Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter in Africa

Easter was a funny time for us. Every special occasion I find causes me to miss home. Maybe this is because we love to celebrate with family and friends and these times remind us of this. Here, Good Friday is not made a great deal of. There was work at the new house and plenty for us to do. Ron started the day by dealing with a matter in town which took longer than expected. We did discover later that some churches had services but we were unaware at the time. One lovely thing of the week was a worship time that we spent at YWAM. We were there to have a soda and a break and then discovered an evening of worship. It was a lovely oasis for us amidst a fairly hectic and stressful week. So, Friday we then picked up Nicholas a young man who works at the village when on holidays. He is at boarding school and this is quite a trip away. He had wondered if we were coming as we were so late! On the way back we stopped and picked up some Rolex chappatis and some grilled maize cobs. Not quite our usual fare for Good Friday - traditionally it is exceptional amounts of hot cross buns and then chicken and broccoli casserole and lasagne. All these shared with very good friends and family. We did however, manage to have hot cross buns - not a great picture but not bad for home made buns with a big gap in the cooking process due to the car drive.
The afternoon was fairly uneventful - but we did enjoy the buns and also shared some time with a lovely young couple from YWAM. Trudi had gone off fishing so it was lovely fresh fish and home made chips for dinner! Due to the pressure and workload, Ron had Saturday completely off - as much as possible - he didn't even help at home! I spent some time checking through and working on the sermon for the next day. It was a pleasant enough day, probably similar in what we did to an Easter Saturday at home. Then, Easter Sunday morning - always plenty going on but no Easter eggs. Really nice that it isn't a focus but I do enjoy the chocolate eggs! Then, off to church. Church was at a lovely church that is the church of one of the mothers here and she had asked as they have women's Sunday on the last Sunday of the month if I would preach. I had agreed but then thought I would be off the hook since it was Easter Sunday, but no. The service was lovely! I really enjoyed it, there was lots of singing with different groups etc. The 'choir' all wore white and I thought what a great thing for Easter Sunday. There was a visiting lady who is a pastor and she spoke for a short while. The pastor seemed to be a lovely man. Ron and I got to sit up the very front in full view of the people for the whole service - great view - but not quite what I really like as far as being the centre of attention. We had arrived at 9.30 and I was introduced and started to speak at about 12.10. So, I preached.... Ron has put a short video of the sermon on facebook! It was my first sermon and I managed to talk for quite a while - Ron says 50 minutes - love Africa though, no problem how long you talk! The first photo is of the church - it was completely full by the time I got to talk - that's how it is here (and in Oz sometimes too!!).

Sorry about the side view of me preaching - Ron was in that position! They seemed to enjoy the sermon and could not believe it was my first. However, I am a teacher and a talker!
We then headed into town for a quick lunch and hoped to pick up some things for Monday. It needed to be quick and most shops etc were shut. Then, back to the village and I was quickly captured as there was a couple of grandmothers visiting and an older sister of some of the children. They take this opportunity to come and visit and share in Easter. It was lovely to see them. This is a picture just showing one of the Ja-jas (grandmothers) with one of her grandchildren. Life is hard for this grandmother - she 'told me her problem'. She is old and cannot work and has no land. The longer we are here the more we understand the significance of this - there is no old age pension! She is renting - very rudimentary accomodation let me say, in a place that I don't know anyone who would want to live! This costs her 20,000 shillings a month but if she cannot work where does the money come from for that. Her story can be retold so many times, if we do not work what do we live on? I find it such a privilege to have a relationship with these relatives and we believe it is very important for the children to keep ties with their past and their families. Then, we all hopped on the village bus. We went for a bit of a drive and then stopped at a park (well actually it was a golf course - and we needed to move as a golf ball nearly hit someone!) and had some fun.
Like all of us the children relish the opportunity to be in a different environment and had a lot of fun. Some as you can see learnt about doing somersaults! It was a really pleasant time. Then, it was home for a special dinner. We had turkey - not just frozen turkey, or even fresh turkey from the shops, this was turkey that had grown up at the village and then was killed in the morning ready for us to eat that night! Let me tell you, it was a beautiful meal: turkey served with matoke. It was a truly lovely day.
The next day, Anzac Day of course was Ron's birthday. We had another lovely day. Ron and I went into town and I bought him a nice shirt and trousers (so he can look 'smart'). We also had a lovely drink out - in Australia it is a problem - Ron doesn't drink coffee but here there is a plethora of lovely drinks, especially fruit juices. We bought supplies and then I spent a lot of the day cooking. We managed to catch up with some family via Skype and phone calls, so the whole day was very enjoyable. We had Robert, Rachel and Ivan to dinner. It was great, the little table had a big board on top to make it fit everyone. The oven was busy for most of the day, making fresh bread for lunch, bread sticks for garlic bread for tea, lasagne for tea and chocolate cake. It went well, the children helped in different ways - they are fascinated with our type of cooking. The evening went well, the food was good and conversation entertaining. All in all, a different but fun birthday with new friends. This is Robert and Rachel. Robert in particular has become a good friend and co-worker to Ron. Rachel was enjoying herself so much she didn't want to leave - it was good.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Random thoughts

Seems funny to call this blog post random thoughts because I think that is about all most of the posts that I put up are. However, you might have noticed the title rarely fits - the last post was meant to be short!
Life continues to be full of different things. Some of these quite challenging, many quite mundane but different because it is Africa and then the fun and exciting things. We continue to always need prayer. We always need wisdom in all that we do. It is hard to believe that so many days we are confronted with choices. Some of those choices are whether to give money or not, how best to help people, when to interfere and when it is just that we do things differently in Australia. Sometimes, you don't even think you have made a choice because the thing you do seems obvious. This happened to me this week. At Women of Hope there is a lovely little lady who looks quite young. She comes carrying one twin and the grandmother who is even shorter comes carrying the other twin and the little 3 year old walks himself. This week they came and it was obvious that one of the twins was unwell. It was obvious that she needed prayer and so I, in part initiated it. Then, the ladies were discussing in their own language what should be done. It seemed that the baby could not have treatment because of money. So, how much? 2000 shillings - of course since this is about 80 cents I went and got some money, a little more in case it was needed - the sort of money that falls down the sofa at home. Then, there was a big clap and blessings given to me. How embarassing - it was not even a choice! But, how awful, if I had not been there would this baby not have been able to have treatment - for me 5000 shillings is not much at all, but there may not have been another person there who had 2000 shillings let alone able to give it away. Money is such an amazing thing here. This morning I had the privilege to preach my first sermon! Afterwards, the pastor had people greeting and some brought money up for him. I thought - oh that is how he gets paid, no they were bringing money to give to the preacher! It took me more than a few seconds to realise this when he said, that the money would buy some jerry cans of water for the preacher (I just put pastor in there) - then I realised! How humbling!
During the week there was also a need for us to travel to an orphanage a distance away to take some food. Circumstances have meant that there was no food for the children. Unfortunately by the time we could make it there it was dark but it was so good to be available to meet the need. Thank you so much to those who support us in prayer and financially. Our financial needs on a personal basis are very few. However, we do get many opportunities to give our money away or buy things for people and so appreciate the fact that God is abundantly meeting our needs.
Photos are always good so let me include some so that I can explain what they are about. These photos show two different views from the same position. The beautiful view of Lake Victoria and what is positioned there - homes that are of extremely poor conditions and people who are barely surviving.This was at a visit to a place to check out about some children that may join the village when the next houses are built. It continues to amaze me how much I love going and visiting these places. The conditions are terrible but the people lovely. I just wish I knew more of the language - this is a bit tricky because some places it is Lusoga that is needed and some places it is Lugandan.
This is a random photo I took. The children were not set up, they were just hanging out together on the rock. I am thinking that the next group photos might be here. Speaking of group photos, I liked the fun this house had when their photo was taken. Also, this is a couple of photos of a couple of the children for no particular reason other than it was fun to have good photos of them. Then there is a photo of an iguana that happened to be on the property. Of course Trudy was able to pick it up and show off the fact that it changes colour.I will try and write another blog post tomorrow to let you know all about our Easter. In particular today has been a good day. As the pastor said this morning that there would never be another Easter Sunday like it, and for us it certainly contained many things that probably make that particularly true. I preached my first sermon for starters!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quick update

Life is so full. This week has been particularly that way. We have had so many different things happening, with lots of variety and challenges associated. Some of these I will tell you about. It is the wet season here and that means that the roads can get quite muddy. It also means that the roads get graded more but not necessarily in the best means possible. Hence, a grader ripped up the water pipe. Yes, you guessed it no water. Fortunately we have a water tank (thank you WaterPros) and were able to use it. However, children do not really understand (and others) that one needs to be careful with the water that is available. So, by Wednesday we had literally run completely out of water! Not good, but fortunately (for us) other people in Uganda do not have running water and so water could be obtained in the jerry cans from the local bore. The water did happen to go off after Ron and Trudi had been digging up and fixing some drainage! Poor Ron, also had to get water for the building site from the creek. Then, to cap one day off, one of the children managed to trip and bite his tongue needing a hospital stay and stitches!
We also had the privilege of going to take some of our children back to their place of origin. This was really pleasant and something we see as very important. This visit was interesting as we had three children all from the same small area. So, we were entertained by a bigger group, rather than individuals. Entertained is the correct word as we were given fried rice (that is rice that is fried) with some meat. This is such a humbling thing. We were offered sodas and thinking to save the family costs we cold water (ok we will drink local water that hasn't been boiled)- no bottled water was also produced. People give out of their lack and we give out of our plenty. One fun thing happened and I hope you can see it a little from the photo but a little girl of about 18 months came up to me and, as is the culture, knelt down - so cute seeing it with someone so young. There are always lots of emotions from these visits but it is so important for the children to see their origins.

Another fun(?) thing was that we needed to go to Kampala, Ron and Robert met the MP on Sunday and he had said to come on Wednesday. However, just as we were picking up Robert at 7.00am we discovered there was a burial that one of the people would be attending so that plan was pushed to Thursday. So, to Kampala Thursday morning early. I managed to do a little shopping and have a coffee with Trudi while the men went to the parliament. Interesting trip home as we went through a number of 'riots' in about 5 townships. These relate to people not being happy about huge amounts of money being spent on fighter aircraft and on the swearing in of the president. They are called walk to work because the fuel prices have risen so much. The opposition leader was shot walking to parliament by the army is my understanding! A group of students were sprayed with tear gas when they had only walked as a group and had not disturbed anyone. The 'riots' involve rocks being thrown, shops shutting and I am not sure what else (we saw some rocks on the road and some tyres being burnt). Then, the police/army come in with tankers and tear gas trucks. We did not get any tear gas but had to drop Robert in Jinja and he had to wait for at least 30 minutes in the one place - anyone who moved would be arrested!
Oh, that is right about Wednesday the power also went out! No power, literally no water and Ron, Trudi and I headed up to Bugagli Falls and had a swim in the pool (see photo) and a meal out.
Friday, we got to visit some children that may come to the village in the new intake and pray for a grandmother with diabetes. It was also interesting to drive through the big Kakira Sugar Mills. It is a huge complex that supplies workers with everything they need within its confines. There is a classy primary school (presumably for management children) and then another one that looks more similar to the local primary schools, a hospital, supermarket and post office. People do not need to leave. The problem arises for people that they then don't have land and if the bread winner loses the job they are chased from the property. The standard of housing was also interesting, starting from Australian type home and then moving down to what we visited which was a room on either side of kitchen. It was concrete rendered but very basic and it sounded like the one room housed a large number of people. Then, we were able to take another child to visit his grandmother who had moved and it was hard to ascertain where she had gone. Fortunately the grandson and grandmother were reunited. This was important and we also visited other needy children in this area. One family in particular stood out to me. The mother has TB and AIDs and looked like she was on her last legs. The children were out collecting scrap metal. The concern that was expressed though related to the fact that one of the children wasn't sponsored for schooling. It seems that there is a lot of education sponsorship but the children needed a mother who was treated and good food for themselves! I was also able to pray with her and will be going back in the near future. It seems so often our visits with one purpose provide us with other things to pray for.
In amongst all the different things happening to us there is lots of fun. The children are now on school holidays for what seems like about a month or more! They have all had exams (even the preschoolers I gather!). The children give us so much love and fun. They try to teach us the language - never too sure whether we are learning Lugandan or Lusoga but hey it is all good for us.
The photo is one of the mothers and the children having fun - we had the camera for house group photos and it set everyone off wanting photos!
You will be pleased to know that at this present moment we have both power and water! Plans for the new house will have to include solar power that can do a lot - it seems it is needed. In the three and a bit months we have been here the power has been out for at least 4 weeks.
As you can see, there are nearly always plenty of smiling faces. With the new children as they settle in it is great to see more of their personalities and also to get to know the older ones too. Such a big family though!

Monday, April 11, 2011

About time

Life here continues to be busy enough that there is always something to be done. Sometimes it starts at 6.30 or so in the morning with a knock at the door. Most people are up here by that time, but this household isn't! There is usually someone needing something! Then, before 7.30 one of us needs to have opened the gate. The day has begun. Breakfast is usually a slow meal with both of us on the computers (such social beings) and a nice quiet environment. So often, so many different things happen in a day that one thinks, that would be great to write about but time.... I think in Australia people think - oh Africa there would be so much more time because everything is at a slower pace, only problem is that it also takes a lot longer! (In reverse in Africa everyone thinks that Australians have it all good and no one has real problems because they have money.)
What I do want to write about is God's goodness. We are so appreciative of His hand upon us, the way we are able to be used to bless people here and the timing of it. Last Monday morning Ron and I had to go to the Primary School the children attend. It was not a particularly pleasant job to tell the acting headmistress that we did not want our children from the village to be caned. She as Ron has written was in the process of chasing students from school. We were concerned and uncertain what to do, it didn't seem possible to simply pay all the fees. However, God had different ideas and we were greeted by two different offers of assistance. It was such a lovely thing to be able to go and enquire and then go and pay the remaining fees for the children for that school (about 60 of them). The thing is, it is not just the students and their families who are helped. The acting headmistress had been very concerned because she had been very worried about not being able to pay the teachers. She had been praying about it. God answers prayers and his timing is perfect. I wish I could always trust Him, fear is such an easy thing to take hold of.
Then, this past week, we had a child who had suddenly been very angry and treated his brother in a really bad way. This obviously needed to be dealt with and Ron and I were called to the scene. Ron went in first while I looked after some of the other children and then I joined him. It was an important time of praying for him and dealing with some 'stuff' with him. This of course took some time. As we finished praying the rain began to fall (thank you God for your signs and timing). Interestingly, I would normally have needed to have left by that time but I didn't because of exams. It is all in the timing.
We are trying to learn to be in step with His timing. This is not always easy, especially for people like us who like to get things done. Patience is not always in abundance! As we look back at events each week, we are able to see God's timing, just a pity we are not always alert to it at the time.
The past week has had some extra challenges in different ways. However, it is good to remember that there is so much great stuff. I find some of the challenges of school (outside of the classroom) hard to handle. I just want to run the place (nothing has changed!) and get frustrated by people not doing what I see as the job they should. So much of our time is spent learning why things are done the way they are. There are times when something else would seem like a great solution but there is a good reason for it not being that way. I think I have discovered that the time taken for exams and marking is just so that children who have not paid fees are sent away, and then have time to come back and pay and sit the exams! Yes, the tail is wagging the dog but how to stop that.
So, this is a bit of a different post than most of mine. Please continue (or start) to pray for us. There are many opportunities for us and we need to take on the ones meant for us, not the other ones. We want to speak into those peoples' lives that God has prepared. There is much darkness and much light. We want people to know that the light can change the darkness, it does not have to remain the way it has been. We are not wanting to change Uganda into Australia but God is above culture and wants people in whatever desperate situation to know His love. This is so much our prayer, to bring real hope - things can be different!
Update on my little girl, Mary - she is happy and healthy. In fact at the moment she is in the next room looking at the books. Everytime I am able to help in any small way, it is appreciated by not only "Thank You" but also "May God bless you"(which is not just a trite saying). Thank you for your prayers for her.
Just to encase this all in the theme of time, our evenings are sometimes spent by a short visit to YWAM but other times we can be greeted by many different requests. Last week after going out for dinner Ron had to go and jump a wall in order to allow a mother into her room, something had happened to the lock. The other thing that takes our time is helping the children. This is sometimes evening tutoring for older ones, helping others in the afternoon and we have started a bit of a bible study on a Friday evening. So at about 9.30 we finally say no more visits (please) and then after about an hour it is time for bed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The People we Meet

Throughout most of our time here, a nightly ritual has been our walk over the road to YWAM in the evenings for a soda and a chat. It has been a bit of relief during our power outages, as YWAM is on a different transformer and usually still had power, and gives us a break away from the village and the knocking on our door.

One of the side effects that has been really good has been the range of different people that we meet over there. From our friend Aggrey who until recently was the operator of the soda stall, and who is well known to all of the teams who have been here, to the various YWAM'ers from all over Africa who are visiting and the people from all over the world who are at the base doing a course.

Last week YWAM Hopelands was hosting a staff conference for eastern Africa and we met a guy who was director of YWAM Rwanda. He was very interesting to talk to, and was also interested in what we are doing and talked of his desire to establish such a village in Rwanda.

Then on Friday we had a conversation with a man from the UK and his two sons who were down for the conference from Arua, in north west Uganda where they work with deaf people. Again it was very interesting to hear what life is like for them in a different part of the country, and how they were managing life with 2 teenage boys as well as a daughter back home in the UK.

Then last night we caught up again with a young couple we first met at a swimming pool in Jinja back in January. Rachel is from the UK and Eric is Ugandan. Eric is on staff at YWAM and Rachel has been helping out with the Vocational course and is now doing a Discipleship training course. We have had a number of chats with them and get along really well. Last night Eric let it slip that Rachel is seeing Anne as a bit of a 'mother figure' and so was likely to talk for a while.

It s not only at YWAM that we meet interesting people. Anne has already mentioned on her posts lots of times when she has met up with people on her way to school or at the groups she attends.

Today we were in the bank and had quite a long wait. Anne stuck up a conversation with another customer who was waiting. He turned out to be a politician (after yesterday's post it was good that it was Anne who met him) from the West Nile area. He was definitely a politician, quite full of his own importance, but also made a lot of sense in what he was saying. Towards the end of the conversation he announced that he was a cousin of Idi Amin. Anne asked him if that was a good thing or not, he thought it was probably OK. Fortunately the acting bank manager was ready for me then and we left.

Wherever we go there are interesting people that we get to meet, and even I enjoy hearing from them. Most days we will encounter someone new. Just one of the added benefits of being here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Great Country

This post today is a bit of a grumble.

We love being here in Uganda, it is a beautiful country and we see amazing potential in its people. Most people are very friendly towards us and we feel very safe here.

Before we came away, we were aware that there was to be an election in Uganda in February. Our travel advice from DFAT was to stay away from popular meeting places etc. during this time. Lots of people were surprised that we were staying around during the elections. Many other “mzungus” (white people) left the country during this time, leaving businesses closed for several weeks.

Well, today I have more reason to fear for Uganda than I did during the elections. Firstly, one of the big election planks of the ruling party during the elections was the boast that they had introduced ‘Universal Primary Education’ and are well on the way to ‘Universal Secondary Education’. This is supposed to mean that all children can go to school freely! What a load of crap!!!

If our children were to go to one of these grossly underfunded schools with classes of 150+, they would have to walk at least 5 km in each direction to do so. Instead, they have the luxury of attending a school only about 200m from the front gate, with very modest fees and at least a few of the teachers that we have met seem to be very committed and good at what they do.

However, because of the economic situation of the people in this area, even the modest fees charged by the school (35000 Shillings per term = $15) are too much for many families. So this morning, at least 60 children were “chased” from the school.

Chased is the term that they use here for kicking out any children who have not paid their fees. I don’t blame the school for this - they cannot operate without receiving fee money for the students. As I said, the fees are very modest. But it was a very difficult moment to walk alongside these children on the road at the front of our village as they headed home at 9.30 in the morning.

The government boasts of its achievements in education while large numbers of children still cannot possibly access any sort of education. At the same time, during the election campaign, the government entered into a contract to spend US$1.7billion to buy fighter planes to bolster the defense forces. This is the defense force that backed the ruling party in the elections by putting fear in the lives of many villagers across the country with bashings and heavy handed security measures. US$1.7 billion is more than the whole Health and Development budgets combined.

The second big deal today was when we heard about a friend of ours who had been arrested on Friday. It turns out that a man died as a result of a road accident in March last year. The accident was not reported to the police at the time. The family of the deceased man last week presented information that they had gathered to the police who promptly arrested our friend, and charged him with murder. The fact that the information was false did not deter them or lead them to investigate it themselves before making the arrest. Another friend spent the weekend finding out what really did happen, and presented this information to the police today, complete with statements from people who had witnessed the accident. This information completely exonerated our friend, who could not have been involved as he was not working in the area at the time. So all charges were dropped, yes?? No. The response from the policeman to our friend who had spent the weekend doing the policeman’s job for him was, “How much are you going to pay me?” This wonderful government who have been in power for over 25 years and who recently won the elections with a massive majority oversees a public service which is totally corrupt. To get anything done you must pay for it. There is hollow talk of weeding out corruption, but the reality is that everyone in power turns a blind eye or is involved themselves. It filters down to all levels. Just last week when I was taking Anne out for her birthday surprise, we came across a roadblock. The soldier manning the block came out and within a minute had already put it on us to provide him with cigarettes to allow us to pass.When we refused that on the grounds of not having any, his demands changed to money to buy them. He only allowed us through after I referred to his name on the badge and suggested that I would have to report him to his superiors.

It is hard to see how the country can get itself out of this mess when the corruption is so widespread. I guess the only hope is in the young people who make up more than half of the population. I pray that God will protect them from the greed of a corrupt society until they are ready to take it on themselves.