Friday, 4 May 2012

Shaona Primary School

A view of Shaona Primary School from just outside the Administrator's Office. To the left is the path entering from the road and to the right one more long building. 

A Marketplace we stopped in on the way back to Kampala

Every small normal action takes twice as much energy to complete. Simply brushing your teeth takes so much more thought than at home. Taking a shower is a chore that takes longer for worse results. It is not that I mind, but I think I had a flash of understanding as to why life here is slower: it just takes that much more energy to survive, let alone thrive. So much energy is put out getting food and water and cleaning clothes and yourself that it is hard to find any extra energy for other things. As my uncle so aptly put it, "All the little day-to-day activities that we don't even think about in Canada are suddenly huge challenges...when you are overseas, you are suddenly reduced to a hunter-gatherer. The vast majority of your time is spent in surviving- in finding shelter, food, and water and keeping clean." 

I woke up at 6:30 this morning for our 8 O'clock trek out to Shaona Primary School. We arrived around 11, but the ride northwest out to Luwero was an adventure in itself. The school was only about 60-70 kms out of Kampala and yet it took about 2 or more hours to get there.

I am continually amazed at the nerves of steel the drivers here must possess. I wish I could capture the essence of the craziness of the streets, but I'm afraid that it is impossible. But I will attempt ... There is one particular part of the route that Carol explained was one of the most congested areas of Kampala. It is a stretch of about 300 metres about 3 lanes wide. Every square inch of the road is put to use. Cars are lined up bumper to bumper, they literally get as close as possible. Then, when there is a space of one foot or so, it is quickly taken up by a boda boda driver maneuvering his way through traffic. These drivers go up curbs- any direction necessary to move forward. It is amazing that there are not more accidents. Along with the boda boda drivers are bicycles and bicycle taxis. While not as fast as the boda bodas, they are just as capable of maneuvering through traffic. On either side of the road are small shops selling their wares. Wandering between cars and coming up to your windows are people selling any number of goods from pineapples to cell phone time...It is absolutely amazing! 

Once through this section of road, we drove along one main highway, passing through small town after small town. Each one looks like the next and therefore, they are so difficult to tell apart and the lack of any form of road signs does not help matters. I am noticing that, similar to North America, when an accident occurs or some other occurrence out of the everyday ordinary happens, people stop, gather and watch. This happened in a few of the towns and accounted for much of the congestion we faced. In between the towns the road generally stretched out with little hindrance to our speed. Every so often, we would come up behind another vehicle travelling more slowly (generally a taxi or a transport) and, as soon as there was some space to pass, we would zoom out and around. 

Arriving in Luwero, Francis promptly bought us to the school, although how he knew where to go is beyond me. We turned right off the main road onto a small, almost obscure, path lined on either side with bush. Scattered in small clearings on either side were unique mixes of different schools. School after school. Turing right again onto an even smaller dirt path, we passed what I later learned were the dormitories of those students who's parents lived too far out of town for their children to be able to live with them. A young child waved to use from the shade of one of the buildings. Shaona consists of wooden slat buildings. The roofs are corrugated tin and the sides do not always reach the roof, most likely to allow for airflow through the building. 

The schools are on vacation at the moment so there were only a handful of children at the school. (The African school system runs on a three semester system with about two weeks vacation in between each). I met Emmanuel, the administrator, and Esther, the headmistress. Emmanuel showed me around their 3.5 acres of land as he explained the dreams they have for Shaona. Shaona has about 500 students and Emmanuel explained that they try to keep the class size at about 25 students. With the buildings they have I'm not sure how they manage that. I was showed the primary classrooms, the kitchen, where the boundaries were for the property, etc. 

The office where we met for the meeting was an 8 x 8 square building that somehow held two desks, seven chairs and piles of paper, boxes and plastic bags. I was fortunate enough to sit in on it and everyone was so kind to speak in English most of the time so that I could follow along. I had to laugh because before the meeting began, Francis asked what language would be the best to speak in and then proceeded to list four possibilities ... I can only dream of being able to conduct a meeting in four languages! The Lugandan language is the most common language here in Uganda and sometimes without realizing they can switch back and forth between languages. Francis, Emmanuel, Carol, Esther and I met for about an hour and a half. I was very impressed with how the meeting went. Goals for the school were discussed and sustainability of the school in its own right (apart from Set Free) was emphasized. 

Shaona was started in February of 2010 with 40 students. By the end of that term (about three months later), there were 180 students. Now, in 2012 there are 500 and it just keeps growing. They are working on making bricks so that they can build more permanent structures as well as buying up land as the opportunity presents itself. Shaona also has a baseball team and two of its students were asked to be on the national baseball team. Quite a feat if I do say so myself. Their pride in their school was evident and it was wonderful to hear their dreams for Shaona.

Esther, the headmistress, has a young daughter. I would guess her to be around 4. She is absolutely adorable. She has cute little braids sticking out all over her head and wears a purple dress held together by safety pins. She grabbed my hand and didn't want to let go. 

After our meeting we went to look at the school's tailoring building. It has donated sewing machines (when you envision sewing machines think 70 years ago- the ones still embedded in the tables) placed in a small room with clothing hung up on strings around the room. I immediately attracted my first crowd of admirers. About a dozen kids perched themselves just outside the door on some benches and while continuously staring at me, took turns saying, "Mzungu, how are you Mzungu?" Mzungu is what any white person is called. It is not derogatory but simply their way of addressing you. They love the attention that just a smile brings. 

When it was time to leave and I turned toward the vehicle, they crowded around and held out their little black hands for me to grab as I passed by saying "Goodbye, Mzungu. Goodbye." Such an experience. I'm told to expect much more of this in Tata.

Speaking of Tata, I leave tomorrow morning for the 4 hour drive to Rakai District to the southwest where Dwaniro and Tata are located. The tentative plan is to spend about three weeks in Tata observing and teaching. Then the plan is to drive over to Omwabini, in Kimilili, Kenya. None of this is set in stone and could easily change. But, I would really appreciate your prayers for a smooth adjustment to Dwaniro and Tata as both places are even more rustic than Kampala. Sam, the administrator of the school has been emailing me quite often and is so excited for me to come. This is a sample of what his emails look like, "this is good to hear that christeena is in our country please your most well come. as calo said we are to make sure that you enjoy your stay in uganda and even in tata we are playing to god to use you in the mighty way as olways you are welcome."

The Ugandan people are very friendly and welcoming and I am continually amazed at this. I am so blessed! 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Becoming More Settled

How are you all doing this morning? I guess that it is about 4 AM for you while I am writing this... 

I am currently at the SFM headquarters using the USB internet modem so nicely provided by Carol. The guest house also has wi-fi so internet access is great for the next couple of days until I head out to Tata and Dwaniro on Saturday morning and things are thrown up in the air again.

I was just picked up from Emmaus by Fred and dropped off at SFM. The original plan was to let me out at the end of the road and I would walk (more like hike) up to the SFM office. This plan had one major flaw: I couldn't remember the exact route to take. Well, it started to rain and Fred informed me he would drop me off at the end of the pathway so I wouldn't get wet (isn't that nice of him?). So I moseyed along the dirt path to the gate. Lining the right side of the path was a garden with plants that smelled like basil. I rang the doorbell at the CRWRC gate and here I am. 

Yesterday, I spent the day here at SFM getting acquainted with the staff and chatting with Carol. We swapped stories comparing the education systems of Uganda and Canada. I learned that, although it is required for all teachers here to have completed a form of teacher's college, Tata may not have qualified teachers. This is due to its remote location; few teachers want to teach that far from "civilization". I was also informed that teachers are one of the three most respected professions. This is quite a difference from our situation in North America, I think. The school day runs from 7:30 to 4:30; Carol was shocked to hear how short our school days are in comparison. "What do you teach in such a short time," Carol asked. It will be a good experience to see what it taught in Ugandan schools.

Last night I was dropped off at the guest house about 4 PM where I then headed out to the common meeting area in hopes of finding someone to talk to. A young man joined me soon after and we struck up a conversation. His name is Andrew and is from London, England. He's here for a month volunteering with an NGO. I am learning that when one sees a fellow white person, it is automatically like you are the best of friends. Even if you have nothing in common, you will find something to talk about. It is the same with Andrew. Nice chap, likes English football and enjoys travelling. I learned some things about English football and he was shocked to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs have the largest fan base and haven't won in years. 

In Africa nighttime does not mean quiet time. There are people outside at all hours. I went to bed around 9:30 absolutely exhausted, fell asleep immediately, and woke up wide awake at 2:40. Whether it was from the change in time zones or from the apparent party happening just outside my window I don't know, but sleep became impossible. It seems that once you let the mind start working and thinking, it will not shut off. After a couple of hours I must have dozed of because I nearly had a heart attack when my alarm blared at 8. Remember how I said I am technologically challenged? Well, I had not yet taken the time to figure out how to lower the volume. So, when the alarm goes off, it has a volume similar to that of an air raid siren. Need less to say, this morning I made figuring out the volume on the phone a top priority and I am pleased to announce that my alarm clock is now set to vibrate. 

Uganda seems to have an unspoken way of operating that works extremely well for natives, but leaves the newcomer feeling off balance and confused. For example, last night I learned that in order to get supper at the guest house, you have to ask for it that morning at breakfast. So, faced with the dilemma of sleeping on an empty stomach,  I asked around to see if there was a way to get supper. And yes, I did not have to wander around Kampala looking for a place to eat; the guest house had enough! The meal was delicious however, I am rapidly learning that portion sizes, as I have experienced so far, are huge! Even though I enjoyed every bite, there was no way I could finish my plate. My Dutch heritage was grieved at this occurrence. 

Dinner was a huge heap of rice, a couple of boiled potatoes, and a kind of fried pita. A bowl of sauce caused some confusion as it could have passed for soup, but the question of its purpose was quickly cleared up. To be shared with your dining partner was a bowl of boiled carrots and beans as well as a bowl containing four chunks of beef. To top it all off, each guest received a plate of pineapple for desert. This pineapple was the best I've ever tasted! Absolutely fantastic.  Let me clear the air here. I am well aware that I am being spoiled at this guest house, that the accommodations are far above par and that, in general, things are far to comfortable to expect them to last. But, I plan to take each days as it comes.

Now I have to explain something that I find fascinating. One would think that because Kampala is a capital city the roads would be in great order, right? Well that is true for the few main roads in existence however, once you turn off onto a side road, the scenery transforms. The road becomes a hard-packed dirt path with a beautiful reddish tinge to it. Driving on these roads is a treacherous business and I am so thankful to be a mere passenger in the vehicle. Along both sides run two foot deep ditches that carry rain water away. Just beside these ditches flow people on foot; one, two, three and sometimes four people on motorcycles; children running about; and street vendors. You drive in the middle, weaving in and out, dodging this person and that motorcycle, changing lanes constantly and all the while avoiding a head on collision with on-coming traffic. A feature of these road that you quickly observe are the speed hills. Not speed bumps. Speed hills. Often, a speed hill will blend into a large pothole creating an even greater mound for the vehicle to climb over all the while trying to not bottom out. 

Yesterday, Fred took a short cut up to the top of Tank Hill when I was dropped off at Emmaus. This short cut consists of a single lane of red dirt climbing continuously upward at a ridiculous grade. It is so steep and riddled with ditches and gullies that it is a workout to stay upright in your seat as you are driven. Hitting your head on the roof is a very real reality- one I have narrowly avoided.

It is beautiful weather here today. Overcast and cool. The task for today is to shop for anything that I will need while in Tata as it may not be available there.

Thank you for your prayers and may you all be richly blessed today!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

I Am Here.

Hi everyone!

I am here safe and sound. All my flights went smoothly, despite my fears. I met the most wonderful people! In Detroit I met up with a mother and daughter who were flying internationally for the first time. Erin and Lisa were on their way to Brussels. My flight to DC was wonderful and short. I visited with Lisa and Erin during the layover while we waited for our flight to Brussels. The flight to Brussels was long and, despite it being through the night, I found that I couldn't sleep. 

Arriving in Brussels, I had planned on saying goodbye to Erin and Lisa but was directed out a different door because I was flying to Africa. Following the signs to "T Terminal," I became acquainted with a middle-aged woman who was on her way to Cameroon and spoke little English. Thus all of my questions were answered in extremely basic English. Together we wound our way to the right gate and I listened to the multiple languages around me in fascination- English, French, Swahili... so beautiful. 

Once at the appropriate terminal I wandered around in circles for a while as I couldn't bear to sit down again. The area to walk was small so I walked around and around and observed the amazing uniqueness of the people around me. 

Eventually, I sat down and and began to wait the 1.5 hours until my flight boarded. People began arriving at the gate and an older man sat down near me. We started talking, and it turns out that he is originally from Georgia. God called him to Uganda and he has been working in northern Uganda for the last seven months. He told me to come back next year and teach at his school. "I just might do that," I said. We chatted for a long time and I was able to have most of my questions answered. He was such a grandfatherly man and it calmed me to know I had made a "friend." 

The flight left soon after and we stopped over in Kigali, Rwanda for about 2 hours to deplane some people and to take on some others. My seat mate from Brussels to Kigali- an elderly priest who enjoyed alcoholic beverages and spoke only French- deplaned and a young woman took his seat. Turns out that she is from London, Ontario and was on her way home from Rwanda after a two week stay. We talked for a while and she encouraged me and told me how much I would enjoy my time here. 

I arrived in Entebbe last night around 10:15. Following the crowd, I entered the airport, went through customs, was fingerprinted, had my picture taken, and paid for my Visa. Then was the oh-so-wonderful wait at the baggage claim. Once my bags had been gathered I went to find Roy- the nice man I met in Brussels- who gave me a hug and made sure that I found my driver. 

Patrick was just outside the main door holding a sign among a sea of other faces. We walked to the car and I got into the passenger seat but for some reason I never clued in that in Uganda you drive on the wrong side of the road. Turns out I almost got into the drivers seat .... oops.  Patrick informed me that it was about an hour's drive to Kampala where I'd be staying at Emmaus Guest House. 

Driving was a most eventful adventure. As tired as I was and being pretty out of it, my senses were still completely overwhelmed. Everywhere there were people. Everywhere! The smell of smoke was thick in the air and other smells and sounds filtered into the open car windows but, because of the lack of light it was difficult to make out a lot of the scenery. There was shadowy shack after shadowy shack along the road. Motorcycles buzzing in and out of traffic. Cars driving in their lane, out of their lane, passing here, swerving there. There was no end of things to look at.

We pulled outside the gate at Emmaus and honked the horn. A guard let us in; the guest house was quiet, dark, and still inside the compound. After signing in I was shown to my room- the "Jonah" room. I found the name quite appropriate for the situation... My narrow room consists of a four poster bed- each corner of the bed held up one side the a mosquito net. Behind the head of the bed is a large wooden closet with heavy doors that squeak when opened. Beside the bed is a rickety wicker table and, up in the far corner hung a fan. The entire far wall- about eight feet wide is filled with a curtained sliding door. On the wall adjacent to the sliding door is the bathroom with a flushing toilet, a sink and a shower. The floor of the bedroom is covered by a darkly coloured carpet spotted with stains. 

After digging through my luggage, cleaning up the inevitable messes that altitude plays on shampoo bottles, and locating some clothes to sleep in, I began to get ready for bed. This in itself was an experience as you constantly have to remind yourself to not drink the tap water! It is so second nature to rinse your toothbrush after brushing your teeth. Well, not here! 

I crawled into bed exhausted around midnight, set my alarm clock for 8:30 this morning, and wrote in the journal for a few minutes. Now, I have to admit that I was not so chipper at this moment. To be perfectly honest I sobbed for a good while. It was at this time that I made an eye-opening connection to Jonah. The metaphor breaks down quickly, so let me explain. Like Jonah I just wanted to go home. I couldn't believe what I had gotten myself into! What was I thinking flying all the way across creation by myself? Now, I'm absolutely sure that the belly of the big fish felt much more overwhelming to Jonah than my dark room in the middle of Kampala felt to me, but I can empathize.

Knowing myself, before going to sleep I read Psalm 19. (Thanks for the recommendation mom).The heavens truly declare the glory of God and the sights I woke up to the next morning are greater proof of this.

I woke up to the sound of unknown birds hooting and squealing and bright sunshine pouring in my window. It was the oddest feeling. Time changes are the worst things and, although it was 8:00 in the morning, my body was calling my mind a liar. Rolling out of bed with a groan I proceeded to meet the day. Planes make one feel really dirty so a shower felt in order. Now, most of you know that I am technologically challenged well, this morning proved that I am shower challenged as well. The shower head is this odd contraption that I could just not get to work properly. Turning on the water resulted in a small flow of water not out of the shower head, not out of the tap, but out of the connecting joint near the handle. Let it be known that I am forever inventive and my shower consisted of me washing my hair in two small dribbles of water while half kneeling, half standing in the shower. My life is no end of adventure, let me tell you! 

Thus ready to face the day, I debated my next move. Although I was not too hungry I wondered "What to do about breakfast? Did the guest house serve food?" Having arrived so late the previous night I was given very little information. So, grabbing my courage and the room key, I ventured out into the unknown and was immediately distracted by the most beautiful view from a balcony. (I had missed it in my exhaustion the previous night). All the way to the horizon were rolling hills covered with random crisscrossing roads, red-roofed buildings and the most wonderful trees. The ever present smell of smoke hung in the air, but the breeze blowing in the open door was so cool and refreshing. Birds and bugs fluttered about and the sound of human activity drifted in...

Food. That's right. That was my reason for venturing out. After asking the front desk staff, I was promptly guided into the dining room and told to have a seat. I chose one with a view out the door and parked myself in the cushioned wicker chair. A nervous-looking young man approached and asked what I'll be having. With no idea what was available, he offered up the suggestion of an omelet. Thus, I was served an omelet and two piece of toast for my first meal in Africa. I sat at that table for a long while this morning, long enough to see a bunch of geckos.

I left the table and wandered for a while. I come across a nice sitting area where I introduced myself to Katelyn and Drew. Turns out they are on their way up to northern Uganda from Australia and have been waiting for their ride for three days. We shared a laugh over the typical Africa-ness of their situation. I however, chuckled more out of sympathy than empathy, although I'm sure will have my share of Africa stories soon.

Carol from Set Free Ministries (SFM) arrived and, after meeting the driver, Fred, we left in search of a birthday card for Francis' daughter. For those of you who don't know Francis works with Carol at SFM. After unsuccessfully looking through three supermarkets for a card, exchanging some money, and buying a large bottle of water, we wound our way through a wonderful conglomeration of grazing cows, large houses, open fires, rundown huts, and arrived at a gate. Oh, the joy I felt when I saw the letters "CRWRC" and the beloved purple symbol emblazoned on the gate. It turns out that the headquarters of SFM in Uganda are rented from the CRWRC. 

A tour of the offices on the compound was full of new faces. Most of them I'm already having trouble remembering. I do know that there were two men named Francis however, and a woman named Harriet and a man named Fred and one named David. So here I sit... In SFM headquarters at a long table, in front of an open windows, typing out my experiences.

I hope this long entry did not bore you; I hope that you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. I am certainly anything but bored. I would appreciate your prayers as I continue to adjust to the newness of everything around me and the time zone. In a couple of days Carol, Francis and I are driving out to Dwaniro. From there, I will meet Sam and readjust to an even more different setting than Kampala. As I am continually warned, it is as basic as you can get and, for that, I am so excited and yet I know that it will be a huge adjustment.

I want to thank you all for your prayers, I can certainly see their results in my life. I am tired and overwhelmed but I am learning that this is where I am supposed to be. I hope to grow from this experience, become closer to God, learn about this culture and, maybe even make a difference. Love you all!