Tuesday, July 29, 2008
When we explained the concept of "Re-Entry" to our students, sitting in the shade at Frank's Guest House in Entebbe, we told them that returning to the US was a little like astronauts returning to earth. We joked that someone might even have to pull us out of the plane because we would/could be so worked from our experiences in Africa.
But as we talked to them about culture shock and "post-project depression", I really didn't think it would apply to me. I know that I've never spent time over-seas quite like this before, but I've done a hundred heart-wrenching projects in the Inner City & Mexico, and I figured a little R&R would fix me up in no time. Well, maybe I didn't think any of this consciously, but I definitely didn't expect to be feeling the way I do now.
I thought it was strange when we showed up at the IDP camp (Internally Displaced People's Camp, a.k.a. refugee camp, a.k.a. our mud huts), saw the children with the tattered clothes & swollen bellies & flies on their faces and didn't feel much. I thought it was strange when we went to the memorial for the Lukodi Massacre, listened to first hand accounts of atrocities that had taken place right under my feet, and I still didn't feel much. It was strange hearing the child mothers' stories at Child Voice, or hearing one of them scream in terror as she was tormented by demons (and her past), and still, I felt very little. I was saddened and sobered, but I didn't cry the way I thought I would and my heart wasn't aching the way I thought it should.
I thought that maybe I had become calloused, or that it’s just different when you live life alongside suffering like that every day-- that somehow it just becomes normal, and you have to keep moving on. But now I'm not so sure...
Over the last few days, I have started feeling something bubbling up to the surface-- emotions that I didn't know were there and didn't expect. They catch me by surprise, but (thus far) haven't fully emerged yet.
Now that we are back, I can feel the strain of trying to hold everything together-- the tension of all the different dynamics & complexities of this project, and the titan effort it took to keep everything from slipping off the edge. I honestly had no idea at the time. I knew that it was hard, and I knew that I constantly felt tired-- exhausted even, sometimes-- but I had no idea that I was operating in survival mode.
That's not to say that it wasn't amazing. It was-- a truly beautiful & life changing experience. But I think I am starting to feel the toll it took on my heart, and as the days go on, I feel heavier inside, rather than more adjusted. I think that maybe those emotions from weeks and weeks ago are starting to catch up with me.
I wish that I could express them-- that I could let them out, have a good cry or punch the wall, or something-- but they seem far too tangled to make sense of, and they leave me feeling tired and mildly sad instead.
It seems that processing my experiences with people who are truly interested has been freeing. And today, Chris & I spent the afternoon lying on the bed, quietly talking, drifting off to sleep, and just feeling comforted by the closeness of someone who had been there and understood. As I listened to him napping next to me, I talked to God about everything I was feeling, and invited Him into my tangled emotions. The phrase "He restores my soul" (Psalm 23) repeated over & over in my mind, and I felt at peace.
So, I keep moving forward, one step at a time-- resting, being alone, or eating a bowl of ice cream when I need to (I definitely needed a ice cream this afternoon), trusting that God will continue providing for me, just like He did in Africa.
There are still so many stories that I want to share, and so much I have left out. I will to my best to get to it here on my blog... but until then, feel free to drop me a line. I would love to process with you. =)
Saturday, July 26, 2008
As for me, I am worn out-- really worn out-- but fairly healthy and extremely grateful for everything God did to get us through. It wasn't until we said goodbye to all our students and began to evaluate the project that we looked at each other and said "Oh my gosh, what did we just do?" I think this whole summer was one tiny faith step at a time, and each step felt right & good & logical-- but getting across to the other side & looking back on the project felt a little like walking across a tight rope across only to realize at the end that it was over Niagara Falls. Okay, maybe a little over-dramatic, but I definitely realized that we took some huge risks, had some potential for disaster, and that God carried us through so faithfully every step of the way.
Chris & I now have a day or two to recuperate before needing to dive back into the daily grind (yuck), and I have to admit that it was a little dizzying to wade through the knee deep pile of mail, bills, magazines & catalogs that were awaiting our arrival. Equally unsettling was opening our drawers and seeing just how much stuff we have-- way, way too much stuff. It felt wrong and gluttonous and wasteful after living in such simplicity (and still being wealthy in comparison) for almost 2 months.
But lest I sound like I am complaining, let me reiterate that I am so, so grateful. I can't believe we made it. I can't believe how well it went. I can't believe the amazing things that happened in our students' lives. It is such a relief (in the best possible way) to look back on it and know that it's over-- that we did it; that we survived this crazy dream that we had and that it all worked out. Yes, I'm jet lagged & suffering from a little culture shock, but I am very, very grateful.
More to come later. For now, I am going to soak in the benefits of Southern California (namely, being spoiled by our parents), and try to slowly untangle this jumble of thoughts & emotions called Africa.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Friday, July 4, 2008
I have to admit, I hit a low point this week. I have had other "low" moments: times when I was feeling discouraged about our students, or times when I was sick or worn out. But this week, it felt like all of those factors met at an intersection.
I spent pretty much the entire week feeling miserable in bed (or technically, in hammock). I honestly don't know if there's any way to keep a healthy tummy with the sanitary conditions here. Thank God (really) for the medical clinic nearby. A quick (& free) dose of medicine and we're on the road to recovery-- but it's still a long and bumpy road. So, after spending 5 days staring at the grass thatched roof, I found myself missing home for the first time-- wishing that this whole thing could be over and concluding that I'm not cut out for this whole Africa thing, after all.
Why am I here? I asked myself and God. Why did I think I could handle this? I get sick at home all the time-- why did I think I could make it in Africa? Is this what I came all the way across the world for? I thought it would be a life changing experience, but my life hasn't been changed, so far. Has anyone's life really been changed? We only have a week left-- will it just be more of the same? Is it my fault that something spectacular hasn't happened? Could I have done anything any differently?
Like I said, I was feeling discouraged.
I prayed about it a lot. I journaled a lot. I talked to Chris. Should we come back next year? Should I just stick to the inner city? The inner city is so much better for me. I belong in the inner city. I wish I was in the inner city.
But as I prayed, God reminded me that He really did call us to be here. I believed that before, and I need to continue to believe it. I need to fight for it-- pray for it, trust that it will happen, expect it. God reminded me that He changed my life in one week, that first Spring Break I went to Mexico as a freshman in high school-- and He can change our lives in this last week, as well.
One way I have really seen Him working (even today) has been in the lives of 3 of our non-Christian students. They have all been coming to an optional Bible Study I have been leading, and have given such great insights. One of the days I was sick, one of the girls led the Bible Study for me, and on Sunday, another will lead it! Claire (the one who led it earlier) was asked if it was her first time leading a Bible Study, and she said, "Yeah, and my third time attending one!" She did a great job.
Leah (the one leading on Sunday) decided that she was going to start praying for specific things, expecting God to answer-- and all three things she prayed for has happened! One of her prayers was that God would heal Claire, who had been really sick, and because of a medical condition, unable to take the antibiotics she needed to heal her tummy. They prayed together last night, and this morning, Claire was better! It is beautiful to watch them open up to the possibility of Jesus, and to feel God working in their lives.
So, I feel a renewed sense of hope-- even urgency-- and desire to pray, to push through, and believe that God really has called us here to change our lives. Please, please, please keep praying for us. Pray especially for my brother, who has also been feeling burned out & discouraged as well (but increasingly open to spiritual things).
We all appreciate your prayers!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
It seems that, between my posts & my brother's emails, we have frightened some loved ones into thinking we were knocking on death's door.
I want to assure everyone that we are OKAY. No one is dying. No post traumatic stress syndrome, or anything close to it.
I am so, so sorry if anything we have communicated from Uganda has made our experience here sound like more than it is. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, it sucks to be sick-- and most of us have gotten pretty sick. Yes, it is a stretching experience. BUT, we really, really are okay, and I would never risk our students health (mental, physical, spiritual).
We all appreciate your concern, your prayers, and your support!! Thank you so much, and rest assured... we're all okay!! =)
I’ve been meaning for a while now to give a description of Lukodi—our new homes here in the North. It’s strange how much it does feel like home—okay, maybe not home, but at least very comfortable and normal. Who would have thought that a girly girl like me would ever say she felt comfortable sleeping in a mud hut, peeing in a hole in the ground, and bathing with a water bottle? But here I am, and honestly, it’s not so bad.
Lukodi is beautiful—especially in the morning. Each day, when I wake up and roll out of our dark hut, I have to stand for a few moments and take in the sunrise. Every day it is different, but always cool and quiet with a sleepy peacefulness interrupted only by roosters crowing and goats crying in the distance.
Our row of mud huts lies just outside the Child Voice compound—a converted school that several years ago was bombed out by the LRA and renovated to be a rehabilitation center for girls who had been abducted during the war.
The buildings are a big L-shaped row of concrete classrooms, some used for cooking, some for tailoring, some for dorms (for the CVI girls), and some as nursery rooms. Last week, a classroom doubled for a maternity ward when not one but two babies were born here—and they just happen to come the week an American OBGYN was visiting. Needless to say, the boy was named after the good doctor!
There is a fence running along the outside of the compound, with a large field inside, two big shade trees, a small garden (complete with 3 rabbits), and some huts in the back for the staff. A big gate opens up to a red dirt road and the primary school nearby (built by Child Voice to replace the one that was burned during the attacks), and our huts lie just outside the fence, on the far side from the gate, so that it takes a few minutes to actually walk around to get inside, even though we are close enough to hear the babies all cry in chorus when they wake up in the morning.
About a football field away is the camp—an IDP (Internally Displaced People’s) camp set up by the government to protect the people from the LRA’s attacks. Sadly, the camps have actually kept the people from their farms, giving them no way of obtaining income, and depending completely on NGO’s to feed them. There is poverty there like you see in UNICEF commercials: naked babies with bulging stomachs, children in tattered clothes that barely cover them. One toddler will wear a threadbare, torn sweater, and nothing else. Another little girl will have a dust covered rag barely hanging onto her thin shoulders.
A pathway runs from the camp, past Child Voice’s fence, and on towards the school and the bore hole (water well), so that people are constantly passing by and watching the activities inside (usually with impossibly heavy jerry cans of water balanced on their heads). Sometimes children will sit for hours, watching the white people (“mono”), calling to them & practicing their broken English. A large field stands in front of the school, just outside CVI’s gate, where children play soccer (football) with a makeshift ball made out of plastic bags & rubber bands.
Inside the compound, the girls (about 30 of them, ranging from 14-23 years old) work hard, cooking, cleaning, learning catering, tailoring & “saloon” (salon—hair straightening & braiding), carrying water from the bore hole, and receiving basic education. Most of them speak little English, which was a surprise to most of us, and it is tough communicating with them. Because of their sensitive [not-so-distant] past, we have to be very careful about the questions we ask them… but I do know that many of them were living as “wives” to some of the top commanders of the LRA before escaping, one even calling Joseph Kony "Father", and he calling her "Mama".
It has been more difficult than I expected to connect with the girls. Their schedules are really packed, and we are asked not to interfere with their work. They are pretty shy, and I never know when I am intruding, but today, when I was sitting by myself reading, one of the girls came over, attempted conversation, and invited me to sit with them. I spent an hour or so huddled in the middle of the girls as they chatted in Luo (the language in the North), working on their sewing, playing with their babies, and joking with one another. I think they are finally starting to warm up to us.
Although our schedule is flexible and open, I find myself constantly exhausted. The sun is insanely intense—just a few minutes out in it leaves us white folk melted and withered. I think between the food (rice and beans for lunch & dinner, and 2 small rolls & pineapple for breakfast), the sun, the culture shock, and the sleepless nights in uncomfortable hammocks, we are all pretty wiped by the end of the day. Actually, is hottest part of the day, and most of us look pretty wrung out by then.
The huts are about 20-25ft in diameter, with a cement floor and a long pole in the center, reaching up to a grass-thatched roof. There is one small window that opens & closes, and a wooden door that locks. The walls are made of brick, covered in mud, and the huts are dark & relatively cool inside (although there’s not much of a breeze, without both the window & door open)
Our “beds” are thin nylon hammocks suspended from the grass thatched roof (held together by a spider web of bamboo poles). The hammocks have a built-in mosquito net, and are a claustrophobic nightmare waiting to happen. The first night, one of our students flipped over his hammock, ripping out of his mosquito net and falling onto the concrete floor (no broken bones, thankfully!). I haven’t fallen out yet, but I do confess that I had a little panic attack the first night when I got all zipped up inside and turned out the lights. Also, there is some strange biological occurrence in those hammocks that causes me, not only to freeze to death every night, but also to have to pee at least once (sometimes twice) in the night. And getting out of a sleeping bag, maneuvering out of a hammock without flipping, walking to the pit latrines, and then coming back and getting situated again inside the sleeping bag & hammock takes about 20 minutes. Even when you don’t have to pee, it is really tough to find a comfortable position.
Speaking of the pit latrines, the bathrooms consist of a hole in the ground, with a reed mats propped up vertically around most of it for [semi]privacy (the “door” opens out to the bush, and I’m sure that several Ugandan soldiers & children have seen at least one of us peeing). The “showers” are the same, except without the hole in the ground. Instead, the ground is covered with lava rocks to keep from getting muddy when taking your bucket bath.
That leads me to water. There is a well (bore hole) about a 10 minute walk from our huts. Any water we need for doing laundry (also done on a basin), or bathing (Chris discovered a great method using 2 water bottles—meaning that we use less than 3 liters of water to take a shower!) comes in giant jerry cans from the bore hole. Pumping the water is an intense tricep workout, and carrying them back [for me] is a complete joke. The CVI girls carry the water on their heads, but I can barely lift it! As I was laughing about my lack of strength, one girl quietly asked “How do you carry water back to your house in
I mentioned before that our meals are pretty simple. Breakfast is 2 small rolls (made on site by the CVI girls—sometimes I get to help!) with margarine & jelly, hot tea (sweet enough to induce a diabetic coma), and when we’re really lucky, pineapple or mango. Lunch and dinner have been rice & beans for the past 2 weeks, with the addition of an interesting cooked cabbage side that helps add a little saltiness to the beans. I get at least one bite of rock or a solid, crunchy dirt clod in every meal, but other than that, it’s really not so bad.
The miraculous part was when Chris spent several days crunching numbers, and discovered that we were able to up our food budget from $5 per person/day to $6 per person/day! Our students almost cried the first night that green beans or avocados or mango was added to our rice & beans repertoire. We also acquired a team salt shaker, bottle of soy sauce & garlic powder. You would think we were eating at 5 star restaurants by the responses. It’s amazing how grateful we can become!
Because of the war, the North has really been cut off from the rest of the country, making little items like bananas or greens even more expensive than in The States. Anything that isn’t locally grown costs an arm & a leg, so we’re staying pretty simple. But like I said, it really isn’t that bad (and my clothes are fitting a lot looser!).
Except for those times when I have been sick, I have to say that this whole “living in a mud hut in
I wouldn’t quite say that it has been a life changing experience yet. I definitely have some bragging rights & great stories, but the revolution I was sort of hoping for inside hasn’t quite happened. I guess I hoped that I would be transformed by the poverty & pain that I saw, and that through it, would regain some of that old passion & compassion that used to light me on fire.
It hasn’t happened yet. But, we still have 2 weeks here, and a lot more beautiful & stretching experiences to come. I look forward to them…