Monthly Archives: November 2010

Giving Thanks in Uganda

It’s no secret that I would like to be home celebrating Thanksgiving with my family right now. Friends’ facebook statuses of “home sweet home!” and “mm sweet potato casserole…” have been driving me nuts for the last week. But, homesickness aside, I’ve been reflecting on how much I have to be thankful for, right here in Uganda. I finally narrowed it down to just five things. 🙂

1) I’m thankful for my family at IJM Uganda

It’s true, we’re family. We tease, bicker, cry, groan, laugh, pray, sing, and play like a family – a huge, ever-changing, cross-cultural, very peculiar family. But I am SO thankful for them – I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve just stopped what I’m doing in the office, thought about it for a second, and become overwhelmed with how grateful I am to work here with an amazing team.  We recently returned from our two-day staff retreat, which I’ll write more about later – but for now, here’s a picture from that occasion with two of my co-workers, Claire and Gerry (who, as of last week, is my new BFF) 🙂

2) I’m thankful for the team of IJM interns and fellows

These are the people who I spend the most time with – whether we want to or not! We work together, travel together, eat together, etc etc etc. They have welcomed me into the group with open arms, guided me through the adjustment phase of learning how to live life in Kampala. Every week, our field office director (my boss), has us over to his home for a delicious meal of typical American fare (think hamburgers, chili, lasagna, etc).

Last week, we had a murder mystery dinner. It is my pleasure to introduce you to the Roley High School Class of 1954 – we got back together for our 5-year Homecoming Reunion in 1959. My name is Penelope Lofer, the rich young socialite wife who would do anything (including kill her brother!) in order to inherit her parents’ estate.

3) I’m thankful for the chance to start every day with prayer

One of the things I love the most about working at IJM is our commitment to seeking God daily, both corporately and individually. Every morning, we start off with quiet prayer alone, and then we gather for 1/2 hour for singing and sharing from the Word. It’s amazing how effective this time is  in knitting us together as coworkers in the Body of Christ, and giving me a good attitude for the rest of the day. It’s so good to just soak in the presence of God, the sunshine, and a hot cup of African tea. Welcome to my life, from 8:30 to 9:00 am every morning:

4) I’m thankful for my little neighborhood of Ntinda

I treasure the walk to and from work every day. It takes me from my apartment complex,down a dusty street, up a hill covered in a heap of trash, through a crowded market, across a main street traversed by cars and bodabodas at breakneck speed, and finally into the residential neighborhood where our office is located, on a peaceful little street that looks out across the valley to the east.

It’s a fun walk, but what makes it best is the people I see every day. The little girls who smile at me and wave excitedly, yelling “byeee!!!” every day without fail. Deborah, the charcoal seller at the market who always greets me as I walk by usually in a hurry on my way to work. In the evenings, I take a more leisurely pace and we’ve had great conversations about education in Uganda, and what we use for charcoal in the States (me: “well…it’s not burnt wood like the charcoal you sell here, it’s like… hard stuff from deep inside the earth. You know?“) I should have listened more closely in earth sciences class! My favorite is a random guy I pass usually on the trash hill. I have no idea where he lives or where he’s going, but whenever we see each other, a HUGE smile breaks out across his face “Welcome BACK!!” he says, like we’re longlost friends who haven’t seen each other in years. With neighbors like that, I can’t barely return home without a smile on my face.

5) I’m thankful for YOU

Okay, so I know this is cheating a little bit. Most of you don’t actually live here in Uganda with me. But, you are very much part of my life here. It is your prayers, your encouragement, and your financial support that sustain my life here and enable to me experience all that I’m experiencing in Uganda. I wish you could all come visit, and see how wonderful it is to call Kampala “my home” for a year, to call IJM “my work” for a year, to call these brothers and sisters “my friends and family” for a year. It is an incredible blessing, and I am completely indebted to you, my friends and family scattered around the world, for making it possible for me to be here in Uganda. Thank YOU!!

 

 

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A Visit to Amazima

Last weekend, a friend and I took a day trip to Jinja, a quaint little town two hours east of Kampala, most famous for its location at the beginning of the Nile river (side note: I‘ve now been to the beginning and end of the Nile, a feat I‘m rather proud of).  🙂  We went to  Jinja to visit Amazima, an incredible organization that has quite a story behind it.

In 2006, a young American girl named Katie came to Uganda to volunteer at an orphanage for a year, right after she graduated from high school. Now, four years later, she lives in Uganda full-time, has adopted 14 young Ugandan girls who were orphaned and abandoned, runs a child sponsorship program for more than 400 kids, and has her own non-profit 501(c) (3) organization, called Amazima (the Luganda word for “truth“).

Sounds crazy, right?

That’s what I thought too – especially when I realized that we were the same age. I thought about both the differences and similarities of  our lives.  At age 22, we’ve both ended up in Uganda, seeking the Kingdom of God by trying to bring redemption to the most broken members of society, yet our stories are incredibly different.

I’m in an office most of the day, editing documents, designing schedules, buying office supplies, throwing around words like “marriage formalization” and “succession law” and “letters of administration.” She homeschools her girls (just that fact alone is impressive!), walks in the slums of Jinja, seeking out the most unloved of the unloved, and loves them like Jesus, bandaging their wounds, giving them food, praying over them… just loving them. I only met her briefly, so don’t know all the details about how the Lord has led her through the last four years, but if you want to learn more, check out her blog: Kisses from Katie. Her story is undoubtedly a testimony to God’s  incredible faithfulness.

Part of me envied her. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my job and every day I grow more and more grateful for the chance to live in Uganda and work for IJM with such a team of inspiring Christian professionals. The transformation that we see in the lives of our clients is truly inspiring and it still is a dream come true to work here.  But there’s something so raw, so powerful about the idea of seeking out the most abandoned and abused children and adopting them as your own – it evokes so strongly the essence of God’s love for us as His children.

I’m still wrestling with my reaction to my visit there. Even my few hours there reminded me of my experiences at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Cairo, and the Children of Promise orphanage in Cambodia – where some of my most formative cross-cultural experience occurred. I know that the grass is always greener on the other side, whether you’re comparing between Uganda and America or comparing between one type of ministry in Uganda and another.

The friend I was with put it this way: “We’re always wanting to be the hands, instead of the eyes, the feet instead of the ears, or vice versa.” And honestly, I don’t know if I’m cut out for the type of work that Katie does. It’s a hard, hard life – just read her blog and you’ll see that for every blessing, there are a thousand sorrows to go with it. But there still is something incredibly appealing about the life she lives.

All that to say, I’m not sure if I have any profound reflections yet on my time there, except that:

  1. Even in Christian ministry it’s easy to be discontent and wonder “what if…“
  2. God calls all sorts of people into all sorts of jobs in order to further his Kingdom
  3. The bottom line is that ultimately, my task is simply to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow   Him, whether that’s into the slums of Jinja or into another day of work at the office.

On a lighter note, we got to spend some time hanging out with the kids and taking pictures of their impressive facilities they’ve built for the 400 kids who come over every Saturday for Bible teaching, singing, playing games, and lunch (just think VBS). This summer, they completed a huge playground, probably unparalleled in scope and impressiveness in all of Uganda. The kids loved it, and so did I!

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The Art of Riding a BodaBoda

My first day in Uganda, I was introduced to the bodaboda, by far the most popular form of transportation for people like me (ie, expat workers in Kampala who don’t own their own cars and care more about getting to their destination quickly and cheaply, rather than safely).

A bodaboda is nothing more than a basic motorcycle, and all over Uganda they’re used as one-person taxi systems. There is nothing quite like the experience of riding a bodaboda through Kampala traffic. The first few days, I was terrified. There is no noticeable rhyme or reason to most of the traffic patterns in the city, and bodabodas have an incredible knack of squeezing into spaces you wouldn’t think possible between huge trucks and vans, then veering off into oncoming traffic, dodging back into the next available gap between cars right before the oncoming van smashes it to smithereens.

And so, for the first few weeks, I gripped the back handle till my knuckles turned white, and pressed my legs tightly against the seat, praying to God every time that He wouldn‘t let me die even though I was recklessly engaging in such an obviously dangerous activity. In my head, I likened it to riding a bucking horse in a stampede (okay, slightly dramatic, I know). Every time I got off a bodaboda, slightly shaky and rather dusty,  I swore that I would walk everywhere from then on.

But days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, bodabodas became an everyday part of my life in Kampala. I started to recognize the best routes to take,  ones that would largely avoid the large crowds and hurtling hordes of vans and trucks on the main roads. I figured out how to wedge my purse between my legs to safeguard from other crafty drivers who can easily swipe the purses off the shoulders of unknowing bodaboda riders. I even grew brave enough to ride a bodaboda sidesaddle when I’m wearing a skirt on my way to the office or to church.  And piling three people on a bodaboda? No problem.

For all these great success stories, I can’t say that I’ve perfected the negotiating-down-the-price routine. I’ve tried the stern, frustrated voice: “You can’t cheat me! That is too expensive!” to the sweet pleading: “Ah, sebo (sir), please… [insert winsome smile] I do not have much money. Can you give me a lower price?“ to the I‘m-so-cross-cultural approach “Ah, sebo, please, I do not want the mzungu (expat/whiteskin) price. What is the Ugandan price?”  (note: for this approach to work, you need to pepper it with as many phrases as possible in Luganda, the local language here).

None of these attempts seem to work with overwhelming success, but I tend to try version #2 or #3 more often than the first approach. Even if they don’t work in lowering the price, it’s a lot more fun to ride with a bodaboda driver who thinks you’re a sweet person interested in his culture instead of an obnoxious mzungu determined to negotiate the price down by 20 or 30 cents.

Thankfully, I’ve become friends with Stephen, a bodaboda driver whose normal bodaboda stage is close to my apartment. He knows all my favorite places to go, gives me a fair price, and he even invited me to his home on the eastern edge of Uganda for Christmas with his wife and kids! And now? Bodaboda rides have become positively relaxing. Well… you know. As relaxing as a bucking bronco ride through a stampede can be. 🙂

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Needed: 3,287 People on November 15th

IJM needs your help! Well, actually, the 3,287 children who are trafficked into slavery and violent sexual abuse every day need your help.

For the last year or so, IJM and other NGOS have been working on a bill called the ‘Child Protection Compact Act’, designed to increase the capabilities of third-world countries who have the will to fight the growing problem of human trafficking within their borders, but lack the resources to do so.

The legislation was extremely close to passing in the Senate, but the Congress adjourned before it could officially be passed. Now, the Congress is coming together for a “lame duck” session on November 15, giving us one final chance to vote this bill into action!

I’m rarely involved in political lobbying as such, but I really support this bill, both because of the fact that it fights human trafficking, and for the holistic way in which it seeks to address this injustice.  It’s bipartisan, it doesn’t pull money from much-needed funds for American domestic use, and it seeks to empower foreign countries in their efforts to fight human trafficking instead of coming in as the big Western power and changing the structure unilaterally. What’s not to love about this bill?!?!

Here’s the part you can play:  IJM is looking for 3,287 people who will commit to calling their senator’s office on November 15th, urging them to pass the CPCA bill. That’s one voice for every child who is trafficked daily. Click here to commit to calling your senator.

You don’t have to sound incredibly smart; you don’t have to go into a persuasive essay about why your senator should support this bill. You just need to let him or her know that as a constituent, you care about human trafficking and you want him or her to support the CPCA bill. You can even follow IJM’s suggestion and say something like this:

“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [City, State]. I’m calling to ask Senator [NAME] to vote YES to pass the Child Protection Compact Act (S. 3184). This bill would help to eradicate child trafficking, an issue I really care about. Would you please pass my message on to the Senator? Thank you!”

If you’re like me, and you [rather ashamedly] don’t even know who your senator is, you can easily find that information at www.senate.gov (look in the upper right-hand corner).  Finally, click here for more information about the CPCA and FAQs.

If you do commit to calling your senator, leave a comment and let me know!

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A Day in the Village

Because my job mostly keeps me in the office, sometimes it’s easy to feel disconnected from who we are seeking justice for… where they live, what they eat, what kind of homes they live in , what kinds of churches they go to, etc…  So last week when I was offered the chance to tag along to a Legal Education day in a tiny little village about an hour away, I jumped at the chance. (If you need a refresher on what happens at a Legal Ed day, read my earlier post: Achieving Victim Relief).

What made the day even more exciting is that part of my job for the day (besides being a nice mzungu and shaking people’s hands and distributing legal materials to our attendees as needed) was to document the day with photography. I do love to take pictures but always find it rather awkward to whip out my camera at every little thing or every little kid I see here in Uganda that I want to show to people back home. I want to make this place my home, and not always be seen as the crazy tourist with the camera.All that to say, it was great fun to have photography be part of my job, at least for a day.

Although my actual assigned task was to take picture of IJM staff members and clients, luckily for me, it was a long day.. which meant I could take fun pictures, too (and post them on my blog!  In order to protect our clients’ privacy and safety, we don’t post pictures of IJM operations or clients). Hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!

There’s no such thing as a picture with only two kids in it. If there’s one kid in a picture, you can be sure that every other child in a 10 metre radius also came to be part of that picture, too. 🙂

 

This baby’s mom was determined to get a good picture of her little girl. I think maybe it’s impossible not to get a good picture of an adorable fat baby girl.


 

Snack time! Peanuts (or groundnuts, as they are called here) are a favorite.

 

Heading home… it was a long day, but overall really successful. We had a great turn-out and our audience was really attentive!

 

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