Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for January, 2012

Pray for Uganda

Some time ago, Stella, one of our Ugandan office staff, was sick for a day or two.  While riding a matatu (Ugandan public van transportation) to a clinic, she recognized a young boy from her neighborhood in the matatu with a man she did not recognize.  The boy’s face was troubling to Stella.  She spoke up, noting that she knew the boy and did not recognize the man with him.  At the next stop, the man was forced out of the matatu, rescuing the boy from his captor.  Stella called his parents, who came to pick their son.  Come to find out, the boy had been abducted to be sold for child sacrifice.  We thank God for the timeliness of Stella’s presence on a matatu she would normally not be riding.

We want our blogs to share our experiences here in Uganda, but more importantly, paint a picture as best we can of the beauty, culture, strengths and struggles of the country in which we serve.  We want to be ambassadors for this beautiful, yet struggling, developing nation of Uganda.  There are some issues facing Uganda today that we feel can make use of the power of prayer and calling of God’s angels to reinforce the fierce spiritual warfare waging here in Uganda.

Child sacrifice has resurfaced in the last 3-5 years.  As the economy grows and subsequent affluence increases, a strange attraction to child sacrifice has been reborn.  We have heard of some paying a witch doctor to sacrifice a child and bury the remains on their building site in hopes of the act blessing their building project.

The recent decades of civil war, refugee camps and the AIDS pandemic have taken a toll on Northern Uganda.  Led by the messianic psychopath Joseph Kony, the ironically named Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was bent on overthrowing the government of Uganda.  That agenda somehow was exercised through child soldiering, raping of women, burning villages, killing livestock, forcing of sex slaves, and child sacrifice.  The years of strife left many orphans in their wake.

Education of child suffering has grown through news, documentaries and movies like Invisible Children, which I have referenced in a past blog.  Subsequently, many NGOs and aid organizations have made focused efforts on relief, refugees, orphanages, child sponsorship, and adoption programs.  I recently heard there are only 23 government-approved orphanages in Uganda, despite the existence of probably well over 500 orphanages in the country.  Some ¾ or more of children in orphanages have one or both parents still living.  Rather than reintegrate these children back into families or villages, they stay institutionalized because child sponsorship has become big business.  I encourage those considering support of orphanages or child sponsorship to do their research and stay connected with the ministry.  A Welsh couple from our church is striving to reintegrate children as much as possible.  You can read more about them at

Oil has been discovered in the Lake Albert area of northern Uganda.  Many Ugandans are hopeful of the economic boom, jobs, industry development and national income it will bring.  However, oil and other natural resources have not always proved beneficial to the local people.  Oil in Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Libya and Sudan have fueled corruption and often funded the armament of civil wars or genocides.  Diamonds in Sierra Leone; rubber, cobalt and diamonds in DR Congo; cocoa and gold in Ghana, diamonds in Angola, etc.  The proxy war in DR Congo fought by troops from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe…but no Congolese troops.  Did I forget to mention the DR Congo is rich in resources of gold, diamonds and coltan?  Name a resource and often there has been a civil war that has erupted over the scramble for that resource.

‘Nyama tembo kula hawezi kumaliza’ – ‘You never finish eating the meat of an elephant’, a Swahili proverb often cited in eastern DR Congo that speaks to the feeding frenzy of natural resources.

It is interesting to note that the LRA ravaged Northern Uganda for decades, largely unnoticed by the West.  However, with the discovery of oil reserves potentially comparable to Saudi Arabia, the US now feels compelled to assist in the elimination of the LRA, specifically Joseph Kony.

Yes, there are wars, droughts, famines, and everyday violence that plague Africa.  However, at the core is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government.  Few countries have experienced wise leadership.  South Africa and Botswana have risen as effective multi-party democracies with effective checks and balances.  But, for the most part, Africa has suffered tremendously at the hands of its ruling elite, bent on holding power and some even diverting national funds for self-enrichment.  Martin Meredith’s book, “The Fate of Africa”, beautifully describes the residue of colonial rule, excitement for independence, bane of corruption, resiliency of Africans and other issues affecting the African continent for the last 50 years.

A report prepared for the African Union in 2002 estimated that corruption costs Africa $148 billion annually – more than a quarter of the continent’s entire gross domestic product.

We see so much potential here in Uganda.  We hear stories of young leaders with much promise.  Fertile land, year-round growing seasons and plentiful rainfall bless the land.  Christian missionaries in the late 1800’s willingly died as martyrs, leaving a legacy of Christianity I believe still felt today.  Just yesterday, I discovered our next door neighbor spent a night last week at Namboole Stadium with some 12,000 other Ugandans to celebrate 50 years of independence and pray for Uganda.

Please pray for Uganda, specifically for:

  • Protection for vulnerable children.
  • NGOs and Ugandan organizations that partner with Uganda, not profit from Uganda.
  • The discovery of oil in Uganda to be a blessing, not an opportunity for more corruption.
  • Wise effective leadership.
  • Warriors and angels to fight spiritual warfare.


“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”  — 1 Peter 5:8-9

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Hard Lessons

We’ve learned some hard lessons the last couple of weeks.  It all started when we discovered Caleb’s Savings Can (piggy bank) was missing.  Since giving Caleb an allowance, we have encouraged him to tuck part of it away in his Savings Can.  Lest you think this is just some rusty old can we gave him, it is actually a can with a removable lid and slit for dropping in coins.  It is decorated with images of Caleb’s current favorite thing, Disney’s Cars.  Caleb has been quite diligent in tucking things away in his Savings Can, saving above and beyond the 100 shillings we have asked him to contribute each week.  He is particularly fond of collecting and “saving” the shiny coins.  I’m not so sure it is as much a “savings can” as a “collection.”

When we discovered the Can was missing, we tried hard not to jump to conclusions but I almost immediately suspected that it had been taken and I think Robert did as well.  We hoped it had merely been misplaced, but I think both of us knew that it would not be found even after a thorough search of Caleb’s room.  Caleb often has friends over to play and is quite free with his toys and possessions, including his wallet and his Savings Can.  We suspect that one of these friends decided he needed the Can and its contents more than Caleb did as we have not seen him since before the discovery of the missing can.

As suspected, the Can has not been found even after tearing Caleb’s room apart to look for it, leaving us with the difficult task of moving forward and learning from this experience.  We have approached it as a family and have taken shared responsibility for the loss of the Can and its contents.  Robert and I felt that it wasn’t fair to ask Caleb to shoulder the entire burden of the loss himself.  Not knowing the exact amount in the Can, Robert estimated it was probably somewhere around 20,000 shillings (did I mention that Caleb really likes those shiny coins?).  We decided to replace the can for him and give him 10,000 shillings to replace some of what he had lost.  It wasn’t all of what he had lost, but it was at least a start.

I have spoken in the past about the program I am involved with where we teach local ladies to make cards and then buy the finished product from them to sell in the west.  Currently, I am in charge of the cash box for this program which has a lot of coins in it, including some nice shiny ones.  I let Caleb pick out some coins to refill his Savings Can.  I, of course, repaid the cash box with paper money from my wallet, and I thought I had explained to Caleb what we were doing, trading equal amounts of paper money for coins.  Apparently, I didn’t do a very good job of explaining as Caleb decided to help himself to some of the coins and put them in his own wallet without putting money back into the cash box.  We discovered this a few days later and had another hard lesson in honesty.  I am proud to say that with some patient encouragement, Caleb was very honest and came clean of his crime.

I think things have now been set right.  We were able to find another Savings Can similar to the original.  It is slightly bigger than the first one, but it still has Caleb’s hero Lightning McQueen on it and he is happily tucking away his shiny coins again.  The Can now resides in Robert’s and my bedroom as does Caleb’s wallet as friends are not allowed to go in our room.  There have been a few additional rules put into place since the incident as well, most notably that friends are not allowed in the house unescorted.

As I mentioned, we have not seen the young man we suspect of taking the Can since before discovering it was missing.  I approach the possibility of his return with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I don’t really want to see him again because he has wronged someone I love and caused us so much trouble.  But on the other hand, I do hope that he comes back so that I can tell him that I forgive him even though I think what he did was wrong.  And so I can inquire about why he did this and help him see the potential for a dark and dangerous future.  I’m sad for him and I hope something better for his life.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

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Capoeira Lesson

Last weekend, Caleb and some of his friends received an impromptu Capoeira (African martial arts) lesson in our front yard from Richard Obonyo, a friend of our neighbor.  Richard is studying mechanical engineering, but takes time out to teach Capoeira to street kids as an outreach ministry, instilling discipline and self-control into his young pupils.  Because his grades where so impressive in secondary school, Richard received a government scholarship to attend university here in Kampala.  Orphaned at 13, he feels a huge amount of family responsibility and works odd jobs to help with school fees for his younger siblings.  He also has a passion for the arts, performing and assisting backstage with the local amateur acting club, which is how our neighbor met him.  In short, Richard is an amazing young man, mature beyond his 22 years.

As I mentioned above, Capoeira is an Africanized form of martial arts.  From what I have read on-line, it was actually started in Brazil by African slaves for defense.  Its methods were powerful and sneaky with the results often brutal and sometimes deadly.  Capoeira is composed of stealthy movements where participants collapse to the ground, use cartwheels, flips, and other movements to avoid strikes and injury by opponents.  Participants use kicks and sweeps in order to strike their opponent.

I’m not really sure how Capoeira made its way back across the ocean to Uganda, but what is practiced here is more of a dance or game than it is about fighting.  Participants gather in a circle with two contestants in the middle.  Those in the circle sing, clap and play musical instruments such as the adeudeu (a stringed instrument) and drums.  The tempo of the music dictates the speed of the movements of the contestants in the middle.  The contestants begin with a movement called the Ginga, a movement in a crouched position where the weight is shift from one leg to the other, mirroring each other almost as in a dance.  Once the rhythm has been established, the contestants move into a series of offensive and defensive movements against each other.

Richard started out the lesson by having the kids sit in a circle and explaining to them how Capoeira is practiced, emphasizing that it is to be used in self-defense never as a means of aggression.  He emphasized the disciplinary and self-control aspects of the practice.  Then he got them up on their feet and taught them some of the basic moves.  He started out with the Ginga.  Once the kids had “mastered” that, he moved on to a couple of kicks.   He also included a defensive crouching movement which sent most of the kids to the ground, literally.  He finished with cartwheels and a movement that reminded me of a toddler trying to learn how to do a cartwheel.

After the lesson for the kids, Richard did a demonstration for us that was unlike any other martial arts I have ever seen before.  The kids were quite impressed as well, and I think they really enjoyed the lesson.  They spent some time afterwards practicing some of their newly learned “moves.”  It was a great way to kill some time and exert some energy on a Saturday afternoon.


“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

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As I’ve mentioned before, matooke is essentially the national food of Uganda.  It grows everywhere: on plantations in the countryside, along roads in town and in our neighbor’s yard.

Two weeks ago, Samuel, the guard we share with Maggie, came over to ask Robert to help cut down some matooke that was ready for harvesting.  Hanging precariously over the dogs’ shed, there was concern about getting it down without crushing the shed, the dogs or the matooke.  Harvesting matooke is really a two person job, even when it isn’t in such an awkward location.

As matooke sap is quite sticky, difficult to remove and stains terribly, Robert prepared for the occasion by removing anything he didn’t want stained or permanently sticky.  This included his shirt and, most importantly, his glasses.  He learned from the last time he helped harvest red bananas that the sap is almost impossible to get off.

Once Robert was ready, we all traipsed over to “help”.  Really, it was just Robert who was helping, but I of course had to document the occasion.  And Caleb, well, I don’t really remember what Caleb was doing, probably playing with the dogs.

When we got over to Maggie’s side of the wall, Samuel was already standing on the dogs’ shed cutting leaves off the matooke plant.  When matooke is harvested, the entire shoot or stalk that the bunch has grown out of is taken down.  This is easier done in pieces or sections.  First, the leaves are taken off.  Then the matooke bunch is cut down.  Finally, the rest of the stalk is cut down and chopped up into pieces.

Samuel was cutting off the leaves and tossing them over the wall to the neighbors’ goats.  The neighbors whose property lies behind our property and Maggie’s raise goats, but they really don’t have a whole lot of vegetation in their yard to feed them.  They apparently used to let them graze in an open field across the street from Maggie that is now an apartment complex.  Often, you will find them tethered along the side of the road munching on whatever they can find within reach.  I think they seemed very happy to get a special treat of matooke leaves.  They were contentedly munching on them anyway.

Once the stalk had been stripped of most of its leaves, it was time to figure out the best way to get the matooke bunch down.  Robert climbed up on the dog shed to assist Samuel.  Samuel held the matooke bunch while Robert cut at the stalk holding it to the plant.  Because of the orientation of the bunch and how they were standing on the dog shed, Robert had a hard time getting at the stalk with his left hand, so he first tried using his right but quickly went back to his left using a sort of cross over action to get at the place where he needed to cut.

Finally, the matooke bunch came down landing on the dog shed roof with a loud crash.  The landing wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it could have been with Samuel breaking the fall.  Matooke, being full of water, is quite heavy when you first harvest it, so you don’t really catch it as much as guide it to the ground.

Once the bunch was safely on the ground, it was time to take the rest of the stalk down.  The remaining leaves were cut off and tossed to the goats, and the stalk was cut up and thrown into Maggie’s compost pile.  Normally, you can just cut the stalk at the base, as close to the ground as possible to allow and encourage new growth, and let it fall to the ground like a tree, but because the dog shed was in the way Samuel and Robert had to take it down in chunks.  At the base the stalk was quite large, maybe 12 inches in diameter, with the inner part being fibrous.  It reminded me of cardboard.

The whole process was quite interesting, and I’m glad Maggie allowed us to be a part of it.  I’m sure at this point the matooke has all been consumed.  Maggie kept some for herself and her housemates; they make lots of yummy stuff with it.  Then she divvied the rest among the three guards who I am sure were happy for the extra bonus for the holidays.  She didn’t offer me any, but that’s ok, I’m not sure I would have known what to do with it anyway.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

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Holiday Adventure

As a 2011 finale, we decided to embark on an adventure this past week.  Many of you may think living in Africa would seem adventurous enough.  But even with all its excitement and challenges, life in the developing world can become quite routine.  As with living in any large city, there comes a time when one needs a reprieve from the noise and chaos of the metropolitan life.  So we decided to head east to Mbale with fellow eMiers Gary and Erin Hightower to relax and recharge.  To ensure an adequate amount of adventure, we used one of the more quintessential African modes of transport, the bus.

Think Greyhound, with about half again as many people crammed on.  The bus line we rode only sat five across as opposed to six across that Robert rode for one of his project trips up north.

According to the guidebooks (and everything else I saw online), the Post Bus was our best option.  There are plenty of matatus (14 passenger minibus-taxis) running to Mbale that would make the journey quicker but are “driven with less care.”  While the big buses are pretty tight on room, the matatus are even tighter and any luggage traveling with you would be tied on the roof as opposed to put in the cargo hold below.

It is interesting to note that Post Bus utilizes “security” with the luggage, at least on the Kampala end of the journey.  Before we were allowed to get in line to purchase tickets, we were asked to place our bags, including carry-on, on tarps where a dog sniffed them.  Presumably, he was smelling for bombs, but I was asked to hold a bag full of snacks rather than have it sniffed.

While the Post Bus might be somewhat safer, it can be significantly slower.  As the name suggests, it is operated by the Ugandan Post Office, stopping at every little post office between Kampala and the final destination to pick up and drop off mail as well as passengers.  Normally a four hour journey in a private vehicle, the Post Bus took 5½ hours to reach Mbale and seven hours to return to Kampala.  Still, it was an interesting ride.

Everything I had seen online listed the bus departing the main Kampala post office at 8:00am.  We decided to get an early start leaving the house at 6:30am to ensure adequate time.  This proved to be a good decision as the bus actually pulled out at 7:30am.  We were surprised the bus was departing with only about a quarter of passenger capacity.  We were the only mzungus on board.  The bus gradually filled up, though, as we stopped several times on the way out of the city and continued to stop at all the post offices along the way.

By the time we arrived in Mbale, the bus was quite full.  Getting off and collecting our luggage was quite the feat fighting through a mass of people waiting to board and trying to get their luggage in the cargo holds.  Finally, we were able to claim our luggage and make our way into town.

We enjoyed a couple of days relaxing in Mbale, one of the larger towns in Uganda.  The hotel where we stayed had a pool and some lovely gardens and grounds.  Caleb convinced us all to play a round on the hotel’s mini-golf course.  Other hotel guests (including Ugandan, British, French and Bostonian) provided plenty of kids for Caleb to play with.  We ventured out for two day trips: to see Sipi Falls, a series of three breath-taking falls, and to simply explore Mbale itself.

All too soon, it was time to get back on the bus and head home.  The evening before we left we were joking about wanting to stay longer.  I think we would have been a bit more serious had we known the length of trip we were in for the next day.

For the return trip, we were told to be at the post office by 10:00am.  After our experience with the early departure from Kampala, we opted to be at the post office at 9:15am rather than being 23 hours early for the next bus.

Unfortunately, the bus did not arrive until 11:00am and looked quite full as it pulled up.  I was the first one to board.  Despite several empty seats particularly towards the back of the bus, there were not three together, let alone five within close proximity for all of us.  Finally, as I approached the back of the bus, I noticed that the back row was empty except for one Ugandan gentleman sitting by the window.  Perfect…five seats together.

While the five seats were together, my find wasn’t as fortuitous as I had first thought.  As any school kid who has been on a fieldtrip or regularly rides the bus knows, the back of the bus is the best place to sit.  Although the back of the bus is exciting for school kids, it does not have the same attraction for four grown adults.  Caleb had a great time, as the seemingly thousands of bumps were greatly magnified, sometimes sending us completely airborne.  We endured seven hours of this wonderful ride.

As I mentioned, the bus was quite full when we boarded and quickly became completely full after only a few more stops.  By the time we reached the next sizable town of Tororo, there were more people boarding than getting off leaving many to stand in the aisle.  I was half comforted by the fact that we were sitting in the back row, right in front of the emergency exit, so we would be the first ones out should anything happen.  As we progressed towards Kampala, disembarking passengers began to outnumber boarding passengers, so by the time we reached Jinja, about 50 kilometers outside of Kampala, everyone finally had a seat.  In fact, by the time we got back to the main post office in Kampala, the bus was only half full.

Buses in Africa don’t provide food and beverage service any more than an intercity bus in the States, but what they do have is a lot more fun.  When the bus stops to take on passengers and mail, vendors will often come running with food and beverages to sell.  At the larger trading centers, you get your choice of meat on a stick (beef, goat, chicken and sausage), chapattis, roasted maize, bananas and beverages of the bottled variety (water, soda or juice).  One simply sticks their hand out the window with some money voicing their request.  At one of the stops, a vendor with a box of bottled drinks and chapattis boarded the bus and travelled with us for a few kilometers while he peddled his snacks.  We got some chapattis and a drink from him as I wasn’t bold enough to deal with the vendors out the window.

I tried to get a picture of all the vendors mobbing the bus at one of the larger trading centers, but I wasn’t quick enough and one of the vendors fussed at me when she saw the camera.  But I did manage to get a picture of the mob out the back window as we were pulling away just to give you an idea of the sheer number of them.

It may have been a long trip, but we definitely saw some interesting things along the way, including a matatu with a load of chickens tied to the roof.  Of course, that didn’t compare to the roof completely full of chickens I saw later.  Our bus was not devoid of feathery friends as we listened to a box of chirping chicks for much of the trip.  The chicks were fortunate to ride up top with us, while the adults made the journey in the cargo hold below as we discovered when we stepped off.  We saw at least half a dozen chickens come out of the cargo holds; unfortunately, not all of them made the journey successfully.  At least, I assume they were alive when they started out.

It was an interesting holiday trip and a great finale to our adventures of 2011.  As we look forward to a new year, we pray your 2012 is full of blessings and, of course, adventure.


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