Sunday, January 28, 2007

Asher, Emily & other "kids"

As you can see, Asher has started sitting up. We still stash a few cushions around him, but he's developing enough stability not to topple all that often any more. He tends to go over on his tummy more than any other direction, when he's trying to grab something that's just out of reach in front of him. Crawling is still in his future, though, so he ends up being a bit frustrated once he's no longer sitting and able to do as much with his hands.

Asher with Emily--a seriously cute combination (and I'm not even a grandparent!). We've been fostering Emily for three and a half years. Right now we're waiting for a court date to present our petition to the magistrate to formalize Emily's adoption into our family.

Last week we hosted students for three courses at Messiah Theological Institute. During one of our lunch breaks a couple of half-grown goats wandered into the classroom.

One of them, before being shooed out, hopped up on a bench and started to sample a student's folder. They do say a goat will eat just about anything!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Getting around

There are several options for getting around in Uganda. The most common, by reason of economics, is what is sometimes called in Africa "route 11" -- one's own two feet. For the more prosperous (or less thrifty), however, other choices abound.

Most basic is the simple boda-boda (bicycle taxi), easily identified by a bright-colored cushion on the carrier rack mounted over the rear wheel (if you've ever ridden cushionless on this metal carrier on a rough road, this is greatly appreciated). Men ride astraddle, with each foot resting on a short piece of iron rebar welded to on each side of the rear axle. Women, typically, ride side-saddle (there's not much choice with a skirt on!). You can get a boda-boda ride from our neighborhood into town for the equivalent of $0.20 in U.S. currency.

The next step up is the motorcycle taxi (still referred to as a boda-boda, perhaps with the addition of the Swahili word pikipiki -- "motorcycle"). When considering climbing on the back of a pikipiki in Uganda, it is wise to note that there is considerably more risk of bodily harm if you are dodging through traffic in the capital, for example, than if you are meandering along a village path.

For those who prefer to be inside a vehicle and don't mind close--very close--companionship with fellow earthlings, there's the standard Toyota Hiace taxi, usually white with the government-mandated blue hatch pattern running horizontally around the body. Most of these are rated for 14 passengers, but, especially on rural routes, passengers configure themselves creatively to accommodate numbers up into the 20s. These taxis are locally called kamunyes, named for the yellow-billed kite, a scavenging bird that swoops down to pick up bits of food from the ground. The mechanical kamunye does the same with people--stopping frequently to pick people up from the side of the road. Kamunyes carry all manner of things besides humanity, including bunches of bananas, furniture, bicycles, mattresses, poultry and goats.

View of the "Old Taxi Park" in Kampala, where you can get rides to points east of the capital

Somewhat more comfortable, and statistically safer, are the big 50-passenger buses. At least one gets a seat to oneself, and most of the non-human cargo tends to ride in the cargo bay under, or on the roof rack over, the bus.

In areas where taxis are scarce, it is often possible to wave down a truck and climb on top of whatever else it's carrying and get from point A to point B, for a nominal fee. This can be more or less hazardous, of course, according to the nature of the existing should think twice before perching atop the metal framework over the bed of a truck carrying a load of long-horned Ankole cows! I've often seen this done, and wondered how many puncture wounds have been sustained when a rider's balance failed on a rough road.

Beyond these means of transportation, some of us are blessed to have sufficient resources either to hire a vehicle as needed or even to purchase one for work-related and private purposes. In Uganda this is an expensive luxury, by the time one pays high fuel, maintenance, and tax rates.

As one goes about getting around in East Africa, there are encounters with quite a variety of traffic-types and road-side scenery. In Kampala, traffic gridlock is a frequent annoyance.

In the rural areas, one is more likely to get slowed down by a herd of cows in the road way.

A common sight all across the country are miniature fruit and vegetable markets along the sides of the road.

The dark side of transportation in East Africa is that these roads can be among the most dangerous in the world. Many roads are chronically full of potholes or too narrow for the traffic they have to carry. Compounding the risks are drivers of marginal or impaired competence, whether because of poor training, lack of experience, or inebriation. Poorly maintained vehicles frequently suffer tire blow-outs, brake-failure, or suspension/steering problems.

Our missionary community in Uganda is right now grieving the death, just a few days ago, of Adam Langford, a colleague from the Jinja mission team, who died in a vehicle accident. This kind of thing reminds us that travel on these roads does mean taking one's life in one's hands...or maybe better, putting one's life in God's hands. We appreciate those who keep us in prayer as we drive, or ride, on the roads of Africa.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunday at Kabuna

This morning I drove out to Kabuna, about 45 minutes of travel time from Mbale town. There is a young church fellowship at Kabuna that invited me in December last year to visit them today. The people there have put up a basic shelter of rough-cut poles covered with papyrus-reed mats (that's the same papyrus that the Egyptians began using to make paper thousands of years ago--Kabuna is not far from an enormous papyrus swamp). The whole structure is not more than 25 feet long by 15 feet wide.

On the way to Kabuna I picked up George Gabiri and Yolam Waswikirye, leaders from two other churches in the same district, who came along to help me find the place and to offer some additional encouragement to this group of believers. We visit a lot of churches that are "off the beaten track"--but there aren't many that require so much twisting and turning on rudimentary village roads as this one. The route was not especially rough or dangerous, just extraordinarily windy and punctuated with junctions of miscellaneous trails every few hundred yards. I was impressed that George remembered the way perfectly and kept us from getting hopelessly lost.

Worship began shortly after we arrived and greeted those who were already there. Typically for churches in this area, there were four languages in frequent use during the service--Lugwere, Luganda, Kiswahili, and English, especially in the singing. One of the songs we sang today, in Luganda, goes something like this: "The name of Jesus brings us together, the name of Jesus is good/precious!" The worship leader interspersed the verses with the names of various tribes that Jesus brings together, such as Bagwere and Iteso, Bagisu and Baganda, etc. I preached from 1 Kings 13, the story of the man of God from Judah who spoke against the idol altar of Jeroboam and who, for his own disobedience, was killed by a lion that same day. While we were together two people, a widow and a young man, came forward to say that they wanted to give their lives to the Lord. We rejoiced to be able to pray for them and to entrust them to the local leaders who will teach them the basics of following Jesus, baptize them and walk alongside them as they start a new life.

There were around 20 adults and 20 children present. One, the widow I already mentioned, lost her husband only recently and has eight children to care for. There was a man there who has served more than ten years in the army, and has seen action in Uganda, Congo, and Sudan. He is from northern Uganda, but has relocated his family to Kabuna village to give them a place to live that is safe from the insecurity that has plagued the north for many years. His wife is originally from Kabuna, so she has the support of relatives when her husband is away with the military. We also had a young man who has finished his training to be an accountant, but cannot find a job. Sitting next to him was a teacher from a local school. And just in front of the two of them was an older woman who for many years practiced traditional medicine as a herbalist/witchdoctor, until she found the Lord.

I'm thankful that I could meet these brothers and sisters today, to try to encourage them in their faith, and certainly to be blessed myself by being with them.

Some of the folks at Kabuna church, relaxing after the main worship time as they wait for lunch (rice, millet bread, beans, chicken & soup)

A view through the open side of the shelter under which we worshipped--a mix of African traditional and Western elements that is typical in rural Uganda these days, with the garden area, banana tree and grass-thatched hut adjacent to a brick, cement and metal-roofed house

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The blessing of neighbors

Leila with neighborhood friends Aby and Lydia

One of our Christmas family traditions is to carry plates of assorted cookies and candies around to friends in the Mbale community. Danetta spends a couple of days doing the cooking, baking and arranging, then some of us pile into a car and make the rounds to deliver the goods. As we were on our route a few days ago, it occurred to me that measuring wealth in terms of neighbors, we are rich indeed.

Our first stop was at Jeroen's farm, from where our regular supply of milk, cheese and yoghurt comes. Jeroen came to Uganda from the Netherlands years ago as a Roman Catholic lay volunteer, helping with agricultural projects in Kaberamaido, a couple of hours' drive north of Mbale. Along the way he married Petua, a delightful Ugandan lady, and together they eventually bought a farm on the edge of Mbale town where they run a dairy. You're always welcome at their house.

Next we stopped by the house where our boys' friend and schoolmate, Noah, lives with his family. They are from Germany. Here in Uganda Noah's dad works with patients in rehabilitative therapy at Kumi hospital.

Just down the road is a compound with two houses where we left plates for the Charles Howard and Dave Okken households. Charles serves as administrator for the children's orthopedic hospital in Mbale. Dave divides his time between Mbale and Nakalei, a two-hour drive into a real wilderness area, where he does preaching and discipling ministry among the nomadic Karimojong people. We are blessed to have them in our community.

Next we stopped by Robbie's place. He was not home, being busy with an operation to provide food for Christmas to a thousand or so widows in a slum area on the western edge of Mbale. Robbie hails from the UK, and he stays busy with a wide variety of community development projects in the name of Christ.

We drove on to the Eids' house, shaded by giant African mahogany trees. Yusef and Nada were among our first friends in Mbale, having been here since 1986. They are Palestinians, who came to Uganda from Lebanon. They operate a film-developing studio in town. Among the most hospitable people we have ever met, they frequently have us and other friends in the community over for supper (an unfailingly superb Lebanese menu) or to watch a movie together.

Then it was time to drop in on the Proctors, Orthodox Presbyterian missionaries who also happen to be our nearest neighbors (we share a back-yard fence, over which our two sets of kids routinely clamber back and forth over ladders propped on each side). These are quality people, the kind you want to have around you for the worst as well as the best of times.

On the other side of the neighborhood we visited the home of Parimal and Rani. They are Indian by nationality, but Parimal has spent all his life, more or less, in East Africa. A businessman, he also runs a car-repair shop and has done a lot of work on our vehicles over the years. Rani is a splendid cook. We've learned a lot more from her than we ever knew before about Indian cuisine!

Our next port of call was about four miles south of town on the Tororo road, where the Gibsons live. Their first set of children grown and on their own, they have adopted two other children, one of them a Ugandan orphan. Howard, originally from the Isle of Man, helps people here to make improvements in their agricultural methods. He is master of a wide variety of innovations in appropriate technology.

The Duffields, whose house we visited last on our route, left their first careers in Australia a few years ago and moved to Uganda. They have managed an orphan-sponsorship program and have helped develop a primary school and clinic during their time here. Besides that, they have adopted two lovely Ugandan girls who are good friends of our little Emily.

I almost forgot to mention Patrick and Helen--we didn't deliver to them, since one or two of their family had been over to visit and carried theirs home with them. Patrick, born here in Uganda, trained and practiced medicine in the UK and the US before bringing his family back to Uganda to build a hospital in his home village and start an array of other development projects. Their several children are close friends of our crew and spend a lot of time at each other's houses.

Neighbors like these--in addition to the most wonderful set of coworkers I can imagine--add extraordinary blessings to our lives as we enter a new year.

Lydia, Aby and Nathan with our Nathanael