Snapshots #22: The Shoe Man

This is Mr. Shoe  Man. He fixes my shoes.

Every day, he sits outside the side gate to the Brown Flats, where I live. In between the seamstress with her foot-pedal-powered sewing machine, and the chappati guy who fries up the hot flat bread over charcoal fire all morning, Mr. Shoe Man sits. Armed with twine, a knife, and a sharp nail atached to a wooden handle, he works wonders with shoes.

For less than 50 cents, he can re-fasten soles, re-attach the thong of a flip-flop to the base, and probably a host of other shoe-miracles that I’m not even aware of. He’s saved my shoes a number of times (Kampala roads and rocks aren’t exactly shoe-friendly).

He knows next to no English, and I know next to no Luganda, but almost ever day we have a conversation – hello, welcome back, how are you – in varying combinations of Luganda and English. As strange as it sounds, it’s honestly little interactions like this that always make me pause and realize how much I’m going to miss life in Kampala.

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Snapshots #21: A Foodie’s Paradise

It probably comes as a surprise to none of you that I just happen to really enjoy food. Like, a lot. Baking, cooking, eating, even just reading cookbooks makes me one happy girl. My absolute favorite is any sort of ethnic food, and Kampala is an absolute gem when it comes to cool international restaurants. Granted, the quality isn’t as good as you might find elsewhere, but the variety is great. Indian, Turkish, Ethiopian, Italian, Lebanese, even a token Mexican restaurant (good fajitas, but their chips taste like fried sandpaper) – it’s all here in Kampala.

The cost of eating out is much lower than it is in the States, so while it’s still a treat to eat out, it’s a much more affordable treat here. Last night found Ryan, Jon, Gloria and I at Casablanca, enjoying a family platter of injera and traditional Ethiopian coffee – with incense wafting across the table for atmosphere (all I could think of was being in an Eastern Orthodox church).

I’m definitely going to miss nights like that when I’m back in the States – somehow I doubt I’ll find any authentic Ethiopian restaurants tucked away on the country lanes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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Snapshots #20: Skype Date

So I know our society is already over-inundated with technology and instant communication in every shape and form, and I should probably wax eloquent about how good it is to live the simple life here in Africa… But sometimes, modern technology is just the best thing ever. I love being able to text my brother from 10,000 miles a way, see friends face-to-face with the click of a button, and have my parents available almost any day of the week to chat.

Today, I got to talk to this dear friend:

Jennica and I have been friends for just a year or two now. We lived in the same dorm at college, and I always thought that we would probably be kindred spirits, but we never really crossed paths until my senior year, second semester, when we took Biblical Theology together.  I discovered that she loved to ask questions and ponder the answers as much as I did, and almost every day after class we had animated discussions about the political and social implications of the Kingdom of God as we walked back to our dorm. We were instant friends.

When I graduated from Taylor last summer and headed off to IJM, we began talking about her plans for saving the world after graduation this May. She expressed interest in an international IJM internship, to which I promptly responded (very professionally): “oh-my-gosh-it’s-the-best-thing-ever-you-HAVE-to-apply!!!!”

I’m happy to report that she did apply, and got accepted, and will be joining the IJM Rwanda team in August as their new Executive Assistant. So, when I head out of Uganda, and you’re having blog withdrawals, click over to her blog: A Window in Rwanda (she’s a great writer). And stay tuned for future parallel-life ventures. We’re already talking about going to get our PhDs in Theology in Scotland (during which time we’ll bake copious amounts of brownies and pick wildflowers along the loch – yes, we are very liberated females). 😉

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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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