Thank you to everyone for your kind words and encouragement throughout the preparations and thoughts and prayers during my trip. I loved Uganda. The country was beautiful. The people were beautiful. It was lovely yet challenging all at the same time. I debated for a while about how to do a post on my experience and decided I would go with the one overly lengthy post. So, prepare yourself.
I knew Uganda was far. Obviously. But I really didn't put into perspective just how far it was until I embarked on the 25+ hours of travel it took to make the 7,500 mile trek. Whew. That part alone was exhausting. Once there, I found that time in Uganda moves at a glacial speed. Without my typical day to day sense of urgency, I literally had no idea what to do with myself. There wasn't always a task for me to accomplish and I didn't know how to simply be present. It took me a few days to adjust to this concept and to allow myself to soak in the beauty that was my trip.
I will lead with the best part, the kids. The kids are wonderful. Sozo has done an incredible job of building these incredible homes for the children to grow up in. All together, there are four Sozo homes with about 80 children. I spent majority of my time at House 1 which is also home to the largest number of kids. These kids are resilient. There were so many instances when I was thinking, oh my goodness, this one is about to cry or that one is about to get seriously injured, but I don't think I heard a single weep all week. They fall to the ground and bounce right back up again. They manage to occupy themselves all day without television, iPads, laptops, and going places. We played basketball, soccer, cards, read, played this tag game with a ball that I am still not sure I understand, did yoga, and were simply present enjoying our time together. It was refreshing.
The kids all have chores within the home. From laundry to preparing dinner, they each knew what they had and got their chores done first thing int he morning. As part of the team, I typically would help with the chores in some capacity. Usually, this consisted of me being told I was doing something improperly by someone of a single digit age, but I did my best to go with it. The children prepare the dinner which is fascinating to me. They would spend all day working on these meals, making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a house of probably 40 people when you counted me and the other guests. Ugandans love their carbs. Rice. Pasta. Potatoes. We had them all.
This may possibly be my favorite picture from the trip. On New Year's Eve, we went into a village about an hour away to share some of our blessings of rice, salt, and sugars to build community with their village. We split into teams and also had the goal of sharing the Gospel with those we visited which was terrifying to me. I've never felt so far out of my comfort zone as I did that day. We shared our gifts and then would talk to the families about Jesus and their relationship with God. I don't even like discussing my own relationship with God with others so talking to complete strangers in a different language was so incredibly difficult. I was asked to pray aloud over families for pregnancies, elderly, and prosperity. Aside from the traditional Hail Mary and Our Father, I don't pray out loud. I was honestly shaking as I prayed over these people aloud for my group to hear. I was struggling with the day craving to slip off and hide somewhere to avoid the discomfort. Then we came to this house through the trees and I was humbled. We met with this grandmother (pictured above) who demonstrated such beauty and strength that I was in awe to be in her presence. She herself had three daughters and then they too had daughters. As a symbol of strength for her family without men, she stated a farm. And now, her and her daughters, granddaughters, and even grandsons have this beautiful farm of corn and coffee that is sustainable and they are able to share with those in their community. She told us of how she wanted to provide for her girls and I was so deeply touched by her story. She held my hand and thanked me repeatedly for the gifts that we brought. I was asked to pray aloud for her ailing health as she has not been doing so well these past few months. I had this moment of panic and then felt relief come over me as I held this woman's hand and prayed for her life and her family.
The hospitality of the Ugandans was like no other. We would visit the different houses for dinner and each of them would treat us like royalty. We were served first. They would display the meal for us to enjoy. I was so gracious for their hospitality as I don't always remember to offer my guests a glass of water. As gracious as they were, it was so difficult for me. This was one thing I had not prepared myself for. I don't know why I envisioned stoves and ovens and other luxuries that I no longer take for granted, but I did. Even in America, I don't eat food that was prepared in other people's homes unless I know them really well. I am a freak about germs. I constantly worry about the temperature of my food and if it was cooked long enough to kill all bacteria. So at first, I was repulsed that I was expected to eat the food. I am embarrassed to admit this. Did I think of myself as above the Ugandans and that I am better than eating a meal prepared outside without a stove? In my mind, I was obsessing over all of the various diseases I could potentially be getting with each bite. I am ashamed to admit this. I value people and their culture and don't think of myself as above others. I always accepted a meal, of tiny proportions, but I wish I had done a better job preparing myself for this aspect of my experience.
Education. Naturally, education was my favorite part of the trip. I volunteered to take the upper level mathematics during this time of the day and I could feel the happiness radiate from me as I started to give instruction. I did a lesson on simplifying radical expressions that were not perfect squares. The kids did not have paper, pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, calculators and all of the other luxuries that we take for granted. I had a small, individual whiteboard that I used to teach a group of about ten students. Despite the lack of resources, they were engaged and persistent to master this assignment. After about two hours, I told them that if they hadn't finished the worksheet, it was OK to stop and I would just make a note for them to keep working next time. Not one of them quit. They all kept working until they had solved every problem. Correctly. They were eager and excited and I was refreshed. It was difficult. They had to factor large numbers and know their multiplication tables that even myself would struggle with without a calculator. I'm not sure how transformational my one lesson was, but their perseverance certainly transformed my energy and excitement for them. On other days, I worked with students on preparing for the Ugandan National Mathematics Exam which is similar in style to the SAT. Difficult. But again, the resilience and determination of the students to not stop was incredibly invigorating.
Oh, just a chicken that we killed to have for dinner. The expression "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" has a whole new meaning to me. I also briefly considered becoming a vegetarian.
Devotion was a multiple times a day occurrence. I pray daily. Typically a few times a day. Once in the morning. Once at night. And often times somewhere in between. Usually, these prayer times for me are brief and I say a prayer to God, recite one of the ones I know all too well, and then move along. Not in Uganda. We did devotion both in the morning and in the evening. Devotion consisted of about 30 minutes of song and dance praising God and worshiping Him followed by maybe another 30 -40 minutes of reading passages from the Bible and discussing their meaning and what we learned together. These kids, they know their stuff. When we were told what book of the bible would be reading from, the kids would all know immediately where to turn while I was there flipping through the pages trying to remember if it was New Testament or Old Testament. Their knowledge of the bible and time spent each day praising God was inspiring. Made me realize how little time I spend with Him and how I need to make more time in my life.
We did adventurous things too like take a boat ride along the Nile and Lake Victoria, which is the "Source of the Nile." I can now say I have been in both of the rivers that run north in the world.
We had an adorable pet monkey named MJ who I was very fond of. MJ would hold hands with you or take your watch off or try to steal your phone from your hands. I was obsessed.
As I mentioned before, the experience was challenging. I was unplugged from social media which was far more difficult than I anticipated. I felt lost without my ability to scroll through Instagram and I could see others giving the familiar double tap and felt isolated from the world although I was right there in it. I would occasionally gain access to wifi (although I did not break my promise of no social media) and it was difficult to have only a few minutes to exchange texts with my closest family and friends while they were more than likely trying to still sleep. I missed the instant gratification of all that I am used to. I would have a question and not have access to Google for the answer. I wasn't able to check my email. While I eventually enjoyed the time away from social media and forced myself to be more present, I missed the luxury of knowing what was going on in the world. I felt like the world was standing still while I was there when I knew it wasn't.
Another challenge for me was to be part of a group. I am so used to being on my own that I don't know to do well in a group sometimes. I had to remind myself to be conscious of others and their traveling needs and privacy. I also found myself craving time to myself.
If Mary Kate and Ashley came to Uganda, they would definitely ride around on bodas.
I've always felt this inner call to be part of Africa. To go. To visit. And had this underlying feeling that I would eventually be called there to serve in some type of capacity. It's funny how He works. While I loved Uganda, I feel like I was called there to realize that it's not where I am supposed to be. My passions have possibly changed or are at least different than what I thought they were. After my time in the classroom and my time spent with my girls in my college advising program, my passion is education. Maybe, I can find a way to advise the students of Uganda on the college application process and unite the two, but for now I am happy with where my heart is and knowing what I feel I have been called to do and who I was called to be.
If you're still reading this. God Bless You.
Don't worry Africa, I'll be back again. I just have three other continents to visit before I can return. Oh the joy of bucket lists!