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Snapshots #19: Last Day in the Field

*this post could also be titled: Reason #346 why I love IJM Uganda.

Yesterday I went out to the field with Claire. It was a spur of the moment decision – I had plans for work in the office – you know, really fun stuff like receipt reimbursements, scheduling meetings, drafting briefings, etc. But Claire stopped by my desk as she was on her way out the door and asked if I wanted to come, and after a brief moment of consideration, I realized that this may be one of my last days to go out to the field… maybe ever. My boss arrives back next week, my replacement comes in 8 days, another new intern comes in 14 days, other visitors from the US arrive in 22 days (they actually arrive the day after I leave, but there are a ton of pre-logistics to sort out before they arrive). So I jumped at the chance, and headed out.

Going out to the field is always a rollercoaster of emotions. There were moments of sadness. Claire was shaken after visiting one elderly client who is severely disabled, living in extreme poverty. Her children are not a part of her life, and although her husband cares for her as much as he can, he is also elderly and can’t take of her every need. Another one of our clients we went to visit was gone, having been admitted to the hospital due to HIV/AIDS. She had been taking ARVs but when she recently fell sick, she gave up hope.

But there were moments of joy, too – oh, such joy! While we talked with one client who had previously struggled to provide basic food for her malnourished family, I snapped pictures of her youngest son, now a bright-eyed toddler with rolls of fat on his roly-poly legs, all indications of a well-fed, well-loved baby.

On the way back through the village to the car, we met another client (Annet, if you remember back to the client story I posted in May). I had long been wanting to meet her (her bubbly nature is famous in the office), but we weren’t planning to stop by her house that day. We were amazed to find her on the footpath, a few villages away from where she lived. Her already-high spirits were higher than ever, as she animatedly told Claire that she was walking with a broker to see a piece of land that she would like to buy for her family – a place where she could build a home all her own.

All in all, it was a simple day. I didn’t save anyone’s life. I basically followed Claire around with the bag of food we had come to deliver to clients, and asked silly questions along the way. Most of the words I spoke to clients were perfunctory phrases in Luganda, coupled with many heartfelt smiles as I could muster – hoping to convey something deeper than just the surface greetings that we exchanged.

Selfishly, I still felt disconnected from the clients, wishing I could interact with them on a deeper level, wishing I was more a part of their lives than just a random mzungu that comes along with Claire to snap some pictures. But then I remembered that this sort of structure is exactly why I love IJM. I love that our clients don’t see rich Americans coming into save the day. They see Ugandan lawyers and aftercare specialists listening to them, representing them and advocating for them. I am not the face of iJM to our clients, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

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Snapshots #18: In the Village

I normally don’t make a habit of taking pictures of adorable Ugandan children on the side of the road just because they are adorable (I just keep imagining how bizarre it’d be for a Japanese business guy to cruise down the streets of Bible Belt Suburbia and take pictures of pig-tailed girls playing jump-rope in the lawn. Not an exact parallel, but you get the idea). However, I can be persuaded otherwise, and these kids literally begged me to take a snap, after which they ran away screaming in giggly excitement.

It was a distant picture, not very focused, not very composed, not particularly artistic. But I do love the laundry in the background, the different poses and attitudes of the kids. And I guess I just like this picture because normally, I can’t just take pictures like that at work. Normally I’m just in the office, but today I got to spend time out in the field, and it was so good (in a hard, challenging, refreshing way – more on that in tomorrow’s post). It will be days like these that I miss.

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Snapshots #17: The Ever-Useful Boda

(sorry for the delay in this post. We didn’t have power last night, and my camera got stolen/lost/MIA at some point yesterday. Fun times, right? We’ll see how long a snapshot-a-day can persist without my trusty Panasonic sidekick.)

Now I know I’ve talked about boda-bodas mostly as a form of public transportation for humans. I ride them back and forth to work every day. But they are far more than just a personal taxi service. They double as wheelbarrows, livestock carriers, delivery carts, anything you want really. I have seen 20-metre long metal pipes on a boda, 200 cabbages in a sack on a boda, upwards of ten or twenty chickens on a boda, sometimes a whole family riding a boda. I’ve even seen someone carrying a large glass window on a boda – in rush hour traffic!

The best I’ve done is to carry cakes and multiple bags of groceries on a boda. Oh yeah, and I was riding side-saddle with heels. I was pretty darn proud of making it back to the office with the cakes and myself alive, until some over-achieving boda rider like the one below passed me. Then I just felt silly.  🙂

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Snapshots #16: Settlers of Catan

I’ve decided there are only three things I need to feel “at home” in a place. I need a running loop, an oven, and ample opportunities to play Settlers of Catan. Give me those things, and I’m happy.

You may think I’m flippant for counting Settlers as one of the marks of being “settled” in a place (pun may or may not have been intended), but it’s actually quite a helpful indicator. First of all, playing Settlers means that you have friends with whom to play Settlers. And these friends are friends who think that playing an old-fashioned German board game on a Saturday night is actually a fun night out.

The first half of this year I really struggled, because although I had carved out a running loop (on back roads with relatively few near-death traffic encounters), and tamed my temperamental oven (that turned on occassionally, and always cooked things at 10 degrees higher than it was set), I had no Settlers.

So there was much rejoicing when my Dad brought it over in January. I promptly took it to the Carrolls‘ house, who loved it so much they bought the game themselves, taught Scott and the IJM crew how to play, invited Phil and Julie over for dinner and Settlers, and played it tonight over at my friend Hannah’s house.

Should I be worried that I don’t even know how to have a game night without Settlers? Is this a case of unhealthy dependence? 😉


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Snapshots #15: A Bike Named Domino

Meet Martin, IJM guard and gatekeeper extraordinaire. And meet his bike, Domino.

If there’s one person this year who’s taught me what it looks like to seek justice for widows and orphans, it’s Martin. He’s not on the front lines of battle, so to speak. He spends his days sweeping the compound, opening the gate, picking up morning snacks from the market, and responding to my frantic cries for help when I answer the outside phone and the caller starts yelling wildy in Luganda (which Martin happens to speak much more fluently than me).

Yet every morning devotion that  he leads involves some reminder from the Psalms about God’s heart for justice, his prayers for our clients and our work raise the roof (you can almost feel the pounding on heaven’s door), and the diligence and joy with which he goes about his work is always challenging.

So back to the bike. He rides his bike back and forth to work every day, and uses it for quick trips to pick up snacks at the market. One day I told him how much I loved riding bikes back in the States. His response: “Oh sis! You must take Domino and ride, please. Anytime, you can feel free!” (An offer I have since taken him up on. I only ride on our little back street to the corner store, but it’s still super fun to be on a bike after so long!). When I asked Martin – “so, is Domino the type of bike or something?”, he responded with a characteristic laugh (actually, it’s more of a giggle):  “‘No, sis,[giggle] I just wanted to give it a name. And I like Domino so I thought sure, I’ll name it Domino [giggle].”

It’s hard to be grumpy when you’re working with co-workers like that. 🙂

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Snapshots #14: Silhouette

You don’t get sunsets like this in America.

I mean, there are probably places with pretty sunsets, or pretty palm trees,  or pretty bad pollution,  but Kampala’s combo of all three is pretty unbeatable.



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Snapshots #13: Twins

Claire and I showed up to work today wearing the same thing – which, of course, called for a picture. We look so similar today that if you saw us on the road, you’d think we were sisters, right? 🙂

Claire has been one of my best friends here in Uganda. IJM’s newest aftercare specialist, she joined IJM in November after working for a variety of compassion ministries and NGOs in Kampala. Married with a darling baby boy, she really is like my older sister. She smiles as I freak out about what the future does or doesn’t hold, listens to me blow off steam as I leave the office after a frustrating day, and tells me what outfits do and don’t look good together (a very valuable skill that I don’t really have). Always ready to listen, she knows when I am down and need a hug, and has an incredible amount of patience (you can tell she’s a good social worker!). With our clients, she’s professional, caring, smart, and well-loved and trusted.

Around the office, she’s known for her characteristically sarcastic edge even when she’s being sweet. Today, she told me that it would be better if I just left tomorrow – because the longer I stay the harder it will be to say bye. Sigh. Goodbyes stink.


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Snapshots #12: High-Class Living

(I am not sure if I should tell you this, because it might ruin your idea about my life in Africa. Oh well.)

Tonight, Ryan and I were treated to a dinner out by our dear Uncle Bert.  I am convinced that everyone needs an Uncle Bert in their life. He came to visit me in April, and while he was here, he took me out to one of the fanciest restaurants in Kampala – the revolving restaurant that overlooks the entire city with a 360 degree view. It’s one of only six in Africa, so it’s a pretty big deal. We had a great time, and so when Ryan arrived in country a few weeks ago, Uncle Bert made me solemnly swear to use some money he had given as a way to treat Ryan to a nice dinner out. I happily obliged, of course.

And as a bonus snapshot for you, guess what we saw while admiring the city lights of Kampala? (You’ll never guess)

Yessiree, that fuzzy green thing in the sky is a bonafide UFO coming in for a landing on the streets of Kampala.

(And you thought fancy restaurants and alien invasions didn’t exist in Africa).

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Snapshots #11: It’s Dark

Well, folks, today marks the sixth day that my power supply has seriously struggled to perform well. Ever since the government realized they were $80 million in debt to private electricity companies (which recently decided to just stop supplementing Uganda’s electricty without fair payment), Kampala has been on 12-hr load-shedding shifts (a euphemistic phrase that basically means: no power, for extended amounts of ime).

So, my computer dosn’t have a lot of life left on it, my camera has a hard time taking pictures in the dark, and frankly, I’m grumpy at the government and don’t really feel like taking a picture and waxing eloquent about the beauties of life in Uganda.

It’s just been one of those days, you know?

To save you from a-day-without-a-snapshot, here’s a picture from my travels to Tanzania. When I saw this flame tree (literally, that’s what it is called), with the early morning sunlight rising over it, this line written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning kept popping into my mind.



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Snapshots #10: Bread-Baking

Over the past six months at Christ Community, I’ve filled the role of Bearer-of-Baked-Goods for most Sundays. But with my impending departure looming ever closer, we decided it was time to do a little ‘passing of the torch’, if you will. I was geared up for something simple like cookies or wacky cake, but they all decided that they wanted to learn how to make bread (gulp!).

All I know about bread-making comes courtesy of my dear mother, who suffered through many recipes that I insisted on ‘helping’ her with,  and my blogosphere role model, The Frugal Girl. I’m no expert (my bread is always denser than it should be), but I passed on what little I know, and everyone was quite pleased with the results. We even calculated how much cheaper it would be to make our own bread (a 75% decrease in cost).

I never was the most domestically-inclined person growing up, but it is amazing what life as an MK teaches you in the way of baking and home-making – it’s been fun to utilize some of that knowledge during my time in Uganda.

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