Mzungu Memoirs


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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The Full Story of Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9-14

I learned something this Christmas.  I learned that the magic and joy of Christmas doesn’t depend on your location, it is more a matter of your heart.  I guess I always knew that, but it has definitely been reinforced this year.

Christmas Eve we planned an open house for all our eMi family.  We would not be able to join them for Christmas Day and I thought it would be nice to see everyone.  The day was full of preparations for the open house as well as making goodies to contribute to Christmas dinner.  The day didn’t go quite as I had planned.  I felt like for every step I took forward, I took two backwards.  But with the help of a wonderful husband and son, I was able to get everything pulled together.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and certainly the fellowship.

Then it was off to Christmas Eve service.  Kampala International Church, our congregation, was not having a Christmas Eve service, so we went to a service at a KIC satellite congregation across town.  It was a lovely service with readings, carols and candlelight.  We ended the service with the lighting of our candles, and the pastor spoke about taking our light, the light that Christ has given us, out into the dark world.  We ended the service by singing Silent Night.  It was a wonderful way to usher in Christmas 2011.

We stayed for some fellowship and hot cider after the service.  Yes, someone actually found the ingredients for a hot cider of sorts.  Whatever it was, it tasted good even though the weather really wasn’t quite cold enough to drink it.  Then it was home to make preparations for Santa and bed.

Christmas Day dawned bright and mostly clear.  I was the first one up.  It had been a late night for Caleb, so I wasn’t surprised that he was still asleep.  I was a little surprised that he only slept until 7:30 when he wandered into the kitchen butt naked asking for some underwear that I hadn’t had a chance to iron yet.  Once he had some clean, ironed underwear, he surprised me again by insisting on getting dressed before going to see what Santa had brought him.  He is growing up way too fast!

Once we got Daddy up, it was time to see what was waiting under the tree.  Christmas wasn’t terribly big this year, but Caleb seemed quite pleased with what he received.  He was particularly thrilled with the African flags soccer ball Santa had brought and the watch and video game Gran had sent.  He also embraced the spirit of giving this year.  He and Daddy made a special shopping trip to find Mommy some pretty necklaces (which I just love!), and he and I picked out a nice pen for Daddy.  He also wrapped some things he had made, candy and various other odds and ends for each of us.  Robert made the comment a few days ago that Christmas had better get here soon or Caleb wouldn’t have anything left in his room to wrap.  I thought it was incredibly cute.

After unwrapping gifts, we had a nice breakfast and headed down to church.  I’m not usually one for going to church on Christmas Day as I prefer Christmas Eve service, but Robert since had to go to oversee the collection, I decided to go as well.  Besides, I had to show off one of my pretty new necklaces.

It was a wonderful service with more carols and a lesson.  I thought the lesson was particularly powerful.  The speaker, one of my favorites, did a great job of keeping the kids, who were in for the entire service, engaged.  I learned a lot about the Christmas story and was reminded about some things that I already knew.  The speaker also made it particularly poignant for the adults.  He made the point that when we leave the Christmas story as only a baby in a manager being visited by shepherds and wise men, we don’t give the world anything to make it relevant to them.  The story is not complete until we remember who the baby was and why he came.  As the speaker highlighted the different starting points of the Christmas story taken by the Gospels, it was interesting that John goes all the way back to the beginning reminding us that the Christmas story really started “with God in the beginning.”

After such a wonderful lesson, we participated in communion, very appropriate for Christmas and the idea of completing the story.  Then the German delegation of KIC led us in singing Silent Night, in German.  It was a wonderful service ended by visiting with friends before heading home.

We weren’t home long before a friend Robert met on one of his project trips came to pick us for Christmas dinner at his house.  It was a small dinner, just his family of three and ours, but it was a wonderful time of games, food and fellowship.  We even got to try a northern Uganda Christmas specialty, a sauce made out of greens and g-nuts (sorry, I can’t remember the name) served with millet bread, a spongy brown substance eaten with your hands.  It was quite interesting and I really appreciated getting the opportunity to try something particularly Uganda.  After dinner, we ended the evening with a showing of “Home Alone” and of course, pie, plenty of pie, and a birthday cake for Jesus.

When we got home, we had hopes of visiting via skype with our families, but unfortunately we couldn’t connect with anyone.  Still, it was a wonderful Christmas full of magic, wonder and joy.  I think it will go down as one of my favorites.

Though the day of Christmas has passed, we wish you all the joy and blessings of the season.  May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and forever.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

— Johnny Mathis

I’m not sure what I expected celebrating Christmas in Africa, but I was sure it would be different.  It has been different in many ways, but I wasn’t prepared for how similar it would be in terms of the busyness of the season.  It seems the holiday rush is universal.  At least they keep the timeline in perspective here and have only been rushing around for the past month instead of the past three.

I guess the holiday season really started in earnest the last weekend in November.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, so there isn’t anything like Black Friday to officially kick off the holiday season.  But that seems to be the weekend that everything started gearing up for the holidays.  The mall entrances were adorned with brightly wrapped gifts and ornaments hanging from ceilings while Christmas trees decorated many of the stores, where Christmas music even began to play.  At least I think it was Christmas music; I recognized the words but not the tune.  In addition, traffic and shopping starting getting crazy and has only gotten worse.  I shudder to think what this last week is going to look like.

We would normally put up our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, but since we did not celebrate Thanksgiving until the following Sunday, we decided to postpone our tradition a weekend.  The delay gave me a little more time to round up ornaments for the tree.  I did bring some other holiday decorations (bought on clearance after last Christmas), but I hadn’t packed any ornaments.  I think the ones I found (bought at one of the local craft markets) are more fitting for our African Christmas tree anyway.

The tree itself is not nearly as big as one we would have in the States, but it is on loan from some friends and I think it has turned out to be quite an addition to our home.  I must admit it was funny to see Robert bring it home on the back of the boda, not quite the picturesque image of a fresh cut tree on top of the car (or in our case in the back of Robert’s truck).  But with a little bending and fluffing, it took on a decent shape.  Robert’s job has always been to put the lights on the tree, which was probably not quite the daunting task as it is with multiple strands on a large tree, but he made it look better than I ever could.  He even added lights to the star I had put on the top of the tree.  Caleb had made the star in VBS last summer and I think it was meant as an ornament, but I felt a large star would better serve as the topper on a small tree.

Once the tree was up and decorated, Caleb and I set about to dressing the house up with the few other decorations I had.  I hung a Christmas wind sock on our veranda.  I love the location as I can watch it flutter in the breeze while working in the kitchen.  And Caleb set about sticking window cling snowflakes to the windows, our sole reminder of what the weather should be this time of year.  I must admit, it is going to feel a little odd celebrating Christmas with 80° weather.  It was a little difficult keeping in the Christmas mood as I was sweating writing our Christmas cards this year.

With decorations in place, it was time to get down to the seriousness of the season: all the shows and fun things to see.  I started out by attending a Kampala Singers Christmas choral presentation with a friend.  It felt a little odd since it was the night before our Thanksgiving dinner, but it was very nice none the less.  The next weekend the entire family went to see a pantomime by the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society.  It was similar to a melodrama with audience participation.  Apparently, it is a British holiday tradition, and the storyline is typically a fairy tale turned on its head, in this case Snow White.  The next night, we went to a production of A Christmas Carol by the drama department at Caleb’s school.  The kids did a great job, although I think the material was a little heavy for them.  The following week, Caleb’s class was participating in the school’s Friday chapel, so Robert and I attended.

I feel like it has been one thing after another just like it would be with all the activities if we were back in the States.  I have enjoyed the familiarity of the seasonal busyness.  But I am also glad to enjoy a week to slow down and really focus on the reason for the season before the actual day gets here.  There is something to be said about family time, and I am hoping we can spend a little time loving on our friends and eMi family here.

As we wind up the busyness of the season, I pray that you will keep the true reason of the season, the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in your hearts.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14

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Farewell Interns

It seems like the Fall 2011 Interns arrived just yesterday, but they are already heading home.  We have already said goodbye to two that headed to London to work in the eMi UK office for about a week printing the report for the project they’ve been working on all term.  And we will be saying good bye to two more this week.  One intern who will be returning for the spring term will be staying in Uganda for the holidays and semester break.  Two other interns will be returning for the spring term as well, but they opted to spend Christmas in the States with their families and to do some additional fund raising.

Every term before the interns depart we have what we call an Intern Farewell dinner.  This is a time when we can love on the interns as a family and share some encouraging words with them about ways they have blessed us while they have been here.  Often, this meal is catered, but this group of interns decided to bless us by roasting a goat for us.  They even designed and commissioned the construction of a grill, their legacy to the eMiEA office.

Goat is often eaten at large occasions where many people are being served, so a live goat is bought and then slaughtered.  And this is what the interns did.  Since the dinner was on Wednesday, I believe the goat was purchased Monday evening.  It was at the office all day Tuesday.  Then I believe they slaughtered it Tuesday evening and prepared it for grilling the following day.  The interns said the knives they were using were rather dull and it didn’t help that the power was out, so it was quite the undertaking.  I can only image.  But the outcome was very impressive as the goat kebabs they served Wednesday evening were quite delicious.

Another tradition at the office is for the interns to take a group photo to be hung on the wall.  Lately, each group of interns has been trying to outdo the former group in terms of craziness of their photo.  Since the last group of interns piled into and on the Intern Coordinator’s Suzuki Samurai for their group photo, this group decided to pile onto our boda boda.  They managed to fit all five of themselves and the goat on our motorcycle.  I didn’t know it would hold that much.

Since Robert and I enjoy hosting, we try to have the interns over for dinner a couple of times per term.  This term we got towards the end and I realized that we had never had them over after the initial introductory dinner when they first arrived.  We managed to get one last dinner squeezed in before two interns left for the UK.  In fact, it was the very last meal before they got on the plane and we were honored that they chose to spend it with us rather than just amongst themselves.

One of the things that Robert likes to do at this last meal we host for the interns is send them off with some words by Max Lucado from his book Fearless.  He reads to them from the chapter about the “Fear of What’s Next” called the “Caffeinated Life.”  He’s done it a couple of times now, so I guess it has become a tradition.  The idea is that Robert wants to encourage the interns as they transition into a new phase of life, reminding them as Solomon does that life is full of seasons and that they are simply moving into a new season.  I love this new tradition Robert has started, and I hope it encourages the interns as much as it does me.

So we wish you well, Fall 2011 Interns.  May your life be full of many more seasons and may you look back on this particular season with fondness.  I hope it has blessed your life.  You have certainly blessed ours.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Children of the Nations

Several of our blogs have shared about the dark history and incredible need of northern Uganda.  Oppressive regimes, the psychopathic leader of the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’, child soldiering, village decimation and AIDS pandemics in relocation camps have created a wake of trauma, death, pain, suffering and orphans.  Several ministries have felt called to serve the vulnerable and needy suffering from three decades of war in northern Uganda.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve one such ministry.  Children of the Nations (COTN) feels called to serve double orphans and children with terminally ill single parents infected with HIV.  COTN has growing ministries in Uganda, Malawi, Sierra Leone and the Dominican Republic.  You can read more at

eMi developed a master plan in 2009 for land owned by COTN at the time.  Aaron Haazen, a mechanical engineering intern, and I traveled to Lira, Uganda about a week ago to survey additional land and develop an architectural program and master plan for the now larger site.  I often feel Satan relishes our use of modern technology as he makes ample use of computers and electronics to attack us.  Aaron spent several hours attempting to get our GPS equipment functioning to survey additional plots of land.  Despite equipment never working, I rest in the knowledge that God will be victorious and this was spiritual warfare.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

While touring the site, we were shown a borehole dug by COTN to serve the local community.  Ironically, the borehole had been dug on an adjacent plot of land.  It was definitely being used by the community as seen by the line of jerry cans waiting to be filled.

One of the mornings, we met a chicken sitting on one of the couches of the guest house where we were staying.  Not exactly something you expect to greet in the morning…

Pastor James Okala, the National COTN Director, asked us to stay longer so we could worship at Truth Fountain Church, where he is senior pastor.  We had originally planned to return to Kampala on Saturday so I could take care of tithe collections at two services at Kampala International Church, our home church.  I sent some texts to ask others to manage the collections and we were able to stay.  Of course, the request included a request for me to preach…a quiet architect preaching in a Ugandan Pentecostal church?

The service was lively to say the least.  I think Aaron explained it well when he told me the service made a Western Pentecostal service look like an Anglican service.  During one song, we noticed a woman bobbing her plastic chair above her head.  I preached for about 20 minutes, followed by Pastor James preaching for an additional 40 minutes.

During our journey back to Kampala, we frequented several fruit stands and stopped to meet some of the locals…some baboons that live in the fertile wooded area along the Nile River.  These baboons seem to be very accustomed to people as several came up to our vehicle to beg for food.  We gave some bread to one who sat on the road to enjoy his meal.  Another even chased our vehicle as we were driving off.

Thanks to all of you who are praying for us, supporting our work financially or following us through our blogs.  We are honored to be serving and using our talents for the Kingdom.  We give God all the glory.  He is truly amazing at planning and orchestrating the plan for our lives.  I cannot wait to see more chapters.

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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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