Monday, January 31, 2011

Uganda Trip - Day 12

Saturday, Dec. 11 -

Today's notes from my girls...

OH MY GOODNESS!!! Today was AMAZING! We ate a delicious breakfast at the home of the French missionary family that we have befriended this week. They served french omelets, homemade bread, muffins, donuts, and African Ginger Tea. They are such a hospitable and friendly family - we could have just talked with them for hours!

After our bellies were stuffed and we said our good-byes, we drove about 2 1/2 hours west to Murchison Falls National Park for an African Safari!

I've always wanted to go on a safari but never thought I'd really have the chance. It was so surreal - I couldn't even believe it was really happening! Our van had a sun roof so Kelley and Derk sat on top of the van and I stood through the window as we drove the path. We saw gazelles, antelopes, deer, giraffes, boar hogs and water buffalo.

We drove for about 2 1/2 hours thinking we were possibly lost then out of nowhere our lodge appeared. Oh my word! This is by far the nicest place I have ever stayed at! And I can't believe it's in the middle of Nowhere, Uganda! After seeing such awful poverty and after having such an emotional 2 weeks, it was certainly a site for sore eyes! We walked into the lobby to check in and were greeted with passion juice and cool, wet rags to clean ourselves after our "journey". We then checked into our own rooms and oh my goodness! I am so undeserving - especially after what I've seen in Lira. But it almost made me feel like a princess! Our hotel is called The Para Lodge and it's a 5 star hotel. I seriously think I could probably live here - well, if the rest of my friends and family were here, I could ;-)

The first thing I did was take a shower. It felt so good to have a "normal" shower, it literally brought tears to my eyes. For the first time in almost 2 weeks, I had warm water that didn't stink and great water pressure. I was in heaven! A good shower is very much underrated! Electricity is only on during certain hours but at least we had power - another thing that is highly underrated and I will never take for granted again. More bonuses - I had no crickets in my room, it was very clean and I felt totally safe for the first time since I had been on my trip. And the view out of my window is THE Nile River! The Nile River! So rich of history!

I'm sitting here writing and thinking I can't believe I'm here and I'm on the downside of our two week trip to Africa. It's been amazing - I've seen much with my eyes and heard much with my ears - much more sadness than I'd like to like to experience, even in my lifetime. But I wouldn't change it for the world. We came and accomplished what we intended to do and even did a little more than what our original goals were set for.

I've seen and I've heard what God wanted me to and now I'm ready to go back home. Of course, I missed my family and friends before I even left Oklahoma but now I go back with new eyes. You can't go to a third world country and see what we've seen and not be changed. I feel like I've always been a pretty "simple" person who doesn't place a lot of emphasis on "things", but especially now, after I've seen so many people do without so much "stuff" - it really puts things into perspective and makes you rethink how you live your life and what you put emphasis on - whether it be the kind of clothes you wear, what school your kids go to, what neighborhood you live in, how big your house is, what kind of toys and gadgets you have, where you vacation, how you spend your free time, etc.  In the end, none of this matters. What does matter is how your life has glorified God and how you pointed others to Him. Americans could be so much happier if they would just be themselves and stop trying to impress one another. We have such an "entitlement" mentality - we think we deserve things and we want everything now - or yesterday. We are impatient and don't wait on God's timing or His blessings. We take too many things for granted, yet we deserve nothing.

I pray that I will always remember my experiences in Uganda. I pray that God will use those experiences to make me a better person and to see things in a new light.

Thank you, God, for allowing me this opportunity of a lifetime!

Two more days and I'll be home! Oh, what a happy day that will be!

Uganda Trip - Day 11

Friday, Dec. 10 -

Today's notes from my girls...

Today we met our Ugandan Project Hope Worldwide friends, Tony and Dennis, at a local hotel for a business meeting to discuss details about Calo Me Lare's future. I wore long shorts and a t-shirt (a big no no here as women who dress like that in Uganda are known as prostitutes!) thinking we would be right back after the meeting. Needless to say, it is now midnight and we are just now getting back to our hotel! So there is no telling what the people of Lira thought about me prancing around their district today ;-) The meeting was great and we're so excited to have Tony and Dennis on our team. They have a passion for helping those in need and are two of the most hard working men I know. They are a huge asset to Project Hope.

After the meeting, we went to meet our last orphan who was only three years old. Her three sweet and caring brothers are taking care of her since their parents have both died from HIV/AIDS. Sadly, we found out when we met her that she just tested positive for HIV yesterday when she had her medical check-up. Unfortunately, Calo Me Lare is unable to accept those that test HIV positive so we weren't able to take her. It just made us sick to our stomach to know that this precious, innocent little girl had already been infected. It's amazing to me how rampant AIDS is in this country - even affecting the smallest of its citizens.

Derk, Kelley and I then went to visit a church that our church back home actually planted in 2008. The preacher is David Papakakiro and it was great to see a church that seemed to be thriving and reaching out to the community.

Next, we walked through Jinja Camp which is part of the Lira District. This is a building we saw as we were walking - of course, I had to take a picture of it! ;-)

Soccer is huge here and a big game was being shown at a local bar so we decided to stop and watch some of it. Tanzania vs. Uganda - let's just say Ugandan soccer fans are a little more reserved than Oklahoma fans of any sport. Uganda ended up loosing and everyone just stood up out of their chairs and left - saying nothing to anyone.  Very interesting.

That night, we ate dinner at the house of Tony's aunt. She fixed a traditional Ugandan favorite dish called malaquan, which is a rich spinach and peanut sauce. We poured it over baked sweet potatoes and ate them with our hands, no utensils - very ethnic ;-) The food was so good and she even left us each a jar of homemade malaquan to make when we get back home!

If you look closely at the picture of her house, you'll see this flyer. Tony is actually going to be the next mayor of Lira in February 2011! We are so proud of him and his hard work. We know he will bring great positive change to their district!

Last night, I forgot to mention we ate an FaBuLoUs Asian-style dinner at the home of a French Canadian missionary family. John Cottrell, his wife Sylvia, and their two sons have traveled everywhere from Cambodia to Europe to Uganda teaching people - not only about God, but life skills to help them obtain a better way of living. They are an amazing family and I really enjoyed talking with them. They are a great resource for Project Hope Worldwide and we were so thankful for their advice and friendship. They are also really into healthy living and I loved getting a tour of their gardens. They had huge banana, lemon and papaya trees and they told us several of the medicinal benefits of many of the plants they were growing. They were a wealth of information!

After tonight's dinner, we went back to the Cottrell's house for a "nightcap". We roasted marshmallows and ate pumpkin pie and popcorn. It was a perfect night to celebrate our last night in Lira! They have invited us back for breakfast in the morning, then we head to Murchison Falls for an African Safari! Can not wait!!!

I learned some very sad and disturbing news tonight. A few nights ago, a "Christian" Crusade was held in a field right behind our hotel. We could hear LOUD music being played until about 4 in the morning! Apparently 30 women were raped that night and 2 died from their injuries! All the while, the "police" watched and did nothing! Nothing?!?! Two weeks ago someone here was stoned to death for stealing someone else's cow, yet a woman here can be totally violated and it's no big deal. What is wrong with this picture?! It is 2010 and still animals are treated better than women here! There is such a huge need for someone to start a movement here teaching women how to protect themselves and to speak out when they are violated. They need to know it is not okay to be abused and that they deserve to be shown respect and treated humanely.

I have to get up early in the morning so I better stop now because I could probably write a book because of the anger I have right now. I suppose it's okay to be angry - it's what you do with your anger that matters most. I suppose I need to channel my "fury" into something positive instead of spending all my time male bashing. So I'll sign off here and go pray.

Sweet dreams! :-)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Uganda Trip - Day 10

Thursday, Dec. 9 -

Today's notes from my girls...

So it rained last night and I have found when it rains here, bugs make a B-line to the indoors! I have to say I was a little freaked out when I woke up and saw bugs on the floor next to my front door and up the wall all along the doorway. Huge grasshoppers were in my room on the curtains, walls, everywhere! There was also another strange type of bug with long wings - some people said they were queen ants, others said they were white termites.

So, being the brave bug warrior I am - NOT! - I kept my distance and got ready in a hurry that morning. I went to breakfast and by the time I got back, the housekeeper had already swept all the bugs from my room - well, almost all the bugs. I still had about 4 huge grasshoppers so I asked the hotel attendant if she had a broom I could borrow to get the rest of the bugs out of my room. She followed me to my room and I showed her where the rest of the bugs were. She proceeded to pick up the large grasshoppers WITH HER BARE HANDS!!! My jaw dropped to the floor. I told her she was my hero.  ;-) Evidently, grasshoppers are a delicacy here. In fact, I saw several of the groundskeepers walking around picking up the grasshoppers and putting them in empty water bottles to cook them up later. They say they taste like shrimp - and no, I did not taste them to find out!

After that bit of "fun", we set out to find 2 more orphans that will be living at Calo Me Lare. We located the first one in a far away village and found out that he also had a twin sister. We didn't want to split them up so we added another orphan today!

Tony Ochen and his sister, Apio Harriet...

In fact, we added 3 new orphans today because we learned that 3 of our orphans had twin siblings. Our numbers are growing rapidly! Because of this growth, we decided we need to hire at least 2 new house mothers and we'll have to get started on building the school right away. It's exciting to see the growth and changes right before my eyes!

The next orphan we found was Tracy. Her father died in 2007 of an illness he had for a long time. Sadly, her mother just died about five months ago from HIV/AIDS. She has a sister, who is nine, but she is also sick with AIDS. Her aunt, who has no children of her own, was taking care of both girls but decided it was too much to take care of Tracy and gave her to a drunk uncle. He was abusive to her and did not look after her well. We knew she had to be removed immediately from that situation so we went to her village with the intention of taking her - and that's exactly what we did. (We did this legally, of course. The uncle signed over his rights and Tracy is now an adopted child of Calo Me Lare where she will live until she is 18 years of age.) The sad thing is that out of all the local villagers, not one questioned what we were doing or where we were taking her. I suppose they saw it as one less mouth to feed and one less child to keep up with.

When we first met Tracy, She was very reserved, scared and even cried for a while. Kelley gave her some licorice and sat next to her, trying to warm up to her.

Our Ugandan helper and interpreter, Dennis, asked everyone to move away from the area so they could bond and develop a relationship. Tracy liked the candy and even sat in Kelley's lap. Almost immediately, she cracked a little grin then fell asleep in Kelley's arms. I don't know if she was exhausted or just relieved to feel someone love on her. I think, probably for the first time ever, she finally felt safe.

After she fell into a deep sleep, Kelley carried her to our van and climbed inside. This is a video I shot as we were walking to the van. I even got to meet the "Creator of the Planet" herself.  That was an "interesting" conversation, let me tell ya ;-)

We took her back to our hotel where she continued to sleep on a blanket on the courtyard lawn. After she woke up, we fed her some chicken and french fries. She ate and drank quite a bit for a little girl! Then, Kelley gave her a bath and put some new, clean clothes on her - the very outfit she purchased at the auction we attended last Sunday! Tracy looked and acted like a totally different child. Kelley gave her an orange pop and she loved that, too!

Then we had to figure out what to do with Little Miss Tracy. We knew we couldn't take her back to her village and it wasn't in her best interest if she stayed with us "white people". So, we took her to our Ugandan friend, Tony's, family where she could stay temporarily and be cared for until Calo Me Lare was completed in February. Tony's family has lots of children, mothers and grandmothers that will love on Tracy and care for her as if she was their own.

It was bitter sweet to see Tracy go. We had developed a little relationship with her and she even smiled and laughed some while under our care. I pray for Tracy - that God would protect her and keep her from HIV/AIDS. I pray that she is taught of God's love while living at Calo Me Lare and that she comes to know and accept His love. I pray that she never goes hungry and that she has clean water to drink. I pray that she receives an excellent education and becomes a great leader in her community. I pray for good health and that she is a blessing to all those around her. I pray that she loves, fears, and serves God with all her heart, mind, and soul. This is my prayer for all the orphans at Calo Me Lare and around the world. Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Wednesday, Dec. 8 -

I'm not complaining here. This is just a little list I came up with of challenges on my trip. I've learned it's all just part of the experience and you have to roll with the punches!

* Brushing my teeth with bottled water

* 90 degree weather in December (actually, I think I could get used to this!)

* No internet service = driving me nuts!!!

* Sleeping with a mosquito net. There must be a trick to it because I keep getting all twisted in mine!

* There's only 1 plug in my hotel room that I can use at a time. So, I have to decide between using a fan to cool my room, charging my electronics or using my hair dryer ;-)

* Let's just say I REALLY miss food back home. I'm definitely going to have Ted's very soon after I get back!

* Wearing long skirts. I'm kind of a t-shirt and sweats kinda gal.

* Showering with a trickle of cold water

* It's December and I've only seen a few Christmas trees here but the ones I've seen have been decorated very "interestingly". Let's just say they really like garland hung in a vertical fashion here in Uganda ;-)

* It takes a very long time to get food when you order at a restaurant - sometimes even a few hours. I think it's because they don't have refrigeration & they actually have to go to market and get everything fresh.

* You never know if you're going to have electricity or not. I was told the entire district of Lira was recently without electricity for several months! Can't even imagine that back in the States!

* I can only flush my toilet about once an hour because it takes that long for it to fill up with water again for the next use ;-)

* Our hotel has a small outdoor bar right outside my room and they keep playing really bad really loud country music. I think they are trying to satisfy the American visitors ;-)

Uganda Trip - Day 9

Wednesday, Dec. 8 -

Today's notes from my girls...

Today we had lunch at the Otino-Waa Cafe with two Lira government officials. (Otino-Waa is the orphanage Calo Me Lare is modeled after that I mentioned in an earlier post.)

Project Hope Worldwide wants to establish early a friendly relationship with the government so that they can see we are trying to help promote positive change in their community. We also want to have their complete backing in the decisions we make. We discussed with the leaders what our goals were with the orphanage and how we were modeling Calo Me Lare off of the successfully run Otino-Waa Orphanage.

We then drove out to see Calo Me Lare and the progress we have made so far. They were actually really excited about our project and apparently they've even posted information about it on their government website.

They reminded us of the importance of teaching the children skills that will help them as they grow older and when they go back out to their villages. They also gave us advice on purchasing more land, what to plant on our land, and where to plant particular types of vegetation.

Photo by Helmut Schleppi
All in all, it was a great and encouraging meeting.

Video by Helmut Schleppi

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Uganda Trip - Day 8

Today's notes from my girls...

Tuesday, Dec. 7 -

Funny I was just thinking about how I've been so peaceful and calm this week but then something happened last night that totally freaked me out. I've learned you don't always know if you are going to have power in Uganda and it just so happened to shut off at 11:00 last night. I could deal with no air conditioning - but the pitch darkness basically scared the bejeebers out of me. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face - it was so dark! Plus, it was super quiet and I'm used to sleeping with the noise of a fan so the silence was quite maddening to me. This definitely went down as one of the most scary moments of my life. I was all by myself in my hotel room sitting in pitch darkness in the middle of Uganda. I'm not normally a "fearful" person, but this trip has definitely brought out my fears. As mentioned earlier, even before we left for our trip, my mind was playing games with me. I would find my imagination going wild - especially at night, asleep or not. Shortly after the electricity went off, I got to talk to Steve and the girls which cheered me up for a little while but then I tried to sleep and away my imagination went again. My heart was pounding so fast and so loud, I literally thought I could hear it.

So that "fun" lasted about 3 or 4 hours. During that time I listened to a few Mark Driscoll podcasts on my iPod and the Casting Crowns Christmas CD for I don't know how many times. Finally, about 3 in the morning I decided it was silly for me to freak myself out the way I was. Worrying and being fearful was getting me nowhere. I started to pray (what a brilliant concept!) and suddenly a peace came over me. I think I finally fell asleep about 5 in the morning but I learned a valuable lesson that night. When I get scared, I need to pray first. Not freak out first or give in to my fears - but pray first. I knew that God was in that room with me but I didn't acknowledge it. He knew I was scared - all I had to do was pray and ask Him to take my fears away. I often times learn valuable lessons the hard way. Ugh! ;-/

I was so tired this morning from getting no sleep that I had to miss an 8:30 meeting I was going to attend. I hated to miss it but I was just exhausted - mentally and physically. After I finally got around, Kelley and I decided to go walk around the market again. I must have really made a breakthrough on overcoming fears last night because the last time we went to the market, Jimmy went with us and I stayed right by his side. He and I were both on guard at every moment. But this time I felt so much more relaxed and I just tried to enjoy the atmosphere and meeting the people.

This is a funny "ha ha" that normally would have totally freaked me out...As we walked to the market, some kind of political gathering was going on. I think they were trying to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming elections. So Kelley and I are walking and all of a sudden we see this tribal-looking dance troupe. They went up on stage and did their thing then danced off when it was over.

One of the dancers saw I was taking pictures so he came over to me and asked me to take his picture, too! I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up - I just had to jump in, too. So I handed off my camera to Kelley and she snapped the two of us together...

He was not impressed that I was in the picture, too. He asked if I would take it again - him by himself ;-) So I did...

He loved looking at himself on my camera. After he walked off, Kelley and I cracked up laughing that I even thought to do that - very unlike myself. It was quite hilarious! Here's some more pics I took as we walked around Lira...

This is a meat butcher. Eeek! Check out the blood dripping from the meat in the window. Disgusting! And no, they don't have refrigeration. Everything is sold "fresh"...

This is a "normal" occurrence you see around Uganda - armed soldiers. Took me a bit to get used to seeing them. Good thing I didn't get caught taking this picture. You can get in big trouble for taking pictures of the soldiers.

And another typical occurrence - lizards. I actually thought the little guys were kinda cute ;-)

So later in the afternoon, Jimmy, Dennis and I went to the same three villages we went to yesterday. We took soccer balls and gum to two of the villages. Soccer is hugely popular here and the kids loved receiving the balls. And who doesn't like gum?! ;-)

Then we took baby formula to the mother and grandmother we saw yesterday who had been feeding their baby sugar water. We showed them how to mix the formula and water to make milk. She really needs to boil the water first but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. Hopefully it will at least provide some nourishment and save the baby's life.

I loved going out with Jimmy and Dennis today because we actually got to help some of the families here and bring smiles to their faces. After we went to the villages, we went back and picked up Derk and Kelley and went to check on the progress on Calo Me Lare. We saw this teenager there on the grounds hanging out with some friends. He was pretty well-spoken and told us how he'd like to go to school but his family couldn't afford it. So Derk offered him a job right there on the spot to start clearing the undeveloped land at Calo Me Lare. An agreement was made that his income would go to pay his school dues. He was so happy - you could just see the hope in his eyes.

At the end of the day, we went out to eat at one of the three restaurants we had to choose from. Let's just say I can not wait to get home and eat American food. And no, I did not try the fish. Apparently, my fears crept back in ;-)

Today marks my 9th day away and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm so glad I came to experience Uganda/Africa - I think everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime. But I sure am ready to go home and hug my family and see my friends. Being in a third world country definitely puts things I used to think were "important" into perspective. In the U.S. while we're busy updating our  facebook statuses, upgrading our houses, and one-upping each other, children all around the world are starving, neglected, beaten, deathly ill, orphaned, and abused in ways we can't even imagine. Why can't we just be content with what we have, give away what we don't need and help those around us who are poor and hurting? That's the million dollar question we should all take the time to answer - not just verbally, but in deed - me included.

Our team has been talking a lot lately about how important it is to not only give the needy the immediate help they need, but to educate them on how to help themselves. Until they learn to successfully sustain themselves, the problem of poverty will never be resolved. It will only be repeated over and over again generation after generation. I pray that Calo Me Lare is able to make positive changes in the lives of many families in the Lira district and that they will go on to make a difference in the lives of others, as well.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Uganda Trip - Day 7

Today's notes from my girls...

Monday, Dec. 6

Today we went to three separate villages to find three orphans. At the first village, we met Sandra whose father died of HIV/AIDS. Her mother, Grace, did not have the resources to care for her or Sandra's siblings. Grace was later "inherited" by another man who gave her a place to live, but due to her financial situation, she still has great difficulty feeding and providing for her children. Sandra loves playing with other kids when they are out of school and she tries hard to count to five in English. She is polite, kind-hearted, and enjoys telling stories to her friends. She loves people and always greets everyone who comes around. She is a good helper for her mother around the house and wishes that someday she could go to school.

Driving to the next village, we passed some people selling food on the side of the road. We stopped to see what they were selling and people from everywhere brought their goods right to our van. We bought some fruit and a popular food in Uganda called sim-sim which is made from roasted sesame seeds and honey. Everyone from our team looooved it except for me. I have to say, I thought it was nasty. It tasted like burned popcorn and it was so dry. To each his own ;-)

We met an orphaned boy named Selestino at the next village. Selestino is the 7th child in a family of 9. His mother married into a polygamous family and is one of three wives. Altogether, the family has 17 children. Selestino was still breast-feeding when his father died of HIV/AIDS in 2006. Later on, his mother fell very ill and was in the hospital for nearly 2 months. While giving birth to her last child in August of 2010, she suffered a stroke, became paralyzed, and remains incapable of caring for her children, two of which are young babies. Selistino's mother is  HIV positive and was told not to nurse her baby so she wouldn't pass on HIV to him through her breast milk. Because of this, the baby is only being fed sugar water.  (We are hoping to come back to this village tomorrow with some baby formula so the baby will have some form of nourishment.) Selestino’s grandmother currently takes care of the family, but she has left her own family of ten to do so. Her family lives over 10 miles away. The others relatives of the family have ignored the family’s plight and stayed away because they believe that they will be exposed to HIV since his mother has it. It has left Selestino and his family very isolated and in need. Also, due to lack of funds and transport, Selestino’s mother cannot make it to the main hospital for treatment.

As we were leaving Selestino's village, we passed some local boys who were playing with a catapult/slingshot that they make from recycled objects laying around. Derk decided to have some fun with them so he brought out a container full of gum balls. He set them at a far distance from the boys and if they could hit it with the catapult, they won a piece of gum. I'm pretty sure everyone was chewing gum by the time we left ;-)

The last village we visited was really far away and very hard to get to. It seemed like we drove for an hour then the dirt road pretty much disappeared so we got out and walked for a while until we finally came to the village we were looking for.

While there, we met an orphaned boy named Amos. He is six years old and the last born in his family of 5. His parents have both died and their graves are actually right next to the hut in which he currently lives with his aunt. He is a very hard working boy and helps make clay bricks as part of his chores.

After we visited with Amos, we noticed a boy whose hand had been amputated. At closer look, we saw it was badly infected. He told us that he recently was up in a tree watching his cattle. He slipped and fell and broke his hand. Doctors tried to set it but it didn't heal correctly so they amputated it. Unfortunately, infection set in and we knew we had to do something to help this boy. We made arrangements for him to be taken to a hospital in Kampala tomorrow. We are praying that he won't have to have the rest of his arm amputated up to his elbow. It's such a sad situation, but what's even more sad is that his parents have disowned him. Because of his accident, he is now known as an outcast and is being raised by his grandparents and local villagers. It's amazing that a parent could do that to their own child. So sad! :-(

On our way back to our hotel, we passed some "interesting" sites.

We saw a large group of men drinking "banana gin"also known as waragi - a favorite past time of Ugandan men. They make this drink, sit around and talk and get drunk and usually end up in a fighting brawl by the end of the night. Look close and you'll see Derk (in the back right) - he just had to go check out the action ;-)

We saw marching prisoners...

And pigs just roaming around...

And this is a picture of our first three widowed house mothers that will be living at Calo Me Lare. They are amazing women and are going to be great caretakers for all the orphans they'll be overseeing.