Tuesday, May 29, 2012

a live production of the lion king

Last Wednesday we headed up to Northern Uganda for a three day SAFARI. I can not being to express how excited we all were.

We drove about three hours out and had lunch at a hotel near the Nile. We then continued another thirty minutes to the entrance of the park, and ventured another hour and a half to where we were staying! It looked like little huts, tents, and rooms with little Pumbas (warthogs) running around. We hurried over to the ferry where we crossed the NILE! It was beautiful. The sun set a warm color over the African horizon  over the Nile as we boarded back into our safari jeep. Animals started creeping out as soon as we started the drive. From antelopes, to small deer like animals, to pumbas running everywhere. They all went so gracefully over the plain as the Lion King silhouette trees covered the land. All of us could not stop staring everywhere, bouncing our eyes from front to back and side to side. So, so phenomenal to see in person. No words can paint the picture as beautifully as it was and no picture can capture the reality of it. The view got even better when we were able to sit on top of the jeep.

Then in the distance, when my eyes fell on the family of elephants walking along, my heart stopped. It was more elephants than I had ever seen in my whole life. It was so hard to realize that those elephants do not just exist in zoos, and that they roam free on the African plains.

We found more elephants, buffalo, antelope, and other animals. Then, we found the giraffes grazing among the trees, and we drove off the path to get right beside them! They are unbelievable to see in person. So tall, and so gentle looking. Past the giraffes we drove up to the water where hundreds of hippos were cooling off with just their eyes staring at us, with the occasional angry hippo opening her mouth.

The main goal of our evening game drive was to find the lions. Apparently they can be a little tricky to find. We lucked out big time, when we turned a corner and found five taking a little snooze. Our driver drove us right beside the lion as it woke up. With my feet dangling over the edge of the jeep, nerves, adrenalin, and excitement were high.

As the we neared the end of our drive, a herd (maybe not a herd, but close enough) of elephants was blocking the road. So close, so big, and so many. We were kind of on a time crunch to get back to the ferry so we had to bang on the truck to get the elephants to move. Well, that angered momma elephant and she was not a happy camper. The ears started to flap, and the trumpet of the trunk started to blow. Terrifying, yet awesome all at once. We ended our day with dinner overlooking the sun set, and headed back to our little huts.

The next day we woke up early to go on a game drive at 6:00 and watched the sun rise over the Nile. The day was filled with riding on top of the jeep watching the animals run, leap, and graze. We came upon about 30 giraffes walking in the horizon, and were able to stop and take it all in. We saw more hippos, and lizards, birds and antelopes, and elephants. I could have rode on top of the jeep for hours upon hours just looking at the horizon.

We came back for lunch and then headed back out to the Nile where a boat took us on the river all the way to the bottom of the falls! We saw more and more hippos and the occasional crocodile!

When we came back I noticed some wild life in the room. I'm okay with some things, but bugs here have no mercy. The ants bite, the mosquitoes attack, and the lizards freak me out. We had a lizard on the wall, which I was not okay with. Even if there is a mosquito net between me and the lizard, there was no way I was going to sleep with that thing. And, on top of that there were two wasps the size of my hand. Again, not okay. Little did I know that would be least of my worries for the night. After dinner, and some bananagrams, we attempted to head back to our hut, only to find a HIPPO blocking our door. Like a real live hippo, just grazing away in front of the door. Rather funny looking back on it, but at the time semi terrifying and interesting. We inched our way as close as we could get without freaking out. We simply had to wait until the big man was done grazing to go to bed. Then, after a long night sleep I was awoken by loud banging and noises. Finally, after convincing myself to open my tired eyes I realized there were monkeys banging on the roof and hanging in the windows! Only in Africa....

After one of the best breakfasts (banana honey pancakes and omelets) we headed to drive up to the top of Murchison Falls! At the top was pure beauty: a rainbow as bright as a painting, falls as big and loud as can be, and rapids splashing water everywhere. So perfect to see God's beauty up there.

After a long drive back, I wasn't feeling too hot. I mean temperature wise I was just fine, but my throat and head were killing me. I woke up the next morning (Saturday) with a fever, aches, and a terribly sore throat. We headed over to "Surgery" (super intimidating name for a doctor's office) and they warned me I may have to be tested for malaria. Praise the Lord I only had strep throat because hearing the word malaria here sounds beyond scary. So this weekend was spent with a fever, sleeping, and trying my hardest to get better so I wouldn't have to sit out on any projects. On Sunday I was still feeling awful and stayed back from going to the village for church with another girl Taylor and David, who is a boy from the village who had a terrible infection on leg that was spreading throughout his body. It was the worst infection I had ever seen. Thankfully we were able to pull the funds together to bring him to the city to go to the hospital to get treatment. David doesn't speak much English and has spent his life mostly in the village. To watch him experience the "city" was such a treat. He was wide eyed, and we had the best time watching Jonah, Veggie Tales edition, and Soul Surfer (3 times...) When I left the room for a little bit I heard my Mac volume go up and down, so I peaked around the corner to find my screen completely zoomed in with David trying his best to figure out Facebook. So, the next few hours were spent going through pictures and explaining to him what everything was, who people were, and America in general. Sometimes (all the time) I forget how blessed I am. Here I am on my Mac, watching videos, and David is amazed at just seeing my family, a Clemson football game, and my house. David thought that even Kampala was beyond his wildest dreams. Going to the grocery store was overwhelming to him. Being here has put so many things in to perspective. Spending that Sunday being sick with David was a blessing in disguise.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

living the epitome of Africa

This past week has been filled with adventure, hard work, lots of smiles, and even more laughs.

Sunday we headed back out to Zirobwe where we held church at! Working with the kids in children's church is such a blessing. You can just tell that they love to hear the stories, sing the songs, and hold our hands. We also hand out chapatis and juice afterwards. They all come running up with their little mugs and are all so eager! The children's choir sang a few songs for us and words do not begin to describe how cute they are. The little boys try to act like they don't want to be up there, but secretly they love it :)

The new volunteers were introduced in the church, and let me tell you it is quite the experience. Everyone starts screaming, clapping, laughing, and making noises that I could not begin to imitate! After church we headed back to Kampala where we met up with the two new volunteers. They are actually from Richmond and go to Virginia Tech. Such a small, small world. We headed to an African coffee shop near the house and hung out there. African tea and coffee are made with milk instead of water, and are literally to die for. After the coffee shop, we headed to the cultural center and watched performances from tribes all over Uganda! Who knew someone could shake it that fast, for that long. Literally mind blowing. The way they beat the drums so effortlessly with the African beat they seem to be born with.

Monday we headed back to Zirobwe where we would set up camp for two days. The idea was to set up camp and start working on building the temporary church, fetch water, and do some renovations, but that is certainly not what happened. When it rains in Uganda, the entire country seems to turn into a red mud covered ditch, and that is exactly what our van got stuck in. So we were stuck, no problem we get stuck everyday practically. But then the wheel popped. The only thing we could do is walk to camp, which wasn't terribly far away. They then got the work truck to try to get the van unstuck. The work truck got stuck. So, the day was spent getting unstuck, re-stuck, and then unstuck again. That evening we did get to do a children's program for the village. Seeing the kids get so excited for songs, games, and stories will never get old.

Tuesday was filled with wheel barrows full of sand, carrying bricks, fetching water, and sweating in the Ugandan heat until the heavens opened up. Apparently the Equator runs through Ugandan... that explains why five minutes in the heat about takes the energy out of you for a week. The rain was coming down fast and hard, and so were our tents and covers. As mud and water covered the terrain we all gathered in the tent and played go fish until the metal polls threatened to topple down on us. Once the rain let up, we held the children's program under the shelter where church is held on Sunday mornings. That is where one of the most joyful moments of my life was held.

Let me explain. When I was thinking about coming to Uganda I had a certain picture in my head. You know, drums beating, people dancing, songs sung in Luganda, and children all around while in a village. That dream literally came to life. After the children's program came to an end, the children's choir came up to sing, which led to drums magically being played by men in the village, which turned into the women coming into the hut, which led to dancing, which led to fabrics being tied around waists (including mine), which led to children teaching me dance moves, which led to the most joyful moments of my life. I wish more than anything I could relive that moment over and over again. Rain pouring down, and the villagers dancing like no one is watching all to the beat of the African drum. Beautiful, and something I will never forget.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

so in love here

Yesterday, once back from the babies home we spent the day resting (much needed) and then ventured to the craft market in the center of Kampala. Such an experience. Before leaving, we walked down to the stores here, where they use a metal detector on you just to enter in. We got fresh juice, clean water, and fresh baked goods from the bakery. Then we went to catch a taxi, which is a completely different process than in the states. The taxis here are 15 passenger vans. There is the driver and the conductor. The conductor hangs his head out and yells how many open seats there are as well as where the taxi is going. Apparently it is extremely important to get on the right one :) I feel like I am spending big bucks around here. The taxi ride is 1000 shillings. I have never paid for the things in the thousands before! But 1000 shillings is only equal to about 30 cents! With traffic, it took about 40 minutes to get to the craft market. There was so many beautiful things there to buy, and each vendor comes to tell you "You are welcome here." The fabrics are lovely, the colors are bright, and the jewelry is wonderful. It was quite the experience to bargain with the vendor, and I looked ridiculous trying to calculate how many dollars I was actually spending. 

Empower a Child has a sponsorship program that currently sponsors about 200 children. Saturday morning about 100 of the kids traveled to the house where we made bread and butter and porridge for them. We sang songs, danced, and had a story. Their stories are touching and I am beyond blessed to be able to witness this side of a sponsorship program. For those of you who sponsor children, please know that your money is so, so appreciated, and seeing the smile on those kid's faces was thanks enough. I have always heard about families sponsoring children through Compassion or other programs, but to actually see the kids being sponsored is so eye opening. Many of the leaders in Empower a Child were sponsored as children, and that is one of the main reasons they are where they are today. Tomorrow we will head back to Zirobwe for church. There, I will meet the little boy I will be sponsoring. Words can not describe how excited I am for this experience. Very few people get to actually meet their children, or get to know them. I get to hug, dance, and play with the little boy. 
While here, I have eaten so many new foods. Most of my meals are compiled with rice, beans, some more rice, some more beans, and fresh fruit. I have also had posho, which is an African dish made with maize flour (cornmeal) cooked with water to a porridge. It is pretty much completely tasteless, but we are often given different sauces to dip it in such as gnut sauce. Matoke is often really common here which is steamed green banana or plantain all mashed up. This morning I went down to the market and we bought Ugandan rolex which is a chapati (similar to thick tortilla) filled with an omelet. Apparently the next thing I get to try is crickets!

Tonight we may head over to a church downtown famous for its children's choir which is often used by Chris Tomlin in several of his songs, and after we may venture to a Ugandan coffee shop. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Uganda Week One, Life as a Mzungu

I have spent the past few days in Uganda serving with Empower a Child. We headed to a village called Zirobwe where we would start building a temporary church structure, fetch water, and play with the kiddos. Being in Uganda is literally another world, yet its just the same. It has been so eye opening, and so fun to adventure, learn, and be pushed in every limit.

On Tuesday, we cut the grass with machetes and set up camp. It was my first time hearing MZUNGU screamed by every kid in the village, meaning white person. As the van pulled up, kids came out from every hut waving, smiling, and screaming mzungu. Such an experience. Just the chance to hold our hands, and they were all smiles. We played, giggled, and dance, and man can those kids dance. I had the time of my life spinning, laughing, and making a fool of myself trying to learn their moves. (my hips don't move quite like theirs do). As the sun set on the African sky, music filled the air and praise. As night set, the rain came and we headed off to bed exhausted from jet lag and work.

Wednesday we woke up early and started our work. There is a group of workers working on the church building with hand made bricks and cement. In order to make the cement they needed water. When I say they needed water, I mean a 320 gallon tank. While taking the truck to the pond there was on ongoing truck that had got stuck in the mud and was blocking the path. So, we parked there, grabbed our jerry cans and carried it to the water. With a jerry can in one hand, and a small, smiling child's hand in the other we trekked back and forth from the water for about two hours. I finally learned how to carry the cans on my shoulders, but never quite mastered balancing them on my head. After resting and eating lunch, we headed to help get our own truck unstuck from getting lumber. We carried 50 pieces of lumber back to the truck as the men attempted to push the truck out of the ditch. Later that evening we walked into the main part of the village for the children's program that night filled with games, music, a story, and face painting. One of the games was four corners, with the muzungus as the corners. Whenever one of our names were called, the kids had to run and grab us and the last ones there were out. Thankfully, I was warned to "be ready" because when my name was called, I had about 50 kids sprinting towards me and literally just about got knocked down. It was so wonderful and such a blessing to sing with them, watch them dance, and catch their contagious joy. 

Thursday morning, we woke up bright and early and head out to cut the timber we had brought the day before. In order to make it fun in the African heat, we made it into a competition. With a machete as our weapon of choice we had relays as to who could cut the fastest. We carried bricks over to fill the holes for the posts of the temporary church shelter. We also measured and lifted the timber into the holes to create the basis of the structure. Luke, one of the members of the village who lives close by, was helping with construction and his wife came over with two of her youngest children (out of seven!) I got to hold sweet Jenny until she fell asleep. As I took her back to her home, her mother introduced me to all of her children. It is mind blowing to see little five year olds carrying their new born brothers and sisters. Life is just so different in the village, yet its so similar. 

We then had to fill both containers with water before we could pack up camp and head out. But, this time was a piece of cake considering we could drive all the way to the water. We hurried in order to beat the on coming storm racing towards us and made it out of the village just in time with about twenty people in one van! 

I can assure you that the shower I took ( first one in five days) once we got back to the house in Kampala (which is like a resort in my eyes now) was one of the best moments of my life. I take for granted this simple fact of showering.

Friday morning was spent at a babies home in Kampala. Those big eyes and sweet smiles can steal any one's heart. We held babies, folded clothes, hung up laundry, and carried back wood for cooking. 

Even though I have only been here almost a week I have learned so much. If i have ever thought before that I was gross, I was sadly mistaken. I now know what it is really like to be disgusting. Like wearing the same thing for three days while you work, it rains, everything is muddy, and sweat. I take for granted the luxury of a bathroom. Enough said. I have learned what it is really like to work, and in fact machet-ing to cut the grass is one of the best forms of letting out frustration. Exhilarating, really. I have learned some dance moves from some kids. I have experienced what it is like to need food for energy, not just because I am "hungry." I have learned that I can do way more than I thought I could. I have been blessed to know what it is like to have 10 kids all trying to hold your hand and giggling. I have seen what real joy is. I hate mosquitoes; my legs look like I have chicken pox. Ants are actually terrifying, and I have witnessed the true meaning of "ants in your pants." Its not as funny as it sounds. Some of the rides at amusement parks are simply mimicked after driving with Ugandans. I am pretty confident of that. I have learned that Ugandans are some of the most beautiful people I have met, as well as some of the funniest. I have learned that wherever I go, every kid screms MZUNGU (white person). I leanred that Ugandan children think it is hilarious to touch my skin and watch the color change. And I have learned that I am in for a real treat for the next couple of weeks. It is going to be hard, but so worth it.