Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Blog?

I can't say that I forgot that I had a blog, but I kinda forgot. I'm not sure what this says about me...most likely terrible, terrible things. Anyhow, I'm back and better than ever. How have you been? I'm sure you (all 7 of you) have been sitting by your computer screens with baited breath, waiting for my next blog entry. Well, wait no longer.

I thought I'd post a funny picture to get us going again. This one is of Shelly and I at Uncle Dick's wedding in the village. They had this deliciously funny screen for photos. People would line up and pay to have their photo taken in front of this screen. IT was prom picture like. It was hilarious. We couldn't resist. Isn't a great shot?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Latest

Hi All,
Are you ready for more? I must admit that I am ready for more of your updates! I have so much loved getting some of your summer updates. Thank you to those who have filled me in on swimming floaties, beach trips, birthday parties and reading lists. Hearing from you makes me feel not quite so far away. So, thank you. Now, it’s my turn to bring you a little closer to my world.

The Latest. You know how much fun it is to have a slumber party with your best friends where you stay up late and giggle and eat ice cream and tell secrets? Well, I have just had 2 weeks of slumber parties! Amanda and Erin came to visit. For those of you who may not know these two characters in my life story, Erin and Amanda are some of my most kindred spirits. Erin is my best friend and roommate of 8 years. Amanda is one our besties from university who has stayed a constant source of friendship even though she lives thousands of miles away. While Erin has been to Uganda several times, this was Amanda’s very first time out of the U.S., and she loved it! We ate street food, rode public transportation, visited the village, played with the kids at Christopher House, rode boda bodas (motorcycles), made macaroni and cheese, hosted a 4th of July party with a house full of Ugandans singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and we even managed to paint our toe nails by the light of our headlamps. It was so good to show Amanda the rhythm of my life here.

Oh, quick story. We took Amanda out to Shiloh for a couple of days of sleeping under a grass roof and walking around a place that the city air has yet to pollute. Shiloh is technically a property of CHM about an hour outside of Kampala. It is Shelly’s home when she’s not at the center. She, Galabuzi and Dick have been growing a few crops out on the land—eggplant, green bell peppers, carrots and lots of other veggies to use during our meals at the center. Shiloh is basically what we call a resting place—a quiet getaway when the busy city pace becomes too much. So, while we were out there Shelly wanted to take us to meet some new friends, Yusef and Alice. They must be in their 80’s at least. As we approached their yard, Yusef spotted us and began waving us in. We sat and listened to the story of how they fell in love and how they have lived in that house nearly forever. I sat next to Alice on the floor and held her hand. We all laughed like old friends. It was getting late in the afternoon when a hurdle of school children passed by on the road. When they spotted us they came running up to the yard. Alice waved them in too. Soon enough the room was cluttered with about 25 school children singing to us. Of course after they did, Shelly insisted that Erin and I return the favor. We did, and they clapped ferociously. It was one of those moments when I clearly remembered, “Oh, I am in Africa!”

Amanda left not too long after our afternoon visit with Yusef and Alice, but Erin has stayed for an extra two weeks. We’ve been drinking lots of tea, talking late into the night and drifting into our old routine. It’s hard to remember that she won’t be here forever, and each time I am reminded my heart aches a little more. Still, it has been such a gift to have her here to ease this time of transition and to remember our first days in Uganda. How far we have come!

The Greatest. So, one of my Creative Drama classes is attempting to write monologues from their own life experiences. At the end of the term they will perform them for the class. It has been a pretty challenging task to expect creativity from each student when uniformity is what they are accustomed to producing in their work at school. It took a couple of weeks for them to understand that they had something to share. They sat with blank stares for the first writing session. But then, finally, there was a breakthrough! Charity approached my desk and asked if I would look over her work. After reading a handful of the similar, if not identical stories, I was reluctant to read another. But her work totally surprised me! She wrote a monologue about the first time she saw a television. Throughout the piece she describes this box in her house. It frightens her, and she fears that it is evil. She calls out to her dad to take it away, and then suddenly gets caught up in watching it and laughing at the figures on the screen. Finally, she calls out, “Dad, what did you say this thing was again? Oh, a television. It might not be so evil after all.” It is a monologue that oozes with creativity. The audience doesn’t know it is a television until the end, and she keeps them guessing. I am so excited to see her perform it, and she beams with delight every time I ask her to show it to someone. Since sharing her example, the class has begun to challenge themselves with their work—trying new concepts and beginning to feel like they have valuable stories to share from their lives. Being with this group feels like so much more than giving assignments. I cannot wait to see how things unfold with these precious students.

At the end of each class session we gather in a huddle for prayer, and each time I tell them, “You are precious gifts, and I am so glad that each of you are in this class.” I am trying to learn each student’s name in order to call them all out, but I am still learning. It is amazing how these kids respond to such a message. For some of them, it’s as if they have never heard those words before. When they hug me before leaving, it’s as if they sink into me and hold on tight so the hug will last until the next week when I see them again. Oh, it’s my favorite part of the job!

The Worst. Every community has those little places—stains of cruelty, signs of injustice, places where the worst kind of humanity is displayed. Bunga is no exception. With the rise of robbery here, people have become restless and fed up with crime. Most thieves have been murdering as well as robbing. Unfortunately, the police force in Uganda does little without monetary bribery, and when they do come to help, the thieves usually get released soon after they are arrested. The community has become enraged by the trends of crime and injustice, and last week they chose to take it in their own hands. When a young man stole from an outside refrigerator, a group surrounded him, beat him, poured kerosene on his body and burned him to death. I never have understood the mob mentality or the cruelty of killing that a group can justify against any individual, but I also stay baffled by the police department here and what they call a justice system. Even now my stomach turns to think of the ashes that stain the sidewalk where the life of this young man was taken. My heart breaks for this community, for this man’s family, for this way of dealing with injustice, and for this community reaching such a breaking point.

Prayers. Please pray for Bunga and the challenges this community faces. Pray for the leaders in this community to function out of a commitment to justice and not personal advancement. Pray for Christopher House to continue to be a place of noticeable difference—a place where peace is promoted and children are lifted up. Pray for Shelly, Dick and Enoch as they continue to lead this organization—financially, spiritually, operationally.

Pray for our older kids who come on Saturdays. We are beginning to do a new time of discussion, and we’re focusing on the body. We’re calling it “Everybody Matters.” We’re going to be talking about theology of the body, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, rape, condom use versus abstinence. We’re going to cover everything, and these kids are desperate for a safe place to talk about these things. Most parents are not educating their kids on the significance of knowing the facts and protecting themselves and making wise choices. Pray that this series will open doors for honest conversation, education and godly results.

What’s next? August is an exciting month for us at Christopher House. Christine, who works in the Athletic Department, is getting married! We are all so ready to celebrate with Christine and her husband to be Patrick on August 9th. We’re all going for the ceremony and then returning to the center for a Shelly inspired reception. I’m sure there will be pictures coming soon. Shelly and Harriet have made the wedding dress, and we’re pretty sure the food is going to be amazing too. Christine has been waiting for the pastors to select a date and now she is growing impatient to say “I do.” I’ll be sure to fill you in on the celebration next time I write.

Well, a day of work awaits.
Loving You from Uganda,
Namubiru Alisha

... the Bad, the Ugly

The Bad— I forgot how tiring it is to be looked at all the time. Because white faces are the extreme minority, most Ugandans find it at least mildly entertaining to see what the white foreigners are up to—when we walk, when we trip on a stone, when we drink water, when we pick our noses, when we shop, when we sit, when we stand, when we travel, when we sweat. I simply forgot how annoying it is…I’m sure I’ll find healthy or at least amusing coping mechanisms, but it is strange to be looked at during the most ordinary of daily tasks. Who knew buying bread or boarding a taxi was so exciting?!

The Ugly— it never seems to take very long before my ugly attitude makes an unannounced appearance. The latest episode happened at the office of Immigration. Ugh! A little vomit came up just thinking about it. Desperate to be approved for an extended work permit—which allows me to remain in the country, I reluctantly went to Immigration to fill out the forms, stand in the lines, convince someone to help me and NOT charge me hidden, under the table fees for them to actually do their job. Corruption is rampant in most government offices here. You must pay under the table to get anything done. I had 1 ½ months left on my visa and still the woman “helping” me insisted that I not only fill out the form for the work permit but I also apply for a special pass for when my visa runs out. A special pass costs 90,000 shillings and is a great way for them to slow down on processing the work permit while getting more money from you. Sick! “You people just love taking money!” I shouldn’t have said it. As soon as I did I knew things would not be going my way. Sure enough, she found something wrong with my paperwork and refused to process my request until I bring back another cover letter or some such nonsense. I had done it. I had mouthed off and made her mad. Now, she has refused to help me. I must prepare more documents and return to this office to waste another 5 hours of my life! “You have not been very helpful at all!” Well, I didn’t need to add that either, but I did out of anger. I suppose I could have also done without the grunts of frustration as I left the parking lot. I realize you might not be following me, but let it just be known that I really hate the office of Immigration, and my mouth is sometimes not my best friend.

And on to the Prayer List:
1. Transition and adjustment as I continue to get settled here. Erin leaves on July 27th and real life will resume. I am already sad about her coming absence from my daily life. She is such a source of joy and safety and encouragement. I will miss her terribly. Pray that God will guide us both to good friendships and healthy Christian communities to join.
2. The School program. Pray that God would continue to put kids in my path who need hugs, love, encouragement, mentoring. Pray that God would connect me with those kids as I teach and minister here. And we continue to pray for the schools that have not yet joined the program. We still have slots to fill. Right now we are working with 7 schools in hopes to add 3 more.
3. Pray for me as I prepare for my first term of teaching pastors. I begin in September. I feel excited, intimidated and overwhelmed by the task. These ministers are being equipped for such important work in the church. Many of them have already spent years serving their local churches. Their wisdom will be such a gift to our class sessions. Pray that God will be glorified in our time together.
4. Continue to pray for good health for all of the CHM staff. Our schedule is busy, and our bodies get tired.

There’s more coming in my full update, but I wanted to connect with you separately. Know how truly thankful I am to be here doing this work. I am forever thankful for you. I could not be here without you!

Namubiru Alisha

Top 10 Favorite Things

The Good—I’m starting with the good so that you all will be reassured that I do continue to love this place, the people and the work God has called me to, but as the two month mark is made comes a set of frustrations and struggles that are real and difficult to navigate. So, you’re getting an earful of that too! Ok, I’m beginning with a list of my Top 10 Favorite Things about the rhythm of my life here so far. I suppose these are in no particular order.

10) The ice cream truck, which is really a motorcycle with a cooler strapped to the back seat, rides throughout the neighborhood playing “Silent Night.” Who doesn’t love Christmas in July?!

9) I’m so green! I walk to work!

8) My morning commute involves passing one adorable goat, greeting at least 3 or 4 roaming chickens, jumping over a stream, brushing past a corn field, hugging an old woman who usually sells me mangoes, trudging through a trash heap (which might require a Top 10 list of its own), and cringing at the squeals from pig slaughtering. All before 8 AM. In its own way it is beautiful.

7) The Muslim call to prayer that often interrupts my sleep. I love being reminded that there are faithful people praying even as I am drifting into sleep.

6) While “mzungu” is a common way for children and strangers to identify a white person in their midst, I am slowly being greeted as Namubiru (my African name) by my friends and neighbors…and sometimes even strangers!

5) I get at least 25 hugs a day from students who usually run up to me in delight, “Auntie Alisha!” It’s the best job ever!

4) I can now successfully light and maintain the charcoal stove whenever I want to cook with it, and when I don’t want to, I just turn on my gas stove. It’s divine.

3) I can hand wash all of my underwear in an hour! Miraculous, I tell you.

2) I haven’t gotten malaria yet!

1) The people who work at the grocery store where I shop know my name. It’s the ultimate!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sunburned & Sweating

Three almost over the weight limit suitcases. One stamped passport. One shrimp po-boy. Three precious friends to hug before boarding. Three plane rides. Four disastrous meals on board. An entire row on the plane just for me from Belgium to Uganda. Four movies to watch on the way over. One unexpected hour delay in Rwanda. Three almost over the weight limit bags to find at baggage claim. Three friends with open arms to welcome me home. One crazy tired traveler. And just like that I’m back in Uganda.

These few days of transition have felt warmly familiar. There were plenty of hugs waiting for me when I arrived at Christopher House Friday morning. And soon after that we got right to work, preparing for our first classes which began Tuesday, June 2. At least four classes out of the ten schools are new to me. Preparing and planning for new students is always an exhausting and yet exciting task. My prayer is that these students, like our other school groups, will find Christopher House to be a safe place to explore their talents, to build their self esteem and to be spiritually formed.

Settling in has been somewhat of a challenge. While I feel so at home here, I’m also feeling anxious to unpack in my new apartment. I’m still living out of suitcases until my apartment is ready for me—we’re hoping it will be done in a week. I think it lacks a toilet and a bathroom sink. Still, the place is so much more than I imagined. I am so excited about having a space to call home and a place to offer hospitality to visitors and friends. As soon as I move in and get things put in their places I’ll be sure to take pictures for you.

While I don’t start teaching at the International School of Missions until September, I did have a chance to pop in and say hello to several of the pastors during their break time on Tuesday. Two of the pastors asked in advance that I be patient with their limited English. Because they are from the Congo, they primarily speak French. I made an attempt to spout out whatever French I could remember from the French Candlestick character in Beauty and the Beast. It was pathetic. Still, I couldn’t help but to get excited about the work ahead and the wisdom I will learn from the faithful work these pastors do in their parishes. Of course, they insist that it is I who holds the wisdom—little do they know I’m faking it until I make it. Shh! Let’s keep that to ourselves.

Ok, I’ve got to run. Cooking dinner tonight with friends and creating a few more lesson plans with my co-teacher Sylivia before the week gets too busy.
You’ll definitely hear more from me soon.
Love from UG,
Namubiru Alisha

Monday, May 25, 2009

No! Not 53 Lbs.

So, for the most part I have been packed and ready to go to Uganda for over a week. Still, as I piddle around the house I keep finding things that make their way to my suitcase, and now, with only one day to go, I have a suitcase that is 3 lbs. over the weight limit. I can't help myself. Now, I'm going through rounds and rounds of elimination. Scotch tape and extra staples--stay. Picture frame--goes. Walking shoes--go. Colorful permanent markers--stay. Favorite quilt--goes. Top 10 favorite novels--stay. Wait! Take 5 at least! Ok, take 3! Deal.

Packing has turned into a constant battle of negotiation. Which parts of my life will get squeezed into these bags in order to land in Uganda? Which things are the most important to help me turn an apartment into a home? I can't decide if I'm more disgusted by all the stuff I feel like I need or if I'm more sad that my paintings and complete collection of throw pillows must remain behind. Is 3 suitcases too many? I'm pathetic. I'm going to bed.

Tonight I will dream about my new neighborhood and where I'll position my bed in my new place. I should have it completely decorated by the time I wake up tomorrow (P.S. I don't even know what it looks like). HA! Goodnight!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Can Almost Taste It

As I sit here on the sofa watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (don't judge me) and feeling slightly chilled from the air conditioning blowing gently in my general direction, I am reminded how different my life will look in just 10 days. This is the worst part...waiting! I have packed and unpacked just for fun, trying to master new techniques. I have everything ready to go. I keep saying goodbyes, and I'm ready to get gone already. I can't wait to laugh with Sylivia, cook with Shelly, sit with Abdul, love on all the kids I've been missing for months, and eat the best pineapple on the planet. But I know that just as I am craving all things Uganda, it won't take too many months of being in Uganda before I'll begin to crave things from Internet, my own transportation whenever I want it, Netflix, evening walks with Erin, hugs from my mom, and cheese. So, for now I'm drinking it all in...watching television, sleeping late, hugging my friends longer and tighter than usual, and eating entire blocks of cheese.