Friday, October 31, 2014


Around this time last week, I lacked energy. I felt constantly drained and couldn't take a morning jog. Headaches I chalked up to dehydration bothered me mid-afternoon. I wanted to sleep and you couldn't have tempted me with any food; I simply had no appetite.

After seeing the horrible conditions at the hospital I was adamant that I go to a private clinic. Tested positive for one of the most common conditions in Uganda, typhoid.
I had the typhoid vaccine booster about two or three years ago, hence the mildness of my symptoms. But the vaccine is not 100% preventative. I must have been in the first stage of typhoid, because I wasn't yet running a high fever or feeling some of the more extreme, scary-sounding symptoms of 2nd and 3rd stage.
The doctor explained to me (and then I googled some more) about typhoid. I knew I needed to drink boiled water, which I had been doing. But I was reminded about the role of everything related to consumption: the hands that made my food, my own hands that fed myself. The containers that transported and stored water. The methods of washing dishes; these all came into play.
His advice? Vigilance.

Typhoid is a type of salmonella that only affects humans and is transferred person-to-person through contact with and consumption of... feces. Ew. I know!
This means that I ate some particle of poop from another person who had typhoid, and now I have typhoid (and if any body eats my poop; or the drainage of the outhouse runs into someone's water supply and they don't properly boil their water; or I don't properly wash my hands after using the toilet; or a fly flies on my poop and then lands on someone's food; then they will get typhoid from me).

It's about pure, clean water and vigilance is the only defense. And it also means that ultimately, I'm responsible for if I get typhoid or not.

The treatment for typhoid is not fun. While I ingested the typhoid bacteria, it didn't just remain in my digestive system; it went everywhere quickly. And treatment likewise must go through my whole body through infusion or a drip. A 2 inch tube was inserted in my hand and twice a day I was connected to an IV supplying me with medicine, slowly running it through my bloodstream.
Let me tell you; this hurt. Twice I cried, once I screamed so loud and all the children started screaming for a doctor saying “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Or “the white lady!”. On this last occasion I sat in the treatment room alone, but most days there were four or five others receiving the same intravenous treatment for typhoid.

Now I'm on two weeks (give or take a day) of pills and the instruction to drink a lot of sugary drinks. For a person who usually takes tea without sugar and drinks only water, the last of the instructions has been hard to keep. I'm doing my best to drink a lot of juice everyday, but it's a concerted effort.

There's a devotional in there about purity, but it seems pretty obvious: don't eat poop; wash your hands and make sure that whatever you're putting in your body has been sufficiently boiled. If not, it's going to take more than a pill and two days to get healthy; you need treatment that courses through your veins and gets into all the major organs. Just a tiny particle of contaminated poop can be destructive, even fatal.

"24 million people don't have access to adequate sanitation in Uganda, almost two thirds of the population."

And to some, it is a fatal illness. Either they already were weak (old age, young children), or the sickness wasn't caught in time. Sadly sometimes, it is simply because they cannot afford treatment.

"SNV is implementing a community empowerment programme in partnership with five district local governments (including Arua, Uganda), UNICEF and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands. The programme aims at improving the health and livelihoods of 172,000 primary school going children in 268 schools and 36,400 households through interventions in water, sanitation and hygiene. Our focus is in ensuring equity of WASH services and sustainability of infrastructure and accelerating progress at scale in sanitation."

My treatment (at a nice, probably expensive clinic) included my initial blood test, 6 intravenous treatments, a supply of painkillers, vitamin tablets and over two weeks worth of oral medication. It cost less than $22.00 US.

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.  Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. 

90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old.  The WHO reports that over 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. 

Prevention is clean water, as sadly there are not enough wells and bore-holes in this community or throughout Uganda. Having the resources to boil water are another need. Having education about proper sanitation and hygiene are further imperative.

I knew all these things, and still I got typhoid.

But for $22.00 for treatment, it's a tragedy anyone would die for lack of funds to pay.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Something Clarified

I recall a conversation I had with a woman from my Church a few months back.
She had mentioned visiting Uganda and I happily added I had been there, also.

She made a comment about food and I responded that Ugandan staples were not my favorite. It wasn't a complaint, just my personal preference. She seemed surprised and talked about the wonderful fruit she ate every night. When I mentioned ugali or posho, she had never heard of it, let alone tasted it.

See, while we have both been to Uganda, we have had very different experiences.
She visited Central Uganda, I've only been in Kampala and the North.
She went in June, I've only visited in October and February.

Uganda is a small country, but very diverse. There are 64 different languages, 30 states and many ethnic groups (not to mention, I'm not staying with a Ugandan family).

As you read my blog, please do not take my own, unique and limited experience to be normal for Uganda. It's too diverse to be limited to my own, small experience.

Another thing I wanted to add is that I don't remember I'm a white visitor and how some of what I say might be misconstrued. I adjust quickly to new environments, new experiences are interesting and invigorating to me, but maybe either I don't present such clearly, or it's easily read negatively.
I do see life out of my perspective shaped by my culture, my life. It's a culture of a rural American-urban Canadian, and a view of someone who wanted to learn Swahili since she was 12, had a 6 year relationship (including marriage) to an Ethiopian, a soccer-player who is more familiar with playing the sport with men than with women. Someone who grew up milking a pygmy goat (and drinking goat's milk) and who would prefer to bike to work than drive a car. My comfort food is rice and beans and Pupusas. My view of what is 'normal' doesn't match that of anyone I know.

One of the things I love about traveling is that it opens up my eyes because different cultures make me see myself, humanity, life and especially my faith differently. The differences in culture are not bad, they are just different.

And what I notice most of all is how people are more alike than they are different. Don't put people in Uganda, or East Africa in a an extreme category. First and foremost we are all people, and that immediately makes us more alike than different.
Some things about Uganda I love, some I don't like. That's okay, it's my experience, its my view. I'm learning as I go and want to share what I'm learning with my family and friends.

But don't let that shape your view, your perception - take it all with a grain of salt, please!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Something That Needs Improvement

Sammy's mom came to visit yesterday.

This thing called grace that I love to talk about? I suck at it.

I can edit and re-write to my hearts content to make my words sweet, neutral and without the initial biting edge that I wrote them with. As the author of this blog, that is my privilege. But it's also a disguise that allows me to hide my very real anger, spite and judgmental nature. So here goes me being honest, with few edits:

Sammy came to live with Wendy and her husband around a year ago. When his mother re-married, the man began abusing Sammy (step-children are often not well-cared for in this culture; think Cinderella). After some time and abuse, his mother brought him to Wendy and left him there, returning to her new husband. Wendy staunchly says, “if my husband beat my child I wouldn't leave my child! I would get a job and leave the husband!” And I nod in my agreement.
Sammy's mom hasn't come to visit in months. Wendy sums it up as a year, but I know that's an exaggeration.
Wendy told me a few months back, maybe in May or June, how she had come to visit. After seeing how well Sammy was doing; in school, equipped with school supplies, a few new clothes and plenty to eat, she boldy asked if the family could also share some extra money with her? Now, Baba is polite and grandfatherly, but he immediately told her to leave.
I was enraged as I heard, too: you abandon your child, haven't inquired or checked up on his welfare in months, given nothing to help pay for his care, and on the rare occasion you visit you immediately ask for money!

She came with a friend, greeted Wendy. She then came to me and I shook her hand, greeted her in Arabic and smiled.

It was only after I had greeted her that Wendy told me who the visitor was: Sammy's mother.

My first response was judgment.

And I tried to hold on to that, imagining myself as better or higher than she. Judgment is pride. Judgment looks at someone else's sin as worse than my own, as the other person as inferior to me. I cannot truly have grace and judgment unless I am perfect. And I am not perfect, so my judgment is prideful and is absent of grace.
I looked at this tall, well-dressed woman with eyeliner and lipstick and thought that somehow I was better than her because she sent her child to live with another family to remain with an abusive husband. But I am not better than her. I'm in need of the same grace, forgiveness and restoration that she is. I'm on the same plane, sitting in the same dust.

For all I know, she borrowed a dress and used friend's make-up to come and visit. For all I know she has nothing at all.

Before leaving she gave Sammy 100 shillings; around 3.7 cents US. 100 shillings is less money than it costs to use a public toilet – very literally, 100 shillings isn't enough to take a piss.

For all I know, 100 shillings was all she had to give him.

Because I do not know her at all.

I shifted from judgment to avoidance. I could easily stay away from the visitors; I didn't speak the language. I checked on my drying laundry, I organized my electronics charging on the solar panel, I added airtime to my phone.

And then the Holy Spirit started to convict me again, using words from my own mouth, of blessing and peace. Did I really mean it? Then I needed to act like it. And if I didn't really mean it, too bad, I had said it.

If I had greeted with an English “hello” I could have gotten around it; 'hello' is just a word in greeting, it means nothing. But I had greeted her in Arabic: Salam Halikum. Oh... I said “Peace be upon you.” I had blessed her. I had offered peace to her. And now I was held accountable.

I took a deep breath and walked over to the group at the corner of the compound and sat down. Because you need to show respect to visitors and offer your presence, even if you cannot follow the conversation. And when I moved, sat in her proximity, politely smiled back at her, I observed something that changed my heart.

The three boys, cousins, were sent for a bath. Amy scrubbed them and I went over to help dry them off, put lotion on their elbows and knees.

I realized that she was missing out on giving her son a bath. And she had missed out on hundreds of baths.

She had come in and greeted Wendy and picked up the baby. An hour before I had returned from town and the boys came running at me with hugs (possibly for the cookies in my bag, but none the less, hugs).

She was missing out on hundreds of hugs.

Not that I should transfer my judgment to patronizing pity, but that in a very real sense she was the one losing in this circumstance.

A fresh, clean Sammy took a seat and looked over at his mom. He sat awkwardly far away, three walking strides away. I was sitting closer to his mother than he. Wendy told me later he was a little scared of her because she visits so rarely.
Sammy readily climbs up on my lap, book in hand, for stories.

She was missing out on her son, his affection, his bright smiles and his childhood.

She had come with photos, mostly of Sammy as a baby, but also two photos of herself from this last major holiday. She offered me one.
I politely accepted, intending to give it to Wendy or Sammy afterwards. What do I want with a photo of a woman I don't like? A woman who gave up her son to instead have a relationship with a violent man?

Around two hours later, without much ado, she departed. I realized I hadn't even asked her name.
I went into my room and saw her photo lying on my bed. And then, suddenly, I knew I couldn't discard that photo. I needed the reminder, I needed to pray for her. Because I still need to learn grace.

Matthew 18 hit hard today. The parable of the unforgiving servant:
He owed the master 100,000 talents. The equivalent of 150,000 years of work – an amount he could not possibly pay!!!
And he was completely forgiven. No remaining balance, nothing owing, nothing ever to bind him again. I have been forgiven like that.

And then I turn around and act like the evil servant who shook down his fellow (fellow or peer, meaning the same) slave who owed him the equivalent of 100 days of labor. 150,000 years forgiven, and yet held against another debtor 100 days, just over 3 months of work.

That something that needs improvement? It is me.

Something Different

I grew up in the Bible-belt of America, and attended a conservative Christian university. Like many of my fellow students, we had guidelines to adhere to for how a good Christian was to conduct his or herself. The lists usually looked something like this:

  • Abstain from alcohol/drugs/tobacco
  • Be honest
  • Pray and attend services regularly
  • Read the Word
  • Believe that abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong
  • Abstain from sex until marriage
  • Women, dress modestly so as not to lead men into sin

While this list is not bad, it is almost identical for how a good Muslim should conduct his or herself.
Go back through this list and consider how it can apply to a Muslim, both conservative or liberal.

I have had to remind myself that not everyone views Muslims with the affection I do. I realize that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups have tainted the reputation of Islam, especially for North Americans. My friends who are Muslim have all condemned the acts of terrorism, violence and war that these groups have perpetrated. When I think of Muslims, I think of my friends who are respectful of my faith, while still holding on to their beliefs. I think of my friends in Canada who have opened their home to me when I was in need, people who have cheered me up when I was discouraged, children who call me “Auntie!” and shower me with hugs. People I've celebrated with until 6 in the morning, or brothers who took me dancing when I could only walk on one leg. I think simply of people who share a different faith than I do, just as my Agnostic, Buddhist or Atheist friends. Please, get any idea about terrorist groups out of your head for the duration of this post. I'm not defending, addressing or talking about that at all. Got it? Good. We may proceed.

For four weeks I will be living with a Sudanese family here in Arua. They are from Khartoum, meaning they have more conservative values; such as men and women do not eat together and to go into town women wear long skirts and cover their heads. They are incredibly generous and regularly share food with the poor. They are hard working and pray 3-5 times a day, completing the ceremonial washing every time before. The men attend Mosque regularly on Fridays and I see Baba reading the Koran nearly every day.

So, what makes Christianity so very different from Islam if all our “lists” of good conduct are nearly interchangeable?

Last night I was doing my best to read Bible stories to three little boys. A very bright 8 year old was helping me translate. The Lost Sheep, or Mia Kondo (100 Sheep) and The Good Samaritan. I was moved as I read these simple parables of Jesus. Jesus was not merely a good teacher, but God in the flesh, and he shows us the character of God profoundly through these parables.
The Shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go after the one which ran away. Think of that. The other sheep were all good followers, they were all obedient. But the Shepherd is not satisfied until he has all his sheep, especially the one that ran away. The Pharisees must have been pissed at this! They were the good followers, and they spent their time and attention on the other good Jews, who would waste time on the fence-sitters, the outsiders, the corrupt, the sinners? God, that's who.

Sitting with refugees, hours away from the border of Sudan, beside the very road leading to a refugee camp, I was moved as I spoke about the Good Samaritan. It didn't require much to explain to these children that the Samaritans where guys from the 'other town' and they were considered enemies. That is an easy concept for children living in a border town, beside a place of unrest, of a people fleeing war.
But the religious people, the ones who knew all the rules, the ones who had good conduct; they were the ones who did not help their brother. They ignored him, they walked around him.
And when evening came, it was the Samaritan, the expected enemy who came and helped, who paid for all his medical care, food and housing in an inn.

As I read these classic Bible stories I was astounded at Jesus. I know Jesus is God, but what these stories tell me anew about God is what makes Christianity such a unique religion: God has grace. God loves the sinner. God moves to help the marginalized, not only the astute follower.

Most religions uphold that the god or gods reward those who follow them, that god/gods will hear when someone offers a sacrifice, a prayer after having observed the rules of good conduct. Islam holds this, too. Christianity says that God offers eternal life to anyone who believes- even if their conduct is bad, even if they are the worst of sinners. Christianity speaks of grace, not conduct. A God who actively seeks out the lost, instead of dwelling only on the observant. A God who makes outsiders heroes and incompassionate priests villains.

And yet, I'm astounded, often how my own focus and perception of life resorts back to conduct so easily. Views on abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, lying, deceit, laziness, greed and gluttony often become twisted with my own opinions backed by one or two verses in the Bible, instead of the heart of the Gospel shaping my view. Because the heart of the Gospel says that there is grace for all, and that our conduct cannot ever make us right with God; but only the blood of Jesus can. My views, and my behaviors, including my conduct, need to reflect first the grace of Jesus because that is what makes Christianity unique.

I read recently that many non-Christians know what it takes to act like a Christian and they could feign Christianity to fool masses; even people who they attend Church with. And yet, knowing what rules to follow hasn't driven these people to actually embrace Christianity as a religion.
The Church, me included, must be doing something wrong!

Similarly, the family I am living with know how to act; they already do the things on the above list. But knowing do's and don'ts will not influence them. Even seeing me flesh out modesty and chastity won't sway them, they would merely conclude I am a good Muslim!

So what will influence them? What will make a lasting impact?
What is so different about Christianity?


Because of the grace of God it's not about my conduct. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, it's not about what I do or don't do. And that message of grace needs to be preached louder than any list of good conduct, because that is what is truly different about Christianity and the amazing God we serve.

Something On Dining

One of the things I have noted is the way in which people eat meals. Not how they eat food, but rather, who they eat it with.
Children eat together, separately from adults. Women generally eat separately from men, however there are exceptions. Husbands and wives eat together, and smaller family groups eat together, but the larger the group, the more segregated the eating.
I, as a guest am served first and with a very large portion. I had to put a stop to this, because I wasn't able to even dent the huge amount of rice piled on my plate. I also get my own dish and a spoon. Baba and his guest, a friend visiting from Kenya, are served right away and they share a platter with three times as much rice as I have, and they always manage to finish it. We are all served in the living room and eat at short tables, seated on chairs.

Wendy and her husband share a platter together in the kitchen. At the back of the kitchen Amy eats, and sometimes she eats with the family in the kitchen, too.

All the lines or 'who's who' are determined for eating. You know your social standing based on when and where you are served food.

However, as I further contemplated this hierarchy of dining, I was stunned by the person of Jesus.
Jesus ate with anyone and everyone:
Tax Collectors
Simple village friends

Here in Uganda, you are the people you eat with. The honored, or the servants. The distinguished or riff-raff. Jesus ate with both. He had ample opportunities to pick one side and stick with it. But he ate with all, and told us to, too.

Coming from a completely different culture, there are some subtleties I miss in the Bible because I read it out of context.
After eating breakfast alone (the children eating together, Wendy and Amy eating together in the kitchen, Baba and his guest eating in the living room), I open my Bible to do devotions and am absolutely stunned.

It's not one particular verse, but rather Jesus as a person. Jesus eating with anyone without regard to gender, social status, employment or religion is a radical thing. But if you really want a verse, here are two:

Luke 14:7-24 (Don't be lazy now! Go read it!)

Matthew 9:11 "When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'"

Jesus ate with anyone, which means he associated with anyone, had an impact on anyone. If he had such 'low' standards, shouldn't we, too?

(I was asked about this post and decided to do a little follow-up. This 'hierarchy' of eating is present in probably all cultures. In my home, growing up, my father, the 'head of the family' was routinely seated at the 'head of the table. However, because that is familiar to me, I never noticed the significance. This separated eating isn't bad, just different.)

Something Silly

I saw a woman in a coonskin cap today.

Often, people here think if something is from America it must be cool and fashionable. She was walking so proudly in her purple dress, dangling earrings and similarly dangling fake coon tail, I just smiled and looked away to keep my composure.

Often, people who have so little hold on to useless garbage.
This is true for the poor in Canada, stuffing rubbish in stolen shopping carts, as for refugees in Uganda who want to take broken television sets or radios without batteries with them to their new lives. Because they have so little, they hold on to whatever objects they can, as useless as they may be.

But I think this is probably true for all of us.

We ultimately have nothing. Even what we think we have is really just garbage, when compared to the riches we are offered by God. And yet, I and myself still holding on to useless objects. Very silly things, even absurd things (like coonskin caps in a place where no raccoons exist). And yet, if we were to release these things, surrender them completely, our hands, our hearts would be open to accept richer, better, eternal things. But our legless chairs, broken toys, torn plastic bags, ripped clothing and battery-less electronics hold us back.

If you're fleeing your old life, leave behind the crap. It's not worth the weight, and there are so many better things ahead.

Monday, October 06, 2014

For a Hug

Things have been mulling since July when I abruptly quit my only job.

I had no responsibilities tying me to this city; a combination of fear and freedom had me thinking about bold choices- which for me often include travel.
As readers will know; I've been thinking a lot about children and how I can prepare to adopt, as well as bless children now. So that was blended into my day-dreams.

I have also been reading a lot about how trauma, abuse and neglect affect the development of infants and children. If babies are simply not held enough or looked in the eyes, or observe a human face with it's intricate expressions, the little one will not develop properly, despite necessary food and warmth. Imagine exacerbating this by lack of food, diapers that go unchanged for hours and regular abuse. If children survive that is a victory, but they will be miles behind children who have been tucked into bed at night, hugged daily.

A few weekends ago, visiting my family in Indiana I got to cuddle my nephews, and rock my niece. Tickle my nephews, who appropriately giggle and wiggle because their nerves understand human touch. I smile at my niece and she gives back a gap-toothed grin because human faces are familiar and friendly to her.

A little boy has been on my heart for many months now, and was always in my mind as I said good-night to my nephews, tucked in bed with warm pajamas and a story. This little boy, far away in Uganda has suffered abused, neglect and abandonment. And now he is safe and cared for by my friends, I know.
But the more I read about all the physical acts of love and affection that children need to grow up 'normal' the more I want to take more, better action. It's not just enough that he is fed, that he has a bed and a mosquito net; he has to have regular hugs and kisses. He has to be taken for walks to see his neighborhood, the hills around his house. He needs to hear he is loved, he is special.

The opportunity came for me to visit Uganda again, to see this little boy. So, considering that my contracted position was not going to be renewed, I bought plane tickets.

In my excitement I had forgotten about an opportunity I had applied for just after quitting my job in July.
Two weeks before I was to leave for Uganda I received an email announcing an interview for an internship position in Tanzania for 6 months. After the Skype interview, I was full of anticipation and encouragement; I could travel directly from Uganda to Tanzania. I could visit Sammy and my friends, stay with them for 6 weeks and then go to Arusha, Tanzania to intern about helping defend the rights of children, especially abused children.

My 6 week trip quickly became a 7 and a half month adventure focusing on children.

Which is exciting, and clearly matches with my heart for working for children, especially in East Africa.

But, at the same time, I also know that this isn't the most responsible decision. I'm not in college or grad school- why am I doing an internship? I'm not going to make an income for around 8 months. I am subletting my apartment, but considering the lengthy time I will be gone; I might be giving up my housing, too.

I sounded a little crazy telling people I was subletting my apartment, flying across the ocean to hug and read stories to a little boy. It almost sounded better to say "There is this boy I love..." And let them assume it's a ridiculous romantic fling.

My plans of wanting to have a stable full-time job, a house or an apartment so that I will be ready to adopt a child seem further away than ever. On paper, I look like a mess: 3 cities in 5 years. 5 jobs, all in my career field, but nothing lengthy enough that shows consistency for my life. I have a room and housemates; nothing that I can really lay claim to; I share everything.

I'm excited right now, but I wonder how I will feel in 8 or 9 months when I return to Canada. Probably without a job, maybe without a permanent place to stay. Helping kids is good, and it is what I want to do, but it is not going to lead me to what my culture defines as success: good job, house, car, picket fence, dog.
But I'm not called to success, I'm called to faithfulness.
Although I might not 'feel' like that in 9 months, I'm writing it now as a reminder. I know God has been calling me to help children and I've asked Him to prepare me to adopt children. I know that I could probably stay in Canada, survive the winter and save up money to get my own place to live. I could get started on that 'consistent job' today, without this bump in my journey.
But those would be my plans, mapping my life out the way I think it should look. And God hasn't often followed my plans in my life; he completely disrupts them and takes me a whole different way.

I'm not going to strive after money, or personal success, however well-meaning my reasons for such might be. I'm not trying to be successful, I'm trying to be faithful.

After all, my aim in life is not to adopt children or have a family. My aim is not to have a successful, thriving career in criminal justice. My aim is to please God and use all of who I am and what I have to glorify Him. Sometimes that looks irresponsible.

But at the end, God doesn't say "Nice job! You were successful with little!" No, no. He says "Well-done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in little, now I will give you more responsibility."
Matthew 25.

You have permission to remind me of this when I return to Canada and feel discouraged about not having a home or a job.

I leave tomorrow afternoon and return in late May.

Faithfulness, not success.