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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Humility

It's nearly midnight here (almost 1:00 am at publishing), and most would expect me to be asleep by now - even on a Friday night - especially considering I've been in bed since 8:30 pm due to a lack of power. But alas, like so many other nights in the past few weeks, I lay awake, scrolling through Facebook in an attempt not to put too much thought into my life at the moment. It's been quite a while since I made a blog post, and a huge part of me regrets that, but between writer's block, busyness, and a general lack of physical and mental well-being, I haven't really been in the mood to write. Even my journaling has suffered, which is usually a stress outlet for me.


Can I be honest with you, oh anonymous readers? I haven't been okay lately. There is certainly such a thing as a mid-service slump, and I have joined the ranks. Hard. The slump was intensified by an ulcer that I had. It was a very real, if slim, possibly that I could have been sent home. Because of that and so many other things, my world has been upside down for the last couple of weeks.


I strive to post positive but real experiences on my blog so as to paint a positive but real picture of Uganda. I am really not lying when I talk about how much I love this country, it's people, my students, the culture…. But there is a very real sense of entitlement, of guilt, of questioning your entire experience that has come to the forefront of my mind. So few people can truly understand this feeling. Both an awesome, idealistic view of Peace Corps and a pessimistic, distasteful view of Peace Corps coexist in my mind. I can really, truly see both sides. This is all made worse by the fact that I'm missing important things at home, that I'm not as certain about my future as I would like to be…. I know I'm right where God wants me and that I'm learning from this experience things I could never learn at home, but there are really so many things to be anxious about.


The past few days have really, honestly been better. I'm finally back to work full-time this week after a delay from the ulcer and time spent in Kampala. (If there's one thing I've learned about my time management skills in Uganda, it's that I'm definitely better off when I'm busier. I mean, I finally cleaned my house today after at least a month and a half of just doing the bare minimum since I had everything else on my list finished.) More than anything, though, I've really been getting back to my pursuit of being Christ like after being sick. Living many thousands of miles away from home has been even more challenging than most can imagine, but I'm realizing that some of my suffering is not outside of God's purpose.


I have never been someone to be called humble. Honestly, only within the past few years have I seen and experienced true humility and understood its purpose. When I was in the youth group at my previous church, my youth pastor taught us that giving allows us to have a blessing. Although this could cause obvious problems with giving from a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7), he was using it as an example for someone who constantly gives to other people but refuses to receive. He told us to tell them to “Let me have my blessing!” or more simply “Let me bless you!” as a funny way to get around the awkwardness of the situation. It's still a line I use on my mom from time to time.


Much more recently, my (Ugandan) neighbor got frustrated with me because I wouldn't allow her to do my dishes for me. In my mind, I was being responsible. I dirtied the dishes, so why should she clean them for me? She said in an exasperated voice, “Why don't you ever let me help you? You are always helping us, but you never let us help you.” In that moment I was greatly humbled. Although I was simply trying not to be lazy, I was blocking her blessing, so to speak. I was too prideful in my “I'm a responsible adult that can do my own dishes” to allow her to help me.


Since then, God has shown me that my determination to be responsible is sometimes a source of pride for me. I struggle daily with pride, as many do. Many times it's a control thing - I'm a bit of a control freak - but even that is pride manifested. True humility not only gives but receives...regardless of how the dishes are washed and dried.


Proverbs tells us, famously, that pride comes before the fall (16:18), and I wonder if God hasn't used my recent circumstances to teach me a little humility. I had to rely quite a lot on my neighbors before my trip to Kampala, and even once I was in Kampala, they were paramount in a mission to bring me more clothes so I didn't have to wear dirty ones.


I'm by no means perfect, and I never will be. I'm also by no means perfectly okay, even now. I feel the depression and anxiety trying to creep their way back into my life when I sit idle for too long. But the reality of the situation is this: Even though I may not be okay right now, I know that I will be in the future because my God is great. My Savior will help me through this. In the end, everything will be more than just okay.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reverse Culture Shock

In my previous post, I mentioned reverse culture shock. After having lived long term in another culture, it is typical to need time to readjust to your original culture. I didn’t think I would have it very bad, seeing has I’ve only been in Uganda for a year and regularly seek out “Western” spaces, especially in Kampala, but let me tell you…
*Note: Many of these things happened right at the beginning of my time in the US, and so whether they should be blamed on reverse culture shock or jet lag is questionable….

The first night I was home was legitimately challenging for me. First of all, I did not sleep a bit in Doha during my eight hour layover, and although I slept on the 14 hours flight, it was constantly interrupted by the food carts and other passengers. There was a snow storm in Chicago, so we got out of Chicago as quickly as possible, and stopped in Bloomington, IL for the night because the closer we got to St. Louis, the more quickly the snow was turning to freezing rain. (Did I mention how much I missed winter? No? That’s because I only missed the snow.) We went to dinner at Cracker Barrel, and I couldn’t finish my meal. I wondered how American Bethany was able to finish this size of a meal, considering my family wasn’t having much of any problems. (Keep in mind that I’ve lost about 30 pounds in the past year, so my stomach is much smaller than it was.) Alas, I was not even able to enjoy the apple butter due to my fullness.
As we were leaving, my dad announced to the rest of us that he needed to go to Walmart to get windshield washer fluid. I volunteered to go with him because I’ve heard from many other RPCVs that Walmart is one of the scariest places to visit when readjusting. I didn’t necessarily believe that, so I thought I would see for myself. I didn’t even make it inside the building, though, before Ugandan Bethany made a fool of American Bethany. After being blown away by the automatic sliding doors at the airport earlier that day, I thought I had gotten past the automatic door hurdle. Apparently not. As I was walking into the building, I went to go through the left-hand door, you know, the entrance. When the door didn’t open, I was so confused; I literally just hit the door. With my hand. Because I didn’t know how to handle this in my jetlagged mind, and my body had done it before my mind approved. My dad just laughed at me and pointed to the “Entrance” sign. I had tried to go in the Exit, which makes sense considering American drive on the right side of the road, not the left, but…. Yeah.
*Note: To be fair, we had to stay in Bloomington on the way back to Chicago as well, and we went back to Walmart, and the sticker on the literal door (not above it) looks exactly the same as the one on the other door. Also, in most Walmarts, both doors open both ways to keep people from looking like idiots. I saw someone try to go in the Exit when we were there the second time, although she didn’t hit the door like I did.
Inside of Walmart wasn’t that big of a deal, though, considering I was working really, really hard just to remember I wanted Vicks tissues (Kampala cold, yay) and gum. He mentioned how the Walmart was set up like Kirksville Walmart, and so I spend the majority of the time comparing it to Kirksville and other Walmarts. I told my dad how RPCVs talked about how terrifying Walmart could be and how I didn’t believe them. Little did I know what would be coming tomorrow.
The next day we went home early, and my mom, sister, and I had just enough time to go thrift shopping for some clothes that actually fit me. We stopped by Schnuck’s, a St. Louis supermarket chain, on the way home to get stuff for chili because I was craving it due to the cold. I got through the door just fine, but that was the end of that. Considering I had slept since the night before, I was much more awake and thus much more able to take everything in. Also, I was shopping with my mom, not my dad, and so we weren’t in a huge hurry. We were just fighting against the pending ice storm and time, you know, no big deal. I didn’t realize until later how impulsive I’ve become in shops. See, in Uganda, if you don’t buy something when you see it, especially if it’s foreign, it’s gone. This has led me to splurge when I see something I want that I haven’t had in the last few months (or year). My mom was in for a treat, for sure. First I saw Fritos scoops and cheese dip, then I commented on how small and hard the mangoes were (it’s certainly not mango season in the US), then I found the marshmallow cream, had to ask my mom where to find animal crackers (She was already in the cracker aisle, so that should have been obvious. I immediately remembered about the signs above the aisles.), found cookie mix, my mom reminded me that they BAKE COOKIES IN SUPERMARKETS and we bought cookies from the bakery (I got more than everyone, of course), and so much more. By the end of the trip, I had gasped and ran to pick something probably 50 times, and I had to remove myself from the checkout aisle because I was going to throw more things in my mom’s cart. I stood by the door until I got distracted by the Redbox machine and went to see how many titles I actually knew. I think I found two. The whole trip my mom just laughed and laughed at me, not sure what to make of it. I tried to keep her from telling everyone, but eventually I just owned it (obviously, considering I’m putting it on my blog!!).
The third day I was home, I drove for the first time in over a year. I was nervous about it, especially considering the roads were nowhere near perfect from the ice storm the day before, but it actually was so easy, I couldn’t believe I had worried about it. I have talked with other expats around Fort Portal about this, and I think the reason why is because I seriously haven’t driven while I’ve been here. We’re not allowed to drive as PCVs, and I would honestly be terrified to do it anyway because of the rules of the road, or rather lack thereof. I miss the freedom of being able to just hop in my car and go wherever I want whenever I want, but I certainly don’t miss the price of it!
I had anticipated having problems with the food and my digestive tract, and so I tried very hard not to eat everything (or at least not to complain when I ate too much of something and didn’t feel well). The thing that I really never anticipated having problems with, though, is the tap water. I have been drinking filtered water for the past year, and apparently it has had an effect on the microbiome of my stomach. The whole time I was home, I was being made sick by the tap water. I kept moving around, though, so I thought it was the specific place’s tap water, because some places I wasn’t sick. It wasn’t until the end of my trip that I realized those times I hadn’t been sick I was drinking either filtered or bottled (thus filtered) water. I caught the stomach bug that’s still going around my hometown, and so I was sick the last five or so days I was home, and I eventually broke down and had my mom buy me bottled water because I was dehydrated and couldn’t drink the tap water. I know next time when I go home that I’ll need a Brita bottle waiting for me. Maybe I’ll even have my family send me one for my Europe trip I’m planning to take after Peace Corps.
The day of my flight back to Uganda, my dad told me that the whole first week or so I was home I was speaking just like I would to a Ugandan. I had thought I did a good job of going back to my American self – I certainly was speaking quicker than to a Ugandan – but apparently some things stick with you longer than you realize. Because of my malleable accent, I picked up the southern accent much thicker than normal when I went to visit family in deep, southern Illinois. I was talking like a southerner for about half my trip! I eventually adjusted to my typical accent, but it took much longer than anticipated. I also screamed “IWE!” at my sister on that second day home while we were shopping. When she wouldn’t look at me, I asked my mom why she wouldn’t look at me. She asked me what I had said. Only then did I realize that I had said “iwe” instead of “you.” It’s strange being with people who don’t understand the typical phrases in your local language. Another word I kept using constantly was “toilet.” Before coming to the US, I didn’t realize how much I used it in my everyday life. I kept asking people where the toilet was and telling them I’d be right back because I needed the toilet. Although everyone obviously understands that one, I just felt rightly awkward using it, considering it’s certainly not something I would have said prior to coming to Uganda. I would have even made fun of someone who said it. Thankfully my family is much more merciful than I sometimes am.

These are just a few of the stories I have from my trip home. Generally speaking, it was smooth other than these things, but it was certainly challenging. The strangest thing about the whole ordeal is that in my mind I would know the right thing to do in these situations, but my body would just do a completely different thing. My knee-jerk reactions have become so different than they ever were in the US. In some instances, it’s hilarious, in others it’s sad, and still in others it’s a great thing. It will be interesting when I move back to the US full-time to see the challenges I find after the “honeymoon” period wears off and true reverse culture shock starts.

I Dreamt of a White Christmas

“Home” is a funny word. Although I lived about three hours from my parents’ home during university, I don’t believe I really understood having two completely separate homes. Kirksville is very much like my hometown, small, Walmart just down the road, students working at most of the minimum wage jobs, fast food restaurants open nearly the same hours, even closing on Sundays for church. I thought I had found myself a new home while I was there – I felt out of place with my parents even though I was still living with them part time – but it was really more of the same.
Uganda is completely different. I live on my own. My closest friends are my neighbors and colleagues, not necessarily those just down the hall. Although the social law of proximity still rules, even more so in such a foreign land, my friendships here are so different from the ones in the US. We rarely discuss politics, although it’s still more often than I did in the US, we talk a lot about the weather, a lot about the food we’re making. It doesn’t sound all that different, but I promise you it is. Hugs are less common, but somehow that’s okay. A smile means more than just “hello.”
This is my first time ever living alone. My ineptitude at this rears its head the hardest when I’m cooking, that’s one thing I really wish I had learned before leaving, but cooking, like every other part of living alone, has gotten remarkably easier through the last year. I have remarked several times on this blog, on Facebook, and in my own journal how Uganda feels like home, how it’s no longer this exotic place, how I feel more comfortable here than I would in the US. Over this past year, the thought of going home has become more an anxious one than an exciting one due to readjustment, reverse culture shock.
Cue Christmas. I’ve been so quiet because I’ve been in the US. I had all these plans of uploading pictures and videos to my blog and going through it, making it more cohesive, putting in hyperlinks, the works. Instead, I spent my time talking to people. People obviously wanted to hear all about Uganda, but personally, I cared more about what’s happening right now in their lives, how the past year has affected them. I almost didn’t even feel the need to “catch up” with people due to Facebook. We live in an amazing time of being able to keep up with our friends and family from around the world even though we’re living thousands of miles, tens of thousands of kilometers, 8 or 9 time zones apart. What I wanted to know from people was not what had happened in the last year that was Facebook worthy. I wanted to know how these things that I already knew had affected them, how they had changed. Many of my friends have graduated from college in the last year, moved on to “big boy” and “big girl” jobs, gotten married or moved in with their partners, and just generally, well, adulted.
The strangest thing about being home, though, is that I don’t feel like I went at all. All the travel, four days there and four days back, all the time I spent with people, all the glorious hugs and even presents I received, it all feels like a dream. Time is a funny, funny thing. Just the same as I don’t feel like I’ve missed much of my American friends’ and family’s lives in the past year, I feel like in the three weeks I was gone, I missed every part of my Ugandan friends’ and family’ lives. I could not wait to come back to Uganda and hear what people had done for Christmas and New Year even though I knew the answer was “church, family, and food” for each of them.
I really think my sister hit the nail on the head with this. She told me that to her it feels like I’m just away at college like I was the two years before Peace Corps. Because she always knew I would come home, because she always knew what was happening in my life from my Facebook posts, because we’re probably in better contact with each other than we were when I was away at college, it just feels like another semester, another year of school. I feel much the same way. Sure, I have missed things that I wouldn’t have had to miss if I was indeed at college instead of halfway across the world, but see when a place becomes home, no matter how different it is, and when you’re able to keep up through social media, it doesn’t quite feel like you ever left your original home. Your new home just becomes an extension of your original home. They are both places that you’re so overjoyed to come back to, both places where you feel so loved, so comfortable, that you don’t want to leave.
Now please don’t think that I’m saying I’m not grateful to have been home. I really, truly am ecstatic to have seen all of the friends and family I saw (especially the ones who put up with me during the first week I was home), and I am so beyond grateful to my family for bringing me home. What I am saying, though, is that if it weren’t for the things I brought back with me, the pictures we all took, the reactions of my Ugandan friends and family when I came home, I’m not sure I would quite believe I had gone home. It all feels like a dream, but it’s the best dream of my life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Year Gone By

It’s been exceedingly quiet around my compound for the last week or so. Exams finished about that time, and so all of the students have gone home. Many of the tutors have gone home. And me, I am soon to go home as well.
It’s been a wonderful first year in Uganda, first year at my school, first year to get to know these beautiful people. I have gotten to know some 500 Ugandan students on some level or another, their likes and dislikes, the types of students they are, their friends’ circles, etc. I’ve also gotten to know some 50 or so administration, tutors, and staff, and families. I cannot describe how blessed I am to have gotten to know these wonderful people. Like with everywhere, some of them are merely acquaintances, but some have truly touched my soul. I think about my neighbors’ responses to my kitten dying back in March, my cat, Freckles, running away in September. I remember how they helped to comfort me during one of the darkest times in my life, simply digging a hole to bury my baby Ramagi, asking me how a burial for a pet should happen. They never even brought up how weird it must have been for them that I was crying over a cat.
It has been so good to be able to teach my students. I have the amazing opportunity to “test-drive” my profession, and I absolutely love it. I will tell anyone and everyone how frustrating it has been to teach students who honestly have no idea about how to even use a mouse how to use a computer, but let me tell you, watching them successfully write a practice letter of application to a school on the computer for their final exam was amazing. Not only did they have good control over the mouse and the keyboard, but they were able to think through the process and do it all in just an hour. Teaching literacy has also been impeccable, watching my students realize that the way they read can be taught systematically instead of by memorization, that they have even more skills than they thought they did.
Most of my teaching has been with the first years, but the second years have also stolen my heart. They are so committed to being the best teachers they possibly can be. They strive only for the best marks but for the best learning environments for their future pupils. I hope desperately they won’t fall into the trap of laziness which is present at so many primary schools across Uganda. I spend so much of my time with other education PCVs, especially those at PTCs, bragging about how great my students are, and I really am not lying when I say that.
I am so grateful to have been able to open the computer lab for the students so that they can keep up with their friends and family on Facebook. You may not think of Ugandans as Facebook addicted, but let me tell you, they pine over Facebook just as much as you or I. They use it in much the same manner as we do, connecting with those who are far from them. My students are (generally speaking) 18-25 years old, and that is such a time of creating connections with others. To be able to facilitate these connections has been so great. To see what music they’re listening to, what movies they want to see, it’s such a unique view into the culture, especially that of the youth.
Basically, I can’t believe this year is over. I can’t believe that what seemed impossible in February has finally come to pass. I can’t believe that I only have a year left to spend with my beautiful community before I am dragged away by life. I love all of you so much, words seriously cannot describe. My heart will always belong to Fort Portal as much as it does to Kirksville or my hometown or my parents’ hometown. I’m reminded of this as I say goodbye to the PCVs from the education cohort ahead of me. I will miss them so much, and their communities will miss them so much. I’m not ready yet to be missed!

Dear Tourist

I have waited a long time to write this post so that it would not come off as snarky or butt-hurt. It may still come off as this, but I promise, I’m trying to help people who come to Uganda to respect and enjoy this beautiful country as much as I do.

Dear Tourist,

Welcome to the Pearl of Africa! I hope you are finding the weather beautiful here. It truly is gorgeous almost every day of the year. How are you finding the people? How are you finding the cultures? Did you know that by some counts, Uganda has more than 50 different cultures? It really is a beautifully diverse country. I want to help you to get to know a little bit about travelling around Uganda.
Welcome to Fort Portal! Many of the people here are Batooro. This means they are part of the Tooro Kingdom and follow the Tooro King. Some of the people here are Bakonzho who follow the Rwenzururu King. It makes for interesting conversation for sure. I hope you are finding my friends welcoming. I promise, they are honestly curious when they scream “MUZUNGU” at you. It sure gets annoying after a while, but you just have to remember that they’re genuinely excited to meet people from around the world.
Have you noticed the way people dress here? Modesty is an important part of every culture. You’ll find standards of modesty are different around Uganda, especially for women. I hope you know that women’s thighs and butts are sexualized here, so women wearing anything above the knee or tight around those areas is seen as sexualizing herself. I’m just trying to help you know the culture I have come to know and love this past year. Skirts are the norm for many women except in the north. As for men, you are seen as silly or childish when you wear shorts. Men wear trousers in Uganda, boys wear shorts. As tourists, of course you are given slack by some people, but others will use these standards to assume you are clueless as to the culture, easily overcharged and harassed.
Were you able to learn a little bit of language before coming? If not, that’s okay! Just ask the people you meet how to greet in their language. Sure, most Ugandans speak English, especially in touristy places, but there really is nothing that makes a Ugandan happier than greeting them in their own language. They might laugh, whether you get it right or wrong, but think about how funny it is trying to teach someone English for the first time and laugh along with them. There are as many different languages as there are cultures in Uganda, but many of the greetings are generally the same. Don’t forget to thank people for the work they are doing! It’s so important here.
If you are coming from a “Western” country, you will get a lot of “bang for your buck,” as we say in the US. Don’t get overcharged, though! Before you go anywhere, on any method of transportation, stop and ask people on the street, in shops around, anywhere but the place where you get transport how much your transport should cost. Ask several people if you don’t have friends yet in the place where you are. Getting overcharged by 500 shillings ($0.14) or 1000 shillings ($0.28) doesn’t seem like a lot, but it surely adds up when you keep getting over charged. Know that there is no such thing as a set price in Uganda. There are people and places which are much more difficult to barter with, but if you’re good enough at bartering, you can get the local price every time. Also know that in many place transport priced go up about half an hour before dark. This is because it’s not safe to travel in the dark. Please don’t travel after dark if you can keep from it. Most accidents happen in the dark, and roadside robberies happen almost exclusively in the dark.
I highly encourage you to buy some kitenge, the local fabric, garments! Make sure to ask your tailor for an appropriate cut if you’re going to wear it in country. Prices for kitenge vary across the country, and style vary across cultures, but make sure to be polite about asking. Use “traditional” or “cultural” instead of “tribal” when asking for traditional patterns, or really any traditional merchandise, dances, songs, etc. If you ask a Ugandan about their cultural songs or dances, don’t be surprised if they don’t want to do them for you in the middle of a bunch of people. Just like back home, people don’t randomly dance and sing in the middle of the supermarket…usually. In addition, not everyone thinks they are good at the songs and dances, just like back home.
In general, remember that things here are generally more similar than they are different. Sure, you won’t understand everything that’s being said all the time, but the same is true if you visit any other country where you don’t speak the language. Sure, the culture is different, and yes, the different cultures are much more densely packed than in other places, but I hope you can fall in love with the diversity and tolerance in this country. I know I have.

Have a wonderful trip!

An expat in Uganda

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Memorial Service

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Gulu for the first time. It was for a very unfortunate reason, though. One of my fellow PCVs, Dianne Veiller, died about a month ago.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/library/peace-corps-mourns-loss-volunteer-diane-veiller/

The memorial was a beautiful mixture of Ugandan and American cultures, with a Catholic mass and speeches along with eulogies and a slideshow of Diane's life. It was a bit awkward, I must say, to go to a memorial for a person I've never met, but it was evident through the entire trip what an impact Diane made on her (June 2016) cohort.



People spoke of how kind and outgoing she was, and a lot was said about her son. He was obviously her world. Her organization talked about how she was the most hardworking volunteer they had received, how she strived to learn everyone's names and the local language, Acholi. She made an impact on everyone she met in this country, and I'm sure the same is true of her life in the US and other places abroad.

To Diane's cohort: Many of you were rightly curious why I attended the memorial. I truly see Peace Corps Uganda as my family, and you guys really embody that. This trip made it obvious to me just how tight your cohort it, how much you support one another. You are a wonderfully different bunch of people who have become great friends, a family. You all seem to be doing amazing things at your sites, and I know you will preserve and make sure that your sites don't go unchanged. Please receive my deepest condolences. I will keep you all in my prayers as you heal.

To Diane's family: Although we never met, I have been able to glimpse what a wonderful woman Diane was. I am so, very deeply sorry for your loss. It's not fair that her life had to end earlier than necessary. I will also keep all of you in my prayers as you heal.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ugandlish 2.0

THIS IS MY 100TH BLOG POST GUYSSSSSS!!!

One of the posts I hear about all the time is my Ugandlish post (Ugandlish). This was absolutely one of my favorite posts
s to write, and I've been collect other phrases to help you learn Ugandlish before you come to visit me. Or, you know, when I come home for Christmas and you have no idea what I'm meaning to say. :)

Let me find my phone there = I'm leaving my phone there on purpose, watch my phone
Let me find you there = I'll meet you there
Produce children = Have children
Urinate = Pee
Defecate = Poop
Yes Madam = Greeting, Hello Madam
Extend = Scoot, move
Add = Give me more, especially for food or shopping
Smart = Well dressed
Intelligent = Intelligent, smart
Stubborn = Difficult, especially used when a child is difficult to deal with, but it doesn't literally mean stubborn
Yellows = In the US we would just call them bananas, but here there are several types of bananas. Specifically, they are bagoya, sweet bananas.
You (command) = You is used in front of commands not as emphasis but just as normal speech
Have done, said, etc. = At least in the West, the present perfect is used instead of the simple past.
I have lost my what what? = I have lost my... Uhh... Uhhhhhhh..... What is used as a filler.
Mingle posho/mingling stick = Ugandans use mingle instead of mix, and it makes me laugh every time because I picture posho (maize flour and water) mingling with finger foods and drinks and all dressed up. Haha!
Program = schedule
Way forward = next step
Share out = Share with the class or group
Move there = Go there, used when you are going a short distance, not when moving to another place.
Move out = Go outside the room you're currently in to do something like use the restroom. You never ask to make a short call specifically, you ask to move out.
Shift there = Move there
Isn't it?, Not so? = Tag questions, used like Yeah? or Okay? at the end of sentences
These silly children = Children are strange,
I don't know how I can.... = I don't think I can...
May you please grab me some? = Please will you grab me some?
Disturb = Bother

Monday, November 7, 2016

Memories

A year ago today, I stepped on a plane and left my family, knowing it would be at least a year before I would see them again, if not two or more. I honestly took a huge step of faith in God that this wasn't going to be the biggest mistake of my life, that He would protect me and help me grow in Him. He has pulled through in unexpected ways.

My dad posted a picture of him, my mom, and me (my sister was sick with mono at the time) at the airport just before I left. With it was this prayer. (Fair warning: It very well might make you cry.)


Heavenly Father,

It is now time for my little girl off to depart for what will be the adventure of her life. It’s been an amazing process, this parenthood thing…it seems like it was just yesterday that she was born, and I blinked and she was going to school, then blinked again and she was graduating from high school, and then going away to college, and then graduating from college, …and now she is leaving my protection for the next 27 months.
When she was a baby we dedicated her to You. She has grown up in, and is still in, the midst of Your presence and blessings. She is my child, and blessedly and assuredly Yours. It is now time to fully commend her to You, for her safety and protection, for blessings to continue to be poured out into her life, and for her to bless people from her unselfish and giving heart.
I pray that you place your angels all about my little girl…one in front, one on the left, one to the rear, one to the right, and one on each corner around her, to shield her from anything visible and invisible, obvious and not, that no harm from the evil one may be able to come near her.
I pray for your traveling mercies. Bless her and all who are involved in her travels.
When she reaches her new land:
I pray that you have a family prepared to receive her, that she can bless them as they bless her.
I pray that you have a church prepared for to receive her, so she has a new church family to bond with.
I pray that learning the new language and culture come naturally and easily.
I pray that adjusting to the new culture and position go smoothly, with no bumps in the road, and that all in authority give support and assistance where and when needed.
I pray for “peace that passes all understanding,” that no anxiety remains, that joy is found in all avenues taken, that time passes quickly, and that homesickness will be an afterthought.
I pray for your will to be made known to her plainly as she tries to follow Your plan for her life.
Watch over my little girl who has grown into a beautiful and powerful young woman in You. I so look forward to when you bring her back to us.
It is in Jesus’ mighty name that I pray these things…
Amen, and Amen.


I read this in the airport, waiting for my plane to depart, tears streaming down my face even harder than they had been while going through security. I can't quite articulate how hard it was to leave my family, to see my dad crying on that day because of my departure. My mom cried the whole week before. I can't quite articulate how much I rely on these two people who brought me into this world even though I'm 23, almost 24, and living on a completely different continent. Our weekly phone calls are a serious part of what keeps me sane.

God has done amazing things for me in this past year. Growing hurts, it really does, but I'm so glad I followed Him. The bumps in the road may not have been what I wanted, but they were good for me. He may not have answered all of my requests in the way I thought they would be answered, but they all have come through. They didn't always come through in my time, but His timing is perfect. He is challenging me to become bolder in Him, to know scripture solidly so that I can reach the lost, and of course to trust Him in His perfect timing even though I can't see everything as far out as I want to. He wants me to know Him in the same way He knows me, even if that means not going to church and rather just studying His Word. He's taught me that living in the moment has its place so much more than I ever realized. Now I'm just trying to figure out the balance of that and planning.... :P

I have met amazing people here. I have become more of an adult here (although I refuse to grow old as old as I get). I have learned to really roll with the punches of life, to trust that everything is going to be okay. I've learned that introvert nights are not only okay but necessary. I've learned to preserve through everything because so often things come together just after I would have normally thrown in the towel.

But I still have so much to learn. God is still stretching me, still teaching me things. He always will. As much as I hate growing pains, I love the outcome. I can't wait to see where I am a year from now!!

Monday, October 17, 2016

What's the Weather Like?

One of the things I frequently get asked about is the weather here. I wrote a post around this time last year based on what I had read at the time, but now I would like to share about Fort Portal’s weather in all its glory!

The basics: As with much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda’s climate includes two seasons, rainy and dry. Ugandans talk all the time about how predictable these seasons used to be. You don’t have to convince Ugandans of climate change. They see it every time the season changes.
Please know that the geography here varies widely, and so the weather here in Fort Portal is much different than that of the north in Gulu or the east in Jinja. Even Masindi, which is still part of Western Uganda, north of here, gets much less rain than Fort Portal does, and Kabale, south of here near the border with Rwanda, is colder than Fort.
In general, temperatures range between 55F and 85F throughout the year and throughout the country. The west is colder, the north and far east are hotter and drier, and the central is just that – central.

In Fort, the first rainy season used to run from February 15 to April 15 exactly, then dry season from April 15 to August 15, second rainy season from August 15 to November 15, and second dry season from November 15 to February 15. Nowadays, those dates are definitely different. Our first rainy season didn’t begin until the end of March and ended in the end of May, and second rainy season just finally began in the middle of September. Even during dry season, though, it tends to rain once or twice a week in Fort Portal.
Although there are only two seasons, each iteration of the two seasons is different. What I mean is this: The first rainy season is not as rainy as this one (so I’m told), and the second dry season is MUCH HOTTER than the first. In fact, this past dry season has been pleasant during the day and cold at night. January is the hottest time of the year in Uganda, and it gets up to about 25 or 30C, 78 to 86F, which is nothing compared to a St. Louis summer, but it is hot enough to make you sweat. So far I have not noticed much difference between the two rainy seasons, although maybe it is downpouring more often this time around…? I don’t know. The worst thing about dry season is that equatorial sun is so much stronger than temperate sun, and so if I forget sunscreen for like 20 minutes I’m burnt.
When we get rain, it can come from three different directions. I have learned that each different direction means a different type of rain (somehow). Rain that comes from town is very easy to spot because you can watch the development of the rain through the morning. It’s actually really cool, and I really want to get a time lapse if I can borrow my friend’s DSLR. It tends to be heavy at first and then continue for an hour or longer. It’s the warmest of the rain we get. This is usually where our storms come from. Many times, rain will surprise me when it comes from the mountains. You can’t see it developing because of the mountains, and it’s always such cold rain. The mountains are the main reason we get rain during dry season. Lastly, rain comes from the forest behind my house. When I don’t have my back door open, this also surprises me. This rain almost never comes in the morning but always in the afternoon. Morning rain usually comes from the mountains. It’s cold and heavy usually, but it always starts with smaller rain drops and gets progressively heavier. This can last for quite a while or it can be over quickly. This is the rain I outran to come to town today!
For a while, I had a lovely thermometer in my house so I would know what temperature it was. Unfortunately, between me, Freckles, the kids, and the babies, it broke a couple of months ago. While I had it, it showed me that inside of my house it ranged from 60F in the morning to 80F on hot days in the afternoon. Before going to bed, it had cooled to 70F, meaning that the temperature dropped 10F while I was asleep every day.
The worst thing about having lived here for almost a year now (WHAT) is that I’ve gotten used to the weather. So whereas during the first rainy season I was laughing at Ugandans for wearing winter coats, now I’m seriously looking into buying a winter coat to wear during rainy season (Yes, really.). Even during this past dry season I was wearing two or three layers every night, sleeping under two blankets throughout the year. I actually had my thyroid tested because I am so cold all the time. Since that came back normal, I’ve just accepted my fate.
I have learned to carry not only my rain jacket with me nearly every day but to also carry a sweater in case it rains. When it rains, it’s cold. When it doesn’t, it’s nice. When it rains at night it’s FREEZING. This is when I post on Facebook about the need for electric socks because my body, especially my extremities, just doesn’t produce its own heat. Even now, sitting in our local American bakery, my nose is cold from the rain earlier today. (Except I would seriously appreciate electric socks. They’re just so EXPENSIVE!)
Explaining the differences in weather here and in the US to Ugandans is honestly pretty funny. They all know that the US has winter, but they often don’t realize that summers in the US are hotter than dry season here. When I tell them that it regularly gets to 35 or 40C (95 or 104F) during the late summer in the US, they absolutely balk. They can’t imagine that people, especially white people, can endure that heat. I explain to them that is why we have air conditioning in the US. One of the things that Ugandans really believe they cannot endure is the winter. They call rainy season winter here. I have to admit, I am fearing going home during December because of this. (OH YEAH I’M GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS WHOOOOOOOOO!) The forecast says snow, though, and I have to say, I am SO EXCITED for that!
Similarly, explaining the differences in weather to Americans is hilarious. We as Americans are taught (VERY incorrectly) that Africa is hot, end of story. (I’ll discuss this another time. I don’t have the energy for this rant right now.) As you’ve read, though, it’s really not. In reality, it’s very comfortable here throughout the year. Things on the equator are the same most of the time. The sun rises at about 7:00 am and sets at about 7:00 pm (No “need” for daylight savings time). Sure, it gets cold when it rains, but that’s simple science. It happens everywhere. The nice thing about living in this kind of environment is you don’t really need meteorology. It’s like being a weatherman in St. Louis during the summer. The forecast is always high of 85F with 100% humidity and a 70% chance of storms in the afternoon and evening. Or like living in Florida where you can set your watch by the time it rains. The only difference is that you can walk outside in the morning and forecast the day for yourself. I do it all the time now. By about 9:00 or 10:00 am, I can tell you pretty reliably whether it’s going to rain or not at my house. I’m significantly worse once I leave Fort Portal, but hey, I haven’t even lived in Uganda for a year yet!
So there it is! The mysteries of Fort Portal weather unraveled for you. As always, if you have questions, feel free to comment or email me!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

No Place is Exotic

If I am honest with myself and with others, I will tell them that I don’t really feel like I live in Uganda. Now, let me put this into context by saying that I also don’t feel like an adult. But it really rang true one day when I was talking with my sister. She reminded me that I am living in Uganda for some reason, and I told her, “No, Uganda is too exotic.” It also rings true every morning when I think my sister is going to be next to me and my parents in the other room – or that I’m going to head out to go to school to study rather than teach.
I have written previously about the harassment I receive whenever I leave my school, about how in this country I am exotic. I know that I will never entirely fit in due to the difference between my culture and this one, but seeing as I’m only one month shy of having spent an entire year in Uganda, I try my best to fit in every day. There has become a distinction between “American Bethany” and “Ugandan Bethany” in my mind. When, on many Saturdays, I don pants (called “trousers” here) and a t-shirt and head to town, I feel very American. I am choosing not to blend in as such. This is not to say that Ugandan women don’t wear trousers and t-shirts, but they tend to like to look “smart,” or well dressed, especially when they are in town.
In Kampala, this is especially true. I choose to do things like eat and walk at the same time even though I know it is a little rude because in Kampala I’m “just another muzungu.” (And because these things are more accepted since the culture of Kampala has become fairly westernized.) Sometimes it is nice to escape the pressure of fitting in with a culture that is not yours. Sometimes it is nice not to wear a skirt and to worry if it’s going to ride up while walking or to worry if something I’m doing is inadvertently rude. I find this distinction strange in my mind, though.
I have never been one to act differently in different spaces, at least as much as possible. Growing up in church, it is easy to have “Church Bethany” and “Home Bethany” and “School Bethany,” etc. I never bought that, though. I am simply “Bethany.” When you ask my friends, my church family, and my home family who I am, they will all probably tell you that I am loud, excitable, a loving mom to many, and so much more, but the point is that they will tell you many of the same things. Sure, I don’t talk as much when I’m with my extended family as I do when I’m with my friends, but that is because with my extended family, I am in the second to bottom generation in age. I respect my elders. (Plus they talk a lot about things I’m not necessarily as interested in like politics and people I don’t know.)
In Uganda, though, I constantly have the feeling that I am a different person because I am trying to fit in with the culture. I am trying not to be exotic. I am quieter both in conversation and in volume, more of an introvert, read a lot more, and I am not quite as excitable. “Ugandan Bethany” is very different from American Bethany except in one sense: I will always be a loving mom to many. I have gotten used to blending in, and it sometimes keeps me from expressing my true feelings, although not as often as one might thing. I have come to like Ugandan Bethany more over the time I’ve been here. I am realizing that I don’t have to be loud in order to be heard, that waiting to speak helps me not to say such rash things. Just because I am quiet doesn’t mean I am not listening or absorbing. I am so much more observant here. I have grown to appreciate the small things, especially those that aren’t so different between Ugandans and Americans.
Because, really, that’s it. Ugandans and Americans aren’t that different. Uganda is not some exotic country. Ugandans live a fairly similar life to Americans even without all the electronics and busyness. Yes, absolutely, this culture is different than ours, but different doesn’t mean wrong or bad or exotic. Different means different, perhaps unfamiliar. There is so much more we can learn from Ugandans than the media tells us. According to the media, Uganda is some helpless African country with poor, dying children. It’s true. But it’s also true of the US to some extent.
Uganda is even more “advanced” than the US in some areas. Take religious tolerance. Ugandans are so kind to everyone of any religion. They respect the Muslim minority so much that even Christian Ugandans know about Islam. It is very well understood that Muslims pray five times per day, and when a Muslim steps out to do so, no one bats and eyelash. Everyone knows when Muslim holidays are, and everyone takes off from school and work during those days. The same is true of men and women who wear traditional Muslim dress. Going to church, or “praying,” is such a pillar of Ugandan culture that they don’t care which church you go to. They only care about the fact that you go. Sure, they could learn from the US about tolerance of those without religion, but no place is perfect. (And people in the US who do not practice religion also have a difficult time.) This is just the one example I can come up with off the top of my head. I could discuss gardening, friendliness, trusting others, and so much more.
I honestly believe that I will see more differences between Uganda and America when I go back during Christmas. It’s like when you’re at the eye doctor and s/he asks you if 2 or 3 is clearer. You have to go back to 2 to realize that 3 is clearer. (Or you’re like me and really just can’t see any difference between 2 and 3.) But please be careful of how you speak about African countries and peoples, though. No place is exotic once you have immersed yourself in its culture for long enough. No place. Remember that just because a country doesn’t own a proportionate number of cars or computers or whatever to the US doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them. Remember that even in the US we don’t all have access to clean drinking water. There’s a certain political candidate who I would love to bring here to learn religious tolerance from Ugandans, but I won’t speak about that any further.
I have really come to believe, like many of my peers in developmental aid, that Uganda doesn’t need our help as Americans. (The same can be, and probably has been, said about many of the countries in Africa, but I can only speak personally to Uganda.) There is absolutely something to be said about the collaboration and learning opportunities that Americans bring to Uganda, but they don’t need us like a child needs its mother by any means. They’re not going to break into all out civil war without us. I truly believe that if no foreign aid remained in Uganda, they would do just fine. Maybe their “just fine” looks different from the American “just fine,” but again, different doesn’t mean bad; it just means different. I’m not one to judge whether Uganda is truly benefitting from Americans and other countries’ aid, Ugandans are, but I will be glad to stay as long as I am welcome. This is not just because I feel like I am doing good things here, but rather because I am learning so much. I am really beginning to understand what RPCVs mean when they say they learned more than they ever taught, were given more than they could have given. The same is true with teachers. My students are my teachers in so many ways, and my neighbors too. This country will leave me so different than when I came. Different for the better.