while you can get a variety of pasta types, the average Ugandan knows only spaghetti and will refer to all types of pasta as such.  Because we eat so much spaghetti, I had to come up with other sauce options to put on it.  Pesto is always a good option.  I try to keep a jar of premade pesto sauce (which I can get at the more mzungu supermarkets) in the refrigerator for when I don’t have basil readily available in the yard to make homemade pesto sauce.  Sauteed vegetables are always a good option, and we have also discovered a creamy avocado pesto type sauce that we like to put over pasta on occasion.  I use that one sparingly as we get kind of sick of avocados after a while when they are in season.

Speaking of avocados, another good ground beef option is tacos.  We do these “African” style with chapattis rather than tortillas (I tried making tortillas once, but they did not turn out well) and cabbage instead of lettuce (you can get lettuce here, but cabbage is definitely a lot cheaper and more readily available).  To season the meat, I use either ready-made taco seasoning brought from the States or a combination of individual seasonings for which I have a recipe.  The challenge is that the recipe calls for “American” chili powder which is a combination of paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, oregano and some other spices whereas Ugandan chili powder is made from spicier actual chilies…we discovered this the hard way.  We also tried using chapattis for fish tacos, but the tastes just weren’t compatible.

And we do eat a lot of fish.  When you can get fish fresh from the lake that was swimming just the night before delivered by a guy who cleans and fillets it for you, it is really hard to pass up.  I have a variety of fish recipes that I fix, the most common of which is fish and chips (the picture is actually Ugandan style fried fish, not mine which I coat with cornmeal and then fry).  I could never get fish and chips to work out in the States, but I have no problem fixing it here.  I don’t know if it is the fact that the fish is fresher or what, but it just cooks easier and doesn’t disintegrate.  And I have no idea why the potatoes cook up better here, but they do.  I also bake the fish occasionally and use a couple of recipes I found in a Ugandan cookbook we are quite found of.

We also eat quite a bit of pork.  A local little butchery shop I like to frequent has great pork chops and sausages.  So far, I have not gotten sausage from them that we have not liked.  Unfortunately, the bread here isn’t so great, so sometimes I have trouble finding decent buns for the sausages.  In those instances, I just slice the sausages and pan fry them with some onions.

We really like the beef here, so in addition to ground beef, we have other kinds of beef dishes as well.  Robert’s favorite is fillet, which we grill with some McCormick’s Seasonings we brought from the States.  While individual seasonings are easy to find here, seasoning mixes are not.  We also do stir-fry on occasion.  When precut stir-fry meat is available for the same price as the meat I would cut for stir-fry, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

As far as vegetables are concerned, we eat a lot of fresh ones, or at least prepared from fresh.  As I mentioned before, tomatoes (what we would call roma), onions (red, not yellow) and cabbage are plentiful and cheap here.  I can also get carrots and usually green beans.  When in season, I can get okra (currently in season) and zucchini (not in season at the moment).  We can find other more mzungu vegetables, but you have to go to the larger stands at the supermarkets for those.  Just last week, I found some sweet corn for the first time here.  Apparently, it is just coming into season.  You can find maize almost year round, but we think it tastes like cardboard.

And we can get just about any tropical fruit you can think of.  The pineapple here is to die for, and the watermelon is ok but has seeds.  Robert really loves the mangos and jackfruit, but no one (in our family at least) really likes papaya.  Unfortunately, these fruits all have seasons, basically meaning they are available year round but are cheaper certain times of year (when more plentiful).  The only thing that doesn’t really have a season is bananas, of which there are about six different types.  Our favorite is the little sweet bananas, but we have gotten tired of even these and have been taking a break from them for a while.  You can even find fruits from the west here including apples, oranges (as opposed to native African oranges which can be rather tart), pears, grapes and even cantaloupe.  But again, you have to go to the larger stands at the supermarkets and pay for importing.  Interestingly, I have not seen coconuts here.  We have lots of palm trees but no coconuts.  Apparently, they are a coastal thing.

The one thing that we cannot really get and do miss is dessert type things.  Ugandans do not eat sweets for dessert; they eat fruit which is probably healthier anyway.  Sweets are considered something for children.  The cookie options are not the greatest and can get rather expensive.  Selection also varies according to what has been shipped in.  We can get Oreos and Chips Ahoy fairly consistently, but considering they are coming all the way from the States they can get quite expensive.  I try to make things when I can, but that is not terribly often unless we are having guests or there is some other special occasion I am baking for.

One thing I am finding trying to feed my family here is that I cook a lot more from scratch.  While I miss the ease of prepackaged and ready-made things (just the other week, we were reveling in the familiar flavors of Rice A Roni brought from the States), I am enjoying the challenge of finding recipes to use the things I can get.  At the very least, I will be heading back to the States with some new recipes in my repertoire.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Matthew 4:4

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The Name of the Lord

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. – Exodus 20:7

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.

The United States recently sent 100 troops here to Uganda to assist in the search for Joseph Kony, the psychopathic leader of the LRA, still affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.  Recently talking to two of our guards, I discovered that one of them, from northern Uganda, served with the Ugandan military in fighting the LRA.  You can learn more by watching the movie Invisible Children or by visiting the Invisible Children website.

I recently had the opportunity to help fight the LRA with good, so to speak.  I was blessed to serve Saving Grace in Uganda, a ministry begun in 2007 by Alon and Valerie Brandorfer, an American couple.  Living in Lira and serving in refugee camps, the Bransdorfers noticed many street children living there.  Following the murder of one of the children by a bread vendor, Alon and Valerie opened the home they were renting to 26 children and Fred Ojok, a Ugandan man who had already been working with the street children.  You can read more at the Saving Grace in Uganda website.

Saving Grace in Uganda serves the children of northern Uganda, showing them God’s love by providing food, clothing, shelter, medical needs and spiritual guidance.  Some of these children are war orphans, some are AIDS orphans, some are returned child soldiers, and some are running from abuse.

“I am nobody’s nothing.”

The response from a small boy when asked about his identity.

Saving Grace in Uganda has purchased a plot of land just west of the town of Lira where they have dreams of developing a children’s village to serve more street children.  Our team of two surveyed the property and developed an architectural program for the site through meetings with Fred Ojok, the Ugandan director of the ministry.  I then developed a phased master plan for the site.  I was blessed to meet Valerie Bransdorfer and Suzanne Kuhn (both of whom serve the ministry from the States) during a visit they had made here to Uganda.

The complete master plan would include a P1-P7 primary school, multipurpose building, library, clinic, boys and girls homes for 200, a guest house, a hospice house for AIDS patients and an agricultural farm for food production and training.  I also developed a design for the children’s home.

I continue to be amazed at how God is using us here in Uganda to serve other ministries and help spread the Kingdom.  All the glory goes to Him.

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

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