Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TED talk by Ken Robinson who says Schools Kill Creativity

This guy has really nailed it on the head.

TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

This is really good. It's a long one, but it's worth watching all of it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cameroon: The Last Leg

Friday, Sepember 25th

Since Brian was leaving in the evening, we went to the Parc National de la Mefou (National Park of the Primate) instead of working.

“It is where rescued primates are taken. As many as can be are released back into the wild, but most cannot and so live there for the rest of their lives. That’s a long time considering that many are orphaned as babies when they come and can live into their forties (chimpanzees).” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

“Each enclosure is multiple acres or hectares and has one or two keepers. The fences are very high and electric so that it delivers a shock if touched. The interior perimeter is kept short to prevent the inhabitants from climbing above the fence and leaping out. However, they are only out during the day. They are fed in cages in the evening and locked up for the night. Reason being, when the keepers are gone they contrive escape using wood sticks to pry the wires apart and prevent electrocution. If escape does happen, most are easily caught again by their keepers. The keepers are part of their troupe/group and so are family. Escaped individuals will come to them when called.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

It is really a fascinating place housing chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons along with a few other small primates. When the young animals are brought in, they are put with others of their kind an in their age group. This becomes their group and when they're old enough to leave the nursery, an enclosure is built for the group. They are never split up. One of the gorilla groups that we were able to visit has been there long enough that the second generation has begun. It was interesting to see the very evident family relationships of alpha male (Dad), Mom, and aunties and uncles.

From there we went to the SIL Cameroon Training Center compound to shop at the boutique. One of the women keeps it stocked with sewn items made by a women's self-help cooperative in Bafut, called Seheco.

 Saturday, September 26th

It was a rest day!

Dad and Lendl went to a soccer game and I stayed back at the compound reading and doing laundry. At one point in the afternoon I thought I heard rain, ...but it wasn’t raining. It kept getting louder and then I remembered. The rain was coming across the city and I was hearing it on the metal roofs as it got closer and closer.

I ran out to the line and began frantically pulling down the clothes. Just as I stepped back onto the verandah, the rain reached me. I was just in time.

Sunday, September 27th

"Covenant Baptist Church. It was planted by the first church that we went to here in Yaoundé. Their service is bilingual, so everything said in English was repeated in French. While the pastor preached in English, he would pause every 1-3 sentences so that the turn-talk could repeat it in French." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


It was really good to see how the Cameroonian church has grown in both size and leadership. They are firm in their faith and are sharing with others. It was good to see that what my parents invested in when I was a child had grown and flourished. The pastor that did the sermon is a Cameroonian who evangelizes Muslims. They have missionaries! We could use a few of them here.

We rested that afternoon, then joined SIL people at the Cameroon Training Center for an evening chapel. My Dad volunteered to do the devotional. His topic was about living by faith instead of just trying hard. It was really good.

Monday, September 28th

Another work day. I was looking forward to putting up ceiling pieces with the same men I had the week before. But new guys had been hired and, being new, they were not experienced with working with white people as the other construction workers were. They might have been in awe if I had been a guy, but since I was a gal they really didn't know how to respond or what do do with me. I stuck it out and did my best to let them know I was capable without treading on their toes and being a nasty white woman. It was certainly an adventure.

Tuesday, September 29th

I switched jobs again and got apprenticed to a wall builder.

"I watched for a bit, then he showed me how to place adn adjust the blocks. He did the ends adn the corner and had me do the middle ones." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Those cement blocks are heavy and seem even heavier when you have to lift up and set down slowly and fairly accurately. I was really missing my muscles I had back in my picture framing days. I could have used them.

For supper Dad and I were the guests of an interesting couple.

"He's a linguistic consultant and she's a literacy consultant. They travel a lot, both together and separately." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Since they not only travel, but move house a lot they don't weigh themselves down with a lot of possessions. The apartment they hosted us in was rented along with all the contents. The only things that were theres were the necessary personal items and a very few decorative items acquired during their stay there.

Wednesday, September 30th

"Today I got to help Deudonner finish the wall. He had me do one row of mortar but after that he had me just hand him blocks and keep him supplied...It was too high for me and he needed to get the wall done that day." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

It was SO HOT that day. I think the only dry part of me was the last half inch on the tips of the bandanna around my neck.

"For dinner we had more African food. Several forms (3 to be exact) of njama-njama, fried plantains, boiled plantains, and boiled sweet potatoes." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


Thursday, October 1st

Since Deudonner was off in his village negotiating a bride price I ended up back on the little tractor. I cut a new place to keep the gravel they use for concrete and finished up with the back hoe just as it sprung a leak.  So, while Dad and Johannes tried to see if they could fix it, I finished up with a hand shovel. It was another extra hot day, so I took longer breaks than normal in the shade, keeping myself hydrated.

When I was done with my spot, I went to help Lendl. He looked as tired as I felt. I kept him supplied with dirt while he compressed it in the hole he was filling up by hand.

Our after dinner bonus was getting to see Lendl's pictures of where he lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's a beautiful country which looks quite run down from the civil war. There's some real need there.

Friday, October 2nd

It was our last day in Cameroon. Since I had a lot to do before leaving, I didn't go to work at the school site. Instead I did laundry. That was a little more stressful than I was hoping for since it was overcast and humid. While trying not to think about the laundry getting dry enough to pack, I sorted through things and started to pack them up. Throughout the day, people kept showing up with letters for me to post back in the States for them. I think I ended up with almost 300 pieces. They were good padding for the ceramics that I was taking back.

I kept checking on the laundry, turning it occasionally, trying to shorten the drying time. Finally, mid-afternoon, it was dry enough.  You see, in Africa you don't want to take your laundry off the line too soon since if it isn't completely dry there are these little bugs that like to burrow into your skin and...you get the picture. One way to take care of that problem if your laundry won't dry is to iron it and I REALLY didn't want to have to iron everything.

After supper, we finished up the last of our packing and waited for Mickey to take us to the airport. I sat on the veranda for awhile to soak in the sounds and smells one last time. When he did come, there was another family in the van who were also going to the airport to return home to the States.

"When we pulled into the airport parking lot, a swarm of porteurs raced across the ground toward us. We grabbed our small things before opening the doors so that a porteur wouldn't grab them. They were a little disappointed with how little luggage there was for so many people."

We boarded our SM Brussels flight, and left Africa.

Saturday, October 3rd

We were home again. My sister and her family met us at the airport and it was so good to see them. I still had some Cameroonian money so I gave each of the kids a 1000 franc note.

"We collected our things from baggage claim and went out to the car. Brenda had some bread, cheese, sausage, and apple slices to munch on and Dad and I talked about our trip all the way home." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cameroon: The Mbingo Weekend

Friday, September 18th

“Got up, got ready, and we loaded into the van and headed out of Yaoundé for Mbingo...Mickey was wearing a Cameroonian football (soccer) team jersey which I complimented him on. He said he always wears it when he travels because it often helps with getting quickly through checkpoints if stopped. We managed to get out of Yaoundé without too much difficulty and cruised on a smooth paved road at high speeds.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Oh, joy! We were going to Mbingo!

When I was six years old, we moved to Mbingo and lived there for four years. Four years may not seem long to many, but when you’re a missionary family, that can actually be a long time. Mbingo is one of the places that I count as home and I never thought I would ever get to go back to that beautiful place.


As we got closer and closer to Mbingo, the landscape became more and more familiar. When we got to Bamenda, I was truly almost home. As we climbed that road toward Mbingo Valley, Dad commented on how bad it had been when it was raining. Slippery and difficult even for a Land Rover. Now it’s paved.

“It all looked so very the same, yet so very different at the same time.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

As we came into the valley along that winding road, we could see the Big Waterfall off on the valley’s back “wall.” The same as it was before. However, we passed a grove of palm trees that hadn’t been there. The market was still where it had been, but now there were permanent cubicles for the vendors instead of just poles and grass roofs. The same sign announcing Mbingo Baptist Hospital stood where it always has, but the hospital has expanded to meet it rather than sitting back at a discreet distance.


After stopping for a key, we continued up the hill to the house we had lived in. The road up to it is as steep as ever.

“The house has changed so much. The yard is smaller. There is now a flower hedge not far from the house on the south side. You can’t even see where the carport was or the hill I learned to ride a bike on.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


I spent quite a bit of time investigating everything, remembering how it used to be and deciding how I felt about what it is now. Purely by chance, my bags were deposited with Nora’s in my old room.

What hasn’t changed is the magnificence of the view out toward the open end of the valley.


“About 4:30 or 5, Dad and I walked down the old path to the back of the hospital and through past Hiller’s old house and the one where Aunt Gigi and Aunt Myrna lived, over to Aunt Pat’s house.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

To missionary kids, all adults are Uncle or Auntie and that never changes. It was great to visit Auntie Pat in the same home that she lived in when we were there and where she taught me art.

Saturday, September 19th

“We all had a big breakfast around the table of pancakes, fried spam, and scrambled eggs.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

We set out to do some more sightseeing and shopping in the area.

“The first place we went was Presbook to their arts and crafts shop. ...After that we went to Bamenda market. That brought back a lot of memories...Barb and Nora had found some boiled groundnuts and some guavas. We headed out of Bamenda after that and took part of the Ring Road to the Ndop Plain to visit PresPot. We got a tour of the pottery works from one of the senior potters named Primus. He showed us where they pull the clay out of the ground during dry season, and the process they put it through to clean it for use. Then he threw a pot, showed us the kilns, and talked about their glazes.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


Sunday, September 20th

Sunday morning we went to church at Mbingo Baptist Church and discovered that there was going to be a wedding. The bridal car arrived just as we did with the best man, the head of the bride’s family, the groom, the bride, the maid of honor and the ring bearers and flower girls. There was a sign on the back that said “About to be wed.”



“The wedding was completely integrated into the service. During the first song was the processional. The groom and best man came in first followed by the flower girls and ring bearers. Then the bride and relatives came in. They were all seated up front during the singing for worship. We sang for a long time. I think the “solemnization” - wedding vows - were next, then the sermon from Malachi 2. Then the presentation of the gifts and more singing. Church started at 9:30 am and we were finally done at 12:30 pm.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


I wanted hike up towards the back valley. Not all the way, just up to the waterfalls. However, our time there was so full, I wasn’t sure I’d get to. It was going to have to be Sunday afternoon, but during lunch it started to rain. Hiking up a mountain in an Mbingo downpour on Mbingo slippery mud isn’t a good idea.


“Brian and Lendl talked about hiking in the rain and we talked them out of it. They were determined to go, so when the rain stopped, I went with them. We took the road up. It curves around and gives great views in all directions. We eventually came to the stream that feeds the Little Waterfall.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


We climbed up as far as the Big Waterfall even though it was going to make me late getting back for another dinner at Auntie Pat’s. It was worth it.


Monday, September 21st


“While they were packing up the kitchen, I went for one more look at the valley. I found myself crying. I suppose I was grieving for both goodbyes. This one and the one in 1977. Mbingo is one of the places I call home and didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to return. Now part of me is afraid that this was the last time.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)





We headed back to Yaoundé then.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cameroon: Getting Into It For Real

Wednesday, September 16th

The small tractor was fixed, so I was looking forward to not hammering nails. I had taken some pain killers in the morning so that I could get through the day with minimal troubles.



“Brian went back to hammering nails and Dad taught me how to use the smaller tractor to move sand piles. Soon I was on my own while he worked on the generator.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)



I had fun learning to coordinate my hands so that the bucket operated smoothly. The hardest part was trying to pick up sand and get as close to the bottom of the pile as possible without scooping up dirt along with it. I'm afraid that the ground wasn't even close to level and I was highly unsuccessful in keeping the dirt out of the sand. However, I hope I didn't have too much contamination. At one point I disturbed a driver ant colony, so I worked in another area for awhile. The last thing I wanted was to have them attacking the tractor to get at me.

You laugh? You've never encountered driver ants then. You wouldn't laugh if you had!

"For supper we had real fufu. A lady brought the fufu in little bags along with njama-njama and properly cooked plantains. It was so good! I finished mine and then took the second half of Brian’s. And yes...I ate with my fingers.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Talk about heaven. Real Cameroonian food using real palm oil. For those not in the know, njama-njama is like spinach, but has a more bitter taste. The reason I ate with my fingers is because that's how you eat fufu. In some areas they stipulate that you only use the first two fingers and you never eat with your left hand anywhere since that's the hand you use for unclean things. (Sorry lefties.)

The reason I took the second half of Brian's helping is not because I'm greedy or unfeeling. According to my husband, fufu is an acquired taste. The kind we had is made from cornmeal mixed quickly with boiling water and a little salt to a play-dough consistency. Bland is the word often used.

But think about it. Mashed potatoes are bland too and it's a matter of what you're accustomed to and what you eat it with. So I could hardly let good fufu go to waste. Brian had his taste and was fine with that, so I finished it off for him.

Thursday, September 17th

“We were joined by a newcomer named Lendl. He’s been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and decided to use his vacation time to visit Cameroon.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

We were expecting Lendl to join us and he had arrived late the night before, after I had already gone to bed. It was nice to have another addition to our little group. Since Dad and I had each other, Brian and Lendl were buddies.

“I drove the tractor again. Finished the sand pile as well as could be expected. Then I learned how to fill and compress a ditch.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

You'll notice that I've skipped a few days right here. That's because I've made it a different post. So you'll have to read the next one too. A little 101 Arabian Nights strategy for you.

Tuesday, September 22nd

“The men were already in the middle of putting up a rafter when we got there. The guys helped with the next one and sent me running for a camera. I sat and watched as they hoisted two more up then began sliding them into place and bracing them. At lunch time we were invited to join them for lunch and had fufu, njama-njama, and chicken.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Wow! That was incredible to watch the guys putting up those rafters. I've had the privilege of watching a really good crane operator place I-beams on a construction site and it's like watching ballet. This raising of the rafters was all about brute strength and total teamwork instead. There were 20 men doing the lifting, 2 men on the roof with ropes, 2 at the other end on rafters already raised (also with ropes), a man on each wall, and one man directing it all.

They estimated that each rafter weighed about a ton and this is how it was done. First off, the job of the guy directing it all wasn't just to tell them how to do it, but to coordinate their efforts. So, when everyone was ready, they would bend over to prepare to lift. The director said, in a deep and booming voice, "Brrrujjay, brrrujjay, one time, Go!" At "go," they would all lift together.

First they would lift one end up onto the wall and push it far enough out to free the other end up. The other end would then be lifted up onto the opposite wall and they would all be standing holding the rafter in a flat position, ends on the walls, with boards. After nudging the rafter down next to the last one raised, they would switch to longer boards in order to raise it into a vertical position. Each effort was coordinated with the same cry from the director. "Brrrujay, brrrujay, one time, Go!"


When they had them all vertical together at one end, they began taking them one by one across. Each one positioned so that they were spaced correctly for the roof. In order to keep them vertical and move them at the same time, two men would hold long boards crossed for tension against one another.

After lunch I had to quit playing spectator/event recorder and get back to work.


“I moved sand and concrete blocks for the rest of the afternoon.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

Wednesday, September 23rd

“The guys finished installing the rafters and I moved a pile of gravel. It took me all day.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)


Thursday, September 24th

“Today I did something different. It began to rain as soon as we got there, so we found different jobs. I started helping nail plywood onto the ceiling of one of the first buildings. The scaffolding was a little high for me so I had to hunch over a little bit. And it took 3 or 4 panels to figure out how to hammer up without bending most of the nails.”  (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

It's quite different hammering nails on a ceiling when one is used to doing it facing the other direction. It didn't help that the hammer was a little too heavy for me as well. All the ones that have been donated to the project are for men. We ladies usually need something a little lighter. However, I made it work.

That evening I got to go shopping!

“An artisan brought his goods and Barb had him set up in an empty apartment. Carvings, paintings, jewelry, and such.” (Excerpt from Cameroon journal.)

He had some wonderful things and I was able to get a few gifts to take home as well as a little something for myself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cameroon: The First 5 Days

Friday, September 11th
"We had ice cream over western Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Looking out the window I could see the sun glinting off of metal roofs. I watched as we transitioned from savannah to mountains, from yellow dirt to red, open spaces to forest. When we finally landed at Yaoundé it was the smoothest landing I had ever experienced." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal)

We were met at Nsimalen International Airport in Yaoundé by Mickey. He and his wife, Barb, take care of the volunteers who come to Cameroon through Wycliffe Associates and they do a really great job of it. They worked hard to make our accommodations in the city comfortable and safe and provided many chances to meet Cameroonians and see the country.


One of our teammates in this adventure was Brian and he arrived safely on Saturday. Our final teammate, Lendl arrived later in the week.

Sunday, September 13th
"They took us to church at Etoug-Ebe Baptist Church...The interesting part, to me, was the baby announcements. They announced as many births as deaths and the congregation really responded to that. With joy at the births and sadness at the deaths." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal)

Monday, September 14th
"...at about 7:15-7:30 we heard the voices of little children running past talking about the super hero status of one of their classmates. The Parent Run School for the elementary kids is next door and there is a connector gate in the wall." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal)


In the morning, we saw where the Rain Forest International School (RFIS) is currently set up and sharing space with the Summer Institute of Linguistics training facilities. Both are getting too big to share anymore and so the construction of a permanent home for the school has become a high priority.


"The RFIS compound is very large. One end is dominated by the soccer pitch. On the slopes at the other end is the school buildings area. They have 5 buildings in process. Various stages are represented. Two more buildings need to be completed but they need another $250,000 to do it." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal)


When we saw the RFIS site for the first time, we could see that it had been cut out of the jungle with walls not only for security, but for holding the forest back.


Tuesday, September 15th
"Paul said that the tractor needed reparing so I hammered nails in roof trusses all afternoon. I was having to go through 3 layers of hardwood and it seemed that the last layer was harder because the last inch on the nail was the most difficult. By 4 pm my right arm was in serious pain." (Excerpt from Cameroon journal)


I was relieved when Paul, the Wycliffe Associates construction administrator, set me up with the small tractor the next day. I can handle a manual transmission and a bucket or back hoe better than 4 inch nails in hardwood any day of the week.

Imagine...

Close your eyes and imagine this...

You're getting ready to send your daughter off to international boarding school. You're sewing the little ribbon name tags into the back of each piece of clothing. You've taken the list provided by the hostel where she'll be living and gathered things like sheets, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, towels and washcloths, book bag, and all the other things she'll need to be as self-sufficient as possible far from Mom and Dad. You've even cut her long, beautiful hair short so that she can take care of it by herself with the braid wrapped and stored as a keepsake. You send another prayer up that her visa comes in time since she's not only going away from home for school, she's going to a different country.

I'm having to imagine it myself since I'm speaking for my Mom. She is the one that can truly tell you what it's like to send your child off to another country to boarding school.

However, I can speak as the child since I was that child. Mom and Dad did a great job of making it an adventure. I felt very grown up to be going off by myself to school. I knew other kids who had already begun doing that, and at the time it was normal to start boarding school in 4th grade. Mom had home schooled me up to that point because Cameroon didn't have public schools that were good enough to keep me at the same level of education as my peers in the United States. Now it was time to do big girl things and go to school in Nigeria.

I have no children of my own, but even imagining my nieces and nephews being sent off at a very young age causes me fear. Would they be safe? Who can they go to if they get homesick or need help with their homework? Will they be okay? What happens if they have trouble in school with other kids or with their teacher?

So when I found out about the opportunity to go to Cameroon to help build the Rain Forest International School (RFIS) for missionary kids, I checked out their web site. Since it's a fact of life for a lot of missionary kids, I wanted to find out if they had goals and beliefs that would make the school the best it could be. It's important to me that when parents send their children away to school that it's safe and the child comes first. I liked what I saw and decided that I wanted to be a part of that.

So, I embarked on a journey; raising money to go and be a construction worker at the new school site. Thanks to God's grace and a lot of people who were generous both financially and with their prayers, I left for Cameroon on September 10th, 2009. And, lucky me, my Dad went with me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trip Journal

Here it is, all the thoughts and things I collected on my Cameroon trip.

It's quite full. I have always hand bound my travel journals in the past, but there was no time this year. So I used blank Moleskine Cahiers for both my Uganda trip and this trip to Cameroon.


But it's still stewing and rolling around in my mind. Still very personal, although I'm working on that. It's full of photos I printed on my PoGo every day to accompany what I wrote and the other things that I collected.

Only one sketch, but a lot of other things like a leaf, water bottle labels, tickets, brochures, and all sorts of other bits and pieces glued in that help tell the story. I wish I'd had more time for sketching but it seemed that the only time I was sitting still long enough it was always back at the Wycliffe Associates volunteer compound at the end of the day and I was just too tired.


But don't give up on me. I'll get it sorted out and posted sometime soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Going Back

I've been back from Cameroon for almost a month now and I'm still trying to put things into order in my mind. I went to be a construction worker. I did that, I feel we accomplished a lot, I really believe in what we did............but I can't stop thinking about Mbingo.

We moved to Mbingo when I was six years old and lived there until I was ten. This is the house we lived in as it looks now. A little different but still very much the same in many ways.


I went to on this trip with my Dad and so it was extra special to return to our old home for a couple of days in the middle of our three weeks there. As we climbed into the mountains of the Northwest Province, the temperature got cooler and the scenery got more dramatic and lush. When we got to the house we all went out to the edge of the yard almost immediately.

Our old house is at the back of the valley and on a ledge half way up the mountain side. The view is just as incredible as it ever was. It draws you to it. You can't help but go to that edge and look out, just standing and soaking it in.


As I've sorted through my thoughts and feelings, I've been trying to track down the real heart of the matter for me.

I remember standing on the edge of that yard many times, looking out, watching the people below go about their business. It's where I learned, watching a man cut wood with an ax, about the speed of light compared to the speed of sound. I watched the MAF plane land on the airstrip with people running toward it across the valley. I watched a lot of beautiful sunsets and the creep and flow of clouds from the mouth of the valley, up over our house, and then over the mountains.

But what I think affected me the most were the trees. The tall, beautiful Eucalyptus trees. They stand in a thick grove north and west of the house and line the road up the hill, framing Mbingo Hill looking back.


I've always loved walking in the woods, especially when the trees are tall and have that soft rustling sound going. Now I know why. I spent a lot of time in those trees.

It really was "going home" even with all the changes that have taken place since I was ten. I love that place and it was incredibly therapeutic to be there. I cried when we left.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Meeting Michael

Meeting our sponsored children was turned into a game. The sponsors were lined up on one side of the lawn and the children on the other. They were told to see if they could find their sponsors on their own. Our sponsored child is named Richard Michael (he prefers Michael) and he struck out the first time, trying another couple first. But he managed to find us on the second try with a little of our help.

A pang of guilt went through me at that. As a matter of fact, it still does. I should have been sending him new pictures of us every year. It had been a couple years since I had sent the last one and we were all bundled up in our winter gear. The poor kid didn't stand a chance.

We gave him the soccer ball we had brought and I took a picture of him holding it with my husband kneeling beside him. Both faces show anticipation with a little uncertainty. I think it took Michael a few minutes to understand that the ball was his to keep. When he did, he got very possessive of it.

Throughout the day we got to know each other better and became more relaxed. With the assistance of a translator, we asked and answered questions of each other. He learned that we have no children and we learned that he liked being our "son."

Lunch was interesting. He wasn't eating his chicken and when asked why, he responded that it wasn't salty enough. So my husband introduced him to the salt shaker. After applying enough salt to clog the arteries by just watching him, he ate his chicken right down to the marrow. He's got strong teeth.

We kicked his ball around before and after lunch, giving him a chance to show off his moves and me a chance to impress my husband. I hadn't played soccer since I was a year older than Michael. Later we took a boat ride on Lake Victoria and went swimming in the wading pool upon our return.

When it came time to give him his gifts we found a quiet spot under a tree in the garden. At first he was very formal but as he opened the first gift, the smiles came. In the package were some lead pencils, colored pencils, a sharpener, and two pink erasers. For some reason, the pink erasers were of particular interest to him and he was overwhelmed. That would have been enough, but being Americans, we had more. So out came the rest...a small sketch book, some matchbox construction trucks, and a pump for his ball. Finally, we gave him a shoulder bag to put it all in.

We gathered his things and put them in the bag to go back to our meeting area. He slung it on his shoulder and carried his ball. My husband and our translator, Wycliffe, walked on ahead while I lagged behind with Michael. He suddenly stopped and was trying to put his ball in the bag. I stopped too and helped by holding it open. The ball fit perfectly! We continued walking and suddenly he grabbed my arm, squeezed it close, and squealed! He was excited! That was the peak of the day for me. That we could give him such excitement over something so small as a soccer ball, pink erasers, and a bag to put them in.

The rest of our time was spent kicking his ball around and soon it was time to go. Quickly gathering together for a last minute group portrait of all the sponsors and children, my husband and I sat on the ground with Michael behind us. He placed his hands on our heads as if to claim us as his own.

As all of the kids and their translators climbed onto the bus, there was a lot of hugging and tears. But goodbyes have been a constant and normal part of my life, so aren't so emotional. All I required was one final acknowledgment after he was on the bus. He did that, reaching up, searching us out, and waving with a big smile on his face.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dancing, Mosquito Nets, Bore Holes, and Rain

The second half of our stay in Uganda was in the north. That was when we visited the project that probably had the biggest impact on us.

From the town where we stayed in the north, it was about a two hour drive. When our bus was just outside of the town we were headed to, we were met on the road by a large group. They were mostly women with a few men waving branches, playing instruments, singing, ululating, and dancing. They continued that way, slowly leading the bus toward the town. On the edge of town we were met by a second group of more women who joined the first, leading the bus in, around the roundabout, and up the road past the school and to the project. When we were almost there, our driver stopped the bus and most of us got out to join them, dancing the rest of the way and up to the church. There we were surrounded and greeted by another large group of women, the moms and grandmas of the children assisted by Compassion International. There was a lot more ululating and pressing of hands, Ugandan fashion, as the pastor and project workers directed us to our seats.


The church is an open building designed to provide shelter from sun and rain while maximizing the effect of cool breezes. As we sat during introductions, I noticed the large quantity of holes in the front wall. Most had been patched and some further down and around the edges had not. It occurred to me that they might be damage from bullets. I saw more, unpatched, in the walls of classrooms we visited later. What reinforced my opinion (I never confirmed it with anyone) was what the pastor told us. "You are safe here."


After introductions and reports from the staff was the dancing. And what incredible dancing it was. The first group of ladies came in singing and dancing with incredible expression in their movements that captured the emotion of the words in their songs. On their last song we got to stand up and join them. It was hard to keep up in spite of how simple it looked. They kind of shuffle, stomp, and jump, but the rhythm was fairly complex and so it was hard to tell when to do what. Besides, it was exhausting. A real cardiovascular workout.

The second group of ladies were much more sedate in their singing and dancing. The third group was even more energetic than the first. All lacked the self-consciousness or sexual connotation which is so often present in Western dancing.


I think the most powerful part of the day was the home visits and project tour.

"This village was part of the turmoil created by the Lord's Resistance Army. It was a refugee camp for awhile and most of the kids in the project were born in the bush (in hiding). There was no school until the project was started a year or two ago."

"As our group assembled around the pastor, he was talking to the co-leader of our tour. He said that many non-governmental organizations have been there to help them over time, but they all had a lot of corruption and came, did their thing, and left. They chose to ask Compassion to come help them start a program because of the lack of corruption and they felt that what Compassion had to offer would actually be of help to them."

"We were taken to three home visits and the bore hole. The homes were all small mud huts with mosquito nets and three people living in them. The first two were thatched and were quite cool, the last was roofed with tin and was hot. All the mosquito nets we saw were given to them by Compassion. We ended at the bore hole. There is another one down the road by the school, but it doesn't work very well most of the time. It's solar with too many parts to maintain in such a remote place. The pastor said the land for the new pump was donated and would not have been if anyone else had come to install it. It's one that uses a hand lever and works as long as the person using it is able. Some little girls were operating it when we were there. The 7 or 8 year old was pumping, jumping, and laughing as she did it while a younger girl used the water to wash herself, scrubbing her feet on the concrete."
(Excerpts from Ugandan journal.)


There is a drought in Uganda and so a reliable well that provides clean water is critical to this community. Both the mosquito nets and the well have reduced the amount of sickness that is experienced there. Such small things make such a huge difference.

We were told, when we got there, that it hadn't rained for some time. I know that I was not the only one quietly praying for rain that day and watching the sky as it turned gray with clouds. When we all gathered together before leaving, our tour leader asked me to pray to close out our time. Just as I finished, the clouds began to release their precious treasure... and it rained.

This is a hotel, but a typical structure for homes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Look, Feel, Taste and Smell


Landscape

My points of reference for observing the Ugandan landscape was Cameroon and Nigeria.

Kampala region was reminiscent of Cameroon. the dirt was very red and staining and the vegetation was lush and entangled. What I didn't see was a lot of organized farms. There were small-space gardens in odd available spaces all over the city, but outside of the city didn't really seem any more organized. It wasn't until we got further north that farms seemed more intentional.


The houses were different from Cameroon and Nigeria in interesting ways. The only ones with mud brick and grass roofs belonged to the poorest. The next step up from that was mud brick with corrugated metal roofs. From there they upgraded to baked bricks with concrete mortar and corrugated metal roofs. We saw men making bricks from clay and it appeared that people would order clay bricks to be made and stacked in their yards. The base of the stack always had two tunnels and they would plaster the side of it with mud. That done, smoldering fires were started in the tunnels and the clay bricks were baked. After the baking, the pile was uncovered and construction could begin. Building of anything so expensive is done on a pay-as-you-go basis. So it can take a very long time to build a house or a store. The houses usually had verandas on the front and the businesses had tall flat fronts to create a high place for signage.

The northern region seemed more reminiscent of Nigeria. The dirt was lighter and grayer and, consequently, so are the bricks and homes. That was also where we saw a whole lot more mud huts with thick grass roofs. The vegetation was drier and at one point I saw a lot of elephant grass. The whole area was transitioning to savanah. We saw baboons, gray monkeys, a black and white monkey, and a lot of typical, long horn cattle. At the furthest extreme, the cattle seemed to be a shorter horned variety.

The variety of palms all over, was really interesting. Some of them were familiar (coconut and raffia) and others were ones that I had only seen in botanical gardens or photographs.


There were some very unusual trees that we called "Dr. Seus" trees due to the way the foliage formed puff-balls at the tips of the branches. One of the things I particularly enjoyed was walking past the hibiscus bushes at night. Their scent was very intoxicating then. There was a fair amount of bougainvilla around as well. One of the smells that seemed very much in place was the smell of burning. The scent of the smoke was always present in Kampala.

One thing I don't miss about the trip was the constant attack of mosquitoes. Since one cannot keep clean in Africa, it is best to bathe at night before bed. When possible, we did so just before dinner since we usually ate quite late. So, it was necessary to thoroughly cover up with clothing as I couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in bug repellent.

Food

Meals were always interesting.

We ate breakfast at 7 am most days and at the resort it was a buffet from which I usually chose fried plantains, fresh pineapple, fresh passion fruit, hard boiled eggs, homemade yogurt, and lassi. I washed it all down with hot tea with milk and sugar.

"Tea" was served at noon and it varied a little depending on what was offered: water, milk cookies, bananas, fresh ground nuts, and cookies.

Lunch was usually at 2 to 2:30 pm and usually had most of, if not all of, the following: water, rice, Irish potatoes, matoke, ground nut sauce, chicken, lamb (goat), soup (sauce), groundnut sauce, pineapple, and bananas. Some offered soft drinks as well such as Fanta, Krest, and Coke. All with sugar, of course.

Supper was always late, about 7:30 or 8 pm. We often didn't finish until 9 or 9:30 since the service was leisurely, allowing for proper conversation and digestion of our food. The chef at the resort was Indian, so the cuisine was what I call Ugandan-Indian fusion. When we stayed at the hotel in Lira, the food was Ugandan all the way.

The one food we had which was not generally offered at our meals was the avocados given to us by a woman at the first child development center we visited. Our tour leader would cut them up as they ripened and put them on a plate to pass around at our evening meal. They were huge and very sweet. My one food regret is that we never got any guavas. They were out of season along with the mangoes.

People

One of the things that struck me about the people was, in particular, the women. We wore skirts since we were going into very traditional environments, but we did see a few women wearing pants in the city. It also was not at all uncommon to see women drivers in their own vehicles, usually small personal cars.

The common way of greeting was to softly take the hand of the visitor in both hands and slide off. Women often added a slight curtsey. Men had a funny little grasp and shake that was firmer and made me think of secret handshakes and brotherhoods. They were all soft spoken and I had to pay attention very closely to hear anyting at all some times.


When we went to the projects, we could always tell the project children from the rest. They all had uniforms that seemed to be school uniform bottoms (shorts or skirts) and usually t-shirts with a saying or verse on the back. And so, when we would drive up to a project, we were always greeted by an array of bright colors, usually red, blue, green, or yellow.


The Ugandan women had an interesting traditional dress that I never quite finished figuring out. The wrap skirt was pleated so that the bottom was wider than the top, but I couldn't see how. The top was quite elaborate with mid-length sleeves which were magnificently peaked at the shoulders. The neckline was square, buttoning closed on the left side. The fabric of the lower half continued on around the waist to be loosely secured by a sash with the excess shirt fabric draped over it. The men we encountered simply wore dress pants, dress shirts, and a tie if they owned one. Naturally, most everyone we were introduced to were dressed in their very best clothes.