Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Major Paradigm Shift

So by public bus the journey from Kampala to Mbarara (the next really big town to the west) would be at least four hours. The bus was full, very full. The young mother sitting next to me had one child strapped to her chest and the other on her lap. I was feeling sorry for Mary when I realized how cramped and uncomfortable she must have been. I had a couple of protein bars, a candy bar and two packets of M&M's (with peanuts!). My favorite. As the bus rolled through the crowded street of Kampala I ripped open the M&M's and offered a few to my young traveling companion with the kids. To my surprise she didn't eat them right away but tucked them away for a future snack. The protein bar she ate half and saved half. Another life lesson here of how very different life in Uganda was form that of life back in the states.

I was recently in a lecture where the speaker made the point that Americans have a extreme paternalist view of the world. Because of our ethnocentric view of other cultures everything is viewed from the lens of our cultural experience. This, of course means that we can not see, appreciate, or understand some of the benefits, particularities and values of other societies. If everything is through our rose colored lens everything comes out looking rosy.  

The instructor asked for volunteers to share with the group some odd experiences they had had overseas. Some were hilarious. For example taking the tram in Turkey one person mentioned their relaxed approach natural body aromas. When you lift your arm to hold onto the train handle the air was ripe with underarm odors. This was also my experience on our long bus trip to the west. Another example I had on the bus was  the young mother sitting next to me having a perfectly fine conversation when she causally stated beast feeding her little one. No self conscientiousness, just part of the natural cycle of life. Did I mention no lines. We Americans are so conditioned from grade school to form these perfectly straight lines and wait your turn. Not in Africa. Lines are kind of a group suggestion. It's all about relationships. If you see a friend at the front of the line you just walk to the front and start a conversation.

So much to learn, so much to adjust to. Our view that our "western cultural ways" are superior creates a condescending attitude where we look down on everyone else and cultures we don't understand.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fifteen Thousand People Now Get Clean Water

For today's post I just wanted to share this video clip made eight years ago when my daughter Tessa and her husband Jim first went to Uganda. If you look closely you will see them in some of the clips.

Through their sharing with Mary and I and the stories of other dear friends (thank you Peter and Shiry) we made the decision to go in 2011.

As Issac Hydoski shares from this 2008 video there has been much progress made these past seven years. There are now 15 wells dug throughout the villages and communities near Kiburara. Each well supplies clean drinking water to a thousand residents. That's an astounding fifteen thousand people  now getting clean water who are alive and well because of generous donations.

Enjoy this clip

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Development by Ugandans for Uganda

We decided to take public transit west. It would be about a five hour trip and it was the most affordable. Heck it was good enough for the locals. George and his driver were a great help again getting us from the orphanage to the Bus Depot in downtown Kampala. On our way to the terminal John Emilio had to make several stops to buy bars of soap for a research project.

You see John was doing this research for SMI in the hopes of developing a soap made in Uganda for Ugandans. It seemed odd that a country with all these natural resources would import soap. Also some of the research done here in the USA showed that the process could be fairly simple, economical, create jobs and profit revenue for the local villagers. So SMI was developing this great idea of a soap factory in Kiburara.

Once we got within a quarter mile of the bus terminal we had to pull over because traffic was in gridlock. We stopped in what seemed to be an ally way and waited for George to fetch some help to carry the bags. Once help arrived we were on our way for the next leg of our adventure.

The bus trip west was an interesting experience. The bright orange buses from Globe Coachway were lined up in a semi straight line. The whole place was busying with the energy of an open air market. People buying and selling; trying to catch a bus, loading luggage and animals and produce anywhere they could fit it.

Inside the bus they arranged five seats across, three on the left and two on the right. John and Kendra got the two on the right Mary and I went left. The open seat next to me was soon occupied by a young mother with a young toddler. A tight fit for sure.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No Small Favor

I had given Pastor George Nsamba from the Wingate Guest House two hundred dollars (USA) to exchange into Ugandan Shillings for me. That was two days ago, and I was starting to sweat it, thinking that I might not hook up with George before our bus trip west the next day, Sunday morning.

What I didn't realize at the time was that $200 was the equivalent of about three months’ salary for a school teacher there. In other words this was a lot of cash. I tried calling George when we returned from dinner Saturday night but we were always cut off or disconnected.

We developed an expression over there when something unplanned or unexpected happened, “TIA”. This was shorthand for “This Is Africa”. At any given moment plans could change, sometimes five times a day. You really had to lose that sense of being in “control”. Sure, it was always a good idea to have a plan, but you couldn't get your nose out of joint when things changed.

So I resolved in my mind that if George didn’t show up on Sunday that was just the way it would be. I needed to guard my heart at that point from allowing this event to somehow damage or impair my relationship with this pastor. I considered him a friend. After all one of the key reasons for being there in the first place was to develop deep relationships. I couldn’t allow $200 to damage that relationship or accuse George in my heart. I went to bed Saturday evening in total peace.

Sunday morning the whole crew from Redeemer Church headed off to church service while we remained behind to pack. To my pleasant surprise, who walks in the door after church service? It was George with my exchanged money. He had joined our group at church and came back with them. He even brought his own driver to escort us to the downtown Bus Terminal! Not a small favor in the crowded Kampala streets below.

This was another important lesson for me about trust and always trying to think the best of others when you don’t know the entire story and your mind is telling you to go the other way.

It Was Dangerous and a Lot of Fun

So here we are on Saturday night, the four Musketeers’, brainstorming, talking and reminiscing about the first time we felt an impression that Uganda was it. We talked late into the night about why we were so drawn to these people, this place and why it was on our hearts.

I know in my case I had never done a missions trip before 2011; I was always too busy at work when Mary and my daughter’s would fly down to Arizona or Mexico to at the orphanages. 

I don't know if you can count the time about ten years ago when my best friends called me and said they were putting together a posse to drive down to Mississippi. 

Hurricane Katrina had just hit and it was a disaster down there. We were just a loose group of guy’s from the church, with no backers or financial support, who just piled into three vans and trailers to do what we could. Because I have forty years’ experience as an arborist we stacked the trailers up with ropes and chainsaws. 

We hooked up with Samaritans Purse down in Biloxi and cut trees off of houses and covered roofs with blue traps to keep the weather out. We were down there for a week or two. I don't really know if that qualifies as a “mission’s trip” in the traditional sense of the word, but it was dangerous and it was a lot of fun. 

Affirmation of this Budding Friendship

The next day Kendra helped Mary finish her outline for the women’s workshop. Her law experience had given Kendra a keen eye for editing concise documents, and the two of them working together was another affirmation of this budding friendship. 

John, Kendra, Mary and I were able to steal away an afternoon talking about Uganda and all of the similarities each of us felt to this new country. 

It is difficult to explain, but each one of us in their own way felt a pull to the people and the culture.     

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Relaxed They Were

After settling in our tight quarters (John on the sofa, Kendra in a cramped room with three other women, and Mary and I in a small room with two single beds) we walked down the steep hill to a nice Indian restaurant for lunch. 
The entire team of 15-20 from Redeemer Church joined us. It was a bright sunny afternoon and we ate out on the terrace. It felt a lot like any sunny day back in the states. 

Kendra was opposite of us and Mary asked her about herself. She without hesitation told us about her journey and how God took her from the relative safety and security of a lucrative law practice back in Virginia to a call to full-time missions work. 

We were blown away to say the least.

I was also very impressed by the entire team, how relaxed they were, how easy they got along and interacted. Kirk Alexander was the lead pastor. An imposing big man with a career in the Navy before a calling to the ministry, he also was relaxed and easy to talk too. 

We Felt Welcomed and an Immediate Ease

Arriving by taxi, we knew we would be staying with another team from Redeemer Church of Virginia. Theirs was a team of first timers just like Mary and I four years ago. 

You could still see that wide eyed expression of “what have we gotten ourselves into” look.  But they had a passion to explore and serve and that is really the only prerequisite for this kind of work.

What we didn't know was that John (a friend from church) had told a young lady Kendra, about Mary and I. Kendra had given up a successful law practice in Virginia months ago to pursue full-time missions work in a Mexican orphanage. 

She had been told about Mary and I and our desire to do "more extended and a different kind” of mission work. She was waiting to meet us when the taxi pulled into the driveway. Kendra was one of the first to greet us a fetch our bags. She had a sparkle in her brown eyes and a rare kind of energy not common to most folks. 

We felt welcomed and an immediate ease with her. Mary and she made an instant connection!

The Wingate Guesthouse

We arrived at the Wingate guesthouse in the wee hours the night before and slept very well. We had two days to decompress from the 18 hour flight, time to prepare for what would be a whirlwind of activity. Mary was to be part of a group set aside for just ministry to the women. I would be doing construction to the widow’s homes and preaching and teaching as our host would request. 
We spent much of our time at Wingate reading, studying and making notes for the workshops and teaching that were to come.

We even got in a nice 5k run that morning through the dusty streets to the gate of the Department of Agriculture’s grounds in northern Kampala. Running inside the grounds was fascinating. There were huge experimental plots designated for different types of coffee beans. It was fun to run past homes where small children would call out “muzungu, muzungu”.

By mid afternoon the second day John Emilio from SMI picked us up to take us to our lodgings for the next two days, one of the oldest orphanages in Kampala the Sanyo Baby house. This was about an hour’s drive through the city center atop one of the tallest hills of the city.

The view was amazing. The Baby House itself was a configuration of houses and huts behind thick walls and an iron gate.

Flight Arrangements

We had made our own flight arrangements and itinerary for the January 2014 trip. We attended the team building meeting at our church because we wanted to be totally connected and part of the team when they arrived in Kiburara. We were also super excited about our plans to be out on our own the week before the team arrived. We worked on our schedule to make sure that we would be in Kiburara when the team got there.

 George Nsumba met us at the Entebbe Airport late in the evening and little did we know that another group of Americans from Syracuse New York would be joining us for the ride to the Wingate Guesthouse. During the hour and a half ride we were able to find out that their team had been coming to Uganda for several years and ministering with some of the local churches in Kampala. The organizer of the group had been working in the county for several decades.

We were fascinated to learn of many groups, organizations, and NGO’s that have used this country as a base of operations because of it stability and ease of language (English is the primary language for this former British Colony). 

The Airport has a huge UN Contingent with equipment, personnel; F-14’s and transport planes.  Samaritans Purse, the Peace Corp, MONUSCO ( and many others are a very active presence in the country. Uganda thought to be the first country to detect the HIV Aids virus decades ago has since had one of the best prevention and lowest infection rates in the region.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Testing Our Intentions

We didn't come with the team January 2013 because our daughter Anna was due to deliver her second child and she wanted Mary in the delivery room with her as her midwife. That winter Mary and I also contracted pneumonia.  We had no way of knowing that this illness would have trumped our plans for international travel anyway.

Mary and I spent that year discussing with our pastor, family and friends about changing up the concept of “Short Term Missions” and asked what it would look like to do “Mid Term Missions”. David Platt’s classic book “Radical”, talks about Matthew 28 with a fresh perspective. We are all “Missionaries” based on Jesus’ desire to spread the good news. So it isn't a question of going or staying like I had thought for years, it’s just a simple question of being, being his disciple. Whether that looks like crossing an ocean or just crossing the street in your neighborhood we are to be salt and light in a world void of flavor and full of darkness.

We had been counseled and decided to “take it slow”, to not do anything rash. We agreed that we would go again with our church's mission team in January 2014 but this time with a little twist. Mary and I would go a week early on our own to “scout the land”, to test our own intentions and see how we would cope going it alone.

What wonderful surprises were in store for us.

“Divine Appointment”

When Mary returned from her experience we had long discussions about what she saw, and how different this trip had been from the previous ones. She also made several new friends chiefly Pastor George Nsamba and his dear wife Beatrice from the Wingate Guest house in Kampala. This was what they call a “divine appointment”. 

Mary and Polly at the Wingate
SMI had been working closely with a company here in the states developing and installing rain catchment containers for local villages. The beauty of these systems is they literally catch the rainwater as it comes off the roofs and is gravity fed into 10,000 gallon containers. These containers can be filled within two days during the rainy season. The down side to this simple technology is filling the containers during the dry season. George Samba is the Ugandan representative for the U.S. Company developing these systems. 

He is also a local pastor responsible for several local churches and well-connected throughout the area.
Mary had the opportunity to stay at Wingate and go on excursions into the Kampala Markets looking for supplies for the jewelry making and craft business that SMI was helping to develop. Beatrice was an excellent guide and helped the muzungu get the local prices and not the two hundred percent markup reserved for foreigners. 

We started to talk about what it would look like to come back just the two of us. How would we cope and adjust when we were not “protected” by that larger group crowded onto a bus and fared through the city on the way to the countryside eight hours away?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

This would be the genesis of a desire to go back to Africa

I need to thank Catherine Hoover for the excellent post she made from her teams experiences in the spring of 2013 for the SMI trip. She was very generous letting me copy her post here to my blog. I think it is important to see the connections, to connect the dots as it were, of the relationships that have developed here in the states as well as those special friendships that have been forged with our dead friends in Kiburara western Uganda.

Because Mary was a part of that team it was our first experience as a couple being separated by eight thousand miles on an international trip. It was also unusual in that Mary was "invited" with only about two weeks notice. Not enough time to get nervous or have second thoughts.

The most nerve racking part of that trip for me was the limited communications, especially during the Boston Marathon bombing. We had several close running buddies in the race that day, and I wanted her to know they were all accounted for and that they were safe.

Mary's 2013 trip was also significant in several other ways. First, this was an unexpected windfall, because we were not able to go with the team in January like we had in previous years. Secondly, she would be a part of a small 3-4 team. Past trips to Uganda were always with 15-25 muzungu, all different ages and nationalities. Being a smaller more agile, and mobile group they were able to go deep into the capitol, go shopping in the market and meet the locals one-to-one. We didn't know it at the time but this would be the genesis of a desire to go back to Africa, just the two of us.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Haven't Had Power In Four Days

August 22 2013

We heard from the SMI team today! They haven't had power in four days, due to bad storms in the area. There are a lot of great things happening, and they are looking forward to sharing more details when they get back from Uganda.

The team finished well repairs last week, and has been spending much of their remaining time networking and building relationships. 

They discovered that the health education officer for the Ibanda District happens to live right across the street from the SMI land purchased in the spring, and we were able to meet with him to discuss health issues including malnutrition and drug resistant strains of malaria. (What are the odds – Kristen just completed her capstone project on drug resistant strains of malaria). When she did her research, they didn't have any data on this happening in sub-Saharan Africa. It is our hope that meetings like this one will create opportunities for further work in the future.

Thank you for all the encouraging comments! Follow us on twitter!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Opportunity To Learn Sustainable Skills

April 17, 2013
While most of the team visited wells on Monday, Mary and I visited Alpha and Omega Secondary school and spent time with Pastor Moses’ family. We spent time talking with the headmaster, Frank, and one of the teachers, gaining a deeper understanding of how their curriculum works and what they need. I was able to take lots of pictures at the school in order to document the conditions there. Mary took video interviews of several students. 

We hope that pictures and video will help those at home visualize what life is like here. At the beginning of the week, Mary taught everyone how to make beads out of colored paper and newspaper. The paper is rolled up and dipped in varnish before being hung up to dry. The materials are inexpensive and easily accessible to the community. The result is a professional looking product for very little cost. Our vision is to sell the jewelry in the U.S. for a decent profit by Ugandan standards. This will give students at Alpha and Omega the opportunity to learn a sustainable skill that will boost their confidence. The current dropout rate at the school is 20% due to lack of funding by parents during dry seasons when there are no crops. Students who are struggling to afford tuition will be given first priority. It is our hope that small steps like this one will lead into bigger opportunities. Expanding this initiative into the village churches could eventually lead to positive results such as the ability of church members to tithe, save, start savings accounts, and help fund future well maintenance. The churches could even use profits to initiate their own benevolence campaigns to reach surrounding communities.

Bacteria-Laden Water

April 16, 2013
Well, today was quite a powerful adventure!
We have been repairing wells to return clean water to communities. Over 500,000 person-days of water usage occurs each year; that is, each well serves between 1,500 to 2,000 people every day. Many of those served are children from the local schools, and most are drinking black-colored, bacteria-laden, dysentery-causing water, if the wells are not working.
We were up at 8 AM and we started work this morning at 9 AM when the well mechanic arrived at Pastor Moses’ house. Taursisis (or Teshi as Bart called him) was sent from God.  He jumped right into working with Andrew Okello –instructing the village workers while showing us how to disassemble the well pump head so that Andrew could learn how to become a well mechanic himself. Cat recorded the GPS data, and worked with Andrew to update the paperwork that will lead to the well inventory, and well repair and maintenance data. We are gathering the data for statistics regarding each well (e.g., population in the communities served by each well, the GPS location, the elevation, the frequency of inspections, the maintenance and repair records, the longevity of various pump parts). First, we worked on well #9, then we dropped off the well crew at well #10 so they could start identifying the problem(s) with the second well.
While they worked on the second well, we traveled to Mbarara. We have rented Pastor George Nsamba’s Toyota Land Cruiser for the ‘bush’ portion of our trip in and out of Kiburara – the 4-wheel drive and off-road suspension have been highly needed, well worth the fee, and greatly appreciated by us. There were three main reasons to take this 2.5 hour trip to Mbarara today:
1. To meet with the Mbarara Land Council to, hopefully for the last time, identify the specific documents that we need in order to buy land. This process has been difficult, as each district and region has its own procedures. We arrived at the offices at 4 PM (it was our understanding that they were open until 5 PM). They were closed, but the guard graciously allowed us to come in and we were able to chat with the Processing Attorney, who detailed the process that we need to follow.
2. To purchase the parts for the two wells that the well crew was working on. After leaving the Land Office with nothing but what else they wanted us to bring next time, we went to the plumbing shop in Mbarara. This is the entire plumbing department of Home Depot crammed into a 15’ x 15’ storefront – that only has one type of something, and if they don’t have it, you can’t get it. But we purchased EVERYTHING we needed there! Wow, George (the owner) was very helpful and found us everything we needed, after looking through a multitude of boxes. George had to cut the 10 — 20’ 1.25” pipes into 20 – 10’ lengths, and then used the dye to cut the threads, by hand into the cut ends of the pipe. We decided to go get something to eat while we waited, and have a Novita (a delicious carbonated pineapple drink).
3. To meet with Pastor George Byabagamby for dinner and discuss his business experience. George told us all about how he started  Savings and Credit Associations (SCA) with his communities. Cat had great questions about the micro-finance and SCA models. George explained that, while the first attempt failed, the second attempt worked well because the women and men invested their own money into the loan pool and lent out their own money. He found that they were more accountable with their own money. George also described how they are starting to form a bank and explained what they have learned from this process.
Moses is doing all our translation from ‘we need to have it this way’ American to ‘this is the way we do it here in Uganda’ Luganda or Runyankole. Moses is a gentle, loving, and joyful man. We love his friendship! He has become like family. God has even used Moses to speak friendship, patience, faith, and waiting-on-God’s time to us. We are truly thankful for him.
We have had a full day today; we have stretched all the hours to their maximum. Cat and John are asleep. We are on the way home. Tomorrow, we plan to finish repairing the first two wells, and then repair and maintain as many additional broken wells as possible.

Pray that God continues to favor our work!
Mukama Asiimwe