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.


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