Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Minority Report

What all the Purdue team did

I went back with the Purdue team to Kampala to send them back home. It was tough to say goodbye. Having them around and seeing them with the Compassion kids was unlike any experience I’ve had here to date. It a word, it was joyous. Their time here went so quickly and they did and saw so much in their time here. While I was in Kampala shortly after they left I ran into another group from Purdue and from the same church (Purdue Christian Campus House) which had gone on a separate mission trip to Gulu, Northern Uganda. They had gone to work with the Invisible Children program. It was cool to bump into them and to share some of their equally life changing experiences. It was just neat to have 2 Purdue teams doing such fantastic work clear on the other side of the world.

Let me try to summarize the entire trip. 14 members from Purdue Christian Campus House (http://www.pcch.org) traveled to Uganda to work with Compassion International, my host organization. I attended Campus House with two of the leaders while I was a student at Purdue. They stayed with host families in groups of 2-3. In their time here they worked with the Compassion children when they came in for their center days, two days a week, teaching them English, science, social studies, math and health education. The other days were used to go out into the village to construct some simple but necessary structures. They fundraised extra money to buy construction materials. In all they cleared land, donated materials and helped to construct 5 outdoor kitchens. They also helped to construct/renovate 3 pit latrines and several outdoor bathing areas and drying racks. When there wasn’t enough work to do they went to the gardens and pulled weeds which was a great help to the caregivers. For Annette, one of our poorest children who lives in a small house with 8 siblings and her mother and father, they gave 4 blankets, three mattresses, 10 iron sheets, saucepans, plates, cups, mosquito nets, and money for food. They also collected donations from Purdue students from their church crayons, toys, markers, coloring books, squirt guns, bouncy balls, stickers, etc to give to all of the 285 Compassion kids. Some of the clothing they brought to wear they left here to give to needy families to either wear or to sell to make money. We took a safari one day and saw a lion, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, bush bucks (deer like animals), water buffalo and mongooses. Many of them have posted pictures of the trip on my Flickr.com account which is located in the upper right portion of this window. If you click on a photo you should be able to navigate around that page to find my ‘groups’ page where there is a group called Purdue-Uganda Mission Trip. Check out the photos…

Northern Exposure

I have to talk about this now, it’s gone on long enough. Boobs don’t mean anything here. It’s a thing in America, but not here. I started up my running club again and this time the girls were there. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t but yesterday they were there. Whenever the girls run, towards the end of their 2 miles, they start taking off their tops to cool down. Granted the sun isn't up by the time we finish running, so it's plenty dark, but still. I’ve come to the conclusion that boobs just don’t mean anything at all here. It’s nothing to walk down the street to find women breastfeeding. Males back in America gawk at women as they walk by, even rating them. They’re ‘window shopping’ or ‘checking out the menu’ as I’ve heard them say. It doesn’t happen here. I find these nuggets of truth here which teach me that some things aren’t just ‘human nature’ but are American instead. We’ve been programmed to think the way we think through advertising and media, laugh if you will, but it’s true. Sex sells and marketers use it extensively and they knew exactly which angles to play it.

Here, an attractive girl walks by with a shapely figure (most of them have shapely figure, hardly any of them are over weight and they wear clothing to accentuate their figures) and the group of men she walks past just keep right on talking with no regards to her, in part, because behind her is another slender, shapely girl, and then another and then another. Shapely figures and breasts are just nothing to see here because they’re everywhere. In some way it’s just part of their culture, not that they go around topless, because they certainly don’t, but there’s no ‘censorship’ which in some way alleviates the desire to see it. But I still have to remind the girls to keep their shirts on. Which just seems funny to me.

My horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day.

There are times when I hate being in Uganda. Yesterday was one of them. I do fine for the most part but sometimes I’m just pushed to my limit. Yesterday started out fine. A trip to Mbarara to deliver messages for my organization. I got there in a timely fashion. Had the front seat in the matatu (mini-van taxi) which is the best seat to have. The driver drove slow but I had a good book with me and slow = less dangerous. I got there and started running the 7 errands I had to run. No problems here either, things were going smoothly and then it started. I was told to go to the bank and get a form for my organization’s tax information. The bank said they didn’t have the forms and that they were at the other end of town, but they gave me horrible directions, so I walked that way, couldn’t find the place, nobody knew where it was and I had to walk back and ask again. The building I was looking for had no sign to distinguish it. I’m now over an hour off my schedule, not a huge deal, after all TIA (This Is Africa) so I go to the next errand, looking for fuses for a voltage regulator. Shouldn’t be a problem. …I had to go to 5 different electronic stores before I found the right one. Five! Sometimes I was convinced that they told me no just because they didn’t want to look through their 10 fuses to see if they had the right one. I’m convinced of this. So that set me off a little more. Then it was back to the bank to give them the newly filled out forms. There is always a line at the bank of around 30 people or more. Sometimes the line goes out the door and halfway down the block. That’s ok. I have my good book and am prepared to wait. After nearly an hour I reach the front of the line and my teller must have been in her first week of working there. She didn’t have a clue what the forms were that I was giving her and I didn’t know what they were because I was just a helpless messenger. There was a place to sign them at the bottom which I was waiting for her to tell me to sign them cause they had to be signed and witnessed by her. Before she did anything I told her I needed to sign them first. She tore the forms out and then asked me why I didn’t sign them. To which I replied why didn’t you check them before you tore them out. Now I’m set back over 2 hours and my organization is calling asking why I’m not back and that they need the papers I’ve picked up.

Finally, I get all my stuff done and get on a matatu to take me back. It should be about a 45 minute trip if I was driving, but these vehicles stop along the way to pick people up and drop off so it takes over an hour, but then sometimes you get on the “Matatu from Hell” and they stop at every town, sometimes turning off the engine and going somewhere, who knows where, and the passengers are just sitting there, somehow patiently waiting for the driver to return. This was like that, only worse. It started when I was picked up at the edge of town, ready to leave, and then the driver turned the vehicle back around to go back into town to pick up at least 1 more person to have a full vehicle, which always makes me mad because I just figure they can pick people up along the way anyway. Then this happens also, 2 guys get out of the van because they’re just occupying seats to make it look like it’s more full so that other people will actually think it’s leaving soon, so we have more people to pick up before we can go. I’m in the back seat in the middle. The guys on either side of me are eating peanuts out of a plastic bag and when they finish they just throw the trash out their windows, which I HATE. This country is beautiful, but there is trash EVERYWHERE! I grew up behind the Rush County fairgrounds and every city in Uganda looks like the fair and the carnies had just left and left their trash everywhere. It’s ridiculously uncouth. I’m already mad so I give these guys lectures about respecting the environment. Then it starts to train along the way and the back window isn’t sealed right so it drips in on me and I have to sit way forward in my seat to avoid taking a shower. Along the way we seem to stop in every little village along the way and the driver then also stops at every roadside vendor to buy his groceries which by now is really making me mad because he can do this on his own time. He stopped once to buy pineapples, another time to buy tomatoes and then when we were literally just a couple hundred meters from town he stopped again, disappeared for 15 minutes behind a building and then emerged with a loaf of bread! I was about to shoot him, seriously. That was the icing on the cake! It took 2 ½ hours for what should have been a 45 minute trip. At one time they stopped to work on the matatu and then had to push start the piece of junk! The passengers the entire time are yelling at him “Tugyende!” (Let’s Go!), but it’s futile. He’s in control and he knows it and he’ll go at his pace. I almost threw the money at him as I got out, but I don’t want to be the rude American like so many tourists can be as they pass through, so I keep quiet. It really wouldn’t have done any good anyway, so I try to be the bigger person and just keep it to myself. (It came out later though with Jacob. Poor guy.)

Dental Work

I’ve been here a year. That means that I have to go to Kampala and get a routine physical exam and my teeth cleaned and checked. The food here isn’t sweet and doesn’t contain much sugar, so it’s not that tough on teeth, but I do drink a lot of Coke here and I was having some sensitivity in one of my teeth a few weeks back.

The dentist was great. I walked into the dentist office with my bright blue Colts NFL Champions shirt on and he said, “Aw man! I’m a Bears fan. You can’t wear that shirt in here.” He was cool. His mother was from Chicago and he studied dental stuff there. He had a thick American accent. His office was about the most sophisticated dental office I’ve ever seen. He was using equipment to take pictures of some of my teeth and then showing me on the computer. It was cool, until he found a loose filling. Then came the bad news: You need a crown and maybe a root canal. A note to all dentists out there. Don’t keep saying, “Oh man, this is bad. This doesn’t look good. Oh man!” Just don’t go there please. Ignorance is bliss and I’d rather not know that it’s so bad. Thankfully he decided that a crown was enough. So they worked away and basically grinded my tooth down until they could fit a temporary crown on it. The real crown is made in South Africa and will be here in a couple of weeks. I was there for a total of 3 hours in tooth hell. A part of me thinks the dentist was just torturing me because the Colts beat the Bears in the Superbowl, but he wouldn’t admit to it. Needless to say I haven’t drunk a Coke since. Trying to preserve my pearly whites.

Small Successes

There’s a free publication that’s available to anyone who requests it called Straight Talk. It’s a monthly publication that deals each month with issues like HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, sex education, sugar daddies/mommies, making positive decisions, health and nutrition, etc. To be honest, it’s almost the same publication each month with almost the same topics discussed, but it’s a fantastic resource for secondary students to read about health topics and they love to receive them. It’s one of the very few things that is published just for them, and it’s free! Recently there was a section asking the readers to read about a problem that someone had written in about, a teenage girl who had an older neighbor asking her for sex, and the readers were instructed to advise ‘Miriam’ on what to do. I challenged my secondary students at Compassion to advise her and one of my students took me up on it. I mailed in his advice and this week, much to my great surprise, he was selected as one of the top 20 winners for submitting the best advice! And if you knew this kid, it would be even more surprising. So he will be receiving a free Straight Talk T-shirt soon! His advice wasn’t published, only the top two were, but his name and school was listed for being the top 20. What was funny was that I hadn’t noticed his name in this month’s letter and he brought me a copy and laid it on my desk. I told him I didn’t want the thing and that he should keep it. Then he pointed out his name in it and I whisked it away to show the other Compassion staff, all of us beaming with pride for Nicholas!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One Tree Hill

I think that it’s important that when a group does a mission trip that they also include some sightseeing. As a veteran of a few short term trips, I always look forward to getting out and seeing some other sights and buying some trinkets for the fam. On one of the last days they were to spend in Uganda, I took the Purdue gang to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). There are 2 ways to get to QENP from my site. One route takes you backwards an hour to Mbabara and then another 2 hours to the park. Another way looks shorter and goes straight north and meets up with the other route but goes through the bush and is entirely dirt roads. We took the dirt roads. The roads where white folk rarely travel. Aside from a bumpy ride and having to stop along the way for some cows to move out of our path, it was quite beautiful, but because of the reduced speed of maneuvering around potholes and giant ruts carved into the road by rainwater it actually took us about the same amount of time than it would have to take the other route.

We eventually made it to QENP. Upon entering the park we immediately saw a family of baboons just along the road. Of course we stopped to take pictures and proceeded to throw any food we had in the van out at them. As we ventured deeper into the park we saw cape buffalo, bushbuck (large, deer-like animals), elephants and a sleepy male lion. We hired a guide and proceeded to take the scenic route around the park for sightseeing. This time we encountered some warthogs and hippos. At some point in time the group veered toward being giddy and Junior High (wait, maybe that was me) and started asking, over and over, “Do those ones eat meat?” The highlight of the trip was just as dusk was setting in, a large family of elephants was scattered all around us. We stopped and watched as they crossed the road in front of us and behind. Mother elephants with their babies. Large males. They were so majestic and fascinating. It was too dark to take pictures, which in some way was good because it meant putting the cameras down and just soaking in the moment. It was pretty powerful to just be with these huge creatures in their natural environment. The guide kept saying, can we go, but the group just wanted to stay and observe.

After spending the night in our hostel on the Mweya Peninsula, we bought tickets for a boat ride on the lake. Upon making the decent down to the pier we encountered a large group of mongooses (yes, that’s the proper plural form of mongoose – it’s not mongi). Mongooses are groundhog/squirrel like animals. Their nearest relative is the hyena. We were literally right on top of them. They were running all around us. Some even aloud themselves to be petted. The boat trip was another highlight. We got up close and personal with some crocodiles that were sunning on the shore with their mouths wide open. We also encountered several hundred hippos (which I hear kill more people annually than lions). QENP has around 5,000 hippos and they’re hard to miss.

Upon returning to our village Ken and Brad wanted to take the group up to One Tree Hill, a small hill about a mile behind my house with one tree on the top of it, hence the name, and with a nice overview of my village. I go up there frequently myself to pray, think, feel and cry. They wanted to go and do the same while reflecting on these past 2 weeks. We all stayed up there for a couple of hours. Reflection time. In the end we circled up and talked about what was the most significant moment for each of us. It was something different for everyone. One said that visiting the first family who had 11 living is a home “smaller than my bedroom” and being able to give them a few necessities. Another said that sharing time with the Compassion kids and seeing them smiling and happy was the highlight. The last girl to go had a hard time fighting back the tears. She talked about going to her host family that first night. The host family’s house is in the middle of a boarding school where 200 girls were staying. She said that they were all just looking at her at first, unsure of how to approach. Then one girl stepped forward and kneeled and shook her hand, followed by another and then another and before she knew it she was shaking hands with a group of all 200 of them. “It was just so overwhelming and amazing all at the same time.” As dusk was falling we gathered up some rocks from the top of the hill and built an alter there by the one tree. Brad reminded us that throughout the Old Testament they would build an alter to God whenever he had shown himself. He had certainly done so many times in the past 2 weeks.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I get so jazzed up

Nothing fires me up much more than just helping people with absolutely no expectations of anything in return. It’s the kind of help that just blows people away. Have you ever been helped like that? Seemingly for no reason. It might have been big help or such an insignificant little thing. It may have been something so simple, but it came at a time when you just needed some help or from someone you wouldn’t have expected to help you. To me, I see this as a great representation of Jesus Christ and of Christianity. The mere fact that God came down and manifested himself in the form of Jesus, God on earth, to dwell and serve amongst and amidst the people perfectly illustrates it. I love it! What must have those people thought who actually got it, who understood what was going on. God in the flesh. The healings, the teachings. I can only imagine.

The Purdue team hit the field again to do some simple work out in the villages. This is their mission work. This is why they came: to work. It’s tough coordinating a group of 14 white people, untrained in African building techniques and then to coordinate an additional 20-40 Compassion kids who are coming along to also help. Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough for everyone to do. So when that happens we take the leftovers and go down into the garden to dig in the fields. There is always gardening to do. Even though the weeds will grow back in a few weeks, it still must be compelling for Ugandans to see Americans rolling up their sleeves to work in their fields. A couple of the Compassion staffers go with us into the field. There is also a neighbor who is home from college named Francis who is also around. We’ve asked him to just go around with us. He overhears what the locals are saying as they are standing around watching the Muzungus work. Here are three stories from him of what people said as they saw us working:

A local government member of the tiny village we were working in called the LC 1 (basically the mayor) came and spoke after one of our groups had finished working. His eyes were filled with tears and his voice was shaky as he spoke of the utter amazement of Americans, AMERICANS, who were there in their midst for the first time, digging in the dirt and getting their hands and feet muddy as they helped to build these mud structures for these Compassion children, the poorest of the poor. He didn’t think Americans did this or would do this and he wished that the local people would take the example they had set, coming from a place that was ‘so high’ and working here in Africa, and that others would follow their humble example.

A Muslim woman was also deeply moved that these white Americans were working so hard for these Compassion children without expecting anything in return and doing it in the name of Christ. She was amazed at how hard they were working and that they had come from so far. She exclaimed that she was so moved that this was what Christianity was about that she would seriously think about changing her own religion to Christianity because she had never seen this kind of selfless giving by other Muslims within her own religion.

Another woman couldn’t believe that Americans worked so hard. She thought they just traveled from their air conditioned house in their air conditioned car to their air conditioned work places along perfectly paved roads. She couldn’t fathom them coming to Africa and arriving in their village, working alongside local people, laughing, working, donating materials to build structures and then helping to build them. She sat there most of the day and just took it all in.

I love it. I absolutely love it. Working for work’s sake and giving without expecting anything in return. Helping just to help, because people need help. We all need help. I, even as I type this, need help in some form or fashion. We all need it, though it can be tough to receive at times.

We had 2 groups working today. One was building an outdoor kitchen for a family. When the group came they wanted to buy goats for some of these families, but after they arrived the focus shifted to doing some light construction. Not every family has the land or the capacity to raise goats, so they can be a problem rather than a blessing sometimes. And it’s possible that they will raise a family of goats and then sell them for something like an outdoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen will enable the families to cook even if it rains. I imagine that with a good rain the family would go without food, so an outdoor kitchen is almost essential. It costs about $60 to roof a small outdoor kitchen. The group doesn’t just pay for the materials, they also have become exceptional builders of these local structures, which involves cutting trees with a machete, digging holes for them with the same machete, using banana fibers to tie some smaller sticks to the frame which work as slats to put the mud in, they dig up dirt and make mud and then build the walls up with the mud. Everyone finds something to do and we’re working side by side with the Compassion kids, which makes it that much neater. The kids work HARD! You wouldn’t believe how hard these kids work. I’m not talking about working hard for a 12 year old, I’m talking about working hard like grown men, construction workers work! They know how to work! And there’s nobody telling them to jump in to do something, they just do it. Maybe because they’re working at their friends home, maybe it’s because there are some ‘Muzungus’ around, who knows? Maybe it’s just because that’s their livelihood and they know how to work.

The 2nd group worked across the village at another home improving an outdoor bathing area. We also tore down an old pit latrine. Most of the pit latrines in the village are constructed by digging a hole in the ground, covering it with logs to make the floor, putting mud on the logs to make the floor but leaving a hole for the business. The walls are made of timber from nearby and sticks tied together to make slats for the mud. The roof is usually made either from thatched grass or banana leaves. It doesn’t have to be absolutely leak proof, just enough to provide some shelter when doing one’s business.

The structure that was up was only about 4 ft tall and was falling apart, so we demolished it and began to build up new walls and made up some new mud for the walls. The girls really had a good time and started to really connect with and have fun with the kids. They began racing the kids to tie the sticks to the frame using the banana fibers from the banana trees which were all around us. They began declaring who were the winners and who were the losers. The kids thought they were quite funny.

Also... My cat had her kittens. Three of them. The Purdue girls who are animal science majors think that they are from 2 different fathers because one is quite a bit bigger than the others. My cat, Akamogo (Blemish), had them in my neighbors office, somehow squeezing her big pregnant belly under the crack of the door to get in. I've since moved them to a T-shirt lined cardboard box next to my room. Mother and babies seem to be doing fine. I now understand the term, "Weak as a newborn kitten" better than before.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Back to the Field

We took the Purdue team back to the field yesterday. We have 3 kids who lived very near each other and each of them needed some work done. We spent most of the time leveling the land to build outdoor kitchens for them. The Purdue team paid for some ironsheets to roof the kitchens with. It’s quite amazing what a group of 14 volunteers along with a group of 20 Compassion kids can get accomplished in a couple of hours. The same amount that it would take a single person more than a week to do. The Purdue team worked diligently. They used hoes to move the earth and then machetes to dig holes for the poles to build the kitchens. Along with that they built a couple of outdoor bathing areas using local, available materials as well as drying racks for dishes. We also hauled large timber to be used for construction of the kitchens. It felt like we walked a mile but I’m sure it was closer to ½ kilometer, but it was up the side of a hill/mountain. Wherever we go small crowds of locals follow us, especially kids. It makes for great picture taking. What you do is take a picture of them and then show them the picture. Inevitably when you go to take a picture of one of them, whoever is around tries to sneak slip into the picture and before you know it, what was supposed to be a picture of one turns into 5 then 10 then 20. Today we had the Compassion kids at the center for our Center Day. The Purdue team helped to teach some of the classes and then taught them some new games to play including ‘steal the bacon’, ‘Chinese tag’, and the animal/pillow game, which was always a camp favorite when I was a camp counselor. They did a drama to start out the day. One called the pool which I’ve done a dozen or so times. It’s a great illustration about how some people come to the pool, which is God in this case, and just wash up or wade around for fun, but how the main character wants to and eventually does jump in in an effort to completely surrender to God. It’s a powerful visualization. They did it in church this past Sunday too. Finally, we stopped in to tour a small lemongrass factory where they process lemongrass and make lemongrass candles, soap, foot-soak and tea. The lemongrass candles repel mosquitoes and smell quite a bit better than citronella candles. It’s altogether strange to have these guys here. I still just can’t get my head around it. It’s strange and fantastic. Strange in a good way. “This is Africa” like they say in the movie Blood Diamond, so it’s just out of the ordinary to have 2 of my good friends here along with a team of 12 missionaries from my college church to be hanging around my tiny little African village. They’re going through all the things I and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers went through in our training. They are picking up the local language and improving their Uganglish (a way of speaking English that infuses English with an African dialect but it makes you feel like you’re talking to a retard because you’re speaking so slowly and deliberately). Also… My cat is pregnant. Should give birth in a week or two.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Time for Church

The Purdue group is here to do some mission work. That involves some dramas and talking at the local church. But before that, on Saturday, we visited Itojo Hospital which is a JCRC HIV/AIDS hospital. Unfortunately for us they conduct their HIV outreaches and programs on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are our Center Days when the Compassion kids come. So on Saturday we went to visit the hospital. I thought it’d be really interesting to show them a 3rd world hospital and to especially visit the children’s ward.

We had to first stop by the doctor’s office in my village to pick him up. He was to go with us. He is a doctor at this particular hospital and he was to be our tour guide.

The hospital is a one story structure with several small buildings surrounding it which serve as the staff quarters I believe. There are usually a number of people around, mostly because it’s not the nurses that tend to basic needs of patients, it’s the family members. They bring rolled up mattresses and basins for sleeping and washing clothing while they’re there. They often sleep in the aisles or under the beds of the patience. Patients all stay in a dorm like environment rather than individual rooms. The rooms have a faint but distinct urine smell which zaps the nose upon first entering but eventually settles to habituation. We first visited the lab. Nothing really out of the ordinary here. Basic lab equipment. Microscopes, a few chemicals around, a hand operated centrifuge. It looked a little disheveled but not too bad. We made our way through the hospital stopping at but not going into the theater which is their term for surgery. Eventually we made it to the children’s ward. The first thing to notice was the mosquito nets that were hanging above each bed. A welcomed sight. Children from 12 on down were scattered throughout the room with their parents. There were around 25 or so children and 16 of us to visit them, so we may have been a bit overwhelming and judging by their faces at first I’d say that’s an accurate description. The Purdue girls had made some small care packages with markers and stickers which we quickly passed out. The group was tentative at first, maybe not sure what to think or how exactly to approach these children and gawking parents, but eventually they were well infused with them and I had a difficult time pulling them away. They just loved on the kids and spent some quality time with them. The gawks slowly turned into smiles and the smiles into laughter

The next stop was Mbarara where we met up with several Peace Corps Volunteers for some Muzungu Food or a reasonable facsimile. One of the themes we’ve had this week has been “Lowered Expectations”. When you lower your expectations, things aren’t too bad. When you don’t expect a good pizza and then you get an average pizza, it’s somehow ok. So we all ate and laughed together. Eating together, especially in Uganda amongst Peace Corps Volunteers is a fantastic social experience which goes on for hours, in part because it typically takes 2 hours between the time we place an order and we receive our food (no exaggeration…). But when you have lowered expectations… it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The last thing we did in Mbarara was to hit the disco. One of the Ugandans with us had a brother who was a DJ in the VIP room, upstairs. As Marcus says, “Once you go VIP, you don’t go back.” It’s just a slightly different crowd of people who are willing to pay a little more to dance. I tried to warn my visitors of what they would see, and they basically saw what I told them. In the downstairs part of this club there are mirrors all around the walls. The Ugandans dance with themselves in front of these mirrors for hours. And they can’t dance well at all! In fact they are horrible dancers, flat out! They love to dance, they are just terrible at it. I blame it on not having grown up watching MTV. I don’t know what else to attribute it to. Another funny sight is the guys dancing together. They get in groups of 2 or 3 and dance together. They dance like there’s no tomorrow. They throw their arms in the air and dance like it’s 1999 and they don’t know or care that guys don’t dance with guys. Homosexuality is not a thing in this country and guys are openly affectionate to one another but, I assure you, not in a gay way. So they dance together. It’s funny to see and a little weird to get used to, but always entertaining.

So after a late night of dancing it was up at 5:30am to drive into my village for church at 8. I knew church wouldn’t start at 8, but being that we were the main part of the program I knew we had to be there around that time. So we got there at 8 and waited, and waited, and waited. By 8:45 nobody had arrived. We were supposed to lead the church’s first English service. Then the Compassion staff arrived. Finally we decided to just begin in hopes that people would eventually show up, but they scrapped our program. Instead of the Purdue team leading worship and doing 3 dramas and a little bit of preaching, they were reduced to 1 song and 1 drama and the rest was to be lead by the canon, the religious leader of the Anglican church, and my neighbor. Everything went well and, yes, eventually, people started showing up. By the time it was over there may have been around 20 people there.

The second service was another story. There was a group from a neighboring church that had been invited to do some presenting. Seats were saved for them. The Purdue team did their 3 dramas and they did a fantastic job with them. This 2nd service isn’t an English service. It’s in Runyankore. The dramas we did were in English, which some of the people understand, but probably only around 15% or so. This service was packed! I would guess around 600 plus. Black faces stretched all the way to the back of the church. So after each drama they explained what they were about and had a translator translate for them. I was able to get them out of staying for the whole 4 hour service (in a foreign language). I did provide them with reading material in case we did have to stay, but it wasn’t the case.

Food has been a tough thing for them. At firs they told me that the food wasn’t too bad, which it’s not, but then the reality of eating almost the exact same thing every single day set in and they changed their minds. They’re eating about ½ what the Ugandans eat, just picking a few things here and a few things there, but it is tough and different. So they made it through another lunch and then they all crashed hard for naps in the afternoon. It’s already been a long, challenging week and we were all tired.

The highlight of the day was going to the 2 missionaries house for a cookout and movie. They had hot dogs (kind of), potato chips, pineapple (which the Purdue team LOVES), coleslaw, baked beans and for dessert… chocolate chip cookies baked in their oven! A little slice of America and heaven combined! We ended up watching the God’s Must Be Crazy, a mockumentary about life in the Kalahari Desert, a fictional tale of a bush man who finds a Coke bottle and travels with it to find the end of the earth to throw it off and what he encounters along the way.

I can’t believe they’ll be going back in a week. I feel like they just got here and I’ve so enjoyed having them here. I’ve been going non stop and have been tired each day, but it’s been that good tired. That tired you feel when you’ve been doing something you like all day and have just wanted to keep working even after it’s time to stop and go home. It’s been something like that.


Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times about the New York Giants defensive end who is from Uganda who came back to visit his family for 3 weeks for the first time since grade school and since becoming a millionaire in the NFL. It’s an interesting perspective.


Here come the kids...

Today was the first day that the Purdue team was to work with all of the Compassion kids. I wasn’t sure how everything would go. We do things differently here. The schedule is much more flexible and much less planned than anything I’ve ever done before. It’s tough to speak to kids who are in 4th grade and lower. There are cultural barriers as well. At first, it was like a Junior High dance. The kids came and stayed on once side of the compound and the Purdue team stayed on the other. Then it was time for the kids to have their devotionals in the church, so they gathered together. I told the Purdue team before they went in to just disperse themselves throughout the kids. “Get right in the middle of all of them.”

I think that the reason they just stood there, staring in awe at the kids was that of bewilderment at first. This group of 300 African kids singing in unison songs thick with their little African accents. They just stood there and smiled at them. Amazed, I guess you could say. Just smiling. The kids were singing, dancing, drumming and generally excited about singing songs to Jesus, in part because there were 14 visitors there, and in part because that’s what they do every center day that they come.

We led them in a few fun, kid songs and then did a mime type drama teaching the kids to follow Jesus, followed by a short sermon by Ken. It was the teams first taste of Compassion and I think it set the tone for the rest of the day. The excitement and enthusiasm was there.

Afterwards the team spread themselves out and worked with the different classes of kids (primary 1-7 and secondary) teaching them from their textbooks (each class has a textbook, not each child). They taught science, math, English and social studies. They also played games. Some were the games that the kids knew and had to teach, like my favorite game, seven stones, where 2 kids stand 30 ft apart with one person in the middle who stacks 7 stones on top of each other while the other two try to tag the middle person with a soft ball (not to be confused with a softball) that’s made of plastic bags. Kind of like dodge ball, but on acid! Oh, and did I mention that only girls play this game? Boys don’t want anything to do with it, but it’s my favorite Ugandan game!!

I loved how the Purdue team just loved on the kids. Normally there’s only one white guy to go around to 300 kids, but here they were well dispersed. One girl was sitting in the middle of a swarm of kids, telling fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White! Others were helping the kids write letters to their sponsors. The kids were touching their arms and their hair. Usually about 5 children were holding hands with, pulling arms of, or generally tugging on the Purdue team members, and let me assure you, the team was eating it up! They loved it as much as the kids did. Brad was tossing a football around with them, which they’d never seen a football before. One team member was just sitting in a room answering questions about American with a group of the secondary school students. Then it was on to duck-duck-goose, freeze tag and volleyball. That was followed up by relay races, including balancing an egg on a spoon – race, and a bottle filling contest involving handing water from one person to the next… the kids beat the Purdue team on that one! Those kids wore us OUT, but it was easily the best center day that I’ve ever been a part of. At the end of the day we passed out bags of goodies (stickers, pencils, bubbles, crayons, etc) to each and every child. We had spent HOURS the day before getting things sorted evenly. Before the Purdue team came, many students (poor college students at that) had filled boxes with gifts to give to the Compassion kids. And normally the kids RUN away when they’ve been dismissed from Compassion, but this time they stayed around and didn’t want to leave their new American friends. I’m sure the feeling was mutual!

Community work at it's greatest

The plan today was to take the Purdue group out into the field and work along side a group of the older Compassion kids. To see the things that tourists fly by in their chauffeured SUVs on their way to visit the gorillas or the lions or elephants. To see the homes of these poor children, to see where they sleep and the gardens where they grow their food. It was a day of working but also of being like a sponge and just soaking in the surroundings. As expected, and as I explained to the group the day before, we planned on leaving around 9am, but we didn’t actually get to where we were going for a variety of reasons including that we were leaving on ‘African Time’ until around 11am. The first stop was at one of the poorest families I’ve seen in Compassion. A family of 11 people, a father and mother and 9 children living in a very small 2 room home with only one twin mattress amongst them. They didn’t have much work for us to do there at their home, which was the plan. The father is a hard worker and capable of taking care of the place, not to mention the fact that we are untrained in the skill of African construction using only local materials to build with. So instead of doing work there, we brought gifts: plates and cups, sauce pans, 3 mattresses, 4 blankets, corrugated metal sheets to replace the banana leaves they had thatched together for their leaky roof, plus mosquito nets. We also left them with a small amount of money to use for food or medical purposes. While we were there, the mother, an already sickly lady, was coughing and her twins were burning up with fever, do likely to malaria. Like in the recent TV episode of American Idol, we went inside their home and asked them to show us how they sleep at night. They have 8 of them in one room and 3 in the other. It was surreal to see it and imagine them bedding down for the night, huddling together, crowding together on thin mats and pieces of foam used as bedding.

We then divided up into smaller groups. One group worked at a home, leveling ground for a new small structure to be constructed. We again delivered the necessary corregated metal sheets for the roof. The group labored on putting up the mud on a pit latrine that was in very poor condition. Working alongside the Compassion kids and staff they learned how to get muddy and to ‘throw’ the mud onto the structure. It almost looked like fun rather than work, like kids playing in the mud. While they were doing that a small group went down into the valley with machetes to cut some grass to be used for the roof. A pit latrine doesn’t necessarily need a nice roof, you’re only there for a few minutes a day. The kids they went with really opened up during that time and started asking the Purdue guys what the climate was like and what kind of food they ate in America. When they got to the grass to cut, the Compassion kids were doing all of the work, mostly because they were more skilled at cutting the grass than the Americans. One of the African kids was wearing a watch that had a picture of Osama Bin Laden and it had the words “I Love You” across it. Thinking this was odd, one of the members asked if he really did love Bin Laden and he exclaimed ‘Yes. Of course.’ When he was asked why, his response was, “Because he’s white,” meaning that if you’re white you’re intelligent, respected, rich, holy, etc.

The other group went down into the garden to do some digging. It was comical to watch the American girls using these hoes. Some of the girls are even ‘farm girls’ and they were learning this for what seemed like the first time. Needless to say there was a crowd of locals that gathered who were quite entertained by watching a half dozen white girls trying to dig, and the girls seemed to enjoy the friendly badgering. The Ugandans even took the hoes from them a time or two to show them how to use it. The Compassion girls were working along side and it was a neat bonding experience. Even some of the little, little kids, who gathered by the dozens to watch the foreigners who had magically appeared in their neighborhoods, grabbed a hoe and tried digging and did a pretty good job of it.

The last home we went to was of one of our Compassion kids who lived with her brother because both of their parents had died. What was neat was when we first got to the area she was fetching water from a protected spring, so we were able to walk the ¾ mile from the spring to her home, except we weren’t carrying a container of 5 L of water (around 50 lbs maybe) on our heads!! We dug weeds in their gardens while a small group worked on building a bathing area, which is a simple outdoor structure which provides privacy for someone to bathe in. They used only stuff that was on the property to build it. Some straight branches for the frame, banana fibers to tie the frame together and then dried banana leaves for privacy, in addition to some flat rocks for them to stand on while bathing.

Afterwards we talked as a group. About what we saw and felt and experienced. We talked about the first poor, poor family and how what we had given them was life changing for the entire family and how it cost us only around $200 or less than $15 per group member. We talked about the absolute gratitude of the family and the amazement of the neighbors that this group of collegiate Americans had traveled from so far and cared so much to give this generously to this far corner of remote Africa. We talked about all of the kids who followed us everywhere and loved just watching and carrying our hoes as we walked from one home to another. We talked about how grateful we were for the Compassion kids who went with us, not only to show us what to do, but for the opportunity to work alongside them and to get to know them a little better and to appreciate how hard they work and without complaining or being told to keep working. We talked about taking vehicles down footpaths, way up in the hills where possibly no 4 wheeled vehicles had gone before. We talked about the difference between seeing this poverty on TV or reading about it in a magazine and then actually seeing it and walking into the homes of the poorest of the poor. And I guess I was impressed that we didn’t talk about how grateful we should be because we are Americans and of what we have, but instead we talked about what more we can do to share and to help. Maybe that’s the idealistic and mind of a group of college students who want to change the world in very tangible ways. It’s a good way to think. I think I was most impressed by Francis. He is my neighbors son who tagged along with us today. He’s a college student in Uganda and like most college students on vacation from school, he was looking for something to do. He said that he had never experienced anything like what we did today. He had never gone to visit the poorest of the poor. He had never actually seen his own people this way and how they live way up in the hills and it left an impression on him, that he saw it and that we just did some simple things to help them. To have a Ugandan express those sentiments really put it into a greater perspective.

The Purdue Group

Shortly after I arrived in Uganda, I started thinking about how neat it would be if Purdue Campus House would send a small team of college students here for a mission trip, similar to what I did when I went to Mexico and largely a reason that I’m doing the Peace Corps now. I had an email typed up and ready to send in, but I waited for some reason. Then, unexpected and shockingly, I received a message from them stating how they were interested in sending a small team to Uganda and were wondering if I could help them out in any way… I couldn’t believe it to say the least. So… several months later, it’s all set, they’re now here for a little less than 2 weeks. They are living with local Ugandan families and are working with Compassion. I love the schedule I’ve got for them. It shouldn’t be too rigorous. You don’t want to try to squeeze too much into it. There’s only so much time after all. We’ll be working with the kids when they come to the center, going out to the kids’ homes and doing some basic work around their houses and gardens, donating things like goats, roofing material, toys (which were bought and donated by Purdue students). The Purdue team had to raise about $2500 each for their trip here. 14 of them. A mix of students, former students, and 2 team leaders whom I went to school with when I was at the Purdue Campus House. They will be visiting an HIV/AIDS hospital one day and hanging out with Peace Corps Volunteers one night for good food and dancing. They will be doing some dramas at 2 local churches and they’ll also be going on a safari while they’re here. It should be an absolutely amazing and eye opening 2 weeks for them and I’m glad that I’m even in a position where I can just be a part of it all.


Home was wonderful, but I was ready to come back to Uganda to be honest. I don’t really have a place at home now. My home, work and friends are in Uganda right now. Here are the highlights of my trip home:

-Running the Boston Marathon

-Running the Indianapolis Mini Marathon

-Visiting a friend who has recently started a new ministry in Tennessee. Sharing the excitement of this growing, living, moving ‘new thing’ and seeing so much volunteership from the congregation to make the whole production work. (which by the way is being done in a functioning movie theater, so they have to set up and tear down their church every week!)

- Watching an old college roommate lead worship at his new church, a campus ministry, like I’d seen him lead worship so many times on the camp team we’d traveled on for years during the hot Indiana summers.

- A marriage proposal that took place after ‘senior night’ at the same campus ministry of people I’d never met before, but he wanted to propose there because of what that place had meant to both of their personal and Christian lives.

-Laughing so hard I cried at some of the same old things we laughed at when we were college roommates.

- Visiting a long time friend whom I only knew for a week but hit it off with like we’d always been friends. Seeing him teach his college freshman English class as he takes masters classes in creative writing, watching him interact with his students as they came in for conferences and having a piece of a book “White Noise” (not like the movie) read to me (which sounds corny, but it was cool, trust me).

- Attending a poetry reading with some friends of his (again, sounds corny and maybe gay, but you had to be there)

- Visiting my brother’s high school business class. (He actually teaches out of a trailer classroom because they have run out of class rooms. The kids call it the trailer park.).

- Collecting 40 pairs of running shoes that had been gathered by some teachers I know.

-Going back to the school I used to teach at and sharing with the geography class about my experiences in Uganda.

-Speaking EVERYWHERE! Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimist Club, Kiwanis Club, high schools, junior high schools, elementary schools, churches, amongst friends, relatives and strangers. I talked to groups as large as 100+ and to as few as 7. Everywere from an hour to 15 minutes.

-Hardly ever buying a meal! Most times whoever I was with offered to pick up the tab! I didn’t object! I even got a free haircut!

-Eating Pizza King Pizza, cherry pop-tarts, McDonalds, chicken Quesadillas, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, pancakes and sausage, zingers, waffles, ice cream sandwiches…

- Visiting with soooo many friends and family.

- Spending time with nieces and nephews. Everything from wading in the creek to seeing Spider Man III on opening night.

- Attending rehearsals and then performing (in a tux) with the Rushville Community Choir directed by David Doyle, one of my favorite people of all time! Can’t describe how cool this was.

- Morning jogs through my home town, down my old paper routes and past where my grandparents used to live.

-Being able to talk for hours on the phone with a close friend.

- The smells of home.

- Starbucks

- Visiting with the group of 14 students and leaders from Purdue who were preparing to travel to Uganda to do some work with Compassion in my village on a mission trip. Answering dozens of questions and inquiries to prepare them for the trip.

-Watching the NFL Draft and throwing a football around.

- Receiving money from generous and caring individuals who just wanted to help the poor children of Compassion where I work.

I’ll save what the experience was like to be back home for when I go home for good. I could talk about it, but I’d rather wait and tackle it all at once.