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.