Friday, December 29, 2006

Only in Owen County

It's funny the things you take for granted, but see them fresh and new when you return somewhere you grew up.
Only in my hometown*:

will someone send Cutco scissors back to be sharpened because they sheared their sheep with them and are rather ticked that the scissors became dull

on the official voting ballot do they put the person's nickname along with their legal name so people know the person they are voting for

the Dairy Queen resturaunt serves probably the best breakfast in town (and its sit down, take your order, leave a tip kinda thing)

Yes, I know people who have driven tractors to school- my school

The local newspaper is one of the few I have ever seen that actually publishes good things, not just who was in a car accident or the obituaries- but local kids receiving awards and during the county fair everyday a headline is the kid who has the best pig or chicken or a cute toddler licking an icecream cone

ever heard of velveeta fudge? we couldn't find velveeta so my mom used cheese whiz instead. weird stuff- but surprisingly good

a teenager's (legitimate) excuse for being late is that she was at the gas station for two hours, chatting with a friend

kids skip school and go across the street to hang out with their youth minister or watch movies or read books at the Wal Mart

kids skip school, eat lunch with friends, wave at the teachers who are also eating lunch at that establishment and not get in any trouble for it (sorry any highschoolers reading this- I know most of you are allowed to eat out for lunch, but I don't know that you can get away with it now)

the fairytale about Goldilocks is true- I remember reading the police report about a break-in:
food was missing from the refrigerator, some furniture was moved and picture frames adjusted, end of report.

people bring sheep and goats to church with them, leaving them to 'baa' and 'maa' in the back of their trucks before hauling them off to the butcher on the sabbath

I just read an article about one of the biggest, contraversial subjects happening in my hometown this past year: christmas lights. It's the responsibility of the chamber of commerce, there isn't enough funding for this annual 'project' and of course the fire department plays a major part in this. The full page article ends with : "is there anyone with a passion for Christmas lights? Is anyone willing to take on this relatively simple task?"

*** these are things which I like about my hometown, and please don't think I am encouraging students to skip school- obviously there are very few exciting things to do during school hours.

I'm sure there are more things to add to this, and I plan to.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

the devil and righteousness

I recently remembered this strange conversation that happend back in September, just before I left for Uganda:
A man who calls himself Diablo approached me as I was sitting with some friends (the kind that keep cop's heads and cruisers turning). He was high and spouting stupidity, but as I remember our conversation, I learned a lot:
He asked me if I was righteous.
I told him I would never call myself that.
He asked me if I was perfect.
He asked me if I thought I could ever be perfect.
When I told him no, he said “but Jesus is perfect, so if He lives inside of you, then you can be perfect.”
And then he went on a rampage that was mixing pieces of 'scripture' I have never read in any version of a Christian Bible.
The high man, named Diablo telling me what it means to be righteous, the irony of it all- even when he was wrong in spots.
I could have debated with the man over what he was saying, but I doubt he would have remembered any of our conversation later. So I just told him I disagreed and let him walk back to his friends.

The past three times I've flown on a airplane I've been stopped in security going out of Winnipeg. This time it was for traces of something explosive on my laptop.
"What's your name?"
"Whats your address?" Thats actually a difficult one to answer- America or Canada? in Canada- gee, I'm homeless (yeah, I'm sure that won't fly) so I give the mailing address for my work- where none of us live and our office isn't even at.
"Whats your phone number?" Again, I'm homeless and it would be pointless to have my phone number anyways because it changes about twice or three times a month.
"Whats your occupation?" I'm a missionary. So he checks my work visa to very everything.
"What do you do?" Traing people, lead mission trips, spend time with inner-city kids either in a Bible study atmosphere or on the corner where they do illegal stuff.
I guess he realized I wasn't trying to blow up anything.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Between Two Vans on Princess

For this past year I have basically ignored everything my mother and father taught me while growing up:
don't walk alone at night
don't talk to strangers
don't get in a car with a stranger (oops... I never told that story, did I? she was a 3rd grade teacher, I figured she would be trustworthy)
don't associate with drug dealers
take your vitamins (sorry- I'm just really bad at that)
ice cream doesn't count as lunch
avoid contact with gangs
don't stand in the middle of the street
wear sunblock
don't swim right after you eat
tell us when you are coming home
wear a seatbelt
don't hitch a ride with a truck driver
and lastly...
don't go down a back alley with a streetwise former homeless adult male (okay, they didn't go into all that detail, but you get the point).
I haven't been a very obedient daughter- sorry.

Yesterday, after helping pass out corn dogs and refill coffee, I had a chat with my buddy who gave me the bracelet.
Unfortunately, the 3-year-old and I were wrestling the other night and he ripped several of my bracelets.
I told my friend I was sorry that I had lost it. He assured me he would make a new one for me and invited me to walk with him towards the hospital which is near our office. I have a bus pass, and could get there 15 minutes earlier, but I took him up on it.
Just after we passed a popular soup kitchen and said hello to some friends, he says "I want to show you something" and takes me down a back alley that is sort of a parking-area.
It's daylight. There are people just around the corner.
We walk between some vans.
Keep walking further back into the alley.
Umm... not incredibly comfortable right now.

"I used to sleep there." He points to a corner, sort of a inclave/overhang which would keep rain off and diminish the wind just a bit.

And then he escorted me a little further until he stopped at a store to select a pair of winter boots.

All is well. No worries. I do trust him, but I don't even like to walk down back alley's with my boyfriend (who, by the way is more of a whimp than I am [he doesn't like to go to a nearby mall because of the gangs] I keep telling him he will be fine, but he won't listen to me). I just don't like back alleys.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

If God has Crow's Feet

Does God have wrinkles?
Are there lines or frown marks along his forehead?
Does he have those long, stretched-out dimples somewhere in his cheeks?
A droopy chin?
Does he have smile-wrinkles near his eyes?
Worry lines or scars?
Or does he have baby-soft skin and a perfect complexion?
I like the idea that God is a youth- even a little kid in appearance. Because he doesn't have to look old and wise to be older than this earth and all-powerful.
Are wrinkles a result of sin? If so, then I think our God looks like a little kid, sitting on the floor of heaven, smiling and chattering about the important earth-shattering issues. Maybe he is wearing light-up shoes. That would be cool.

Yesterday's thought that stuck with me was the service/ministry of standing. It's not profound. It doesn't look 'Christiany' and nobody even notices you are doing it. I love it! (well, some people might know now, because I'm writing it. I guess I'm jipping myself of a back massage in heaven or some decorations on a crown, oh well.)

"Are you going to be in Winnipeg for long?" I ask the person sitting next to me on the plane.
"Yeah. 10 days."
10? I was thinking weeks or months when I said 'long'.

A smiley girl/woman bounced up to me an told me she had a Christmas card for me.
" You look beautiful." I told her. It wasn't a compliment so much as a blunt statement that lept from my mouth; usually she looks like she is dying.
"It's been 9 days!" She announced and then accepted the congradulatory hugs given immediately by anyone in hearing range.

So I stood with her at the bus stop. We chatted, we laughed, we waited.
She thought it was weak of her to want someone to stand with her; hold her accountable, tell her 'no' when she was walking into temptation or trouble (not that those are different things). I think it was brave. She waved good-bye and got on the bus.
I love the boring stories in real life. The ones that don't have something interesting. The forks in the road that become a one-way.
She got on the bus. End of story.
Day 10.
Sometimes 10 is a long time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Icing on the Cake

It's solid white from sky to ground. The snow is like powdered sugar, the soft powdery stuff that doesn't pack together, just piles high, coats the bottom of your shoes so you have no traction and makes it very difficult to drive.

I'm procrastinating my visit, I just don't want to go outside in the snow quite yet. I bet it took me an hour to walk back from church today. I could have taken the bus, but walking was good; let me be alone, let me think.

I hate the cold a bit more this week and I'm running out of words as I try to put my emotions into writing, its the best therapy for me. You see, over the weekend a friend died. I sat beside her brother in church as he hid the pain behind a strong face and an occasional smile, telling me she probably froze in the snow that night. The moment of silence for his sister, showing her photo on the screen and in an instant he broke. Selfishly, I'm glad he did- it gave me permission to cry, too. Because if he, much closer to her than I was wass holding it in, being strong, what right did I have to let him see my cry and break the dam in his eyes?

But he said it himself- she's in heaven with Jesus now. I can't get the words out of my head; how beautiful are rusty wheels. It's now the desktop background on my computer- I love the idea that things of this earth rust and decay. I think of her wheelchair, rusty, crumbling, of no use. Because she will never use it again. She is standing, running, walking. She will never be hungry or thirsty or cold again. Her addictions, her pains, her worries- gone. Forever.

Her brother and I smiled together today as we pictured her standing in heaven with her Savior. Despite this, I still am frustrated, no; angry. I know she is in a better place. I know she is never going to experience any want or need again, but why did she have to die that way?

This idea that things would be emotionally easier because I wasn't surrounded by the traumatized, starving children of northern Uganda gets shattered in the funeral plans of a woman who froze to death in the streets of the city where I live.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Flippin' Birds

Does it reflect badly on our ministry to have 2 small children standing outside our large store-front window, bent forward, staring at us in defiance with their middle fingers raised and sneers on their faces?

I told Robbie she had to leave first. She's there almost every day before or after school. Friday there was no school, so she just came over to hang out. We all had work to do, but I told her I might read to her later, as I have been ending my days reading pop-up books to her and her sister. This day, coloringwasn't enough entertainment and cutting up the papers I had just printed out and using the white-board eraser as a sponge for snow seemed much more fun to her.
I gave her 2 'one last chance' s and then followed-up on my word.

So then Terry decided to try my patience and I told her she had to leave also. I carried her to the door after prying her fingers off the table and then she proceeded to try and bite me as I untangled her fingers from my sweater (which thanks to her pulling was becoming quite revealing- thank goodness no one was in the back parkinglot).

Thus they stood outside our window, fingers extended and randomly cursing at us while their 'good' siblings inside lied that we were calling the police on them.

Oh the joys of neighborhood kids who have little parental supervision and even less desire to show manners or respect! But you gotta love 'em.
Their brother drew me a picture while I kicked his sisters out- me standing next to an apple tree. He explained that the person on the other side of the tree was cutting it down with a chain saw. Oh, isn't that nice- is it about to fall on me?
Good, then I guess it is nice.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving to me!!!

Getting ready to leave the office early, buy some socks (because I wasn't wearing any because the washing machine at the house I live in is broken and I am out of clean socks and I wore dirty ones yesterday and I didn't want to do that again today), then go run at the 'Y' and then go back to the house I used to live in to make a very small dinner.

"Can I hang out here for a while? My mom isn't home yet and I'm locked out."
Sure thing, honey.
She lives just around the corner and her little sister was the one who gave me lice this last time, so you could say I have a connection to the family.

So she walked with me towards the mall. A block away from the mall I see a group of guys, head-to-toe in black and some sparkles (I'm sure they appreciate me wording it that way) walking in a fashion that makes me think I might know them.
I take a detour, hoping my friend isn't going to be too uncomfortable.

The larger of the boys seems to recognize me and flashes a smile. It takes a bit longer to click with me and sends me running towards him, giving a hug that ends with him saying,
"Uh" and "Ow."
But still smiling.
I haven't seen him since June. I thought I would never see him again.
I thought he was getting out of jail 2 months ago, turns out that translates to just a week or two ago.

Walking back from the 'Y', I see my Russian friend again. Its been every day for the past 3 days I see him- at the mall, on the sidewalk, across the street. I think he's stalking me...
I'm in a good enough mood to last me the end of the week.

As I said: Happy Thanksgiving to me!!!

Bedtime Stories

Friday night I spoke at the youthgroup of the church I attend. Last week they watched the video Invisible Children- its mostly about the night commuters in northern Uganda, and since I just came back from there, they asked me to give a little chat.

There were stories, photos, and then I dropped the 'P' word. See, I forget about age group appropriateness. An 11 year old, even in the inner-city sometimes doesn't understand what a prostitute is. Say 'whore' or 'hooker' and they could just assume it's an insult for a girl you don't like.

I mentioned that some of the problems in the camps are the spread of AIDS; that although Uganda was one of the East African countries that was doing a good job at fighting the spread of AIDS, because of the IDP camps, where people were sometimes forced into from their homes, wrecking them of an income and livelihood, some women turn to prostitution to feed their families. Thus, AIDS spreads in the camps and to communities near the camps.

A girl, age 11, raised her hand. " What's a prostitute?"
I thought it strange that she lived in this city and attended this church and still didn't know. I didn't feel bad for introducing a new word to her; I think any child in middle school should know what a prostitute is- and not be taught it from TV, media or their peers because often those views leave out aspects.

One of the busiest corners of the city is across the street from the church. I'm surprised she never asked why someone was standing outside in -40 degree weather. Or why there are always women wandering that area, despite the few residences, no matter the time of day.
I'm surprised because it's not a looked-over item in sermons or services because of the many people who make up the congregation who have been affected by the sex trade.
Trans-gender. Transvestite. I would understand those as questions.

I paused before I answered her. I remember at the age of 7 or 8, when my mother had explain it was 'women who sold their bodies to men' and my imaginative mind painted a woman walking down the street with price tags dangling from arms and legs. I was quite confused how someone could own her neck, yet it still be part of her body. Wasn't that cute, and very stupid of me?

The youth group leader piped in "It's a woman who sells her body to men for sex." Well... not exactly. But I guess that definition works for now.

My friend who had lived in Uganda for about a decade accompanied me and chimed in to challenge these kids. Now I had to ask some of them to be quiet when I talked, had to be mean and make everyone stare at them until they became self-conscious and shut-up. I had to throw in something that helped them to be inter-active, or just active at all so they didn't start yawning.

So jealous of my friend.

All he did was pick up a photo I had taken. It was of a hut in an IDP camp. He spoke quietly, almost a mono-tone. Not an eye blinked. Mouths hung open.
" I used to live in one of these." Was his attention-getter.
From there he went on about how kids in North America complain about doing chores and helping around the house- washing dinner dishes, but missing the blessing in having eaten dinner.
How kids here complain that they don't like what's for dinner. He said he would never turn down any food his mom made for him, ever. The kids all piped in, "but this makes me gag." "I really can't swallow that" " that is just soo gross!"
"But that is what your mom worked all day to bring you home to eat. It's the only meal you will eat all day."
The youth leader chimed in. " And if you mother sold her body for sex to bring food for you to eat- would you tell her you didn't like it?"

I was ready to go to sleep at 8:30 last night. Put Solie in the bathtub, washed my face, brushed my teeth, changed into some PJs, got Solie out of the tub, dressed in his PJs and headed for my bedroom.
He jumped into my bed and asked if I was really going to bed already.
"I might read a little first."
"Read to me, too."
Um... I am reading Street Lawyer by John Grisham... I think its a little over this 6-year-old's head.
I started reading without giving him any background info. Mike just quit his big paying job to become a lawyer for homeless people.

When I read I skim over names, just notice the first two letters or something and my mind puts together who the character is. But Solie surprised me when he asked some questions, "Why does Mordecai do this?" He not only was paying attention to my mono-toned reading, but he understood some of what was going on.

So our bedtime story ended with me explaining why homeless people might need lawyers, why some people are homeless, what it means to be homeless, that some children are also homeless, ect.
Happily Ever After?

I never expected to be discussing the issues of homelessness with a first grader. I bet he never expected his daily reading to be that, either. What I remember the most is that his questions were... relevant and significant, as if I was chatting with someone atleast some knowledge of the world and it's problems...

I ended the chapter and Solie turned the light out for me.
As I was writing this I remembered that today is Thanksgiving, so Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It really was an unplanned "lets guilt people into being thankful for what they have".

Monday, November 20, 2006

Used to

Anna- I'm sorry to inform you that your new nickname is shared with a lobster that will be slaughtered tomorrow. It's sitting in a bucket of water, still alive and awaiting its death tomorrow night. I asked Issa what he wanted to name it and he said "Maharagwe".
The lobster's name is beans? Weird.

I love making lists. This is one I made up while sitting in church yesterday.
Things I wish I Hadn't Grown Used to:

- one sock missing after laundry is done
- eating rice (and not because I don't love it)
- smell of marijuana and sniff
- watching tv
- seeing women waiting on the corner
- phonecalls from jail
- "the number you are dialing is no longer in service"
- wearing a watch
- checking email

Things I am Glad I am Used to:

- walking
- getting a warm shower on a regular basis
- a roof over my head
- chocolate!
- peanutbutter!
- making dinner for friends
- hugs
- conversations in languages other than english (that I sometimes understand)
- "you have ____ unread messages"
- "Amen"

... somethings are beautiful when they are familiar. Somethings are wonderful no matter how many times it happens you should never take it for granted. Somethings are supposed to be normal and common and others are never supposed to happen at all and are maybe the most sad when they feel normal.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Beans and Rice (and Potatoes, because its African)

For those of you who have called or had to leave messages for me, I'm sorry. I have been incredibly busy lately, and haven't yet had a chance to call people back.
Send up a prayer that not only do I wake up in time to leave tomorrow morning (and I need to be out the door and at the bus stop some where near 7:10 am), but that the person I am visiting actually shows up this time. My first jail visit was unsucessful because of several factors and miss communications, but that didn't mean that I wasn't upset just the same.
I sort-of had the morning off and woke up before 8 am (which I consider a tragedy). The family I am staying with had a baby monday afternoon, so I've been at the hospital, grocery store and in the laundry room lots to help out.
And I made some no-bake cheese cake which isn't quite as good as my mom's, but I thought it tasted pretty darn good, especially because I didn't have a recipe and was just dumping things in and occasionally spraying the cream-cheese mixture across the walls with the small, messy hand mixer.

My friend Patrick calls me 'Rice' as a nickname, and several other friends call me 'Wali', which is Swahili for rice. Since then, his little brother begs me to find him a girlfriend that is my clone. I laughed and told him I had 3 sisters, two of which have bigger butts than me, which is a positive thing for these African guys. Since then, they have given my sisters new names; Anna is now Maharagwe (beans) and Brooke is Viazi (potatoes).

Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm sick of thinking of Titles

Here are the rest of my Uganda posts:
After Aromo and Alio Camps
I Dare You (After)
After thoughts: I stuck my foot in my mouth
My Last After

I think that is all of them. There are definately more stories- the woman who's hut burned in the IDP camp, the man with polio, the woman who leaves her infant children unattended so she can get food for them, the boy in the hot pink shorts, standing on the bus from Gulu to Kampala for 4 hours (and I kept falling asleep and I would wake up because my knees were buckling) and so many more... but then they would never end.

I actually felt homeless yesterday. The family I am staying with left 2 hours before they said they would. I didn't have a key. I don't know their cellphone number.
Did they go to the hospital for the baby? If they did, whats her last name?
Everything worked out okay. And no matter what, I would have had a place to stay- but I wanted a shower and to brush my teeth. I found out where they were, got the caretaker to let me in and had more african-style potatoes.

My pictures are developed! For those of you who sent me money or T-shirts, those photos will be sent to you individually.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


This is at the first IDP camp I went to. The group of children all wanted to hold the hand of their white visitor, so they took turns, or at times fought over who stood next to me and who held my hand.
Nunu is almos invisible. Ahmed is in the blue. I'm kissing Zwat, Miriam is the oldest and grinning the brightest and Hamoza is taking the picture.

I gotta say, I really do think they are the cutest kids in the whole world. Nunu and Ahmed from the family I stayed with near Kampala.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Amidst the Snow

If you want to know about my trip, read below. I'm trying to keep things semi in-line with the order of things, but I'm clumping the IDP camps into a few posts and definately not going over the events of every day. So if you want to see if I added a post in the middle somewhere, scroll down, look the the right and read "previous posts".

I'm staying with a family who are supposed to have a new addition coming on Tuesday! I have only been able to spend a few short hours with them since I've been back because I've been really busy.
My 'support raising' day has instead been a day of running errands and making visits. Leaving at still at the office at quarter to 6, hiding in the back room so the neighborhood kids won't see me. I told them I had to leave, kicked them out, walked around the block and back in through the back alley, because I just can't get anything done while they are here. And Robin left me a picture she drew for me to add to the refrigerator art, thank you sweetie.

I don't often cry and I have never cried out of joy or happiness, but yesterday almost broke the record. I wear a bracelet on my arm given to me from my buddy just before I left for Uganda. It has purple, shell-shaped and pink beads and used to spell the word "FUN" but the "U" fell off (I'm just glad it was the U and not the N, otherwise my wrist would be insulting everyone). The souvenier I brought back for him was a 10 shilling coin. 1800 shillings is equal to a dollar, so you can understand the real monetary value of the coin, both in Uganda and Canada.
The last time I talked to him I asked him if he still had it with him, he patted his pocket and assured me he did.
"Someone offered to buy it for me for $10 and I told them no because my friend brought it all the way back from Africa with her for me."
My eyes teared up. $10 buys a lot. Plenty of sniff. A few beers. Enough to make you forget about the cold and the pain for a little while.

And my friend, a few poems back, asks when I am coming back to visit all my girls and lead them in a game of Bingo. She's wearing a cream-colored knitted hat that makes her eyes pop and her skin look beautiful.
I am so honored to have these friends!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

My Last After

My appologies to the man whose pen I accidentally stole at the airport. I didn't have anything to fill out my customs form with, and he had vanished by the time I got through the line. I am truly sorry, I did look for you in the airport!
My thanks to the man who let me use the internet at the hotel, even though I didn't have any shillings- you are a blessing!
My greetings to the funny Greek lady at the Amsterdam airport that kept us all laughing throughout our flight.

Problems with the Entebbe airport runway meant a 24-hour delay of the flight.
Being a runway problem, all the airlines had to put their people up in hotels for the night, not just some of them.
Trying to fix the problem at midnight didn't happen (surprise, surprise when it's a lighting problem) so a few hours later, they begin to take people to nearby hotels.

At 3 am the woman incharge comes down to the parkinglot where we are waiting with our bags for the next bus to return and carry off another load of people.
"All the hotels in Entebbe are full. The bus is taking those people to Kampala."
Kampala is an hour away. So we are going to have to wait for them to drive an hour there, an hour back and then take us there?
After a while she finally decided to get us a convoy of taxis. I squished into a taxi with my new friends; a Dutch man who was making a photo journal of some coffee farmers in Jinja and a young boy from Poland who had been away on a safari in Tanzania and was never supposed to be in Uganda (and he was there illegally, because they didn't have us exit through customs or anything, we just walked to the parking lot).
At 5 am I arrived at a hotel in Kampala. 5 pm our bus was returning to take us back to the airport.

This time our flight took off just fine, no problems. They gave us the exact same food as the meal they served while we were waiting in the terminal, wondering if they could fix the lights or not.
The man next to me wolfs down his food, even the very light brown substance that looks like rice that went through a food processor, but tastes... not good. He tells me that he has been living in southern Sudan for the past 5 years, working as a counselor and he is returning to visit family.
"They won't recognize me; I've lost so much weight." He does look thin.
Breakfast is pancakes or eggs. I take pancakes- bad idea. Its stale and hard and there's hardly any syrup. He has finished his before I even get the foil off of mine.

Waiting for my flight in Amsterdam, this cute lady sits down across from me, a doughnut in each hand. She gives one to her husband, smiles at me and breaks her doughnut in half.
"Here." She shoves it in my hand.
"No thank you, I'm not hungry."
"No. Eat!" She demands.
"Really, I'm fine."
"Eat!" She says and then asks me about my love life.
Do you get free food from strangers when you wait in the airport?

"Um... excuse me, thats my seat." A blonde man says. "No, not yours miss." Its the seat by the window, occupied by a rather fat German man.
"Can you just sit there?"
"No. Thats my seat."
"You're an American aren't you?"
I wanted to slap him- did he realize he was on his way to Chicago?
They exchanged swear words, insulted one another.
The fat man settled himself on the other side of me, then leaned across the seat and said, "Well I hope you don't have to take a piss for 9 hours because I'm not gonna move. I'm just gonna sit here the whole time, don't expect me to get up for some jack ass."
I sat farther back in my seat incase they began to swing punches.
Thank goodness it wasn't a full flight, before we even got off the ground the fat man had moved to a different seat. If he didn't move, I was gonna ask for another seat.

The funny Greek woman was just a few seats infront of me, and kept turning around and asking me questions throughout the flight. When we finally landed she was the first one out of her seat, gathering her bags.
"Excuse me. Excuse me." She wiggled her way down the isle before the door was even open, although she was not near the exit.
"Excuse me. Hurry up, hurry up!" Just as she got near the door she turned back around for her husband.
"Louie! Louie!" She screamed for the next full minute.
When she finally reached the door the stewardess told her she would have to take a seat, as the wheelchair would not be arriving until the rest of the passengers had exited.
She looked like a little girl, pouting with her arms crossed over her chest as she watched the rest of us leave the plane.

As we waited to pass through customs, everyone in line heard her descending the escalator with her husband, shouting every word she was saying.

Friday, November 03, 2006

After thoughts: I stuck my foot in my mouth

"Auntie Marie!" A tall, skinny boy greets me at the gate to Dwelling Places. His wide smile is familiar.
" Moses, right?"
My 17 year old student nods. I'm teaching first-grade level reading to a 17 year old.

They all remembered me, gave me hugs and sat attentively while I told them pieces of my time in Kotido and Gulu. They knew of the war, of course and I mentioned about the night commuters.
"These children all walk away from their families and sleep together on the floor." I smiled and said, " How would you like to have a slumber party everynight, sleep with all your friends?"

As soon as the words dashed off my tongue I felt a kick in my lung and felt sick from insensitivity and stupidity; these children are mostly abandoned or orphans, and those which aren't still sleep here each night, as they used to beg on the street each day because their parents couldn't care for them.
They do sleep every night surrounded by their friends, also not by choice, but from the desperation of their situation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Saddest Part is What Stops Being Sad After a While

While helping at Noah's Ark Children's Center Gulu, my job has been to interview people who benefit from the different ministries (night commuter shelter, clothing distribution at camps, counciling center, ect) for them to create a booklet of profiles and use for raising support, explaining their programs, ect.
However, I hate asking for the stories.
Everyone has been affected by this war. Your brother was abducted by the rebels. Your father was killed. You commute to the city to sleep. And people mention that a friend's older brother was abducted a few years ago and they don't know if he is alive or dead the same way you might mention that someone's car broke down- sad, but it happens often enough that you aren't shocked.
Everyone has a story.
Eventually the poor, the widows, the hungry aren't enough to wrench your heart.
You need to loose limbs.
You need to have stepped on a land mine.
You need to be an orphan and suffering from AIDs, because there are so many orphans how will you stand out? Even in giving misquito nets to the orphans, they selected the most vunerable, needy orphans.
Living in an IDP camp isn't enough, you need a sob story along with it.
I remember the girl at the first IDP camp, who's name I can't recall and who's face isn't stuck in my mind. She came forward to share her story along with the boy in the wheel chair and the boy who was abducted by the rebels.
I remember I didn't feel sorry for her because she was standing on both her legs and could pay all her school fees. But I don't remember her, what I remember is that she didn't make me want to cry.
Wasn't it enough that she had to leave her home out of fear? Was it not enough that all she has is a small, windowless hut to call home? That the sanitation in the camp isn't lacking- its nonexistent? Is it not enough that the people in the camps are constantly taken advantage of? Is it not enough that she sin't living in peace? That her country is torn apart by war?

I Dare You (After)

Vivian wants to be a secondary school teacher. Suzanne is 13 years old.
Grace hope wants to be a nurse when she graduates. She loves English and science, the boy in the white shirt she has a crush on and when she was 9 years old she was abducted by the rebels.
Every night they sleep here to be safe.
Grace Hope goes home from school, eats with her mother, walks to the shelter for the night commuters and in the morning walks home for breakfast before school.
Vivian eats at a charity that feeds the night commuters because home for her is too far away- her family now lives in an IDP camp.

I've heard people in North America mention that the children shouldn't commute any more, because the situation has been much safer for some time now (and many children have stopped
commuting). They should be with their families, they should sleep at home.

You tell that to a girl who was probably only able to pay her school fees this term because her mother no longer has to pay for her meals because the IDP camp where she lives is too far away.
You tell that to a girl who knows what it is like to be awoken in the middle of the night and taken from her home and family that she is suddenly safe.
You tell a girl who was forced to beat other children, some times to death, that she can stop walking because the peace talks have helped the situation.
She will stop walking when it is more than talk.

I tucked the 3 girls into bed. I hugged Grace and Suzanne, sat beside their beds; the blankets on the concrete. I kissed Vivian on the cheek and sent the group of them all laughing.
For the past 3 years Grace Hope has slept here. She managed to leave the rebel army 3 years ago. I wonder if she got to sleep one night at home in her bed.

After Aromo and Alio camps

That word will forever remind me of the bone-thin, sick camp-leader pulling the sheet up to cover her chest. Resting against the woman behind her who was supporting her to sit up.
What has this war not stolen from people?
Deprived of home, education, safety, food, income, job, health… but not dignity.
At least for this woman.
I was to honored to be sitting in her hut.

We met the camp leader in her hut because she was too sick to get up.
Her hut was dark and warm and she, the size of a child was laying on a mattress on the ground. She had been very ill and couldn’t even sit up on her own. The woman behind her held her as if she was a child, a beloved daughter; her head in the woman's chest, the woman with her arms wrapped around her.
She covered herself with a sheet and told us some of the biggest problems of the camp- food, HIV/AIDS, orphans, widows and medical treatment. Sitting almost naked before me, her posture was bad and her face showed how empty she was of energy, yet she held the authority of a queen; she was... dignified.

More IDP camps. I need to rest. To write. To pray. To cry.
It is so heavy to go there; like a weight has entered into your chest, pushing on your lungs. More than a thousand people crowding around, watching you, expecting you to do something to help them, save them.
We gave out half of our blankets and mosquito nets at the Aromo camp and the other half at Alio- blankets to widows, mosquito nets to former abducted children. Alio was big, stretching across 3 hills, but Aromo was bigger, almost 4 square miles of closely packed huts, filled with thousands upon thousands of people.

I never thought I would actually hear the words “Hakuna matiti”.
A man asked me if I had any children. I told him no.
A woman behind me said something, then grabbed my boob and said “Hakuna matiti.”
The man translated the first part for me “ She said its obvious that you don’t have any children.”
All I could do was laugh.

At dinner I met a member of Parliament who happened to be in charge of Aromo district.
This man has amazing stories (and is really good at telling them). He talked for almost 2 hours! He told me how he met Alice Lakwena (the woman who headed the rebellion before Kony was around) and how at that time they were recruiting adults instead of kidnapping children. He refused and told the people of his district to not enlist. Not a single person in his district joined the rebel army. He was taken, along with 2 others and tied up. After again refusing to join the rebellion he was sentenced to death.
He sent up a prayer to Jesus, that he was ready to meet Him in heaven if this was his time and surrendered to His authority and will.
So the bullets were fired. He shot several times- at least 2 times in the head and once in the chest/stomach area (and maybe more times, too).
About 20 minutes later, he woke up.
The friends beside him were dead. The guards no where to be found. Even after shouting and calling out, no one ran to finish the job.
He stood up, and walked away through the bush, bloody- but alive. He doesn’t know if he actually died and God brought him back to life, or if he was protected from dying, but who cares?
He met Joseph Kony, and mentioned that he was surprised about how civil and well-mannered he was.
Although he is an elected Member of Parliament, he has been arrested about 2-3 times since becoming an MP! And those stories are quite long, so I will spare you. He told me he plans to write a biography, I hope he does.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What More, What Next, What is Left After This?

clothing distribution.
The saddest statistic I heard the entire time I was in Gulu was 4. I heard numbers of orphans and widows reaching thousands. I heard amounts of displaced persons in percentagest of a million. I heard of the number of abducted children, of the years they spent in the rebel army. A decade in an IDP camp. The number of kilometeres walked.
What rips at my heart is 4.
Watching clothing distribution at an IDP camp with the ministry I was helping in Gulu I wondered what help we were by being there. We were just sitting around, just watching while others worked and distributed the donated clothing.
Why did these white people need to be here, making it seem like we were 'do-gooders', we hadn't even donated these clothes.

Then a member of our group told me some information; he said a resident of the camp had told him they love it when visitors come to the camps during distribution time
because they recieve 4 times as much.
Because unsupervised, the distributers often only give 1/4 of what they should be. Corruption within the NGO's and ministries is a problem in the north. What hope is left if even the ministries and charities are taking advantage of these vunerable, oppressed people?
Now I can attest that there are some great organizations in the north, doing very good things and helping people and using their money (or the donated funds) in the ways they say they will. But it is common enough that the people recieving the help don't even think about how they are being cheated anymore; its their lot in life to be abused in every way possible.

I almost got trampled during one of the clothing give-aways.
There is a list of people who are especially in need in each particular camp, so their names are called and they come select garments for themselves or their children. In or outside a building doesn't matter; a huge, impatient crowd gathers no matter what.
Infact, inside a building can easily be worse at times; the people push at the doors so it is almost impossible for anyone to get out once they get their clothes and at the last IDP camp I saw some people break the guard rails off the window and soon anyone who could was vaulting the window, grabbing an armload of clothes. They had to open the doors to let all the people out.

I was standing near the last pile of clothes in an outside distribution point, waiting to ask a few beneficiaries questions (as was my task by the ministry I was helping). I asked a young boy, 12 years old about why he had been selected to recieve clothes. But the boy was almost one of the last names on the list and there were still many clothes left, so the people in charge of keeping order eased up for a bit and the wall of people attacked the clothes.
The adults ran reguardless of the small children at their feet. The crippled elderly had better wobble a little faster.
I saw two wrestling over a garment, ready to tear it in two. Both were screaming and desperate to recieve the shirt. They were both adult women. Most of the people fighting were adults.
Did they just not care?
No. They just cared that much.

After Dinner. And Lunch. And Breakfast.

Jack asks me, “Can you use your natural forks?”
Well, sure I can- kids love to do it when their little, right?

Some of the food they eat here:
Cassava (very much like potatoes)Greens (basically leafy stuff like spinach that is cooked in water and oil)
Chapatis (flat bread that is cooked in lots of oil)
Bread (only at breakfast)
Corn (roasted on the cob and only as a snack)
Meat (which means beef, never any other animal)
Chicken (roasted, also not considered part of a meal, only a snack)
Posho (made from corn flour, a white substance that has the texture of stale corn bread, but hardly any taste)
Ugali (used in place of Posho and I think it is disgusting- something like sardine-flavored raw pizza dough with sand mixed in. Good helpings of sand.)

And that’s basically it.
Not really much fruit. Oranges sometimes, and bananas. But I don’t like bananas.
My favorite thing to eat- pineapple, which I could eat until I am sick and could eat for months without getting sick of it (its true, I’ve attempted it, and still love it).
I guess when its mango season they eat mangos like crazy, but it wasn’t mango season.
So that list of 13 foods was what I ate. Please, I don’t want to eat any grease again for the rest of the year. I’m amazed that these people aren’t obese, even more amazed that they are skinny with the amount of oil they eat.
And tea, every day is tea. Fine with me, I love tea. But they add tea to their sugar. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if they have room in their tiny little mugs to add any more sugar, its quite amazing that they aren’t fat.

Monday, October 30, 2006

After Dark in Kyengera

Tonight we dance.
The electricity is out- its an every other night thing and tonight is the lucky night.
So we dance.
Ucheza Ucheza! (Dance Dance!)
The flashlight becomes a strobe light and the dark hallway a dance hall.
I’ve been to dance clubs, but I think I prefer dancing here, to no music, with the little children pulling on my arms and spinning me around.

I can’t remember the date, it got lost somewhere after the 10th- which might have been Monday.

Kampala is very busy, too busy. I love people, but it exhausts even me to walk through the thick crowds of people. Kyengera is sort of a suburb of Kampala- it is strange to say suburb because that words sketches matching houses and green, trimmed yards with a mini van in the driveway. That’s not Kyengera. I wouldn’t call it a slum, because I’ve seen slums. They have houses, they have a section of dirt which could be considered a ‘lawn’. The roads are undefined and trails to homes laughable. Here are directions to the place I stayed at:
Get off at the gas station.
Walk across the street and down towards the market.
Turn left at the sign for the school.
Turn right where the dirt road T’s at a section with gravel.
Turn left small line of trees between the fruit stands.
Follow that path: over the feed bag filled with mud, between the large pile of dirt or sand or whatever that is laid in the middle of the path.
Turn right just past the tiny ‘convenience store’ (which could never, ever be confused with a 7-11).
Walk between the block of houses, ducking under the clothes line and behind the house using a sheet as a door-
It’s the house with the high black fence around it with the clothes stabbed along the top, drying in the sun.

I really loved staying with that family, they were amazing. I made a mistake when I said they were Rwandan refugees. They are refugees from Rwanda, however their nationality is Congolese. They fled to Rwanda, stayed there until the genocide threatened their lives, and now are in Uganda.
Of the children, I’m not sure which ones are cousins or siblings because Nunu has a mother who works away in town and comes to visit once a week, and Rehema waved a hand at the whole group and announced that their parents had died. They don’t use step-mother or half-sister, so I don’t know who is related or what way, not that it’s really that important because they live as one family, all taking care of each other.

Miriam, the oldest girl went and took my dirty clothes bag and washed all my clothes for me. Then she took my tennis shoes and washed them, too. She even re-washed the clothes I had washed and left to soak, not trusting in my ability to wash them properly.

Before I leave to go to town (Kampala) each morning, Ahmedi, who is 6 and missing his front teeth (and not just the 2, but 4 of them- so you can barely ketch a glimpse of white at the very edges of his lips), grins at me and says “Bisqueet?”
Which means ‘biscuit’ and translates from British English to American as ‘cookies’ and I can’t deny this adorable little boy some cookies. I hope he doesn’t get too set with having cookies everyday.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

After Everything, We Still Want to Giggle

I woke up this morning with a cockroach trying to crawl in my ear. I felt something tickling my ear, opened my eyes, and saw 2 little antennas twitching back and forth. Picked up the bug and flung it against the wall. Well, thats a pretty good alarm clock; now I'm wide awake.
For those of you remembering stories you've heard of 'cockroach ear' and temporary deafness attributed to these bugs, no need to fear, the cockroach was too big to fit in the tiny hole in my head.
I'm in Gulu, staying at the office for Noah's Ark Children's Ministry.
The house girls are so funny! The younger one doesn't speak any English, but we have a hilarious time combining my Swahili with her Swahili and the other language she speaks, I think she keeps hoping I will miraculously learn the other language.
And they are cleptos. I keep finding the large bag of bracelets given to me from little girls at Hilltop Camp hiding in a corner in their room and now all my pens and pencils are missing. That should teach me to leave my notebook lying around.

Noah's Ark in Gulu has a shelter for the night commuters- at one time they held thousands of children in their center, but now only host about 200 each night, as the security in the area has been much better for some time now. Only 200?
I saw the compound the first night, one long house, the last 2 rooms with concrete floors and clotheslines strung with the mattresses (which were simply blankets, no other form of mat) along the wall. There were 3 large concrete slabs between the shelter and the toilet area, I was told that at the time of greatest insecurity, when even young mothers were seeking safety there were large UNICEF tents. Only one of these tents was still standing, and from outside I could see the sillouettes of boys getting ready for bed.
Up on the hill was the girl's room. I entered to see many girls making their beds; selecting a blanket and lying down on it. The girl sitting near the door I entered was finishing her homework and smiled at me when I entered. She asked my name, where I was from and how old I was. As it turns out, we are the same age. Try as I might, I could not imagine facing all that she had gone through, yet we have lived the same number of years.

There was another, smaller building close by the toilets, one room was the study hall; a place were the children could finish their homework if they were attending school or just read a book if they had nothing else to do. The other room was opened on the weekends and played movies for the children to watch.
Sunday night they watched the movie Polley (the one about the talking parrot). It made me happy that in the middle of this tragedy- children fleeing for their lives, sleeping away from their homes and families, there was something they could still do that was fun, that was silly, that let them be kids; just gathering together to watch a movie. Some of them sat on the floor. Some sat on wooden benches, some crawled up the walls and sat on the window sill.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Afterglow: Let me paint an IDP camp

Tan- the dirt. The vivid line where the camp starts and sits atop. There is no grass within the camps, instead it grows just everywhere around the camp; almost like looking at rolled-out cookie dough where a cookie-cutter has gone through, except invert the green counter top and the tan-colored dough.

Green- the creek flowing behind the only toilets in the camps; often port-o-potties. A few rare times, I saw grass growing near one of these small rivers and even saw ducks having a little wade.

Clear- the dirty plastic bag in the mouth of a little girl who stands infront of me, staring. The words written on the bag that I can manage to read, just near her lips "Vodka" and the percentage of alcohol. She didn't used a cute pout-y face or ask for anything, she just stared at me, sucking on the piece of trash.

Brown- the little bare butt of a boy running past. He was wearing shorts- sort of. They had a waistband, but the legs of the shorts had ripped apart, now a loose sort of skirt with a high and wide slit. There were enough children (boys and girls) wearing similar shorts to make one think that perhaps this was the new style.

Blue- the cloudless sky. I ask Mary what she does to support her family and she says she is a farmer. I ask another woman her means of income and she tells me she's a digger (meaning she goes to local farms and digs up the potatoes and ground nuts for the farmers). They both tell me there hasn't been enough rain for the past 3 years. Many farmers just keep their produce to feed their families, as their isn't enough left to sell. Every digger I talked to was paid in food, not money.

I was walking through the camp, thinking of how sad it was, how depressing when I heard an uplifting note.
I heard a song playing on the radio. A few huts farther down, I heard a different song playing and saw a television lighting the dark doorframe of another hut. Amazing- I didn't even think they would have electricity!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It is an Adventure, After all

I tapped the woman infront of me on the shoulder 3 times before she turned around. I don't know their language, but I pointed to her feet, where the chicken who had escaped from the clutches of the man seated behind me was cowering. She reached down and gripped is wing, wrestled with it for a moment, then lost her grip and I never saw the chicken again. It must have managed to get out of the mini van taxi we were crowded into and went off running freely through the bus park.
The baby behind me started tugging on my hair- because blonde-ish brown curls are a novelty there. It was a constant thing for the rest of the trip, this baby playing with my hair- occasionally giving it a yank.

I knew there was something wrong with our vehicle from the start- because as soon as the engine turned over it started to roll backwards and the driver had to get out and push it forward.
The road from Lira to Gulu was much less bumpy than others I had been on, so I settled myself against the window to ketch up on my lack of sleep from howling dogs and end of the world rain storms. No sooner had I rested my head against hte window than I was vaulted into the air and my head crashed against the side of the van. We had a blow out.

A passenger had warned the driver that there was something wrong with the tire, but he assured us that it would be fine. We hadn't even been on the road 15 minutes. Even the wires of the tire were showing, it was that bad.
So we unloaded ourselves and settled down on the grass for the next hour while they changed the tire. 4 hours later we arrived in the town of Gulu.
The buspark was small and muddy, It was uncovered and filled with real school-bus sized buses, mini vans and plenty of boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) each one of them calling out for you to be their customer.

I ignored them, re-read the directions to the ministry I was going to, swung my backpack on and headed off. She told me the distance in meters. Like I know meters. I should, actually, from being in track where the races are based in meters and all, but it doesn't click fast with me.
After walking for about 10 minutes I stopped and asked someone for directions.
"Oh, its just that way." She pointed behind me.
Great, I had been walking in the wrong direction, of course.

When I finally did arrive at the location, it was laughable that it was just a block away from the bus station.

As the person incharge of the programs was currently out on the field, so two security guards kept me company.
I asked how many children commuted to this ministries center each night.
"Now only about 200."
"Where did they sleep before there were shelters for them?"
"In the bus park, mostly."
"How many bus parks are there in Gulu?"

" The one I came in at?"

I couldn't imagine how any of the children could sleep there- if the buses and taxis parked there at night, there would have been no room, the children would have had to sleep under the vehicles, right there in the mud or dirt.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Week After I went to Kotido

I thought it was the Rapture.
I sat up straight in bed and covered my ears. My eyes were wide, I'm sure. I was afraid, so scared. This horribly loud crashing sound was all around me, filling up my head.

Now, I've heard rain on a tin roof before, but it was nothing like this. This was like 20-30 people jumpiing on the roof above me. While crashing pots and pans together. There was no way I was gonna fall back to sleep.
Besides, I needed to be awake in an hour anyways- my bus was leaving at 4:30 am.

Saturday night we met the missionary who had been living in Kotido for 14 years now. An amazing guy who definately has had God's protection. He had to face a lot of culutural, tribal beliefs with the tribe here- things like cutting down trees were forbidden without the proper rituals performed, and if rain hadn't come in a while, prepare to sacrifice a goat or cow. But he stood in opposition to that and one day faced a crowd of angry women coming at him ready to attack.
He told me he sat down under a tree and prayed to God. If it was his time, he was ready, but asked him to please spare him if there was still work for him to do.
Out of nowhere (and literally, this place is in the middle of nowhere) armed military men forced the women back.
Now he has a large church with 2 services, one in English, another in the local language, and has already started a new church in a nearby village pastored by a former warrior of the tribe.
The next day we helped with Sunday school. Well- the two pastors I was with helped with Sunday school, I only speak English, so I just sat while they gave the lesson.
We went to visit some of the local people (
Karamonjong) in their villages which are made up of a handfull of small huts (just like the ones in IDP camps) and surrounded by a woven-stick fench with a tiny door where you must crouch down on your hands a knees to enter. The people have beautiful markings on their faces, carvings, sort of in beautiful designs along their forehead and cheeks. However, they later told me that one recieves those markings as a sign of bravery. Usually it is a testament to having killed someone.
In their culture, killing is not a crime and stealing, or being a good raider is a pride. Their herds are stocked with cattle all bearing different tags from their true owners somewhere south of here.
Some of the girls wore my glasses; it was so funny to see them, with their many tribal necklaces, their customary wraps and hair-cuts putting on my very modern glasses! I will have to put some pictures up.

I never want to go to Kotido again. It was a great experience, but it was way too remote. Also, as the title of this blog implies; a week after Kotido the Karomajong raided the town. The roads to and from Kotido were blocked off and buses stopped running there because of the many ambushes they had been experiencing by both the LRA and the Karamonjong.

The day after I returned to Lira, I read in the local newspaper about how the Karamonjong sell their children as slaves under the guise of being 'house girls' or childbrides to nearby districts or to western Kenya.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

After some consideration... did I mention I am thankful for all the prayers?

The dust here is different; it doesn’t come as a cloud or on the wind. It slowly, invisibly covers you.
Riding along on the back of a truck- a normal pick-up truck loaded with 13 adults squeezed in the back, a young girl’s feet behind me and a baby beside me tugging on my shirt. I’m sitting on a jerry can, the same that line the whole truck, filled with the local brew so that is all I smell and even more strongly as the one under my right thigh is slowly leaking on me. My dirty tennis shoes hang limply beside the bare feet of Yolanda, the woman sitting beside me.
“ You sit well.” She says to me.
It’s not a compliment, but an order; to keep myself from falling as we bounce along this pot-holed road.
It didn’t seem dusty, but after a few hours I realize my dark arms have a removable tan and later, when I see my face, all I can do is laugh. Every crevice is red from the dirt- my ears, my nose, even my belly button , which I am puzzled by because I had a long shirt on all day.
We traveled up to Kotido- about 6 hours away, just below Sudan. I had thought we were visiting more IDP camps.
“ Kotido isn’t a camp, it’s a town. Its were the Karomajong live. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) doesn’t bother them, they are too fierce.”
Since discovering that, I have slowly learned information about them;
Cattle herders
Don’t like to wear clothes
Known for their violence and rape of women

Oh joy, and we are spending the night there?
“Not with the tribe, in the town. It’s a normal town.”
It was an exaggeration to call it ‘normal’. Anyone who has been to Freedom, Indiana has been to a town much like Kotido. The World Food Programme has more lights around its compound than the entire town.
“ Oh, you shouldn’t worry about that. They probably won’t do anything to a visitor. It’s the transport up there you should be worried about, the road is quite dangerous.” My friend Jack tells me the day before we leave for Kotido.
And that is supposed to make me feel better?

Half-way through our trip we stopped at a town, unloaded some of the alcohol and added a soldier- our armed protector on the dangerous road. He kept asking me questions about my home and nick-named me America. On the trip up there, about 6 hours away we passed about 5 or so other vehicles, one of which had broken down. We stopped to give the man a lift, his business being gin (in plastic bags, no less!), he paid the driver in alcohol and also shared some with the soldier.
When we reached past the risky, insecure part (with absolutely no trouble at all) the soldier got off and made a slurred good-bye and walked unsteadily away.
Great, our valiant guard was drunk. I feel safe.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

After the parents are gone

In a room full of 30 orphans, 10 lift their hands.
The question asked was how many had their parents killed by the rebels.
1/3 of the room- just by the rebels. I won't say because of the war because the war has contributed to the spread of AIDS, other diseases, lack of medical help, hunger and poverty. So physically killed by the rebels.

The room is dark, today there is no electricity. There are only a few chairs, the middle of the room left empty for the children to crowd in on the floor. Smiling faces peer around the sunny doorway into the dark office of Bethel Children's Ministry. The porch infront of the office is full of children and a few older ladies, hoping to maybe recieve some of the gifts this ministry gives.
I shared some of the bracelets given to my at Hilltop Camp with group.

There are so many orphans here. So much that people who are missing one parent don't think of themselves as orphans. At the 4th or 5th camp I visited, they were sorting out some of the more needy orphans (without an aunt or uncle to care for them) and suddenly the whole group started laughing.
"That little girl stood up, but she's not an orphan. Only her grandfather died."
How was that funny at all?

I'm sitting in Gulu, listening to the song "Indescribeable" (which I hate listening to, because it makes me want to cry, which it is doing again). Its Sunday, but I'm 2 weeks behind on my updates. However, each day has been so full with adventure and stories that I would rather be late than skip over one.
The president of Uganda drove past me yesterday. I'm glad thats what all the soldiers were for- seeing so many military men makes people here a little uneasy, I don't blame them.
For the first time today I ate a mango and actually liked it! All these years I've thought I hated mango, I guess I just never ate a good one.

My next update should be more cheery, so sorry- I blame the mood of the music.

Afternoon: Sun and Shade

Church here is dusty and loud. Few insturments means clapping and random peircing screams. The dancing is upwards- leaping straight into the air. Makes me smile to see these bent foward elderly people jumping up and down in worship, kicking up the dust around their bare feet from these dirt floor isles.

I went to my first IDP (internal displaced peoples) camp today. In my mind I pictured a long, bumpy road traveled to reach this remote camp, but it was less than 5 minutes away. The Starch Factory is a small camp, but a camp none the less, just outside the town of Lira.
The children followed us around as we walked through the camp. The friendly, nearly naked children held my hands- or whatever they could; a thumb, a finger. I had 3 children on one arm, 2 on the other.

We sat under a shelter- just poles and roof as we waited for the camp leader to greet us. At first it was just children that milled around the open sides, and then we were sitting in the shade of over 100 people as they created a wall around us.
The camp leader explained some of the major issues of the camp to us.
The learning center (the school at the camp, not requiring school fees) where nearly 200 children in each class had been shut down, so now the children are not attending school. A year ago NGO's stopped supplying food on a regular basis to the camp. This rainy season there hasn't been enough rain, so that has hindered crop growth.
Some offered to tell us their story and came foward to share. The first boy was in a wheelchair created by bicycle wheels, his torso invisible, his bony legs twisted infront of him. He explained about some of the issues he was facing at the camp- the main one being school fees. Exams begin tomorrow, he was supposed to graduate this year but will not because he has no school fees.

Another boy came forward, standing tall and strong. 17 years old, 3 years ago he was captured by the rebels. He was forced to carry 80 kilos of beans as his 'admission' into the army. After being beaten, an army commander chose him as his escort. So for the next year his job was to carry items for the commander. Then he escaped and came to this camp. Now he faces the stigma of being called a rebel and a murderer by people who were once his friends and neighbors. As we left, he handed me a envelope addressed to "Helen from Canada".
"Please help us." He said.
I still haven't had the courage to open that letter.

The church bishop turned to me and asked if I had anything encouraging to say to them.
After that you want me to tell you something hopeful?

Friday, October 13, 2006

After Teaching

Yesterday was spent at Dwelling Places- I only have the nicest things to say about them. They are an awesome organization helping street children and orphans in Kampala. They rehabilitate them, reunite them with family, pay their school fees, teach them and help them and their parents learn skills that they can use for a job.

They taught me how to weave the way they make their handbags- its alot harder than it looks. My teacher was a little girl named Lydia who I sat next to for lunch as she told me about her 2 mothers- her real mother and her biological Aunt, both who had died leading her to Dwelling Places. She now has 20 or so Aunts and Uncles who take care of her at Dwelling Places.

I taught English and reading to her and 6 other students. Innocent was adorable and paid good attention, Moses David did not want to sit in his seat. The oldest, 17 year old Faroo was the top student of my class, always the first hand raised. It was 1st grade reading, but these children had been deprived of school while they were begging on the street or taking care of their dying parents.
I carried one little girl, whose name I forget because her foot was injured and she kept limping around in barefeet, hobbling to the nurses' station. She was sweet and funny and kept making me laugh. I promised her that when I return to Kampala in 2 weeks I would return to Dwelling Places to teach again, so I would see her again.

I have to travel the rest of the way alone because Michelle's passport has still not arrived. Please pray for me!!!
Tomorrow I take a bus to Lira and from there I will be traveling to camps throughout the northern part of Uganda.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

After a day at Noah's Ark

"Muzungu Muzungu how are you?"
"Muzungu Muzungu I love you."
It should be a song, this chant which is stuck in my head. Or wait- no, I am really hearing it.
Even the adults aren't embarrassed to stare. I have seen a few more white people, but truly, Kenya was nothing compared to this.

Yesterday I went to a home for abandoned children. I held a few babies to get them to fall asleep and fed one named Esther. The whole time all I could think was who would abandon such beautful children? They were all so affectionate and loving, so willing to give hugs and hold your hand. There were several volunteers from Holland, so seeing another white person was not amazing. They all referred tome as 'Auntie'. The 60 some children who live there have about 20-30 Aunties and a few Uncles, too.

And I rode on a buda buda (or is it boda boda?) yesterday- a motorcycle taxi. No, I did not have a helmet or a jacket, sorry parents. I think I am in more danger crossing the street than I am on the back of a motorcycle, here. (not that its all that dangerous- for the grandparents, parents and other relatives who read this.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

After about 20 some hours on a plane...

I haven't seen a white person since I left the airport and I keep hearing 'Muzungu' which means "White" in Swahili.
I made it safe to Uganda. Its beautiful, the people are so friendly and nice and I just passed a Thai grocery store on the way to this internet cafe- go figure.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Remember the little girls who stole the flowers? Josie and Angela
These are the little girls I promised to share pictures of

Jen, Gift and Charity- Gale

My daughter, Jeanette- I love her, she is such a sweetie!

Keep reading further down, I wrote lots and lots on here today because I finally have internet again!

Farewell and Thanks

The Indian Summer is taking its last breaths, but I'm thankful for the extended warmth just the same. It has been a wonderful break from winter coats and gloves.

I said my good-byes to the few brave folk who had come out for a game of soccer- it was a small group, even with the little boys who joined in at the end. 2 Canadians, an Iraqi, and someone from Cameroon and an audience of my adopted grandmother (who is Peruvian). I hugged them all and hoped that we would have a few more days warm enough for soccer, or else I might not see them until next summer.
I walked home the long way, sweaty and tired, a wonderful tired from running and laughing. It is probably the last time I will wear shorts in Canada all year. I contemplated all the things I had to be thankful for over the summer:

- practice in swahili, spanish and a few lessons in portuguese
- a new nickname- which means 'rice'
- a free pair of sun glasses
- a free beautiful wool coat
- finally finding not only one, but 2 churches to call home
- lice (no, I don't have it again, but it is something that I am thankful for- it means lots of hugs and getting to know the little girls better)
- the office moving; which is now a regular stop-point for kids on their way to school
- learning the street names of marijuana and crack-cocaine
- getting to be a doula
- eating ingera, puposas and other 'ethnic' (amazing!) foods for the first time
- a list of people who's houses i can stay at for a night, a week or even months
- parking garage attendants who know me and brighten my day
- a neighborhood full of children to give fresh-baked cookies to
- not able to walk around downtown without seeing someone i know
- evenings full of soccer with great guys
- even the not-nice guys who make me realize how lucky i am that i have protectors and temporary big-brothers
- little sisters and pretend daughters
- some of the hardest days of my life, but great lessons learned
- realizing why i was called to this city
- embracing the fact that i am incapable and rejoicing in that

Sunday, September 24, 2006

holding on with both hands

Last Sunday, I sat at church. A break from a busy week. A drink. A burst of energy from even just sitting on a chair. Or perhaps from the many hugs I recieve. Or the offers to pray for me. Or the opportunity to pray for others.

As the service came to a vauge close, prayers rising up from all around, I look around to see my friend, sobbing. Her head was pressing into her boyfriend's shoulder, her body shaking with sobs. Her pants were soaked because of the rain-drenched weekend, and her hair was un-washed and messy, but still somehow managed to look beautiful. Her dirty, stained fingers intwined within her boyfriend's two hands. Their fingers were discolored almost the same shade, creating a puzzle to discover who's hand was who's. It was the best, most beautiful comfort being offered; to hold her hand in both his hands because sometimes that extra grip makes all the difference.
I sat beside her, laid my head on her shoulder, as if I could comfort her at all. But perhaps the knowledge that someone else saw and cared would help, even if just a little. I brought her a tissue, watched her dry her eyes and then walked away, admiring the beauty of the homeless couple holding eachother.

It reminded me that humans are helpless, no matter if we are homeless or not. Tears shed for her dying grandmother, a situation she cannot help and cannot change. She needs God just as much as I need God. She needs bus fare to visit her grandmother in the hospital, but visiting won't change the diagnosis.

The picture still easily pops into my mind; the smelly, slightly-high, beautiful couple holding hands in church.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I accidentally cut myself with a knife

The amazing thing about that is that it was with a butter knife. I didn't think it was possible, but I rammed the knife so hard at the object in my hand that it actually broke the skin (not enough to bleed), broke the nail and will probably bruise. I guess the title of this post should also have added that I bruised myself with a knife.
And I gave myself another cut with cardboard. 2 objects that are supposed to be child-save, I guess I am an exception.

Interesting happenings today:
Walking over the bridge to visit my friend this morning I see a little old lady infront of me. Just before walking off the bridge she picks up a soaking wet sweater crumpled up against the sidewalk. She holds it out, then gently lays it across the railing as if it were a clothes line. I wonder what she does when she finds a shoe on the ground.

On my way back from getting the mail I passed a very interesting-looking old man; for starters, he was wearing a woman's fake fur dress coat. It was black with a leopard print on it. He was also pushing an empty dollie down the street as he wobbled a little while he walked- I guess a dollie is a good substitute for a walker.

I crossed the street infront of a car with two individuals in the front seat. The window rolls down and someone whistles at me. I hate when people do that- especially when I am in my giant winter coat- I just do not look the least bit attractive. So I gave the car a dirty look, only for the girl to roll down her window the rest of the way and call out between her giggles, "Gotcha!"
It would have been less creepy if I had some idea who the girl was, but it was funny just the same.

Monday, September 11, 2006

People talk too much

A few days ago I met three little girls, fresh from Africa. They had been in Canada for 7 days when I met them. Poor things, winter is just around the corner. They couldn't speak English, but communication through speech is over-rated. We had a leaf fight and they chased me around in the park. The next day I saw them again; they were learning Canadian culture-shaking my hand. I laughed, hugged them and picked one up and swung her around, pretending to drop her on the sidewalk. Spend a few hours communicating without words- its very important.

Sitting too quietly at the park, a few friends and I created our own music- a water bottle drum, a set of keys as a tamborine and 'Z' as our dancer. We decided to call him 'Z' just yesterday because none of us knew his name, and if you spend time with someone on a regular basis for over a month, you should know their name. If not, create one.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Autumn comes early to the coldest city in North America

For whoever wants to doubt me about the facts of "Winterpeg"- look it up

Everything feels like fall.
The sharp, crisp air. Just waiting for all the leaves to drop. Playing soccer with long sleeves. Night comes earlier and the only thing I crave is hot coffee and apple cider. Hay rides seem about time... that would be a sight to see Downtown!
Fall arrived yesterday at about 3:50 pm. The first part of the day was sunny and warm. Then, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and fall had arrived. No transition, although some would argue going from 25 degrees celsius to 10 degrees is a good transition for the coming weather of -10!
Wednesday all I wanted was some icecream, and I walked for about half an hour to get some. Today, I wore a wool sweater and drank plenty of hot coffee, amazing how quickly the weather changes here. And in only September!

Yesterday I did a frightening thing; I mailed off my passport to get my visa to go to Uganda. I handed it over to the man at the post office, in a hurry and very anxious. Today, sitting in someone's livingroom, listening to details about contractions and going into labor I remembered having mailed it off. Aaahhhh!!!
Please pray that we get our visas and that everything goes well with that. In precisely 28 days we leave on an airplane for Uganda, about 20-some hours later we will arrive in Entebbe airport. Please keep me in your prayers. Oh, and sign up to pray for the prayer project, because we need more people to sign up

Friday, September 01, 2006


I'm pretty good at putting on one of those masks that always smiles. And its even easier to make things sound all hunky-dory when its written. But things aren't.
I'll skip too many details and other things which are pulling me down, which means either giving fake names or just saying 'my friend' over and over again, and just mention the major one.
I guess reading my sister's blog, which was sad and not at all happy-go-lucky, made it easier for me to 'voice' some of the stuff of today.

11 year olds shouldnt be mature. they should be silly and goofy and disrespectful. they should complain about their parents, ask too many questions and get on your nerves. they should be naive and annoying.
11 year olds shouldnt be mistaken for drug dealers. 11 year olds should have someone who cares where they are all day. 11 year olds should have better role models than gang members. 11 year olds shouldnt take a nap on a car hood just because its warm. 11 year olds shouldnt lean their head on my shoulder and act like i'm their mom. 11 year olds shouldnt have tatoos. 11 year olds shouldnt be one of my informants. 11 year olds shouldnt be so well protected. 11 year olds shouldnt wear whatever color they want.
11 year olds shouldnt know so much.

a good thing which happened last week was the 16 year old who got kicked out of his house, sucked into the drug scene because the person who 'charitably' let him live there was invovled in such activity and stepping into gang stuff- back at his parents home now! i realize it doesnt solve everything, but it sure helps a lot!

and the lice is gone. i dont know for how long, because with moving the office, we are right around the corner from where the girl who most recently shared the little insects with me live. i've already seen her (and the little eggs which are visible to the eye without even getting too close) about 3 times today.

Sometimes I wish I could write more. But it's probably a good thing that I don't. I don't want to be abusive and splash people's lives all over my blog and justify it because I didnt use their name or this is actually helping them in some twisted way.
Should we always feed the hungry?
Would God heal someone of an injury they recieved by harming someone else?
If someone gets a sex change and then becomes a Christian, should they get another operation back to their original gender, return to living as the gender they were created with, or stay with the way they physically are- and what about future relationships?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Do you feel itchy?

Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Bible- its so real, so human. Jonah heard God's voice and responded as so many do- running in the opposite direction. Then he humbled himself, prayed one of the most beautiful prayers ever and was anointed and commissioned again to preach God's mercy and love to the city. His anointing is what gets me every time- the stomach acid of a giant fish.
Not long after I was contemplating how sometimes God anoints us in radical ways (sometimes ways we recieve through our own sin or disobedience, or perhaps in a way that we view as bad, but is really God's blessing and anointing), I contracted lice for the first time. I remember standing in the shower, smelling of lice-killing shampoo and asking why I was ridden with this horrible infestation when God revealed it to me; it was my anointing as a missionary to the inner-city.
The moment I even thought of complaining God reminded me of Paul's anointing of temporary blindness- okay, I guess I will take the lice.
That was April, since then I have gotten lice again 2 times. This most recent time was because I went to an event held by Living Bible Explorers. She asked me to come because she was singing, and I realized that this was a bold step for her and I was so excited for her, of course I went. As it happened, her little sister sat next to me and hugged me most of the evening. Thus the new 'friends' in my head.
Now, I don't know what to do to prevent lice. Keep my hair in a ponytail- but that means a permanent one because I know too many kids in my neighborhood who have lice, and that means I couldn't leave the house unless my hair was up. Withholding hugs is not an option. Ever.

So, if anyone has any tips (besides continual use of the chemical shampoos which become harmful after extended use), please pass them on as a way to support an inner-city missionary without having to write a check!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Life isn't boring if you're me!

My shorts were almost completely ripped off of me the other day. I was riding on the handlebars of a bike (I know thats not the safest way to ride) and the wires of the brakes grabbed ahold of my meshy shorts and held on while the rest of me went to the ground. A few people saw quite a lot of my leg, but my shorts were not ripped.

Then I fell in a fountain while trying to retreive a soccer ball. The bottom was reallly slick! all 30 people saw me, and erupted in laughter. I got most of them back though- attacking them with hugs so I wasn't the only wet one.

Sunday I decided to skip sleep- bad idea when working with kids. While they were having "God talk" upstairs, I laid down on the stage and fell asleep. When I woke up I was covered in flags. About 10 flags had been draped over me by silly, but caring little girls.

I often fall down when I am playing soccer- no one even around me, I just fall. Some people fall on wet floors. Others in mud. Well, I do that,too. And then some. Today I was just passing back and forth a soccer ball with friends- not even fast or anything, I turned on dirt (just dirt) and found myself sitting on the ground.

Today, walking home a cab driver yells at me. By name. "Umm... do I know you? Who are you?" I was the most weired-out because he knew my name. After driving around the corner so we could talk and I didn't look like a prostitute, he tells me, "Some one told me that you were a Christian and I was so happy! I drove around yesterday hoping to see you! I am saved, too." (this is probably my new favorite quote, just imagine the enthusiasm pushed into the sentence)
"Being saved is like winning the lottery!"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

yes, thats me!

Get this video and more at

looking down 50 feet. its cold, but thats not why you're shaking. count down and -JUMP!
you can't stop yourself once you're in the air- just make sure you clear the part of the rock that juts out farther half way down.
thats what i did this weekend.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gulu Prayer Project

What are you doing September 10-17? Got a spare hour or so? If you have followed any of my blogs you will know that I have a heart for northern Uganda, and especially for the kids who have to walk every night to sleep on the streets so that they don't get kidnapped and forced to be soldiers. And for the children in displacement camps who are being deprived of an education and food and clean water. And the parents who's children didn't come home that one night and now don't know if they are dead or alive. And for the adult who still has nightmares because of the trauma he or she had to live with since escaping the rebel army. Basically, the whole horrible issue. Murder, disease, human rights violations, starvation, homelessness, and the list goes on. We had the first prayer project in March for 2 weeks. This next one is 24 hours a day, for 7 days straight- Sunday to Sunday. People coming together from all over the world via the internet to sign up to pray for an hour. The prayer ideas list includes praying for: the children who walk the children who fight the families those who have escaped the army the government of Uganda the leaders of the rebel army the ministries we will be working with the volunteers and organizations which are helping me and the rest of us going to Uganda in October visit to sign up to pray! We will send the email reminders, so you don't have to worry about forgetting to pray. Many people have told me they prayed or will pray, but just would rather not sign up to pray for an hour. That is fine, but misses the value in being part of this ministry and joining with the others from around the world to help us pray for a constant week. (but don't get the idea that for some reason I think your prayer isn't heard or that God doesn't include it in prayers for Uganda, I don't think He has prayer folder just for this ministry). But I really would encourage you to step out and commit to praying with us for 1 hour.