[Please excuse my typing: I am battling against time at an internet cafe, and a sticky keyboard!]
After what felt like weeks of sleepless travel and a blurry whirlwind tour of London, we arrived in Uganda sticky, greasy & sleep deprived. Despite all of that, I never heard a single student complain, not one piece of luggage was lost, and we breezed through customs without a glitch. Hooray!
The first two nights were spent in a guest house on the outskirts of Kampala, on a quiet hill, inside the compunds of Mengo Hospital. A local missionary started a dental clinic at the hospital, and had us over for breakfast in the mornings. We walked down the red dirt road to their house, and sat under a tree, drinking tea, eating bread & hard boiled eggs from their pet chickens (the children brought out the baby chicks for show & tell, balancing them on their heads!). We heard a wrestling in the bushes one morning during breakfast, and sa 3 mongooses (mongeese??) scurry through the bushes! Welcome to Africa =)
The first night, everyone was eager to take a shower, and we were espceially excited when we found out there was hot water... until some of the students were shocked by the electricity runnung through the electric water heater. Showers & electric water heaters... bad combo. Needless to say, we had cold (and very refreshing!) showers after that!
Some highlights were visiting Charity Christian School one afternoon, where we were welcomed by each classroom with songs & dances from the children. It as beautiful! I especially loved hearing the children sing praise songs to God while dancing in traditional African dances. So many of their songs were about their joy in hosting us and their gratitude that we would visit them. The sincerity in their faith, their hospitality, and their hunger for education as incredible. Many of the children there were AIDS orphans, and all of them received deeply discounted educations (children have to pay to go to school in Uganda). We were in charge of entertaining them for one disastrous hour, where 300 children and 15 unprepared Americans crowded into a mud field (it stormed most of the day) to play games. Yikes! To my surprise, they were incredibly well behaved and patient as we publically humiliated ourselves doing the hokey pokey and playing "Monkey, Monkey, Babboon" (Duck Duck Goose) on the slippery mud.
There was a beautiful moment when we were marching hand-in-hand with the children down the red road towards our "field", picking our way through the trash & the little rivers. I looked up at the banana trees, the lean-to's, the stormy sky, and the little girl that was cuddling my arm, and said to myself "I'm in Africa."
One of the nights, our group was huddled in a room, having a meeting, and were interrupted by the strangest sound. At first, we thought it was an animal, and then we thought there was some sort of terrible emergency (I think that thoughts of men with guns flashed through all our minds, even though we were safe in Kampala), but then we realized that we were at a hosptial, and that the culture here is much more expressive about grief. It was a group of women wailing and crying in the most heartbreaking almost inhuman tones. We all sat silent for a while, and finally, I asked the group what they were feeling.
One student said that there were times she had felt that kind of pain inside, but that she hadn't felt the freedom to express it. It turned into an incredibly deep conversation where tears were shed, hearts were opened, and I think we all entered into the pain those women felt together. I think we all became family that night.
Many of the non-Christian students have had great conversations about faith-- almost all of them, at one point, expressing an interest to move forward in their faith. Sadly, we discovered an interesting aspect of the Ugandan culture: it is very common to ask someone point-blank whether or not they are "saved" or "born again". One night, we all stayed with host families in their homes (groups of 2), and there were many uncomfortable conversations where our students felt harassed & pressured by their well-meaning hosts. After several awkard experiences, many of them did a complete 180, saying that they were "done" with Christianity. It brought me to tears, especially because we had given our word that there would be no forced religious experiences, and I felt like I had (unintentionally) done a bait-and-switch on them. Some good has come out of it, though, as many of them have come to me and asked why my faith looked so different. So, despite the negative respons, I still sense an openness-- please keep praying for them!
Today, we are at a University near Kampala, where our students are staying with Campus Crusade students in their homes/dorms. It's been incredible to see the difference between college students in the US and here (I wish I had more time to go into detail!). Tonight, we will have a conversation about the war in the North-- something that the rest of Uganda seems to rarely talk about. I hope that we can raise awareness & compassion among the students here.
Running out of time! Tomorrow, Jinga & white water rafting, and then travel North to Gulu and the IDP camps!
THanks for your prayers! Keep praying!!