27 October 2009

Various snippets of my life here

Leah and I got a special treat yesterday: apples. That's right, they sell apples here, although at an exorbitant price. A single smallish apple costs 500 shillings, or about 40 cents. Compare that to a huge mango at 300 shillings, or 22 cents. Nonetheless, in celebration of October and the autumn happening in the Pacific Northwest and the five minutes of rain we had on Friday, Leah and I treated ourselves to two apples each. Such luxury!I went to a birthday party on Saturday for the one-year-old son of my good friends Manase and Neema Mhana. The first time I came to Dodoma they were recently engaged. The second time I came they were recently married. The third time I came they were recently pregnant. Now little Yohana (John) is a year old already! Like all parties here it was long...we came two hours late and were there for three hours. There is a program that reads very much like a church service, complete with multiple sermons and the same music we hear on Sunday mornings. These parties are a bit grueling, being entirely in Kiswahili, so my understanding is limited, and there is always a ton of great food at the end of the program, although I never can eat as much as is expected of me. Still, there is something charming and fun about these parties, which happen regularly for a huge variety of reasons.

I moved into my house yesterday! I realized this morning that I still don't have any pictures of my house, but those will be coming soon. The whole house came furnished, which is good because a) I don't have much stuff, and b) I hate shopping, so I probably would have gone ages with one bowl, one cup, and a box to sit on. I'll do a dedicated blog post with photos, etc. soon.

What I'm reading, watching, and listening to:
Reading: The State of Africa by Martin Meredith, "The Case for Early Marriage" in Christianity Today, and the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Watching: Season One of Friday Night Lights and Lars and the Real Girl (which is so excellent!)

Listening to: Mars Hill Bible Church's series on the Sermon on the Mount, Imago Dei's sermon series on Living in the Story of God, N.T. Wright's speech titled "Living the Language of Life: New Creation and Christian Virtue" for the 12th or so time, and a free playlist of folk music that's really good.

Final note: If you read my previous blog post, you'd have appreciated that yesterday that gentleman had a solo, and he absolutely rocked it. It was beautiful. Also, one of our sponsored kids, Charles, is standing at my elbow watching me type, chewing on a piece of plastic that he found on the floor of my office. Guess I need to sweep this place!

22 October 2009

Is there room for excellence in the church?

I've been doing a lot of reading and listening to sermons and the like of late. I've also been reflecting a lot on the body of Christ, the church.

When in Kampala, I attended a huge church that does really wonderful work for vulnerable women and children. I was struck by the professionality of everything presented, from the stage dressing to the music to the alternate video shots broadcast onto the large screen over the stage. There were professional quality video announcements, and the 70 or so person choir wore perfectly matching outfits. On huge banners on either side of the stage were listed the core values of the church, including Excellence. I suppose one could understand that to mean any number of things. From what I was presented as a guest, I would assume that they mean excellence in their presentation and professionality, although I could be wrong.

I got to thinking about that, however, and it's stuck with me. I heard a talk from a pastor called Jimmy Dorrell in Texas whose church meets under a bridge. Their worship team stands on the back of a flatbed trailer, and when a mentally ill man named Patick asked to join the worship team, they bent over backward to accomodate him. He gets easily distracted and tended to interfere with the other musicians, so they built him his own kind of box stage to stand on, gave him an electric guitar with two strings, and let him go. He sometimes jumps down to greet visitors, have a cigarette, or get some coffee, but they really emphasis the value of each member of the church serving as their member of the body.

There is a man in the choir at my church in Dodoma who reminds me of the diverse members of the body of Christ. The choir is really good, they have choreographed dances for each of their songs, and they usually mostly match their clothing, but not always. This new man in the choir, though, doesn't have the matching outfits, he's still learning the songs, and he simply cannot do the choreography, but he sings with such joy and dedication it brings tears to my eyes. As much as I love listening to the choir, I have never been pointed to God so poignantly as by this wonderful young blind man. To me, his participation in the body of Christ is so much more reminiscent of the values of the kingdom of Heaven than any definition of excellence which might keep him humming in the back row.

15 October 2009

Wait, is this a bus or a trampoline?

Well I made it home, at long last, on Saturday night. I was intended, as I wrote last week, to leave Kampala at 4pm on a bus. That didn’t really happen. There was a traffic jam in Kampala so bad that we didn’t leave until 6pm. I had purchased my ticket late in the week, a week including Ugandan Independence Day, so there weren’t many options for a seat. I chose number 40, which looked to be in the second to last row on the diagram, and I was okay with that, because, although you never want to sit in the very back row, but the second to back row is usually okay. The back row is bad because it is a bench across the entire back of the bus, seating five people, and all of the cold air coming in from any window is immediately sucked into the back of the bus and sits there. Also, most bus drivers, being more concerned with the point A to point B than the comfort of the passengers, will ease the front of the bus over speed bumps and potholes, then gun it, so that the back of the bus hits that same pothole pretty hard.

I knew all of this, so I was pretty pleased with myself for choosing the last seat in the second to last row, until I got on the bus and realized that the diagram did not match the actual layout of the bus, and seat number 40 was the first seat in the back row. The bus, being an overnighter, had reclining seats (think airplane seats) in every row except the back row. The back row had only me and one other mama in it, so she stretched out completely prostrate across four of the five seats, such that I could hardly move without bumping her feet. The wind starting blowing into the back of the bus, sweeping under my skirt, and through the four layers I was wearing on top. As it got a bit darker, we picked up two more passengers who joined us in the back row. The woman who sat next to me asked if it was okay with me if she took her hair out, meaning removing her extensions. (I am still finding small tufts of her artificial hair in my bag.) The girl sitting in front of me kicked her seat all the way back to sleep, leaving me about three inches between my chest and her seat. For the next eight hours I tried to sleep without resting my head on the freezing cold window pane. Sleep never really came, needless to say. We arrived in Nairobi around 6am the next morning where the girl in front of me woke up and realized my tight quarters, shook her finger at me for not waking her up and telling her to move her seat up. The hair lady and her friend got off, giving us a bit more space, and the bus company stopped to serve us breakfast, which was really nice.

We went on toward Arusha, Tanzania. The road from Nairobi to Arusha is being improved, which means that they create a kind of off-road dirt track parallel to the road for vehicles to drive on. I’ll leave the state of that dirt road to your imagination. At the Tanzanian border we picked up a mama and her 2-year-old daughter. They were sitting in the space of the back bench that opened onto the aisle, so as we went over these huge bumps, big enough to unseat everyone on the bus, the mama would fly up in the air, holding onto the baby, with nothing to hang onto. I was pretty well wedged in, so I took the baby, and held onto her with both hands and braced with my legs against the seat in front of me as we flew over the bumps. My long unused volleyball thigh muscles got a little work out trying to keep us elevated a bit above the seat so that I wouldn’t jar the baby too much on the way down.

Upon arriving in Arusha, I was met by some friends of Mama Esther’s who had arranged a guest house and pre-purchased my bus ticket from Arusha to Dodoma the next morning. I got to the house around 2pm, and promptly fell asleep until around 10pm, when I got up to pee, then went back to sleep until 4:30am, when I had to get up to get to my next bus.

If you drive straight from Arusha to Dodoma in a private car, it would take about 5-6 hours, but the buses leave at 6am because they take such a circuitous route that it requires 12 hours to get to Dodoma. The seats on this bus didn’t recline, but were so close together that my knees were constantly pressed into the seat ahead. I’d forgotten to take my car sickness medicine, so I couldn’t read, I just listened to nearly anything on my mp3 player (thank you, Grandma!). There was a pastor sitting next to me who really wanted to chat with me, but I was simply not in the mood. The poor man tried valiantly, then gave me all his contact information anyway, in case I ever found myself in the tiny village where he lives.

I finally arrived in Dodoma at 6pm, filthy and tired after 48 hours of travel, to be warmly greeted by Mama Esther, Leah, and Shomari. (My co-workers returning to the States arrived home in about half the time it took me to get home!) I had really missed Dodoma, and it was really good to be back at one of the many places I call home.

08 October 2009

Somebody's feet stink...oh, that's me

The past six weeks or so have been an absolute whirlwind of activity for me. I am now sitting in a bus stage in Kampala, Uganda, waiting to board the bus home. I can hear the torrential rain pouring down outside, I can feel my shoulders cramping at the very thought of 18 more hours on a bus this week (already had six hours), I can smell my wet shoes and stinky feet, but I found free wireless internet, so all is good.

I've had so many things demanding my attention lately that I've neglected updating this blog, but here's the skinny:

**Lahash conference was fantastic. Such a blessing to have all of our partners in one room with 4/5 of our Lahash staff! Who'd have thought it possible?

**Nsambya Children's Home is as fun and goofy as it ever was. The kids average around six years of age, and they're really fun to play with. I didn't get much play in, though, as I was assisting with some video work, sitting in meetings, and trying to facilitate the sponsor letters. I did have some play time with my little friend Nancy, though.

**Amazing Grace was wonderful. I got to distribute a number of sponsor gifts here, which is like being Santa, and got to spend a few days of quality time with the children there, who I love like crazy. I was asked today if I have a favorite child, and I replied that it's a bit like having a favorite body part: There are some I think about more often than others, but I'd miss each one if it wasn't there.

**We made a super quick, 24-hour trip up to St. Bartholomew's in Kajo Keji, Sudan. Lahash doesn't have a sponsorship program here, but I have some great friends up there, not least of which is Heather Sumner with Seed Effect. She's overseeing a cyber cafe and vocational school, and doing a great job. We had a few brief, but sweet hours together, and shared a bit of dark chocolate.

**We visited the secondary school students who board at Metu Senior Secondary School, including my good buddy, Piting. She greeted me with our customary sing-song greeting of "Leisha Leisha" to which I replied "Piting Piting". We're getting ready for our first secondary school graduate, Akon Emmanuel, who will be taking his final exams soon, and craves your prayers.

**I spent one day alone at Amazing Grace to finish up some projects, and they really spoiled me. All day long they were bringing me treats, like a not hot Coke, half of a fresh papaya from their own trees, roasted maize, and freshly roasted groundnuts. I then spent about an hour with the girls discussing, to the best of my ability, all those pressing questions of adolescent females regarding the opposite sex.

**I came down to Kampala on Tuesday, where we commenced two days of meetings, very difficult meetings. I am now preparing to head home to Dodoma, much to my delight and relief. I'll be so happy to get back there and relax, even if I'll be giving up my special treatment of private rooms and not sharing a bed. That's right, I'll even be glad to be back to sharing a bed with Leah! (It's not for much longer, though, since I'll get to move into my house soon.)

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