Sunday, February 6, 2011

Day 1 - Breaking Down Barriers

The day progressed well – everyone busy about his or her task. I was beginning to feel a connection with the other men as we began to work together, and sweat poured from my forehead and through my clothes.

I found out as the day went on that many of the men spoke perfect English (to my surprise). The Ugandan’s are a very kind, and courteous people, but they are also a little shy around stranger’s, especial Mzungu.

I was being checked out. Why was I there, could they open up, could I be trusted? Valid questions for sure. Nothing like manual labor to break the ice.

In the mean time, the ladies were also breaking down barriers with the village women and kids. They were situated just opposite of the mud hut the men were repairing.

They had started with several games for the kids and story time for entertainment. Gerald, a local young man came with us as our translator (not everyone’s English was that good). He was a delight.
Several times as I peaked my head around the corner to find Gerald with a full smile, & laughing as he was conversing with the ladies.

By the end of the day some of the local men and I were having good conversations, and wheelbarrow races to see who could bring over more dirt for our construction project.

I was surprised and pleased when one young man came over to give me a piece of baked maze. They would simply cook it in the open coals of the fire and then just eat it like corn on the cob as they worked. This felt more like a act of acceptance from the  “crew” to the Mzungu as we “broke bread together”. Acts of kindness and acts of friendship as well.
At one point in the afternoon the ladies also volunteered to go down the quarter mile hill and fetch water for the construction project. As they described the brown water they carried on their heads I realized for the first time that this was also the water that the locals had been drinking.

When pastor Moses picked up our team later that afternoon he was kind enough to stop at one the wells a previous team had built. He told us that many children’s lives have been saved from simply installing nine fresh water wells around his village. Each well was supplying water for as many as a thousand villagers.
Watching the young kids getting clean water that afternoon almost brought tears to my eyes.

The significance of this trip was taking on new meaning by the hour. We were there not only looking after the villagers spiritual, and emotional needs but in a very real and tangible way their physical needs also.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 1 - Getting Physical

Those first minutes were like those awkward ones at parties when you really don't know anyone and you need to make that pointless small talk to break the ice, you know what I mean? But, in this particular case you don't know the customs or even speak the language.
One of our prayers that morning was to be “outward” focused and not be self-conscious or self focused. If we were truly looking to help others, and looking to meeting the needs of others there shouldn't really be time to be overly introspective.

At first Pepper and I just observed the younger men as they started the process of moving the two huge piles of dirt and cement mix from one side of the ground to the other. Then back to the other side again. No water was being used at this point, just the moving of the dry dirt and cement mix back and forth.

At some point after slowly combining the two dry piles into one larger pile the water was also slowly added in a small dike like structure at one end of the pile. They created a small damn that would trap the water and the dirt concoction in a small pool area. As all the ingredients were slowly turned with hoes and shovels the dry mixture became a mud like mixture, and then a slurry consistency.
When the time was right, we shoveled the cement mixture into plastic containers. These were really just five-gallon rectangular jugs cut in half so that they became rectangular trough. In this country nothing goes to waste, everything is recycled into something useful and practical.

At this point the older gentlemen would take the cement on their trowels and with a very specific flick of the wrist toss this pancake batter against the mud hut, and it would stick beautifully in place. When I tried this same move, my concoction hit the wall with a splat, and just fell off to the ground (much to the amusement of all my coworkers).

So it continued all morning. We would bring the dirt down the single lane trail from the road to the hut in wheelbarrows, add the concrete, add the water to the mix, and load up the plastic containers with the pancake batter for the masons.

There was a consistent and beautiful rhythm to the work, no one was in a particular hurry, the work was all getting done, no orders were being shouted, and everyman taking a turn working and then resting from the hot sun. 

This was a picture of harmony and cooperation in a workplace that I hadn't seen before in thirty years of being around blue collar workers here at home.

Indeed, there was much I could learn from these men, & much I needed to observe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 1 - Let the Work Begin

It was amazing to see God's care and provision for the Ugandan people in so many ways during our visit.

We prepared for the drive to our work site but we would not use the bus with the rest of the team, that first day we would be driven to our work site by Pastor Moses himself. What a privilege.

Friends of ours from a church in the Philadelphia area made contact with Moses several years ago. They saw his passion for God, his commitment to the people of his village and his personal integrity. As Moses told me “they were checking me out”. I think they wanted to make sure he was the real deal. He was!
Anyway we had the chance to talk with him a bit and get a better feel for that area of the country and the people. When we got to the widows house, where we would be spending the day, we were dropped off and told he would be back with lunch.

One thing we were warned about before hand was what they call “Uganda time”. That means that nothing starts when you think it will, but certainly nothing happens before it should. So we were okay. Lunch would arrive when lunch was supposed to. 

My work crew was composed of several well-dressed older gentlemen (I found out most of them were teachers), and several really young guys in their early twenties. They were dressed in a variety of clothing from stuff that looked like J Crew to tattered t-shirts and cut offs. 

Everyone seemed to know what to do, without anyone in particular “barking” orders. There was a rhythm, and harmony to the way the day was unfolding.

It was humbling to work alongside of such a grateful and joyful people. Despite such material poverty by western standards, it was clear to see that we Americans in many ways are much poorer than our Ugandan counterparts. I learned so much from them that day of their comparable wealth within.

Pepper and I were the only Mzungu men on site and we also had three ladies from our team. As we started the construction the ladies gathered the women & kids for games and stories. The kids were amazed and looked at all the Mzungu as if we just stepped off a spaceship.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day 1 - Mornings Work

We started the first day early with a simple breakfast. We were the last ones down to breakfast all the others were seated and enjoying their meals. 

I looked at the buffet table and commented that we had missed breakfast. No, was the reply that was breakfast. Remember the two “rules”, no complaining and no talking about food back home. Breakfast was dry toast, a hard-boiled egg, & a banana.                                                                             

After a brief team meeting of the days events we were each assigned a different location for the days work. What we didn't know was exactly where we would be going, the composition of our crew, the abilities of our crew and how to repair these homes. I would need to depend on the locals for all my training.
The physical work was going to be difficult, Hand-mixing cement, with shovels & hoes, and then applying the mixture to inside and outside walls of the widow’s homes with trowels. This would be time consuming and exhausting work but satisfying.

The materials the first dry were deposited by dump truck near the road and 50 meters from the house we were working on. This met that we would need to move the sand and dirt by wheelbarrow for the entire day. Another exercise in love and patience.

The men I worked with were all volunteers just like me, but I was Mzungu (white) and they were all locals. My mission was to work alongside of them, just as hard as them. Martin Luther once said, “preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words”. My goal was to preach the gospel by my actions. It has been said that actions speak louder than words. In this case I wanted the Mzungu to keep pace with the rest of the work crew. 
One conviction I had before leaving was to learn from the locals and not go to Uganda as the teacher, but to go to Uganda as a student. I knew if I went inquiring, and asking, I could learn something special about local construction and learn something special about the people.  

All the literature I had read before leaving for Africa explained how their culture was family, community, and village oriented. This is very different than our “western” values of independence, and individualism.

We didn't know a lot before leaving the guesthouse for our days work but what we did know was that we needed to be spontaneous, patient, and to perform under uncertain pressures. We were reminded of the two “rules”. First “No Complaining”! This was strictly forbidden. The second rule was, no talking about food from home.

Let the days work begins!