Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on License to Drive

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.

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Cain and Abel

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

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Nudges and Billboards

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.

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Uganda Cranes We Go

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

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comment (1)

Seeds for Uganda’s Future

Kevin Kalibbala grew up in a typical Ugandan family with three siblings in a family struggling to provide food, educate children and keep everyone healthy.  At the age of six, Kevin’s mother died from a preventable disease because the family could not afford the bribe to the clinic guard to get in to see an actual nurse or doctor, let alone the treatment once they were inside.  About a year later, at the age of seven, Kevin’s father died in the same manner.  $20 USD would have treated either one of his parents.

Completely orphaned, the siblings were passed around to varying extended family and often mistreated.  Kevin ended up being taken care of by an aunt who felt called to pay his school fees through secondary school.  Finding it difficult to cope with the loss of both parents due to a lack of access to simple medical treatment, Kevin found solace in physical running.

Kevin was good at running…and I mean really good.  Coaches realized in secondary school he had a gift for running.  He never lost a 100M race and was the Uganda 100M national champion.  Kevin was offered several track scholarships to universities in the United States, including Florida State University.  He decided to attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, a Christian university.

After college, he stepped (or ran) into the world running arena, competing with names such as the Jamaican Usain Bolt.  Kevin was training and scheduled to represent Uganda in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  Unfortunately, he tore his ACL just months before the Olympics.

During his short running career, he had also been adopting Ugandan orphans in partnership with his brother, using the house left by his late father.  Using his own personal savings and revenues from competitions and advertisements from his running fame, he felt called to care for Ugandan orphans, having experienced it first-hand.  Kevin thus started the Greenhouse Project.  He and his brother are currently caring for 64 Ugandan orphans.

Taken from their website: “The overall purpose of the Greenhouse Project is to provide a Christian home for orphans in Uganda, Africa, where they can grow in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.  We came upon the name of this project from an analogy of an actual greenhouse. During the winter season, a greenhouse provides a safe, nourishing place for plants to grow.  While most vegetation may be dead outside, the plants within the greenhouse are warm and healthy.  And after the cold has passed, the mature plants can then be planted back into their natural environment—growing and reproducing.  Our goal at the Greenhouse Orphanage is to take these children out of their parentless environments and place them in a type of “greenhouse”—an orphanage conducive to growth.  Being rooted in Christ, we plan to raise these children to be the future of Uganda, giving them hope and a chance for salvation.”

My task in serving this ministry was to assist the site survey, meet with Kevin to discuss ministry vision/architectural program and develop a site master plan.  As designed, the site will provide housing for 100 orphans, a primary school for 400, an open multipurpose assembly space, kitchen, guest house for 50 and housing for house mothers and cooks.  The master plan will maintain the existing residence where Greenhouse Orphanage is currently operating.  Unfortunately, the small site will not allow for other dreams of a vocational school, clinic, agricultural farm and animal husbandry.

A large majority of my work here in Uganda has been serving ministries with these small master plan packages.  These documents help potential supporters see the God-given vision, possible project phasing and rough cost estimates.  Some 3-D images offer even more visualization of the possibilities.

Thanks to all of our prayer, emotional and financial supporters for empowering us to follow our calling to come serve Uganda in such a unique way with the talents God gave us.

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

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Seeds for Uganda’s Future

Restful Adventure

I don’t think anyone can argue with the importance of taking time to rest and rejuvenate for life ahead.  Even God took time rest on the seventh after creating the world.  It is especially important here in Africa.  Life is just harder here.  And it can especially wear on those of us who have not lived here all our lives and are not accustomed to the difficulties.  So, Robert and I decided to rest for a couple of days this last week.  We left Caleb at home with friends to give our marriage a little R&R too.  As we were heading off on our little “adventure,” we realized that we could not remember being away from home without Caleb since he was two years old.  He is now six.

We started our little getaway in downtown Kampala with brunch.  I know, not much of a getaway, but it does get better.  After all, we did journey from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and back again, even if it was only 40 miles away.

After brunch we walked across downtown to catch a matatu heading to Entebbe.  This entailed navigating Old Taxi Park, an adventure unto itself.  After asking for directions from two different people (Robert calls it the triangulation method of getting directions), we found the correct matatu just in time to join the crowd of people trying to get on it.  Fortunately, we did get seats and we were off.

When boarding the matatu, we told the conductor we needed to go to the ferry landing in Entebbe.  Unfortunately, after nearly an hour ride, it did not take us all the way to the landing as we had hoped, so we had to ride boda-bodas for the last little bit.

We arrived at the landing and purchased our tickets (14,000 UGX or just over $5.00 per person for first class).  With some time before boarding, we stopped by the little restaurant at the landing for a quick bite for lunch.  Apparently, it is a frequent concern when a mzungu walks into a local restaurant because we were told twice that they only had “local food.”  We were actually hoping for some local food.

Boarding began at 1:30, half an hour before sailing time, and it seemed a little bit like getting on a plane.  We actually had to go through “security” before we could board, and Robert had his pocket knife confiscated, at least for the duration of the ferry trip.  It was interesting that there were two lines, one for men and one for women.  The men were getting pat downs (by male security guards), while the women were mostly just getting their bags looked through (by female security guards).

Once through security, we boarded the ferry.  After maneuvering through the vehicle deck, we walked through Second Class to the back of the ferry to “First Class.”  Despite minimal differences between first and second class, I was glad we paid the extra 4000 shillings for first class as the benches were actually padded.  I can’t imagine how long the 3½ hour trip would have felt without them.

We were the only mzungus on the ferry which held about 80 passengers, not counting crew and security.  Fortunately, we were pretty much left to ourselves, not suffering too much from the fishbowl effect that we so often experience here.  I will admit that we have a tendency to stand out.

While a TV was provided in first class, I don’t know that it was much of a perk.  It was difficult to hear and the shows were … inconsistent.  We started with a Hispanic soap opera with English dubbing, but it did not finish due to cloud cover interfering with the satellite signal.  Then a Korean movie with English subtitles was played, but there must have been something wrong with the DVD because it did not finish either.  Finally, an English movie called “The Red Baron” was played, but we could not hear anything and the ferry landed before the movie finished anyway.

Once the ferry landed, we wandered back through Second Class and across the vehicle deck.  Before stepping off the boat, we had to present the receipt for our “tickets” which I guess was our ticket as it was the only thing we had been given.  It seems a common practice here to present payment or proof of payment when getting off a mode of transportation rather than when getting on.

We retrieved Robert’s pocket knife, found our ride to the resort and began our very restful, peaceful stay in the Ssese Islands.  The shuttle bus dropped us off right at the door to the building our room was in, and we pretty much never left until we were ready to head back down to the ferry.  Our meals were brought to us (the building had a common sitting/dining area for the five rooms it housed), and we spent the day truly resting.  And it really was a wonderful setting in which to rest.  We listened to flocks of swallowtails, saw several vervet monkeys just outside our room and met a resident African gray parrot named Diane.  The views were amazing, and it was almost too quiet compared to our noisy city life.

The resort was not full, with very few people with whom to visit.  But I think God knew what we needed better than we did (He always does), and He allowed us time to truly just be ourselves and revel in our mzunguness.

Of course, all too soon our vacation was over and it was time to head home.  The shuttle bus came to pick us up and take us back to the ferry.  Robert’s knife was confiscated again, but we were not too concerned this time as we knew we would be able to get it back upon disembarking.  We sat right in front of the TV in hopes of being able to hear it better, to no avail.  We were able to hear the first few shows which were short little cultural clips about Uganda and really quite interesting.  But then, when the movie came on, we couldn’t hear it very well which was a shame because it was the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and I think I really would have enjoyed watching it.  Oh, well.

We did have a nice visit with a fellow Ugandan passenger who was quite interested in the cross-stitch piece I was working on.  I don’t think he quite understood the concept that I was working on it as a gift rather than a way to make money.

Once back on land, we caught a couple of bodas back to central Entebbe.  It was a bit of a wild ride, and I was a little concerned whether the boda drivers actually knew where they were going, but we finally found a matatu bound for Kampala.  Then it was back to real life, but after such a refreshing few days, I think we are ready to face what comes our way.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. – Mark 6:31-32

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comment (1)

Signs of the Times

I have often thought about the nature and personality of God.  Some of this is sparked by the apparent irony of a gracious, yet just God.  Other times, I wonder about human personalities in the context of all of us being created in His image.  One thing I have often considered is that God has a sense of humor.  After all, He did create the platypus, the otter and the penguin.  Some scripture offers a glimpse of that humorous character…“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” – Proverbs 21:9.  Of course, a Godly sense of humor would not be cruel, demeaning or judgmental as the humor of us humans can be at times.  Rather, it would be uplifting and joyful. “The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.” – Proverbs 15:30

For many years, I have found humor in signs.  For this week’s blog, I would like to share some of the signs I have captured that have made me laugh.  I also want to share these as a glimpse into some of the culture here in Uganda.  Pictures can often express more than needless verbosity.  Enjoy!

Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. – Psalm 126:2-3







posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comment (1)

Full House

This week we welcomed six new members into the eMiEA family: five new interns and one new Long Term Volunteer.  On Wednesday, they arrived weary but excited for the adventure that lay ahead.  Incredibly, they arrived with their luggage intact.  Landing in Uganda on a morning flight, most of the office was there to welcome their entrance in a very packed matatu.

In the days after their arrival, the office has been a flurry of training and orientation activities.  Since we arrived a week after the interns last term, we missed all this excitement, so we are taking advantage of some of it this time around including cultural discussions and a Lugandan language lesson.  My favorite part, though, about these first few days with the new interns has been hearing their testimonies and how God has worked in their lives.

As part of the resident eMiEA family (strange to think of ourselves that way, but we have been here six months now), we were asked to host the interns for a meal and take some time to share our testimonies with them.  We had no problem accepting this assignment as we love to open our home and provide hospitality to others.  Robert has often said this is one of my gifts, and I like to at least try to live up to his praises.

So, Thursday evening, we had twelve people packed into our little Living Room.  Literally every chair type surface we have in the house had a butt in it, including two stools that also double as night stands.  There were the three of us, of course, as well as our co-hostess, Brittany, a full-time staff member and adopted aunt to Caleb.  Then there were the 5 interns: Aaron, Jake, Erland, Kevin and Katie, our lone female intern.  And Rose, our new structural long term volunteer, who has been taking advantage of the intern orientation.  We had also invited Gary and Erin Hightower, the long term volunteer and his wife who arrived a couple of weeks ago as we had not ever specifically shared our testimonies with them.

Needless to say, we had a very full house.  But it isn’t just our house that is full.  The eMiEA office has gotten quite full as well.  The interns will all pack into one room as their office space.  The long term volunteers are in another room, with the rest of the staff scattered throughout the rest of the offices.  We even have another full-time staff member coming in another couple of weeks.  We are literally bursting at the seams, and we are anticipating additional staff and long term volunteers coming in January in addition to the six new interns that will replace the current five.  I really don’t know where we are going to put everyone.

But it is a good problem to have.  The more hands available, the greater the need that can be served.  I love being part of the eMiEA family.

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’ Luke 14:23

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Full House

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.

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comment (1)