Saturday, June 27, 2009

And now for something completely different

Okay…today I want to tackle a problem that I know has been a result of the colonization of the Acholi tribe. That problem is transformation of the family unit. This is a multi-fold problem in the history of the Acholi people that was first brought on, as far as I can research, by colonialism, and then further perpetuated by the conflict with the LRA. One of the problems that occurred that seriously damaged the Acholi was the weakening of the family unit. The men became, basically, emasculated when the people were ordered to pick up their things and move into the nearest Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) in 1996. While the conflict between the government and the LRA began as late as 1988, the real “conflict” happened when the people were given 48-hours to flee to the nearest IDP camp or “Protected Village” in 1996. This really wasn’t so much about the people as it was that the government needed a place for the non-violent protesters to live and be out of the way of the fighting with the LRA. Basically, if someone was not in the IDP camp, he or she was assumed to be part of the militia and would be shot as an “enemy combatant.” So much for being assumed innocent until proven guilty. Gee…that sounds a lot like what it is like to go through airport security these days. As we hand over our shoes and liquids, we are truly being assumed guilty until proven innocent. But, I must resist from this conversation. The card-carrying Libertarian in me “made” me make this analogy. “Give me Ron Paul or give me death!?” SMILE When the men were put in the camps, basically, their jobs did not follow them. Women still had to make the meals, care for the kids, wash the clothes and all the other various and sundry jobs women since the day of creation had to do. But, the men, who had been primarily agriculturalist, lost all meaning in their lives. Their jobs did not follow them into the camps; so, hence, they had nothing to do. Nothing save do what most normal males do…have sex. Before colonization and even afterwards, virginity was a trait to be treasured. If a girl was not a virgin, she was rejected by the family and by the tribe, as well. That attitude did start to unravel during the period of colonization; however, no where was it more eroded than during the war. During the conflict, many, many young girls who had been taken hostage by the LRA came back home with babies on their backs and this lessened the value placed on virginity. Oddly, if a young girl became pregnant by a rebel soldier, the family “reserved the right” to reject her when she returned with the “pitter patter of little feet,” even though she might have lost her tongue when she said, “No!” to the rapist. Even worse that not knowing how to deal with “cultural transformation,” the people, who had always prized their ethical standards, began to allow said standards to relax and, consequently, evaporated. Sound familiar? People felt free to, well, relax the rules and immorality became the norm rather than the exception. Sound familiar? Once the family unit was destroyed, the tribal cultural went through its own metamorphosis. Incest became acceptable to the point that boys would stalk, even kill, other men who “came calling” on their sisters. And, polygamy became rampant. Both of these exist quite openly and quite unbridled in northern Ugandan society. It is not unusual to find even the most “devout” men with two or three wives and “umpteen” number of children. Even more acceptable is the attitude towards this type of behavior. The people I have met talk openly about how many brothers and sisters they have and how many wives their fathers have. Interestingly, the wives usually just have one husband and the husband is the one who seems to be the one who introduces the diseases to the wives. Today, it is not unusual to find families of 15 living under the thatched roof of one hut. AIDS/HIV has killed millions of people because of the lack of social morality. And, this lack of social morality has one “public enemy number one,” and that enemy is boredom. There has just not been anything for the folks to do in the IDP camps. Their world is very, very small. These people do not read as they have had no education. They don’t work because they do not have any skills, and they do not go any where because there is no where to go. Sure, life in the camps is horrific, but life back in the village is even worse. “Back home,” the people face uncertainty that we cannot imagine and the least of these is the lack of basic necessities, especially water. I have walked the miles to peoples’ only source of water and I can tell you that I would worry if one of my dogs drank from the stank pool of liquid these folks use to drink and bathe in. Just imagine with me, looking in a stream and seeing a herd of water buffalo upstream and then seeing the water that is downstream. It is NOT a pretty site. But, I digress again. I suppose that the collapse of the Acholi family unit has occurred because of other problems. One that I can personally attest to is the number of languages that is spoken in northern Uganda. While I used to be a strong proponent of Spanish offered on all U.S. ballots, I can really see how different languages has caused more than a conundrum of problems. I have, at times, had to get a translator to translate for the other translator. I know there are nearly 100 dialects spoken in Uganda alone even though the national language of the country is English. Just imagine! No wonder the family unit has taken an enormous “hit.” Language is the one thing that holds people together. When people communicate “samely,” they act “samely.” The camps basically brought together people who really didn’t want to be together any more than they wanted to be there. So, as the family goes, so society goes. Sound familiar?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Saga of Joseph Kony

Today I want to introduce you to Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed “Messiah” and nephew of Alice Lakwena. When I think about Kony, I cannot help but think about the number of crusades and other military exercises that were waged because “God wills it!” In all actuality, Kony was raised in the Catholic Church. He even served as an altar boy. His mother was a strict Anglican, so it is clear that he was influenced by a family who was steeped in faith. Kony was a strong advocate of the 10 Commandments and, when organizing the Lord’s Resistance Army, he promised that his main goal was to conquer the Ugandan military and return the country to the basic premises of the “Big 10.” Hmm? It is an interesting commentary on his skewed faith to think that when he kidnapped children from their homes, he forced them to kill their own parents so they would not have a home to return to. So much for “Honor your mother and father!” The kids who were kidnapped were basically turned into “pack mules” and then trained as soldiers and the girls were used for “reproductive” reasons. The main way that the L.R.A. grew was the pride. That is a term for how dominating a lion is. A truly successful male lion will have a large “pride” of females and other subservient lions. This is the methodology for the L.R.A. A man’s army (pride) was judged on how many kids he had abducted and turned into killers and how many girls he had stolen and turned into “wives.” Again, if we go back to the Ten Commandments, that really shoots a hole in the “Thou shall not commit adultery” law. And, I suppose it is a fair assumption to say it is a violation of, “Thou shall not covet,” but, I think I can stop with the Bible analogies. We have already seen them distorted beyond reasonable doubt. The boys were put on the front line and were the first to be killed when facing down the Ugandan Army and the girls were given to the soldier who kidnapped them. Well, that is unless Kony wanted the girl. It is predicted that he had over 60 wives. This is, of course, speculation from the girls who were the lucky ones. But, I have personally met several girls who had been his wife and they were really not so lucky. I know young ladies with mouths cut off and tongues slashed because they tried to resist. It is a little bit like being one of King Henry VIII’s wives…not the best of circumstances, at best! Here is another leader suggesting that his views will actually liberate the people of Uganda from their sins and their immoral thoughts. Like Henry, Kony wanted to establish a government that was led by God in the way he thought it should be led. He believes he is receiving messages as a spiritual medium, but just which “medium” he hears from has never, nor will it ever, been established. In fact, because there is significant evidence that his funding comes from the government in Khartoum (remember Darfur), there is an increasing reliance on Muslim teachings that appear in his regime. Kony was approached by his own people from the Gulu District two years ago to “cease and desist” from his evil ways. Something that is very much a part of the Acholi Tribe is the need for reconciliation and restoration. In fact, it is “part and parcel” of the Acholi Tribe. Members of the Gulu District Community met with Kony at the first “Peace Talk” in Juba, which is located in the Southen Sudan. We happen to know two people who were at those talks. Retired Colonel Walter and District Speaker Martin were sent by the Ugandan government to talk to Kony and ask him to stop. Their message was, “You are forgiven…please stop.” This group arrived with a message of restoration and left with the promise of an immediate “cease and desist” from Kony. While the Ugandan delegation was serious that Kony and his group would be forgiven and, God forbid, offered asylum in the District, Kony did not take them up on this offer and, instead, moved his sadistic, terrorist ways into the neighboring country of the Congo. Kony has promised to “attend” numerous Peace Talks, but he also knows that he is a marked man, now. He has been indicted by the ICC and will, if he is ever captured, be tried for the atrocities he has committed against his own people. There are a plethora of stories that one can read about his savage ways. One that I happen to know is found at: It is one of a dozen that I have heard about Kony and the beasts that support his movement. I wish I could say that he has “retired”; however, he is just as vigilant about killing the Congolese as he was about killing the Ugandans. In fact, you might want to check out the words, “Falling Whistles” to hear what he is doing in the Congo, along with other rebel armies who claim to be “working for the good of humankind.” I know that every person on this earth has a mission. My favorite book is Man’s Search for Meaning. And I believe that if everyone on this earth had the opportunity to do what he or she is meant to do, our world would be so very different. I also believe that each person has the right to self-actualize. I think the U.N.’s “Declaration of Human Rights,” adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948 was right to declare unalienable rights of every citizen of this world. I think they just forgot that many people just don’t “play by the rules.” For example, when I pick up the Sports page of the local newspaper, I find an article about, say, soccer. Well, this article just assumes that I understand the rules of the game. Otherwise, the article doesn’t make sense. Tragically, I have found that I just flat don’t understand the rules of a lot of this game we call “life.” Because, for the “life” of me, I just do not understand how it is that people are starving to death, that people are literally dying of thirst, or that one person, in the name of religion, can wreak the type of sadistic havoc someone like Joseph Kony has wreaked on so many innocent lives...especially my own!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starting at the very beginning

I was running this morning and had quite a revelation! I usually take the time during my morning runs to solve all the world’s problems…the problem is, I can’t remember the solutions when I return. But, I am sure if I could remember them, they would be quite effective. One constant worry I have had since I returned was what to do with this blog. It seemed weird to just stop writing. After all, the trip has really just begun! I have “created a monster” in Gulu and I just can’t pretend that the “monster” is not living all around me just because I am in Texas and not Gulu. The Hope for Africa Vocational Training Centre has started and it has to go on in spite of me. Or, perhaps it is better said, to spite me! Regardless, I am committed to the school and to the hundreds of people who are anxious to walk through the doors of the classroom and emerge with a trade that will provide support, both monetary and emotional, for the rest of their lives. The most important revelation that I had when running was that I was going to have to keep up this blog. And, as I thought about what the blog’s intention is, I came to another realization that this blog has really been insufficient. It is insufficient in the sense that what I have written has been, in a sense, akin to asking someone to open a book in the middle and have a full understanding of the beginning of the text. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a book in the world, save Moby Dick, that a person could open and have a full understanding of what the heck is going on. So, I think it appropriate for us to start at the beginning…in the immortal words of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, “a very good place to start.” Ahem. Many of you may already know that the people of northern Uganda, primarily the Acholi Tribe, have suffered the ravages of a war that began in 1986. The current president, Museveni a southerner, over threw the northern Uganda-led government. Museveni overthrew Obote, a northerner, who had been overthrown by Idi Amin and who returned to overthrow Imin. Confused? I don’t blame you. Stability is not a “staple” of the Ugandan government. Suffice it to say, Museveni really had no love for the Acholi. In fact, he didn’t care if this group lived or died as they were supporters of the northern regime. Because of his disinterest, a group known as the “Holy Spirit Movement” that was led by a woman by the name of Alice Lakwena who combined Christianity and Acholi witchcraft to garner a renegade group of dissatisfied army soldiers to fight against the newly-formed government emerged to become a modern-day “Joan of Arc” in Uganda . Alice Lakwena was an Acholi prophet who claimed she could decipher messages from the spiritual world. She was brazen, at best. She advised tribesmen and women, even though they were completely unarmed, to oppose all governmental intervention in the Acholi territory. Known locally as "Alice," she also advised her followers to protect themselves against bullets by simply smearing tabs of cooking oil on the skin. The spirits told her that the oil would repel the bullets. Also, she told the people that stones or bottles they threw at government troops would turn into hand grenades. Many of her followers were killed in confrontations, and many others found means to get guns to reinforce their so-called, “spiritual armor.” Interestingly, she led her army of nearly 10,000 to within days of the capital city of Kampala before they were defeated and she fled, on bicycle, to Kenya where she was arrest and imprisoned. However, her nephew, Joseph Kony, picked up where she started. Let’s leave our Moby Dick here for now. Tomorrow, I will give some details about her nephew, Joseph Kony, and his rise to fame as the new leader of the “pack,” known as the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Moral Compass:

I am sitting on the second of two long flights back to Houston and I have, of course, lots of time to think about my trip this time to Africa. While I wish I was sleeping, there are so many wonders that I have experienced that I have to be diligent to remember each and every one. It would be so easy to return to America and say to myself…”Okay…mission trip. Check that one off the “bucket list” so to speak. But, I have found that my life is nearly complete in Uganda. You ask why? I am come to a point where I absolutely believe that aid is killing the spirit of the Acholi, dare I say the entire country of Africa. I hope that soon everyone who is operating in Africa will realize that they are, indeed, only “giving a man a fish.” I have come behind many organizations, the World Food Bank and Children’s Hunger Fund, just to name a few, whom I believe to have perpetuated a culture of “gimme” in Africa. Children in Africa are beggars…they look at Muzungus and they automatically want something. They think that we exist to give them something. Sadly, we have turned them into those beggars. We waltz into their villages and camps and hand them a piece of candy or worn out t-shirt and get back on the bus. Before we do anything else, we are reaching for the hand sanitizer to make sure that we don’t leave a part of them on our skin. What kind of aid is that? When we went to a “graduation” ceremony for some people who had been in training to be tailors for some time, there was a tent set up for the “V.I.P.” group. The “V.I.P.s” were the white people. I was astonished and embarrassed. In fact, my family will tell you that I further “embarrassed” them by going to each and every one of the people whom I could reach and stretched out my hand in greeting. I shook hundreds of hands and, in Africa, that is not an easy feat as they have a very complicated handshake. But, I was determined to show them my solidarity with them. As we sat through the service, I was annoyed that the white people still sat on one side and the natives on the other. So, I was quick to get up and go sit with the villagers and play with the children. Yes, I am sure that I was quite a site, but I just didn’t want the celebration to be about “them and us” any longer. Interestingly, I met the Pastor of the village two days later and he took me aside and told me how much it meant to the people that I would leave the tent and sit with the people. He told me that it was a very special thing that I had done and he wanted me to know how much he appreciated that I wanted to be part of the village and not just a by-stander. I tell this story not because I think you should know how “great” I am, but to tell you that I just don’t think that we are willing to get out of our comfort zones enough when we are in different places and be “where the action is.” I believe that people really do like it when we show that we do not think they are different. I think it is important for us to realize that in many cases, WE are the different ones. Heather bought a shirt in the airport that I think is wonderful. It has the word, “Muzungu” on the front, which is what African people call white people. What is clever about the shirt is that written on the back are the words, “My name is not Muzungu.” Every where we went during these past four weeks (and during the other seven trips that I have made), children stare at us and yell out, “Muzungu, Muzungu.” It has served as a reminder to me that I am the “different” one. For the first time in my life, I am not the ordinary person on the street. I am a different color. I speak a different language. And, I am not the same as the majority of people on the street. It feels really good; in an awkward sort of way. I have gotten used to people staring at me. I have gotten very used to being called strange names. I have gotten very used to being laughed at. And, I have gotten very used to doing everything I can to “bridge the gap” between the Acholi people and myself. I am used to having people speak in front of me in a language that I just simply do not understand and I have to hope that what they are saying is “okay.” I have had to rely on people to translate to others and I have had to hope that what they say is just what I said. I am rather fluent in Spanish and I am also somewhat fluent in sign language. I know that I can “speak” well enough to get my point across. But, when I am here, I have to hope that the person who speaks for me “gets it right.” If not…then what I have said is for naught. My words return to me void and I cannot imagine anything more devastating than that. Because of this, I have learned to be a person of fewer words in Africa. I imagine my family is saying, “Yeah…right” as they read this. But, I never want to leave my words as empty to people who have suffered so much and who are relying on me to help them so much. I gave a translator 30,000 shillings once; which, at that time, was equivalent to $12.00 and he thought I had given him a fortune. One day, we worked on the bike all day long and Barr gave one of the fellows, Sam, 35,000 shillings and he thought he had made quite a lot for a day. That amounts to $16.00 American dollars. Do you understand that these people work for less than that per month? I happen to know that Sam makes about $75 a month working at the church, but he is required to be there from sun-up to sun-down. Literally. He opens the church and closes the church. He teaches lessons, runs errands, does the handiwork and anything and everything that Pastor wants him to do. The people who work at the hotel where we stay, Jo Jo’s Palace, make $17.00 per month. They all stay in a hot, cramped room, with no bathroom, but they have a job. They work all day and all night. But, they have work. I just do not think that we understand the nature of the work that most of the world has to endure. I was continually shocked when I walked up to the market in Gulu around 9:00 (yes, I was out late), and found scores of women on the side of the road trying to sell their tomatoes, avocadoes, mangos, cabbage, and so on when the road was totally dark. We really do not understand what “hard work” really means. These are people who get up at sunrise, perhaps earlier, and work in their gardens. Then, they take what they can harvest and bring it as close to town as they can get to sell at the best price they can get. It is no wonder that I just am not good at or willing to bargain with people over some prices. While I know it is expected, I just don’t feel good about haranguing someone over 500 shillings ($.25). We would never do that in America! Imagine, if you will, going into your local Dillards and bargaining over the price of an item! It is just not in our nature and it is certainly not in my nature to try to take that little from someone who has worked so hard and who has so little. I am returning from this trip with a resolve to try to stop the “giving out” of food, clothes, and so on to people in Africa. I am returning from this trip with a real mission and that mission is one that teaches them the benefits of hard work and reward from that work. One of the things that we put on the application for the school was, “Will you promise to tithe?” The women and men had to say they were willing to give back from what little they had in order to be able to be admitted to the school. I can see that the real problem in Africa now is the NGOs (non profits) that offer the people something for nothing. It is time for the people to learn how to give as well as receive. They have received for 25+ years…and rightly so. But what has happened it that those gifts have been nothing more than, as the old adage says, “Give a man a fish and he eats for the day.” These people cannot look forward. They have been given help in the form of a fish to eat today, but they have no skills for which to eat for a lifetime. That is where we come in. I am determined that no one I help “eats for a day.” I am going to fight World Food Bank,” Children’s Hunger Fund” and all the rest of the organizations who are still on the ground in Gulu to stop the handouts. It just saddens me that all this time, they could have had someone giving food AND teaching the people how to grow the food. Instead, they threw out bags of rice and beans and went on their merry way. Their donors were assured that what they did was of great benefit to the people in Africa. But, they have deluded themselves. What they did was make the problem worse in Africa. The people needed to learn the skills to grow their own food at the same time they were given the help. Of course the help was needed! However, the people should have been given hoes and rakes and seeds and shown how to produce, for themselves, the very food they were being handed. This is my “new” mission in Africa. It is to stop the free “handouts” and start helping make those “handouts” tools that the people can actually use to help themselves. Trust me…these are very hard working people if given the chance. They have learned the art of survival. We need to turn our moral compasses to a point that gives them a chance to live, not just the chance to survive. There is a BIG difference!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Homeward Bound

Well...finally in Amsterdam and waiting four hours to board for a 10 1/2 hours trip to Houston. Barr will be there to drive us home. Whew! So much to tell and so little time. Blessings, Sally

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday…all day long!

I spent a great part of the day in bed. I went to the Internet Café and checked my blog and checked e-mails while having the usual one-shot cappuccino.. I am not sure what happened, but I barely made it back to the hotel before I got sick. I have no idea what happened, but I am wondering about the milk in the coffee. I spent over half the day in bed sleeping. It is possible, too, that my body is just getting worn out. I actually wanted to come home for this first time this entire month. I have been homesick and I miss my family, but I haven’t REALLY wanted to come home until today. I think being sick had a lot to do with it and I am worn out. I have pushed myself pretty this trip. We have been going back and forth between the school, working on the bike, and going into the villages. The physical aspect of all that is hard…not to mention the emotional aspect. I have been really concerned about leaving the boys at the school. I have grown so close to some of them and I hate to leave them in the same situation I found them. These are street boys. Literally, they were picked up off the street because they do not have homes. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them didn’t deserve to get kicked out, but they have absolutely no future now. The place they stay does not send them to school. They do some English/Math/carpentry and a few other subjects, but they are not in school and they won’t be going if someone doesn’t step up and pay their school fees. I told you about Simon Peter, the young boy whose father fused his hands together over an open fire for eating the supper, but there are other boys there who have had an equally bad time in their short lives. I have been struck by one of the boys, Jeffrey, who has the sweetest eyes! His eyelashes are thick and curly. He is missing one of his front teeth and I would bet it has been knocked out. He must be about 11 or 12-years old. I think he is adorable. Every time we come, he smiles and slowly makes his way to where I am. I think he sees someone who really does have empathy with him. I wish I could help him. But, I know I can’t. The funding is completely running out for the project there and I happen to know that the director is looking for another job. Closing Noah’s Ark is eminent and giving us the buildings is equally realistic. We had another 20 women come to the school to register today. It is amazing how much our school is needed!!!!! I spoke to a woman today who is a hairdresser and she said she would like to teach women and men how to style and braid hair. Heather had her hair braided today and it took three women nearly four hours to do it! They charged her $25. Can you imagine what that would cost in the U.S.? Heather looks really cute in her braids. I KNOW for a fact that I couldn’t have sat still that long while three women pulled on my hair. They are meticulous with the parts. Her head is a work of art!? SMILE. I’ll be anxious to see how long she keeps them. This afternoon, I got up and went to the school to do the final wrap on the bike. We bought some hemp and it really works well. The sisal we bought from Kampala had a hard time drying, but the hemp has behaved perfectly. Our plan is to finish the bike tomorrow and burn “Bamboosero” into the frame with the boys at Noah’s. We have given them shirts and bought them sodas a couple of times. It is amazing how little it takes to make a child happy here. Dinner was a wonderful time…we picked up Pastor Chris and met Speaker Martin and Retired General Walter (I do not know his last name) at a restaurant. It is one we never go to because it is the “hang out” for the Muzungus and it is a bit more expensive. But, we had a great time. We didn’t leave there until 10:30 and that is WAY past our bedtime! It was fun. A wonderful thunderstorm came through and cooled things down. It was such a pleasant evening! It is getting time to start thinking about coming home. There is so much more to do here. I will leave the details in capable hands, though, because Deo is one of the finest young men I have ever know…bar none. He is responsible and he has the vision for what we are doing better that I do!!!! And, he wants it to succeed as much as I do. It is strange to say this, but…see you soon!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday…A Day of Rest…Well, Sort Of

(I just noticed that I didn't get this posted yesterday....too busy) Our day has mostly involved being at the church today. Man…these people really know how to worship. I could see that Heather was a little spooked at the shouting and the raising of hands. This is truly the highest form of Pentecostal that I have ever seen! I am used to it since I have been preaching here for the past two years. But, it can be strange for someone who has never been around people speaking in tongues. During the altar call, a girl came forward and there appeared to be an exorcism going on. We were in the back so it was hard to see what was happening, but there was a whole lot of shrieking going on. There were 15 people who accepted Christ after the second service. It was really a special time. I really enjoy worshipping at this church. The people are so free and they just don’t care who is looking at them and there is no judgment when a person raises his or her hands. After service, we had about two hours before we had to go back. So, we headed to our beloved Internet Café and uploaded our blogs and sat and visited to other people who were in the Café. Justin (the owner who is from Austin) is doing quite well. I think his only issues are with staff showing up on time. The people here really do have a different idea of what time is. When you tell someone to be somewhere at 3:00, it is not unusual at all for some of the folks to show up two hours later. This is tradition…T.I.A. (This is Africa). Heather had a wonderful brownie a la mode while I drank a cup of tea. We have met so many great folks at the Café. A lot of Muzungus (white people) hang out there. I know they love the amenity of a cappuccino/espresso and home made cinnamon rolls. We do! We had the first meeting of the people who want to start the training at Hope For Africa Vocational Training Centre. There was an incredible attendance and we are not going to be able to get all the folks trained right away. The plan is to have two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The students will start with Bible Study, English/Business, and then skill training. It is going to be wonderful. The meeting started at 3:00 and we didn’t finish until nearly 7:00. I gave a mini-sermon on Matthew 25: 34-to the end, which is the parable of the goat and the sheep. This is one of my favorite stories because I love it when Jesus says, “When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” I used that parable to remind the men and women that they will be required to tithe from their earnings. I think it is important for them to learn the principle of giving as well as the joy of receiving. I think the blessing is greater in the giving than in the giving. As we left the church, we noticed a thunderstom in the distance making its way to town. It was absolutely beautiful! The sky has a different hue here. The grey is a beautiful dark color that meshes dark blues/black/grey and purple. Lightning was striking all around. People were scurrying to their homes and for shelter and the temperature dropped quickly. It was so enjoyable. Before the storm hit, we had the chance to stop and film a dance troupe practicing their African tribal dances. I insisted that we stop the car and I got out and filmed three of their dances. I would have loved to have known the story behind the dances and I will ask before I leave. The dancing is incredible. The movements are precise, jerky and tell great cultural stories. One of the dances was a hunting ritual…it was almost obvious what they boys and girls were portraying. I could have stayed there all evening. I hope the people here never lose this part of their culture. Tomorrow is a big day. We are going to have one-on-one interviews with each of the people who were at the meeting. We have very strict rules that the students have to follow. I’ll attach a copy of some of the documents that we have finished. I think you will like seeing what we have accomplished. Keep us in mind and in your prayers. We are doing well and we are healthy. We leave on Friday and I hope that we stay like this! Blessings!

Interviews, interviews and MORE interviews

Today was a busy day! We had lots and lots of things to do. It all started when we got to the school to register students. At the end of registration, we had filled out 90 forms for students!!!!! It is remarkable that we might have a chance to make a difference in this many people’s lives. I just hope and pray that we can do what we hope to accomplish. It was an amazing morning talking to women and hearing why they want to come to the school. Some of their stories are very, very sad. We met many girls who have been child soldiers and had babies by many of the officers of the LRA. I met with all the women from the Congo who escaped the conflict there. I worked with all of them because they only know Swahili and we only had one interpreter who spoke that language. It was amazing. We have been invited to Miriam’s house (the interpreter) to hear the women’s stories. I am not sure I really want to hear what they have had to endure, but I know it would make me even more motivated to do this project. We interviewed people until 2:00 in the afternoon. It was a LONG day. Then, we came back and started discussing plans for the school. We sat down and wrote out all the items we need to get started and it comes to about $2,000. I am going to be working on fundraising when we get home. We want to get sponsors for the women and men and we are thinking that $100 would get them through a three-month training period. Most of the women who are coming to the school have children at home and we will need to get some of the widows to come and care for the children. One lady whom I met had eight of her own children and eleven orphans. Can you imagine???? Many, if not most, of the women had at least four children and they were in their mid-twenties. It was a struggle at times not to reach over and hug them for the hardships they have endured. Speaking of hardships…we met a man yesterday who had leprosy. It was awful. And, “No,” we didn’t touch him. But, his skin is rotting away and he had large sores all over his body. Many of his extremities are gone, too. He was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the hotel. I had never seen him before and he didn’t stay very long, but his condition was simply horrifying. Again, this is something that wouldn’t happen where we live. Things like diseases (malaria, measles, leprosy) and other things like hunger, lack of water, and no housing wouldn’t happen in America either. It is hard to face these things. It is hard to know that people live in such squalor. But, I know that this is the way of the world and I can only hope to “matter to this one.” We went to Molly’s shack today to look at beads. I am coming back with another suitcase full of gorgeous necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. I have a marketing theme for them that I think will earn more money from the sale of these beautiful beads. It does seem that the market here is rather saturated with beadmakers. There is a young gal named, “Callie” who has a website business devoted to beads from Gulu. Her business is called, “31 Bits.” I don’t have a clue what that means, but she hires the ladies to make beads and then she buys them and takes them back to sell in the U.S. Personally, I like the way that we do it. We have met a “ton” of Muzungus here! Mostly, we see them at the Internet Café next door. It seems everyone has a “need” for a good cup of coffee. Personally, I do like the instant coffee that we drink, but Heather and I have made it a morning ritual to go to the Café and upload our blog postings. We write them in the room at night and then they are ready to go in the morning. It is a good time to write. We are both usually really tired, but neither of us want to forget what happened each day so writing at night is best. Irene and I sleep in one twin bed and Heather has the other. Deo is downstairs in his own room. We are quite a family! I took some pictures of Irene today with the beads. She is very photogenic. We took some precious pictures of her with the beads. Some are quite fun and a couple are racy…just a bit! But, she had so much fun being photographed and she can really flirt with a camera. I can’t wait for you to see how precious she is. We have seen very little of Pastor Chris since he is with the team from Rock Harbor. I don’t mind, though, because we just do not have time to do much at the church. We have moved everything to the school and so we do not have time or the need to be there. We have made some great friends with the staff that still lingers on at the school. There are still about 20 street boys there and the staff is looking after them. I think we will hire a couple of them when we get the entire facility. And, it looks like that is going to happen sooner than we think. They are giving them a deadline now to leave. I really don’t want to do that to the boys, but we are not in the business to put kids in school. I would love to help them all, especially the young boy I wrote about whose father ruined his hands. God bless him!!! Their teacher, Issa, is going to help us with the English classes and he is excellent with all types of mechanics. So, I think we will being offering basic mechanics soon. He would love to teach a course and I think it would be a great course offering for the school. Deo is not feeling well. He is suffering from malaria. Please remember him in your prayers. Tonight, Heather and I went for dinner and then combed the streets for ice cream. I had an incredible urge for something sweet…it is hard to find sweets here. Both the stores we know about were out of ice cream so it looks like I’ll have to wait until we return to Kampala on Thursday to get some. There is always so much to write about, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. So, I’ll close. It is nearly 10:00 our time…2:00 in the afternoon where you are. We rarely make it past 10:30 because of how long our days are and tonight is not going to be an exception. I have much to do before I leave and little time in which to do it. But, I am always tired at night and in need of rest. We really push ourselves hard here. This is not a trip that just anyone could make and enjoy. The sacrifices are great, but, they are worth every moment of it. I do love it here so much. Good night to one and all. I love you all. Thanks for your prayers! Hugs, Sally

Sunday, June 14, 2009

“Peanut, Peanut Butter….and Jelly!!!!!”

I got up this morning and realized that all I had to eat yesterday was two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! We have eaten peanut butter for lunch nearly every day since we arrived. It is easy to put in the car and take to where ever we “land.” Today, I didn’t eat at all until dinner. It was a great day!!! We went to the store and got all the “fixins’” to paint the iron bars on the windows at the school. There are about 20 street children who live at the school and we cannot trust them not to break in and vandalize the building. The one room that we have fixed up is beautiful!!! The walls are cream-colored and we did the trim in a bright yellow (Kristy’s idea.) It is so cheerful. Today, we primed the iron bars and then painted them white. It looks very nice…at least for Africa!? SMILE. I am so proud of what we are doing. While we waited for the primer to dry, I got to work with some of the boys and we filed and sanded the bike. Those guys were awesome!!!! It is funny how little it takes to communicate when people are busy doing the same thing. It was quite “neat” how in sync we were. We got so much done on the bike!!! I had started worrying about getting it sanded, but we spent about six hours on it and it looks great. Tomorrow, we will put another wrap on the bike and let it set. Then, on Monday, we will finish the sanding. I am quite pleased with this effort. The people that we have had to help us really understand what we are doing. There was one boy I want to tell you about. He kind of stood back during the work, but I really didn’t pay attention because I was so busy. At one point, I noticed that his hands were horribly deformed. In fact, I was a little shocked to see so much of what looked like a hand without a hand actually being there. Then, I found out the story. I hope you are sitting down. His name is Simon Peter and he is about 11-years-old now. About five years ago, he was at home and he was quite hungry and so he ate some of the food that was put aside for dinner. Granted, that is certainly not the right thing to do, but what happened next in unthinkable. His own father found out and was livid. So, to teach the boy a lesson, he held the boys two hands over a charcoal fire until his fingers fused. Basically, he has his thumbs and then stumps for the rest of his hands. You can only imagine the grief that I experienced when I heard the story and hugged that little boy. He has a very sad face, but I was told that he can write with a pencil and has some talent for art work. I will be watching after him next week to see what I can tell you more about him. Suffice it to say, this boy should be in all our prayers…he is a REAL victim of the culture here. We did get all the sewing machines put in the room and they look beautiful!!! Molly, our lead instructor, came in and she wept when she saw the room. She just cannot believe how beautiful a room she has to work in. Her home is awful and I hope to put her in one of the rooms with a bed some day. But, that will have to come in time. Another wonderful thing that happened today is that we found an English teacher!!!!!! Isa, whom the kids met when they were here, serves as the English teacher for the boys and he has agreed to teach the women the language. So, he and I will head to the Northern Choice Book Store that our friend, Robert, owns and get the supplies for the ladies on Monday. Everything is coming together so well. I just cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed these past three weeks here in Uganda. I am already starting to grieve coming home, but I do miss my family so much and I need to be there. I love it here very, very much! We have made more good friends with other “Muzungus” (white people) who are here doing mission-type work. There is an incredible group of people on the ground here trying to help the people as they recover from the war. There just aren’t enough of us. But, as we say, what we are doing, “matters to this one.” I am off to try to get some paint and sawdust off my body. I spilled a tin of primer on me and ruined some clothes and shoes. My own regret is that I don’t know if anyone will want them now, although I know there are people who would love to have these worn and very stained clothes in a heartbeat. Good night to you all. I love you. Sally

The Peril called, "Palyec"

I missed getting to write a post yesterday. We were quite busy. “So, what’s new?” you ask! We got up early to drive to the Antonian High School’s adopted village, “Palyec.” It was quite a drive…I must say. I don’t think the pot holes could have been worse. I am certain some of them were one foot deep. It took us much longer than I remember to get there because of those things!!! I am surprised that our rear tire didn’t end up in San Antonio!? The drive, however, is a beautiful one as there are loads of very, very tall palm trees that dot the landscape. I am told they were planted centuries ago when slaves were being moved from Uganda to the Sudan. The slave traffic was quite large there and as the slaves walked, hands shackled, they were given fruits to eat at times and they would throw the pits on the ground. The legend is that those pits grew into the beautiful palm trees that give us such joy. It is sad to think that the beauty from those trees came at the extreme suffering of men and women in Africa. It was such a joy to see Mama Mary, Speaker Martin’s mother. She was so excited to see us and, in typical African style, she pulled her worn and dirty mat from her hut and urged us to make ourselves at home. She is a dear woman and I shall remember her always. The well the kids from Antonian paid for is functioning very, very well there. The tribe has built stick borders around the entire bore hole to allow for order at the well. The women come and put their jerry cans in a line while waiting their turn to fill their cans. Without the fence, there would be chaos and fights would ensue. It is wonderful to know that over 300 people are using this well. I can’t wait for us to get the other two wells in so the entire village is satisfied with enough water. There was sadness there, though. People are starving to death…literally. Last week, four people died from starvation. The problem is that the people have put the seed in the ground, however, it has not yet started to rain and so they have nothing to eat. These are the brave people who chose to leave the IDP camp and move home. The well has done much for them, but they have no food to eat and they are loosing the battle with malnutrition. I am going to the Heifer Project, Inc. on Monday to inquire about a pair of pigs. They have layers and they have some eggs, but the ground is dry. In fact, it is very dry. In town, the city is coming along with trucks to throw water to keep the dust down. The foliage by the side of the roads is actually orange right now because it is so dry. But, we are at the very beginning of the wet season and there should be a lot of rain coming soon. We did stop at the school in the village where we were last March. The people there remembered us and I noticed some kids who were there when we visited. We have spoken to the headmaster and we are going to get some uniforms for the orphans. AEP gave the school some uniforms and that has increased the number of kids coming, but the orphans who cannot pay for a uniform are coming and they don’t have the proper clothing. It is odd, but the school could be shut down if the students do not have uniforms. Our goal is to send Molly to the school and measure those children who need uniforms and find some people who are willing to give $15 for each of them. Please put this in your heart…they need so much help! My heart was very heavy all day thinking about those dear people in Palyec who are dying because they have no food. I just find it so hard to think that we have so much and they have nothing. I am sure that the people of this world do not want these people to die such horrible deaths, but this is such a remote area and it is easy to ignore them. I have to remember my “motto”; “It matters to this one.” Otherwise I know I would go crazy thinking about these people and how sick they are. Think about Mama Mary tonight before you go to bed and say a prayer for rain and food. It really isn’t too much to ask…is it?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hope for Africa Vocation Training Centre

The time is going by way too quickly. We are busy and we still can’t get everything done in a day. We worked on the bike for most of the day today. We filed and filed and filed…then filed some more. My hands are wrecked…much like they were when Barr and I were in California. What I wouldn’t give for an electric sander and a vice! We have to have someone hold the bike while we use flat files to break down the layers of sisal that has hardener like a rock. We did not even finish because the work is so tedious and the equipment we are using is so crude. I really think we will want to invest in an electric sander and a study vice to help the fellows and gals who make this project become a reality. The boys (Deo and his friend Timothy) went to a camp where a team from California was doing medical mission. These are some of the really forgotten. The way they get water is they have a rock pile and they have it set up such that when it rains, they collect the water and that is how they get the water they need to cook, clean, and bathe! Can you imagine? It is so amazing what people can do when they have nothing to work with. Another thing that they do is they have found a bat cave nearby and they capture the bats and eat them. I cannot imagine the diseases they those animals carry. I am appalled by the way these people live. Heather and I have spent time in our dear friend, Molly’s home. Honestly, our pets who live outside have nicer places to sleep than she. Her place is a make-shift room of aluminum sheets and some concrete. The door is a sheet. She does all the beads in that tiny room and she lives there with her son. It is nothing that any of us have ever experienced. They use kerosene for a lamp at night and, of course, they have no toilet, no running water, and no furniture. These people sleep on the hard ground and wash their clothes in tubs. Interestingly, they are always very clean and properly dressed. I really do not know how they do it. I would love to help Molly get a better place to live. I would like that for all my friends here, but it is not a possibility. This would be an awesome place for Habitat for Humanity!!!!! There is not much more to report for the day. I am having a meeting with the first group of 20 women who will start the school next week. We will meet on Sunday. I am really excited and I believe they are, too. Peace and blessings to all

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Update to the update!?

I have really never seen people with such a strong work ethic as the people of northern Uganda. Deo and I left Gulu this morning at 5:00 to drive to Kampala to get the computers that I got from Computer 4 Africa. The roads were already populated by women, in particular, who were walking with jerry cans on their heads either to or from the bore hole. Now THIS is a job that “Americans won’t do.” And, I doubt if there are many illegals that would do this kind of work. I have never seen so many people who work so hard at what they do in order to survive. It was very, very dark but there were people walking on the side of the road to get their water. I just hesitate to think what it would be like if we could not turn on the tap and get water. These folks can spend up to eight hours to fetch water. The women will take their cans to the bore hole and put it in the “queue.” Then, they go back or their children go to the hole to get the can and put it on their heads and carry it back to their huts. Of course, none of us would live in the kind of squalor that these people live in. We would insist on government housing, food stamps, Medicare and so on. These people have none of these options. They can only do what they is in front of them at the time. If this were not so pervasive, I would be unhappy. Today, Deo and I went to Kampala to pick up the computers for the school. I filed a grant with the computer company and they came a while back. I put them at Ggaba Modal, the school where Stella goes, and so we went to get them and bring them back to the school. It was a LONG day of traveling. It was almost like flying over the ocean. It took us 12 hours to make the round trip…not to mention the stops we had to make. But, it is funny, I absolutely adore the African savannah and right now there is a plethora of farms growing fields and fields of sunflowers…my favorite flower. Everyone gets so upset with me when I make them pull over so I can get in the fields and take pictures. I know I have some lovely sunflower pictures! We picked up Timothy, a friend of our and a film maker in Ggaba. He is going to make a short documentary on the suffering here for us to put on the website. I am so impressed with Deo. He has such a great vision!!! This was his idea. I am very thrilled that we have him working with us. He understands the culture so well and he knows exactly what we need to highlight. I just cannot tell you what a great joy Deo and Irene have been to us. They are going to stay here for the summer and work as Interns for us. They both have to have internships for their majors and so they are going to work for us. I just couldn’t ask for more!!! Tomorrow, we are supposed to have a documentary done on the bikes by the New Vision, the production company that is part of the newspaper. We have made quite a splash here!!! I cannot wait to see what the bike turns out! I need to call my friend in California and find more bamboo. We are going to make the best bikes ever!!!!! I spent the day yesterday in meetings with people about the property. Speaker Martin has told me that they are going to ask the project at the facility to leave in one month and that we will have all the buildings! I just cannot believe how much we are blessed. We have found a donor for another well at Palyec, someone has come forward with the money for the toilets at Lamintoo and the school is coming together so well. God is good…all the time. There is a team here from Rock Harbor, California. They are going to do medical mission work. I am not particularly fond of medical missions…they really do nothing to address the underlying issues. People get a pill for a day, but their lives are not changed. I shouldn’t go into too much here as I could write a book on how I feel about how the aid has been handled in Africa. It’s time for bed. Tomorrow will be another very full day. We are having to use the mosquito nets this time...we have been plagued with the critters at night. We lose electicity all the time, but we can't lose the mosquitoes!? SMILE Sweet dreams to all!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Monday the 8th

It has already been a long day and it is only 1:30 here! We got up early and rushed to the church to start wrapping the bamboo for the first stage of the bikes. Today, we have to take the sisal we cut last week, soak it in an epoxy solution and wrap all the joints where we joined the pieces of bamboo. It is a hard job as the joints have to be very exact in order to ensure the integrity of the bike. Working with the epoxy was VERY hard! Barr had given us some great measurements for mixing the epoxy with the hardener, but this is a different epoxy than what we used in California and our hands started to burn quickly. We had to wrap the joints and immerse our hands in a solution to clean up the epoxy before we could do it again. The heat from the glue was very hard on our hands. I was fearful at first, but when I realized I could put my gloved hands in a solution of IMO and water and relief the heat, I was satisfied that I could continue with the work. I didn’t want to ask anyone to do anything that I wasn’t willing to do. Heather even helped. We repeated this process for over five hours. It was hard work, but it is worth every minute of it. We can actually see a bike forming!! The best news is that the reporters who visited with me last week have given us a lot of publicity! I was on the radio…or so I hear… and there is a great article in the Ugandan newspaper with my picture and a story about the bikes. I am thinking I am going to get lots of calls soon about this project. I have already had two follow-up interviews. If you get a chance, go to Google and type in and you will see the article. It is fairly representative of what I said. As a former journalist, I know what happens when an interview is taking place; the interviewer projects what he or she wants to hear from the interviewee. But, it is pretty good. We are going to need to find financiers to help with this project. It is going to be an awesome way for many, many people to work their way out of poverty. The initial cost will not be high and when we are able to mass produce the bikes, they will finance themselves. I am determined to see this project through as I believe Craig Calfee has come up with an awesome project! We left around 3:30 for Lamintoo, a village where we put in a water well and where Jackson Middle School is paying for toilets.. As it is, the students go to class under make-shift rooms that are just tarp with some benches. The younger children go to class in a building that once served at the headquarters for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The other students go to class under a canopy of tarp only. Two of the grades have to study under trees. It is no wonder that the kids in this village do not speak English very well! But, there are about 400 children in the village now and they need to go to school. In March, we gave the kids uniforms and that has boosted the population at the school. In fact, the headmaster has asked us for more uniforms as the children are very motivated to attend because of the skirts, blouses, pants, and jumpers that we provided. We will have to visit with Molly, the head of the sewing/tailoring school, to see about making more uniforms. One thing that I an encouraged about is that we did visit a place in Kampala last weekend where young men were using knitting machines to make sweaters. It seems that no one in Gulu is making sweaters; the schools have to buy them from the capital so I intend on getting into that market as soon as possible. I really wanted to write about the land in Lamintoo. It is really some of the most beautiful land that I have seen in Africa. The lush green foliage is like a blanket that covers some lovely hills in the area. Sadly, the LRA used to use those hills to be on the lookout for campfires and they used their vantage point as a point of reference for attacks on small villages. It is such a tragedy that such beautiful land has such a tainted past. I would give anything to walk up the hills through the green bush that is loaded with mango trees. It is a sight to behold…for sure. We are back from the village now and it is getting to be around 8:00. We do not eat dinner until 9:00…at the earliest. We go to a small place just down the street called the Kakenyero. It has adequate food and it is VERY cheap. I can get a meal of beans and rice for about 3,000 shillings which is about $1.50. We know the people there and they treat us so well! I am looking forward to a shower, although it WILL be cold. I have not had a hot shower the entire time I have been in Gulu, but I would be very surprised to have one. It really doesn’t matter. We learn to tolerate ourselves very dirty and smelly, too. It just isn’t a problem once a person settles into the routine of being in a third world country. I did want to mention that I saw Kenneth, one of my “sons” on Sunday. He came to church. He is such a dear. He was captured by the LRA and was forced to shoot. He told me, a long time ago, that when he held a rifle, he would deliberately shoot off to the side of the person he was supposed to be killing and he would pray that his bullet would not go astray and actually harm someone. He has Amnesty papers to prove that he has gone through the acculturation process and it is something that he really hates to live with. But, he is one of the lucky ones. We read in the paper yesterday that Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA captured 200 people in the Congo and is really on the move. I wish someone would kill him. I really do. He just does not deserve to live. On our way back from Lamintoo, I really was struck by the hardships these people endure. The homes in Lamintoo are built with sticks and mud…they cannot afford to use any commercial products. When the rains come…and they come often now that it is the rainy season…their homes are flooded and everything they own is saturated. I just wish there was more that I could do to help these folks; however, I continue to remind myself that what I am doing does matter to “this one.” Hugs and peace

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Catching Up

Catch up time: I don’t even remember when I last sent a note to the blog! We have been so busy and there has been no time to get to an Internet Café and wait for the pages to load. The net is so slow here…it is dial-up and it takes forever! On Thursday, we put the pieces of the bike together…finally. I didn’t think we were ever going to get to it. The painting and such for the school really consumed our time. But, the bike got into one piece and we jumped into the car for the long drive back to Kampala. It takes us about 6 ½ hours to make the trip and it is still a hard drive. I know I have written about it earlier. And, it gets longer each time we make it!? We arrived late on Thursday in Kampala and had some dinner. We stayed at a different hotel… the one we stayed in last March when I came with the Antonian kids. It is a great place to stay and we slept very well. Barr and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary on Friday. It is such an achievement to be married for so long. The rest of the day was spent at the most wonderful outdoor marketplace that only happens two times a month. I have never seen so much to buy! There were great beads and so different types that we bought to bring up to Molly to see if she can make them. It was such fun. We had a delightful lunch and headed back to the hotel to let Barr, Kristy, and Bryan prepare for their 10:30 p.m. flight to Amsterdam. I know they were all so glad to leave. This is not an easy trip at all. And, it was sad to say “goodbye” to them, but I also know that there is so much left to do here in Gulu. We drove to Gulu yesterday. It was a sobering trip. Deo had received a call that his three-year-old cousin had died of the measles and he needed to go by and pay his respects since he was going to be with us for the rest of the trip. I just grieved that a precious little girl lost her life to a disease that we have all but eradicated in the U.S. I spent a great deal of thought in the car on the way back to Gulu. I just wonder what the framers of the Declaration of Human Rights were thinking when they crafted that document. I suppose they just thought that having water, food, and medicine was “a given.” I am still sad about seeing that life-less body and the mother who was trying to be brave for the rest of the family. Honestly, it just isn’t fair and I can’t think of anything I can do about it. The time spent in the car was good. Deo and Irene are with us and they are the cutest couple I know! I spent a lot of time looking at the clouds that covered the sky and threatened rain. I could find lions and elephants in the sky that covered the park where the real animals live. We did arrive very late, again, and I had to stay back in the room to prepare for the sermon that I was going to preach at both services today. Heather brought me back some fresh fruit and I was finally “at peace with the world.” The pineapple here is indescribable. I don’t think I will ever want fresh fruit again after being at the tree as it is being cut. Church here is great! These people really know how to worship. It is very loud, but orderly. The people speak in tongues and they dance a lot. They really know how to have a great time while worshipping God. We were in church from 8:00 until 1:00. I preached at both services. I am tired. Heather and I just made a stale peanut butter sandwich in the room and we are going to take naps. Tomorrow will be a very busy day. We will wrap the bike and start moving the sewing machines into the school. Kristy, Bryan, and Heather did an awesome job of painting it. I know the women will be so proud to be part of this training. It is a joy to see this all finally unfolding. Hope you are well!!!!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm a bit Internet service

We sat at the Internet Café last night after a long journey from Murchison Park and I wrote the most awesome note for the blog only to have it disappear. You would think I have learned by now to type on my own computer and transfer important items!!! Alas, I am reminded that things work very differently in Africa. As we say, “T.I.A.” that means “This is Africa.” The early morning game drive was all we hoped it would be. We saw so many giraffes, elephants, buffalo, all sorts of deer-line animals, and the “adorable” wart hogs. Actually, they are really cute in families. We checked out and started the long drive to Gulu. Again, on the trip out of the park, we saw another drive-full of animals. They are so cool up close. We sat on the top of the van and had a panoramic view of the savannah. We stopped at our usually place called, “Narumba Falls.” You can Google it and see what we saw. We have an acre on the falls; whether we ever do anything with it or not, we have a “piece of paradise.” I hope that we can build a small retreat home there as it is really a place to go and retreat!!! We finally arrived in my beloved Gulu and it was great to feel like I was back home. The streets were filled with people coming and going and it was Gulu at it’s finest. There is a new gas station coming in…prosperity is moving north. It is funny though, when we talk to the folks in Kampala about going to Gulu, they tell us it is a place they would never visit. They say it is not safe there. How little they know about this wonderful place!!!!! Barr and Deo walked over to our building and we very impressed with the size of the place. We are going to sit down today and start our “plan of attack” for the school. There is much to be done, but I thank God we are here and that we are ready to go to work. We walked into the generous hospitality of the friends we have made at Jo Jo’s Palace. They greeted us like we were family, and, in a sense, I think we are. We had dinner at the usual, Kakenyero down the street. By that time, we were tired and the kids looked at the menu and wondered what they were going to order. I think they are going to be glad to get home. Not me! I am eager to be here for three more weeks and get as much done as I can. There are many, many items to attend to, people to meet with, and things to get done. I don’t think I will ever have enough time to finish all the things I hope to. But, I will do my best. Remember….what we are doing matters. It matters to the continent, to the country, to the District of Gulu, and “it matters to this one.” Today has been the best day I think I have ever had in Gulu. I had a great sleep last night and woke up early to a beautiful sunrise. I just don’t think there can be a prettier sunrise than in Gulu!! Deo and I met early for tea/coffee and to discuss the plans for the day. Of course, the first stop was to visit the new School of Hope in Gulu. The building belongs to an NGO (non governmental organization) called, “Noah’s Ark). It was a former home for night commuters. I urge you to look up “night commuters-Uganda” on Google if you do not know what this means. You will be shocked at what these people have had to do to survive. There are no words to describe the feelings when we walked through the door of our school. It is very dirty; there are lots of cob webs and the floors and walls are covered with dust, but I see a room filled with sewing machines, chairs for Bible Study, and pictures of sunflowers everywhere! I will do everything possible to make it a happy place and one where men and women will enjoy coming to. We had an awesome meeting with the people who are in charge of the buildings and they are offering us more. It is just as I imagined it would be. We picked up the bamboo and it looks great. Deo and Sam will be running the program and they are the best workers I can imagine. We are going to build some wonderful frames…I just know it! The boys spent the better part of the day getting all the supplies for the bike frames while the girls stayed at the church and worked with the women on handmade tags. They are awesome. We are using bark cloth which is a material that comes from the bark of a tree. On my January trip, I had the experience of pulling off the bark and watching it dry into a very lovely brown color. It is very “African.” We wrote the word, “Gulu” on the cloth and the women have filled in the letters with different colors of yarns…we are using yellow, green, red, and royal blue. They are doing a border on each tag with black threads and then signing their names on the back. I think they will be quite striking…they are, in a sense, a work of art each. We were at the church until nearly 8:00 p.m. The women here are very hard workers…their work ethic is incredible. There were three women who had babies on their backs and yet they stood and embroidered their tags all day! I wish I had that type of determination. As we arrived for dinner at the Kakenyero, the lights went out in the city…very Guluish!? The hotel turned on it’s generator so we were able to eat by light. The lights are very dim, though, because the generators cannot “generate” a lot of light. But, this is one of the things I love about Gulu so much! This is why I love to say, “T.I.A.” This is Africa! I’ll put this post on a memory stick tonight before going to bed so I can run by an Internet Café early. I will hope that the electricity is on by morning; it is just as likely to be off as it is likely to be on. I suppose it is like that one Level 5 rapid we went over called, “50/50!” It is great to be back in Gulu and with friends. I love it here so much!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day What Ever!

It has been a couple of days since I was able to write. We have not had Internet access for several days. Let’s see…where do I start? We had the best time white-water rafting in Jinja. You would not believe how hard the rapids were. I suppose the real question is why they let beginners, like us, go over Level 5 rapids!!!!! We had three of them on this trip. There were a couple of 4’s and the rest were 3’s. They were a blast. This would never happen in the U.S. There is not a chance any rafting company would take folks like us over that kind of water. But, we prevailed. “We came, we saw, and we conquered.” I suppose this would be a good time to tell you that our guide did most of the work. Actually, our guide did all the work! When we went over the 4’s and 5’s, he made us “hit the deck.” I guess the only thing you might say about us is that we stayed in and never flipped, unlike the raft in front of us. We did the half-day trip and it was perfect. At times, we got out of the boat and floated down the river. It was such a great time. He half-day trip was great; we had several things to do in Kampala before we headed off to Paraa Lodge. The most important thing that we had to do was find epoxy for the bicycle training. We looked at a couple of places and were quite discouraged when everyone told us it could not be found. I knew better. We had not come all this way for one simple thing to stop us from doing one of the most important things we came to do. Deo thought for a moment and we stopped at a store that was one block away from our hotel that is an automobile repair shop. He had exactly what we needed!!! One block away…imagine that! We bought the epoxy and headed back to our rooms for a much needed bath. The Nile is certainly not the cleanest river in the world and we were covered by red dirt. We had a late dinner…again…and went to bed only to get up at 5:00 to head to Murchison Falls National Park and the beautiful Paraa Lodge. The trip to the lodge is long. It took us nearly seven hours to get from Kampala to the Lodge. We stopped at the usual places; first, to see Irene’s mom and Jovia. The Antonian crew who might be following this blog will know who I am writing about. Irene is Deo’s girlfriend. She is a beautiful gal…inside and out! Jovia is her little sister. Katie Gazda and I went shopping for a backback and some goodies for Jovia before we left. I have a picture of that beautiful little girl with her gifts…she was quite happy! Our next stop is always in a town called, Luwero. We buy fresh pineapple and chapatti bread. The young man we buy the chapatti bread from was just setting up so we stayed and watched him as he made the dough, rolled it out and slapped the tortilla-like dough on a skillet. The folks who are lucky there have charcoal to cook with so the process went quickly. Bryan even tried his had at making the delicious bread. I have a video of his culinary feat! I’ll save it for his fiancé to show her that he really CAN cook!? The rest of the trip was wonderful…at least I think so. I am so used to the bumps in the road that I am not troubled by the rough road. There is one part of the road that is being worked on right now and we counted 176 speed bumps. Now, that might not sound that bad, but when they are placed less than 40 feet away…it can become quite challenging to keep a smile on your face. The road into the park is long and very bumpy. There are miles that we had to roll up the windows because the van was swarmed by tse tse flies. That made for one hot ride. We were all a little testy when we arrived in front of the wonderful Paraa Lodge. We were greeted with very cold face towels and passion fruit juice. Our rooms are on the first floor, so we have lovely balconies that look straight into the Nile River. This is really one of the best of God’s perfect paintings! We had a quick lunch and then collapsed in our rooms for naps. We had gotten up early every day and we were still trying to recover from jet lag. We took an evening ride through the park that was not too fruitful, but it was great to get out on the savannahs and see what we saw. We were back at the Lodge in time for a wonderful three course dinner and then bedtime. We had a big day planned for today. The main thing planned was to sleep in…well, we were going to sleep until nine. We hired a boat to take us down to Murchison Falls and it was leaving at 10 a.m. We had their breakfast buffet and headed to the river. The trip was super. We saw “lions and tigers and bears… oh my!” I was wrong about that; however, we did see lots of hippos, elephants, crocodiles, birds of all kinds, water buffalo, wart hogs, and deer. There is a beautiful fish eagle that resembles our bald eagle and they are plentiful. It is amazing to see how many animals cohabitate. We saw pools where hippos, cranes, and crocs lived together in harmony. We could all learn from nature. Our destination was a hike to the top of Murchison Falls. Our boat driver was great…he gave us tidbits of information about the river and the animals and then let us ashore to climb a very, very steep path to the top of the Falls. The views were all spectacular. There is so much energy from those falls. Interestingly, this is one place that all the Nile Rivers (White, Albert, Queen, West, Victoria, and so on) converge. It is powerful! We took lost of pictures there as there really wasn’t a bad photo opportunity throughout the entire hike. Our guide met us at the top of the falls and didn’t understand why we didn’t want to pay his fee. And, it got worse…no one came for us. Deo finally was able to get in touch with a friend who was serving as a guide in the park, too, and he drove 45 minutes to pick us up. Apparently, when people, like us, come with drivers, the Lodge assumes that the drivers are going to pick us up at the top. What they don’t know about us is that when Deo is with us, he is family. He is NOT just our driver…he is our son, brother, and friend. We made it back, in time, to catch the ferry that brings cars and people over to the Lodge side of the river. If it were not for Jackson, Deo’s friend, we would probably still be there! It has been a lovely stay here. The ambiance is wonderful…the food is classy…the service is lovely…and the scenery is breath-taking. But, it is time to do what we set out to do and that is go to Gulu and start the bike training. I think that all of us are looking forward to serving the people of northern Uganda. I know I am! We have so much to do and not a lot of time to do it in. For my precious Antonian team…I miss you all very, very much. I think of the trip we made in March and wish you were here…constantly. I know the people of Gulu will be sad when they realize you are not with us. But, there is always another time. E.P.I.C. is going to do great things here…I just know it. Well, it is time for dinner so I’ll close now. I just wanted to update you since I have been unable to write for a couple of days. The best part of the trip is yet to come.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day One in Paradise

Day One in Paradise! After I made the post yesterday, it was time to board the plane for the eight hour flight to Entebbe…or so we thought. A man in the row in front of us had a heart attack and so the plane was diverted to Rome, Italy! We spent a couple of hours on the ground there while the crew readied the man for the trip to the hospital. We ended up landing in Africa over two hours late. I felt so badly as Pastor Chris, Deo and Stella. They arrived at the airport at 7:30 in anticipation of our arrival. It was great to see them and I know they were happy to see us in more ways that one!? Stella stayed in the room with me last night and we had an awesome time talking and reading. Today has been awesome. We got up early and took Stella to her school. She has done very well there. When I first met her, less than two years ago, she could not speak English. But now she is doing so well! We left her and headed on the boat across Lake Victoria. We met up with the “boda bodas,” which are motorcycle taxis that took the six of us across the red dirt “road” to the orphanage. I video taped the entire ride…I think it will be quite shaky, but very funny! We had a blast going over the African trail roads littered with pot holes. Finally, we ended up at Bethany Village Orphanage. It was beautiful! I know it is some of the prettiest land on this earth. The lush foliage of the jungle, coupled with the quaint buildings of the orphanage, is a beautiful site. It is Africa at its finest. We stayed at the orphanage for a few hours; we visited the children’s’ homes, the clinic, and the classrooms. There are at least 50 children in each room, but they are, indeed, the lucky ones. We took a leisurely boat ride back to Ggaba and started the trek to the Equator. Most everyone slept in the van during the two hour driving trip. Jet lag has “reared it’s ugly head,” and we are tired. But, once we were there, we were so glad that we made the trip. It is a bit like going to the Alamo… “this is IT?”; however, it is so “cool” to say that we have stood in both the northern and the southern hemispheres. Bryan was doing push ups in both hemispheres at the same time. Now…I bet there aren’t many people who can brag about that!!!!! We stopped at a spot along side the road that we saw in March to look at the hand-made drums. We found a couple of beautiful instruments! The folks there promised me that the hides of the cows used on the drums came from animals whose meat they had used for eating! Swell…and how about that swamp land in Florida for sale? It is only about 9:30 here, but we are all ready for showers…hot or cold…and for bed. We have to be up early to drive to Jinja for the white water rafting on the Nile River. They boast Level 5 rapids. I hope the Level 5 rapids here are NOT what they are in the U.S. If they are…it is possible I’ll see you on the other side of Heaven. It has been a great day. We are happy, while tired. It’s time for bed. I am going to put this on my memory stick and upload it in the morning. There are no Internet Cafes close to this hotel and the day has been full. Wish you were here!!!!! And, I really do mean it. This is my “home away from home.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day One of Travel

Today has been quite a day...and it is only 4:30! At least I think it is only 4:30...we have been in the air about one hour with seven more to go until we set down in Amsterdam. We really needed Dave this morning; no one really took seriously my pleas to 'get moving' so we didn't leave San Antonio until around 10:30. Yes, I know it is crazy, but there are some things, like packing a Pathfinder, that are totally out of my control. We finally left and I did have a sense of foreboding about me. I tried to 'chalk it up to" leaving late, but I sensed it was more than that. The trip to Houston really went fine; we stopped at a Dairy Queen in Flatonia and the wait likened the layover in Amsterdam. Again, my anxiety level began to rise when I realized that we were way behind the schedule we normally keep, but, I kept positive to cheer myself more than the others. We hit the Sam Houston Tollway in Houston and I must admit that I sighed a sigh of relief when we stopped at the first toll booth. While I realized we were still miles away from the airport, I knew, at last, we were close. For some strange reason, thank you God, I just happened to look back at exactly the time a suitcase broke loose fromt he top of the car and plunged onto the highway. It did not make any noise so I am wondering if we would have known it was gone until we arrived at the airport. The worst part of the entire thing was realizing it was MY bag that lay in the middle of the road. I am really not sure what I screamed, but I am sure that it was NOT suitable for young ears. Barr was finally able to pull to a stop and he and I ran about 1/4 of a mile back to get my bag that lay smack dab in the middle of the tollway. I was at my anxious best! A Good Samaritan did some blocking for us and we were able to haul it off the freeway and get it back in the car. I didn't even want to think of the damage to the bag...we only had 15 minutes to get to the airport to make the one-hour rule of check-in. But, there was plenty of damage to the bag. This time, I got in the driver's seat and drove like a proverbial "bat out of hell" to the airport. When we pulled up to the terminal, I barked orders to anyone who would listen and then took off for the Park N Ride. I had no idea how to get there from the terminal, but I had to and I did it! When I got to the terminal in the shuttle, I found the group checkin in and halling over the price of the bike frame that we are taking with us to teach the people in Uganda how to make a bike. It was turly a "nightmare of epic proportions." So, here I am on the plane. The delightful young man next to me just spilled my entire glass of red wine on me and I have been fortunate to be given a pair of sweatpants from one of the KLM flight attendants. You may be wondering what else could go wrong. But, I know this is all part of the wonder of the trip. The kids had an aisle to themselves and I am sitting on the back row of the least I have an aisle. It is, indeed, the little things in life that make me truly happy. More tomorrow!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Totday's the Day

We are all running around trying to get ready to go. This is hardest part of any trip, but it is worse because there is a lot of apprehension in the air. We have two long flights ahead of us...24 hours in total...but, the time does go by quickly on the plane with the right medications and some wine!? SMILE. I am trying very hard not to anticipate. I want to let Africa surprise me. And, in my last seven visits, it has not let me down. I am at peace...I know all the places we are staying and I know the people who will be caring for us there. Hakuna Matata - literally, this means "No Worries" in Swahili! Pray for us for safe travel and good health! Sally