Happy 2016!

Our holiday “letter” blog is late this year, but better late than never!  Here are some highlights from 2015:

The biggest highlight of 2015 was definitely welcoming Joel Edmund Muigai to our family!  He was born in Kenya on April 16 and has been a happy and healthy little guy.  Despite a chaotic first few weeks (months?) of adjusting to having 3 children, we have now settled into a routine and Joel is a much adored member of the family by everyone.  My favorite part of having three children is seeing how Joel’s face lights up when he sees Natalie and Nathan and how easily the two of them can make him laugh.  Joel is now almost 9 months old, crawling and getting into everything, clapping, standing, and already taking steps – he desperately wants to keep up with big sister and brother!

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Our first picture as a family of five!

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Our happy little Joel

Since we had to travel at least 4 weeks before my due date, we were able to spend about 6 weeks in Nairobi.  It was a really nice time to be with family and friends, and we stayed at a guesthouse at NEGST where I went to school so we were able to reconnect with a lot of old friends.    Since both Natalie and Nathan were born in the US, it was nice to be able to welcome Joel into the world surrounded by Kenyan family and friends.

In March we took a family vacation in Zanzibar before our scheduled MCC meetings.  We spent a few days relaxing on the beaches and had a great time swimming, snorkeling, and going on boat rides.

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Swimming in the ocean at Zanzibar

In July and August we spent 6 weeks in the US, which is always a highlight!  It was great to introduce Joel to his American family, and it was restful to have a lot of extra hands to hold the baby and keep the older two entertained.  We had a great time with American family and friends and our time included lots of laughter, good conversations, swimming, amusement parts, too much ice cream (is there even such a thing??), water parks, Joel’s baptism, bikes rides, and more!

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With our American family in the US

Our work with MCC Uganda went very well during 2015.  We have a great team of Ugandan staff that we work with and some really cool volunteers that come through the program.  One of the highlights was our end of year retreat with MCC Uganda and MCC South Sudan teams at Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Another highlight of our work was expanding our work to work more with partners who are involved in water and agriculture projects, and expanding our work in the Northeast corner of Uganda (Karamoja region).  It’s hard to believe we have already been here for more than 3 ½ years, and we only have a little over a year left on our contract!

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Eating ice cream with Revi, an awesome volunteer from Indonesia who worked with MCC in Uganda for one year.

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Muigai, Daniel, and Vicky (MCC Uganda staff), looking official and distributing items to Burundian refugees at a refugee camp in Western Uganda

Our diaper project Kijani continued to grow – highlights include being featured on the local evening news in September, and opening a small shop in December!  Our major motivation for starting this project was to create jobs, and we are excited that we now are able to provide a good income to five different women who are involved in making and selling our diapers and other baby products.

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Celebrating the sale of our 1000th diaper!

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Our new shop, the first ever cloth diaper shop in Uganda!

Natalie finished first grade and started second grade at Acorns International School (they do not have Kindergarten here so their second grade is equivalent to US first grade).  She is having a great year at school so far and the highlight of 2015 for her was having a birthday party with her friends from school.  We rented a giant water slide bouncing castle and the girls had a great time laughing and playing together.

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Celebrating her birthday with friends from school

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The giant water slide bouncy castle – even I got to play!!

Nathan is in his second year of preschool at Kampala Community International Preschool.   He has taken some time to warm up to school but at least these days we can drop him off most mornings without any tears.  He is always singing and dancing around the house with songs he is learning at school, and he also loves football (soccer) and was able to play in a weekly youth soccer league at the end of 2015.

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Cool guy on the way to school

We are grateful for a good community of friends in Kampala and are generally enjoying life in Uganda.   We had a quiet Christmas in Kampala and spent the day swimming with Mongolian food for dinner – not the typical Christmas of my childhood but fun nonetheless!  We still did plenty of Christmas traditions like decorate a Christmas tree, open stockings and presents on Christmas morning, make Christmas cookies, and watch Christmas movies.

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Swimming and Mongolian buffet on Christmas day

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Making spritz, a Christmas tradition that has been in my family for generations

We wish you all a happy and healthy 2016!!

Highlights, a new baby, and 10 things I miss about the US

It’s been an eventful few months and in the past 6 months we’ve been in four different countries and had a baby!  A few highlights:

  • We had an amazing family vacation in Zanzibar. We got a lot of interesting comments and looks from the staff because they don’t usually get tourists who are 35 weeks pregnant!

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  • After Zanzibar, we spent 6 weeks in Nairobi. It was great to have time with family and friends while we waited for the arrival of our baby.
  • Joel Edmund Muigai was born at Eve’s Mama birth center on April 16th after a 36 hour labor!! (I was hoping he would be a short labor since the other two were so long, but no luck!) One of the reasons we wanted to deliver at Eve’s Mama was so that we could have a waterbirth.  Amazingly, for the first time since the birth center opened, there was an issue with the water and there was no water in the building!!!  My amazing husband and wonderful midwife actually carried bucket after bucket of water from the outside tap up a flight of stairs to fill up the birth tub, then the midwife heated it one bucket a time with an electric coil.  I was so, so grateful.  Joel was born in the water at around 9 in the morning, and the children had slept at the birth center so they woke up just in time to meet their new brother.
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  • Joel is handsome, healthy, and happy and has been a fun and wonderful addition to our family.  Although Nathan took a bit of time to warm up to Joel (that’s a nice way of saying he was attached to me like Velcro, hit/threw things at Joel, fought with his sister, and had major meltdowns!), he is now just as enamored with his brother as the rest of us and is thankfully back to his normal sweet self!nathanandjoel
  • We headed back to Uganda when Joel was 2 weeks old, and then spent about 6 weeks in Uganda before heading to the US to introduce Joel to my family.
  • We had an incredible time in the US! It was so fun to have Joel meet all of my family, and Natalie and Nathan had a blast with the grandparents, cousins, and friends.  Our days were filled with swimming, riding bikes, gymnastics, going to parks, playing with toys, great conversations, good food, too much ice cream, and a really fun mountain vacation in Seven Springs, PA.
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    My family joked that we had to give the new baby a “Nat…” name since both Natalie and Nathan start with Nat. So they jokingly call him “Natcheau” (pronounced Nacho) and got him this lovely shirt!

  • My wonderful sister Kelly came to visit us for a week before we left for the US, so she flew with us to the US and thankfully I didn’t have to fly with all three kids by myself! The children actually traveled very well, and Kelly was so helpful (I’m sure it was the least restful travel she has had ever but she didn’t complain).  If I had had to travel by myself, I might have had a nervous breakdown in the Amsterdam airport and someone would have had to come rescue me!
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  • We got back to Uganda in mid August and I went back to work part time. Joel comes with me to the office for now which I love.  At least I get to see his smiling face from time to time which makes being back at work so much easier.
  • Natalie and Nathan started school at the end of August. Natalie is in grade 2 (the US equivalent of grade 1 since they don’t have kindergarten) and Nathan is in preschool.  Natalie has been having a great year so far and loves her teacher and her friends in class.  Nathan is having a harder time adjusting to school but is slowly making progress.
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And now here are the 10 things I miss most since coming back from the US (in no particular order):

  1. My family
  2. Riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks, and taking walks on the trails
  3. Electric dryers and dishwashers (it was amazing that dirty clothes and diapers could be washed, dried, and ready to wear in less than 2 hours! We line dry our laundry here so it takes a day to dry (or more if it’s a rainy day) and then we have to iron most things because of mango flies)
  4. Chipotle, Panera, Big Bowl, and Sweet frog!!
  5. My family and friends
  6. Super fast unlimited internet and being able to watch videos online and download things quickly
  7. Summer berries, corn on the cob, my mom’s chicken vegetable soup, and mint chocolate chip ice cream
  8. Being able to leave the house and lock up quickly. Because our househelp Ruth is often at home, we don’t usually leave the house empty.  But when we do it’s a very long process to get out the door!!  The steps are:
    1. Get kids ready and bags packed
    2. Find cats and put them in the garage (so they don’t activate the alarm)
    3. Put the dog in her pen (so she doesn’t run out of the gate when we open it)
    4. Get kids in car
    5. Hide computers and valuables and lock the bedroom door
    6. Set the alarm
    7. Lock the house
    8. Open the gate
    9. Drive out of the gate
    10. Close the gate
    11. Release the dog
    12. Lock the gate
    13. Leave
  9. Tons of fun activities for the kids including bouncy places, gymnastics, amusement parks, water parks, neighborhood parks, etc
  10. Did I mention my family??? I wish Kampala was a little closer to Ashburn, or that I could convince my parents to retire in Kampala and convince my sisters to relocate!!

What has been going on and what is coming up….

So clearly my blog has not been a priority in the past several months, but I thought it would be nice to at least post an update to let you all know what has been going on with us in Uganda:

What has been happening:

  • A lot of travel! In October, we had a country review which each MCC country program does every 5 years.  We had a team of 3 other people (a team leader from Canada, a local expert from Kampala, and a peer rep from South Africa) and Muigai traveled with them all over Uganda to visit partners in two weeks!  They went to the far Northeast corner (Karamoja), the East (Soroti and Kamuli), the far West (Kasese), and central (Kampala and Mukono).  It was a crazy itinerary and I got to stay in Kampala since I was still in my first trimester and not feeling so well.  Overall, it was a really good time and as Reps we felt encouraged and affirmed in the work we’ve been doing with MCC in the past 2 ½ years.

 

  • In November, we went to Kigali for an All Africa Reps meeting with all the MCC Reps from African countries and well as several colleagues from headquarters. It was a good time of connecting with people who can relate to the joys and challenges of this position and the kids had a blast with the other MCC kids.  The childcare workers were amazing and it was the first time ever my children both went to childcare willingly without any tears.
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Nathan riding on a boda boda at the playground in Kigali

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Natalie having fun painting while Mom and Dad sit in meetings in Kigali

 

  • In December, we went to Kenya for our East African retreat with all MCC workers and their families from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Our MCC Uganda team consisted of 22 people including 8 kids 6 and under, and it was a lot of fun!  After the retreat we spent Christmas in Kenya with Muigai’s family.

 

  • Both children are now in school! We decided to homeschool Natalie the second half of last year because of all the traveling we had to do, and we found a great tutor to work with her.  She really enjoyed homeschooling but it was a big challenge to find other children for her to play with.  So we decided to send her back to Acorns School.  She started in early January and has been really excited to be back in school with her friends, and the transition went very smoothly.

 

  • Nathan has also started “school” – he goes three days a week to a new play based preschool in Kampala. He is in the play group class so it’s just a lot of play and interaction and no formal school yet.  He has had a bit of a harder transition but is slowly settling in.
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Nathan on his first day of school

 

  • The diaper project is continuing to grow and I’m really enjoying my involvement in this project. We are currently working with three tailors and have been able to provide them with a good part time income over the past year.  We had a busy and good Christmas season, participating in several Christmas sales and bazaars in Kampala.  The most interesting project we were involved with was designing a diaper for a set of 2 month old conjoined twins who were getting ready to travel to the US for separation surgery!  They are joined at the butt so it took some creativity to come up with a design that could work.  They are currently in the US for what will be a several month series of operations and follow ups, but the doctors think they will be able to develop normally after the surgery.
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One of my favorite photos from a photo shoot we did last week to update our website for the diaper project

 

What is coming up….

  • A new baby! We are eagerly waiting for the arrival of our son who is expected around mid April.  After a lot of thought and prayer, we decided that we will travel to Nairobi to have the baby.  There is a wonderful Kenyan midwife Lucy who has delivered my sister in law’s babies and just opened a freestanding birth center in Nairobi, and we are looking forward to having this little guy there.  Since the other two children were born in the US, it will be a blessing to have this one surrounded by Kenyan family and friends.  We plan to travel in early April and return to Uganda as soon as we get his passport (likely at 2-3 weeks old).
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Both kids seem excited for their little brother, we will see if the excitement lasts when the little guy actually arrives!

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Both kids like doing my prenatal pilates video with me – they both put “babies” in their tummies and grab random things from the kitchen to be their “umbells” (dumbbells)

 

  • A trip to Zanzibar! This will be our last major travel before the baby comes, and our East Africa regional Reps meeting will be held in Zanzibar next month (if you want to motivate your team members, have work meetings in places like Zanzibar – I’ve never been so excited for our regional meeting!)  We are planning to go a few days early to have a family vacation at the beach – a beach vacation at 35 weeks pregnant is not ideal, but if I will be huge and uncomfortable I may as well be huge and uncomfortable on the beaches of Zanzibar!

 

  • A trip to the US in July! We have about one month of home leave left, and I’m planning to spend the last 2-3 weeks of my maternity leave in the US and then Muigai will join us for a month of home leave.  That means I will be doing the international travel with all three children without Muigai (have I lost my mind???) but I am so excited to be able to go home soon after the baby is born.  It will be hard to have the baby without my family around so at least I can look forward to this trip.

So those are the highlights from the past several months and what we are looking forward to in the next several months.  Please keep us in your prayers especially with the upcoming travels and the birth.   I’ve been feeling really good lately and pray that things will continue to go smoothly over the next two months.

Our Holidays in East Africa

Happy New Year!

Although the holiday season is always the time of the year when I feel the most homesick, we had a really nice time celebrating the holidays this year in Uganda and Kenya.

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Our delicious Thanksgiving turkeys

 

 

In October, we had a meeting in Soroti in the eastern part of the country and I was thrilled to discover live turkeys being sold on the side of the road – we bought two of them and I was VERY excited about this purchase since we haven’t had turkey for Thanksgiving since we moved to Uganda.  Turkeys are not very common here, and around November people hike the prices considerably in Kampala because they know there are lots of Americans looking to buy turkeys.

 

 

So we kept the turkeys in our compound until Thanksgiving (and I learned that turkeys can fly, since on the first day they both flew over our fence and ended up in our neighbor’s yard!) and invited the MCC Uganda staff to our house for Thanksgiving lunch.  None of our Ugandan colleagues had celebrated an American Thanksgiving before, and it was really fun to introduce them to some new foods and share the holiday with them.

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Daniel and Vicky, our MCC colleagues, going back for seconds – we forgot to take a picture of all the food before people started eating it!

 

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After Thanksgiving lunch we had choir practice to get ready to lead worship for one of the sessions at our MCC retreat – you can see Natalie and Nathan are playing their guitars too!

 

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Nathan jamming on his “guitar”

 

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We were able to do some of our American Christmas traditions, like making spritz, Christmas cookies that my family makes every year

 

 

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In mid December, we traveled to a retreat center just outside of Nairobi for our binannual MCC East Africa retreat for all of our staff, volunteers, and their families.  We had 22 people traveling from Uganda, and overall we had over 100 MCCers at the retreat, including 30 children under the age of 12.  We had devotions, worship, team building, a field trip, a night of entertainment by a Kenyan a capella group, and more.  It was a really fun to connect with our colleagues and relax, and our kids had a great time as well.

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Enjoying a boat ride during our field trip to Paradise Lost

 

After the retreat, we stayed in Kenya for another week to celebrate Christmas with Muigai’s family.  We spent Christmas day at Muigai’s sister Njeri’s house with his mother and all of his siblings and their families, eating some delicious goat meat that Njeri had brought from Northern Kenya and relaxing, and Natalie and Nathan had a great time playing with their Kenyan cousins.  We also had the chance to catch up with some friends while we were in Kenya and to do some outings with the children, and get some much needed rest after a very busy November and December. (our camera broke right before we left for Kenya so I have very few pictures)

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Feeding giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi

 

We returned to Uganda before the new year and had a pretty “wild” new year’s eve with sparkling grape juice and a movie, and both Muigai and I just barely made it to midnight!  I guess those are the effects of being nearly 6 months pregnant on New Year’s Eve (and Muigai had just traveled back from Kenya that day so he was also quite tired)….maybe one day we will have exciting New Year’s celebrations again when our kids are a bit older.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year as well!

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Happy New Year!

 

Kittens!

After being convinced about a year ago that our cat was pregnant only to find out that she was just fat, our cat did actually become pregnant and gave birth to four little kittens two weeks ago.

We were concerned about where she was going to choose to give birth, since she loves laying on piles of clothes in both my closet and the kids closet, and I really did not want our cat giving birth on my clothes.

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Nathan with our pregnant cat in my closet, one of her favorite spots

So we prepared a lovely cardboard “kitten box” like we saw on the internet and tried to show it to our cat to give her the message that it would be a much better place to give birth than in my closet.

One night when we were eating chicken I noticed our cat was nowhere to be found, which is rare when she smells chicken.  I found her crouched on Natalie’s bed ready to have her kittens on Natalie’s blankets!  We grabbed the kitten box and tried to convince her it was a better place to have the kittens, but she was not convinced.

So we took all the blankets off Natalie’s bed, got an old mattress from the garage to put on top of her nice mattress, and put old blankets and sheets on the old mattress.  Then we left her alone for a few minutes.  When I went to check on her, she had moved into Natalie’s closet into the basket where we keep her bathing suits and underwear!  We tried to put her back on the bed but she kept running to the closet.  So I closed the closet doors and blocked them with a wooden stool.  2 minutes later we heard a crash and sure enough the cat had found her way back into Natalie’s closet.

So we took the basket of underwear out of the closet and she jumped on Natalie’s folded clothes.  We took Natalie’s clothes out of the closet and she jumped onto the shelf where Nathan’s clothes are.  We quickly threw all the clothes out of the closet and put the cardbox “kitten box” in the closet and the first kitten was born not even 2 minutes later, thankfully inside the box!

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The cat licking one of her newborn kittens – she look tired, labor is hard work!

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Natalie sat in her closet the whole time and saw all the kittens being born – she was SO excited!

She gave birth to 4 kittens, but one of them died after two days.  The other three are growing well.  We had told Natalie she could not touch the kittens until they opened their eyes.  They finally opened their eyes at about 2 weeks of age and Natalie has been with them 24/7 ever since!  Yesterday she decided to make little crowns for them and called them “Prince” and “Princess.”  Despite Natalie’s pleas for us to keep them all, we plan to keep one of the kittens only and find homes for the other two – two cats are enough!

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Sleeping kittens

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Nathan is also quite fascinated with the kittens, though he does not have the same level of excitement as Natalie does

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10 days old

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Prince and Princess!

 

 

Saying good bye to an incredible woman

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Sister Margaret Aceng was a friend, advisor, and inspiration to all of us at MCC Uganda.  Tragically, on September 18 she collapsed and passed away from a cerebral embolism.

It’s hard to even describe the kind of person Sister Margaret was – she was someone whose presence exuded life, vitality, faith, and a deep sense of compassion for her people.  Born in Northern Uganda, she lived through the 20 year civil war (the LRA war) and witnessed the depth of suffering and trauma that her people endured.  Determined to use her skills to bring change, Sister Margaret pursued a Masters Degree in counseling and in 2004 launched a counseling center in Gulu called Caritas Counseling Center to provide counseling and trauma healing to former child soldiers, parents whose children had been abducted, women who had been abducted and sexually abused by the LRA, and ex-rebels. She was currently serving as the Dean of Students at Gulu University.

Muigai traveled to Gulu to attend her funeral and burial on the 22nd.  Unfortunately, Nathan and I had been sick over the weekend and couldn’t make the bumpy six hour trip to Gulu.  Muigai said there were easily over 3000 people in attendance – the largest cathedral in Gulu was completely packed, and hundreds of people were sitting outside.  The University community had cancelled all of its classes for the day so students and faculty could attend the burial.  Sister Margaret was a woman who had touched the lives of many, many people and the overwhelming attendance at her funeral was a testimony to that.

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Crowds of people gathered outside of the packed cathedral for Sister Margaret’s funeral

Sister Margaret was a current member of our MCC Uganda advisory board and had been serving as an advisor for six years.  Her contribution and insights were integral in shaping the course of our programs and projects in MCC.  She was always able to offer us and previous Representatives key insights into the context and issues affecting Gulu and the surrounding areas, and her counsel was often sought after and highly influential in our program.

Apart from being an advisor, Sister Margaret was also a friend to all of us at MCC.  She always made an effort to get to know our volunteers in the North, and was quick to offer a listening ear and support in any way that she could.  She always brought a spirit of faith and personal encouragement to our advisory committee meetings, and her presence there was always an encouragement and a blessing to us and the rest of the advisory committee.

We were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Sister Margaret’s sudden passing.  Her positive spirit, selfless dedication, and deep sense of commitment to her faith and her people is not something that can be easily found or replaced.  Her passing will leave a huge gap in our advisory committee and our Uganda program, and she will be terribly missed.

Back in Kampala after a wonderful home leave

After an amazing two months of spending time with friends and family in Kenya and the US, we are now fully recovered from jetlag (which is much harder when small children are involved!) and back into the swing of our life in Kampala.

Our home leave was a real blessing and came at the right time.  From Jan – May, we had several stressful situations come up and were at the point where both of us really needed a break.  Some highlights from our home leave were:

  • Visiting family and friends in Kenya, and especially getting to meet our newest nephew Uba when he was just 12 hours old. He was due on May 15th and we were planning to be in Kenya until May 29th, so we were sure we would meet him.  However, by the 27th he still had not made his arrival.  He finally decided to be born at 1am on the 28th, so at least we got to meet him the day before we left.  Our kids also had a great time playing with Shamal, Taj, Rio, and Chichi, their cousins from Muigai’s side, and we enjoyed spending time with Muigai’s mom and his siblings.
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Cousins from Muigais side – from left to right, Muigai’s sister Njoki with her son ChiChi, Taj, Rio, Njeri holding her newest son Uba

  • Visiting our small farm in Murang’a, Kenya where Natalie and Nathan learned how to pick tea and helped to harvest cabbages and potatoes
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Natalie proudly showing off her cabbages

  • Spending time with the US cousins Kiara, Lucas, and Briana – it’s hard living far away from both families, so it was really a blessing that our children were able to spend time with all their cousins (and of course aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well)
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Nathan and Briana, who were born only 6 weeks apart, became best buddies

 

  • Spending lots of time with my parents and sisters and meeting Kelly’s new “babies” – George and Freddy, her cats. We are so grateful for my parents who sacrificed the peace and quiet they usually have in their house to host us for almost 2 months.
  • Meeting our friend’s new babies that had been born in the past year, particularly Logan, James, Emma Hermes, and Emma Leftwich (well we “met” her via skype at least)
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Meeting Baby Logan, Brandon and Alicia’s sweet little guy

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James, David and Csilla’s little boy, who also graciously agreed to be my model!

  • Spending time with family and friends in the US – we were grateful to get a chance to see so many of you, though were still many others that we would have wanted to see.
  • Taking trips with my family to Virginia Beach and Dutch Wonderland (which was probably one of the biggest highlights for Natalie – she is quite adventurous when it comes to rides and was thrilled to ride on a “big roller coaster.”)
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Nathan and Lucas take a break from the rides to climb in the giant pretzel

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Having fun in the waves

  • Attending the Duke Summer Peacebuilding Institute for a week, where we met some incredible people and reconnected with friends
  • Enjoying some of our favorite American foods that we can’t get in Kampala – grapefruits, grapes, raspberries and blackberries, mint chocolate chip ice cream (I’m surprised I didn’t gain 10 pounds with all the ice cream I ate!!), chipotle, Red Front butter (seriously the best butter in the world – for my H’burg friends Red Front carries big rolls of Amish butter which are amazing) and chocolate chips.
  • Muigai was able to take a 2 week course on Project Management at Georgetown, where he met a lot of interesting people and learned some great skills that are relevant to our work here.
  • Having a good time of rest – reading books, playing with the kids, good conversations, watching TV, etc. We are definitely feeling rested and refreshed after our leave.

And it’s a good thing we had a nice rest, because we have a lot coming up between now and December.  Some things that are coming up:

  • This month we are welcoming Revi, a new volunteer from Indonesia, who will spend a year working with Stella Matutina
  • In late September/early October we will have a country review, which happens every 5 years. It’s a lot of work preparing for it and will be two weeks of intensive traveling and interviews, going to 4 different parts of Uganda in just 14 days.
  • We will be traveling to Soroti in the eastern part of Uganda in Oct. for several days for an advisors meeting and to visit partners there.
  • In Nov we have 9 days in Kigai, Rwanda where all the MCC Reps from African countries will meet together.
  • In December we will be traveling to Nairobi for a biannual retreat with all MCC team members and their families from East Africa (about 100 people!) and then will be staying in Nairobi to spend Christmas with family and friends there.
  • Because of all these travels, we realized Natalie would be missing about 15 or more days of school. So we decided to try out homeschooling for the rest of the year.  We have found a tutor who will work with her while I am in the office and we’ve found a few homeschooling groups for her to be part of.  We’ll see how it goes and decide if we want to continue homeschooling in Jan or put her back in school.

Thank you again to all of you who we were able to spend time with during our home leave, and please keep our upcoming travels in your prayers.

 

Easter eggs, home leave, and chicks

       Yesterday was a public holiday in Uganda (Labour Day) and the kids and I celebrated by having an Easter egg hunt in the morning! My mom had sent us some plastic eggs and Easter treats, but the package was delayed and we just got it this week.  So Natalie and Nathan had a good time looking for Easter eggs and eating some chocolate.

          We still don’t have any more updates on the break in –please continue to pray for that situation and that we would know what
happened and who was responsible.

        This month is the month we begin our home leave!  We are really looking forward to a much needed break and a chance to spend time with friends and family.  We leave on May 22nd and will be in Kenya from May 22 – 29, Durham from June 2 – 9, and then Ashburn (Northern VA/DC area) the rest of the time with several day and short trips planned to Harrisonburg.  We head back to Uganda on July 16th.  If you will be in any of those areas, please contact us – we would love to see you!
 

      We had five chicks hatch on Wednesday so after their egg hunt the kids played with the new baby chicks:

 

 

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Hello little chick

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I can hold three all at once!

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This one is my favorite!

 

 

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Look mama I have two chicks!

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See, I can be gentle with the chicks

 

An eventful Sunday

On Friday, it was the last day of the second term at Natalie’s school and they held their first sports day.  All of the children in Natalie’s school are divided in four “house” teams, and the house teams competed against each other in various relay races and other events.  It was a really fun event, though it was cut short by rain, and I was planning to write a post about it this week with all the pictures we took.  But I can’t post the pictures because of what happened on Sunday…

On Sunday, we went to church, stopped for lunch, and then passed by a friend’s house.  We reached home around 4:30, and when I went to unlock the door I found it wide open.  At first, I thought somehow we had forgotten to lock it, but then it dawned on me – someone had broken in.

Since we didn’t know if there were still people in the house, we got the children into the car and left immediately.  Muigai dropped us off at a new mall near our house which thankfully has a really nice free play area for the kids, and we spent the next four hours there while Muigai went to the house with the police.

We couldn’t sleep at the house because the doors were broken, so we checked into a hotel and went home to pack a few clothes.  It was so strange to walk through the house and see drawers pulled out and overturned and things thrown everywhere.

Unfortunately, the thieves made out with thousands of dollars worth of electronics and photography equipment.  Several of the items were MCC property, like both of our work laptops, and our biggest personal loss was Muigai’s camera and a lot of his expensive photography equipment which it has taken us years to acquire.

We were able to return home after one night, and this week has been busy and frustrating trying to get the doors fixed, follow up with police, and catch up with work and a few documents that were lost in our computers.  We can’t share any details about the investigation but we are praying that we will find out more about what happened.  Please pray with us that the thieves would be discovered, we (and the children) would feel safe in our home, and that somehow some of the items would be recovered (which rarely happens).

Since I have no new pictures to post, I’ll post a “throwback” picture of our most valuable “possessions” which are thankfully safe and sound and does help to put the whole incident into perspective.

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Responding to flash floods in Kasese

On May 1, 2013, after 6 hours of heavy rains, the river banks in Kasese District (Western Uganda) burst, causing massive flash floods that forced over 20,000 people out of their homes.   By God’s grace, it was a national holiday which meant that children were not at school.  One primary school close to the river was completely washed away, and if children had been present it could have been disastrous.

 

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Some houses were completely washed away by the floods, others, like this one, lost their roofs due to strong winds and currents

 

In addition to losing their homes, many families lost their livelihoods.  A majority of people in Kasese depend on agriculture, and the floods left huge rocks deposited on the farmlands, making it impossible to plant anything.  Food stores were destroyed and many families lost everything.

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Large rocks were washed down from the mountains, covering farmland and changing the composition of the soil, making agriculture impossible for many people dependent on it

We were connected to the Anglican Diocese in Kasese through our Bishop that we work with in the North, and he requested MCC’s assistance in helping over 200 children who were most affected by floods.  By the time we received the request for help, the Diocese had already hosted 3000 displaced persons in their school and churches, and had already distributed much needed items to thousands of people, like water purifiers, cooking pots and stoves, mosquito nets, and food.

 

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This bridge was broken by the strong currents

In November of last year, we started our partnership with the Diocese of Kasese through MCC’s disaster response department.  Through this partnership, we are providing school uniforms, scholastic materials, and food assistance to over 200 of the most affected children in 8 different schools.  We are also training 24 teachers in these 8 schools on trauma and psychosocial support, as many of the children are traumatized and fearful as a result of the floods.  Finally, we are providing these schools with sports and play equipment to support their healing and psychosocial needs.

Muigai recently visited this project and was struck by the far reaching devastation that was caused by these floods, still very evident almost one year later.  Please pray for the families and children in Kasese as they attempt to rebuild their lives and their livelihoods.

The Whitewashing of Orange Blossom

Several months ago, I read this blog series on the evolution of skinny toys, where the author examines how toys have changed over the years to become thinner and sexier and what messages and values these changes communicate to our children.

As I was recently reading some Strawberry Shortcake books to Natalie, I noticed a disturbing evolution of one of the characters – Orange Blossom has been whitewashed.

Whitewashing refers to the process of making African American, Asian, or Latino women appear more “white.”  This article is an excellent discussion about whitewashing in American popular culture and gives several examples and pictures.

Recently, we received two different Strawberry Shortcake books – one used to belong to my cousin when she was little, and was printed in the 90s.  The other is a more recently published book, and the look of all the characters has changed drastically.  But the change that bothers me the most is how Orange Blossom has changed.

In the book from the 90s, Orange Blossom is an African American girl with dark skin and curly pigtails.  However, in the more recent book, her skin has been significantly lightened, and she now has long, flowing hair instead of curly pigtails.  Her facial features are indistinguishable from the other characters who are all white.

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Orange Blossom Before

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Orange Blossom After

Why does this bother me so much?

It bothers me because these examples send a powerful message to young girls about what the ideal standards of beauty are.  In American culture, the ideal is light skin, long flowing hair, and Caucasian facial features.  When we alter the look of African American girls and women to conform to this standard of beauty, it sends a powerful message that somehow dark skin and naturally curly hair are inferior and not as beautiful as light skin and long straight hair.  These messages are even more insidious than our culture’s emphasis on thinness, because these messages strike at the heart of a girl’s sense of culture and identity.

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In the stickers included in the more recent book, Orange Blossom’s Skin is even lighter

Thanks to globalization, these beauty ideals are being spread all over the world.  Skin lightening is big business in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and the marketing of skin lightening creams reinforces this idea that light skin is better, more beautiful, and that light skinned people will be more successful.  Fair and Lovely has some of the worst commercials I’ve seen – in this one, the featured actress blatantly states, “I realized the obstacle to obtain my dream job was my skin.”   After lightening her skin with Fair and Lovely, she not only obtains her dream job but also catches the attention of a handsome colleague.

At a time when American culture is becoming increasingly diverse, it is disturbing that the standards of beauty are becoming increasingly narrow.  We need more examples of natural beauty from all cultures, like this recent photo shoot of Viola Davis, whose natural skin and hair are celebrated instead of changed.  Young girls from all cultures need to see more examples of characters and celebrities who look like they do, naturally.   Because it’s not just about beauty – white ideals of beauty are just one way that our culture continues to implicitly communicate the racist messages that are so harmful to young girls both in the US and around the world.

Diapers, HIV orphans, and Betty

As the cloth diaper project continues to grow slowly, I have been thinking and praying about whether there is any way that I can use this project to help HIV positive orphans.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote my masters thesis on HIV positive orphans and have a special interest in these often overlooked children.  Many of these children end up in institutions or end up dying prematurely – not because they don’t have relatives who are willing to care for them, but because they don’t have relatives who are able to care for them well.  A child who is HIV positive incurs a lot of additional costs that a healthy child does not, and many relatives are already overburdened with expenses and other children to care for.

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The diapers from our diaper project

I believe that one of the best ways to assist HIV positive orphans is to empower their caregivers.  As we are at the point where we would like to start training a few people in tailoring, I thought it would be great if I could identify caregivers of HIV positive orphans who we could train in tailoring, and then provide them with work making diapers.  By giving them a way to earn a good income, they would be better equipped to provide good care for these children.

My main challenge was that I had no idea how I would identify caregivers of HIV positive orphans.  So I’ve been praying that God would somehow connect me with the right people.  The other day, my friend Cari, who runs a wonderful child sponsorship program called Vision of Destiny, told me about Betty, the caregiver for an HIV positive orphan who is being sponsored by Vision of Destiny.

Betty’s sister passed away from AIDS when her son Joel, who was born HIV positive, was just a baby.  Although Betty had three of her own children to care for, she took Joel in and began to raise him as her own son.  Joel is now 7 years old and is in “top class,” the last year of preschool before primary school.  Betty and her husband are also HIV positive, and all three of them are able to access antiretroviral drugs.  Betty is committed to taking care of Joel as his mother; however, she often struggles to provide for her family.  Neither Betty nor her husband have a steady job, and both of them receive a little money from casual jobs.

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Betty and Joel

Betty also receives a small income from a craft group run by Vision of Destiny, where she crochets beautiful bags out of discarded plastic bags.  Right now, she has to take these bags to a tailor and pay her to add lining and a zipper, but she is very interested in learning tailoring.  Through her craft group she has shown that she is very creative, but she does not have the resources to pursue a tailoring course.

We would like to offer her an opportunity to learn tailoring.  One of my goals with the diaper project is to train women in basic tailoring, so that way even if the diaper project falls apart we will have given them a valuable skill that they can use to support their families.  Once we have trained them, we can also give them work making diapers for us, as well as giving them flexibility to also pursue other orders or setting up their own business.  Rosette, one of the tailors who has been making diapers, worked as a tailoring teacher for 7 years and is qualified to teach other women.

Betty will be starting on Monday and we are looking for people who would be interested in sponsoring her.  The cost of paying Rosette to teach her is $50 each month, and Betty’s transportation costs will be $20 each month.  The course will run for about 6 months.  In addition, we will buy basic supplies for Betty (fabric, thread, scissors, pins etc) that will cost around $30.  Finally, we have been using my own electric sewing machine for the project so far, but we would like to purchase a manual sewing machine as well since we now have two tailors who are making diapers and one who will be learning.  A high quality manual sewing machine is around $150.

Please let me know if you would be interested in providing:

–        10, 25, or 50 dollars each month to go towards Betty’s classes and transportation

–        A one time gift of $30 to cover her supplies

–        A one time gift to go towards the purchase of a manual sewing machine

Thank you!!!

Miriam looks towards a better future despite a devastating past

A few years ago, MCC changed their education model from individual child sponsorship to community/project sponsorship.  Instead of asking donors to sponsor an individual child, donors are able to sponsor an entire school or community.  The hope is that the entire school community can benefit from this model, instead of just the individual children who receive sponsorship.

As a means of keeping donors informed about their projects, twice each year we highlight a student from each of our education projects and share their story.  Rosemary, our MCC Uganda education coordinator typically does these stories, but since we were driving past Stella Matutina on our way to Gulu (Northern Uganda) last week, I was the one who did the interview and wrote the story.  I was very inspired by the student I interviewed, so I decided to share her story here as well:

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Miriam posing on the grounds of Stella Matutina

 

When we arrived at Stella Matutina, Lakot Miriam greeted us with a handshake and a shy smile.  As we began to talk, she shared with us her story of great loss and overcoming adversity to struggle for a better future.  Miriam is the last born in a family of four children.  She grew up in Gulu, in Northern Uganda, at the height of the 20 year war.   After her father was killed in the war, her mother fled from Gulu in 2003 with her children to seek refuge in the refugee camp in Kiryandongo, just a few kilometers from Stella Matutina.
When they settled in Kiryandongo, the oldest children were able to find work to help support the family.  Although the family still struggled financially at times, they were able to provide their basic needs and send the youngest children to school.  In 2010, a great tragedy struck the family when all three of Miriam’s siblings were killed in a road accident as they were returning home after the Christmas holiday.  Since that time, Miriam’s mother has struggled greatly to ensure that her daughter will get an education, and she claims that now Miriam is her only hope for a brighter future.  She earns very little money by planting and selling crops on a small plot of land, and has sacrificed a lot to be able to send her daughter to school.  MCC’s sponsorship at Stella Matutina provides full and partial scholarships to the most vulnerable students, and Miriam is a beneficiary of one of these MCC scholarships.
Miriam is a disciplined and talented student, and is very committed to succeeding in her studies so that she can help her mother.  She is now a senior four student and is in her last year at Stella Matutina.  Her dream is to become a doctor because she loves science and would like to help many people.  She is also a gifted athlete, and one of the school’s best football (soccer) and netball players.  She is also a gifted runner and hopes to compete at the District level this year in running.

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Catherine, another student at Stella, getting water from the borehole. It’s dry season at Stella which means there is no water left in the tanks in the buildings, so the students and staff must get all of their water from the school borehole.

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I also tried out the borehole – it’s hard work!

 

Meet Steven, our YAMENer in Hoima, and Nathan’s birthday

Steven, originally from Colombia, has spent the last 6 months living and working in Hoima, Uganda.  With the skills and experience he had gained from working with youth in his church in Colombia, he has been working with the Anglican Diocese in Hoima to prepare and run a three week Living with Shalom training for youth from all over Uganda.  He also is involved in planning various youth events for the Diocese.  On Jan 25th, the training came to an end with a cultural gala where all the participants shared dances from their home cultures.

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Steven, in the back row on the left in a checked shirt, together with several of the participants in the Living with Shalom training during the Cultural Gala

His host family in Hoima has been warm and welcoming, embracing Steven as one of their own.  Steven is very easy going and has adapted well to life in Uganda.  He was a great asset to the Living with Shalom training and really connected well with the youth during the training – he even learned some new dance moves!  We have really enjoyed getting to know him and having him as part of the MCC Uganda team, and we have also enjoyed learning some things about life in Colombia.  Several of our staff have also picked up a few words and greetings in Spanish!

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Here is Steven joining in on the fun and learning how to dance like a Karamajong

MCC has three different exchange programs that we run – IVEP, where we send young people from MCC program countries to volunteer for a year in North America (we currently have 3 Ugandans in Canada), SALT, where we send young people from North America to MCC Program countries all over the world to volunteer for a year, and YAMEN, where we send young people from MCC program countries to other program countries outside of North America (last year we had a Ugandan woman working in Indonesia for a year).

This year, MCC Uganda is hosting three exchange volunteers – Stephen, from Colombia, working with Living with Shalom in Hoima, Thany, from Cambodia, working at Stella Matutina in Bweyale, and Bethany, from Canada, working at St Jude Secondary School in Masaka.  It has been a great experience to have so many cultures represented on our Uganda team, and we have really enjoyed working with and learning from all three of them.  I’ll plan to write more details about Thany and Bethany in upcoming posts (if they give me permission 🙂 – we are planning a visit to Thany next week and a visit to Bethany in March.

SALT is still accepting and processing applications, so if you are young and single and looking for a great cross cultural experience, you can see the open positions here:  http://salt.mcc.org/

This past weekend we also celebrated Nathan’s 2nd birthday!  On Saturday, we had a fun day swimming in Jinja, until the 1 1/2 hour drive back to Kampala ended up taking 6 hours!  In short, the battery died two different times – the first time we bought a new battery only to realize that the problem was the alternator when the battery died the second time along the way.  We are very grateful to our colleague Daniel who arranged to pick up the other MCC car which was also not working from the garage that was closed to come and rescue us.  Then we had to sit in bumper to bumper traffic at 10:30pm – only in Kampala is there bumper to bumper traffic on a Saturday night!  To make things more interesting, the wiring in the car  was also faulty so the drivers side window couldn’t close while the other windows couldn’t open, which also resulted in a very hot, dusty, and briefly very wet (it rained for about 15 mins) ride to and from Jinja!  We had to leave the car parked at a bank overnight where there were security guards then Muigai had to get up at 6am the next morning to pick it up since we weren’t able to close the window.

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“Nathan, how old are you?” Trying to figure out how to hold up 2 fingers!

On Sunday, which was Nathan’s actual birthday, we had a great time celebrating with good friends who live in the far north of Uganda who we haven’t seen in several months.  Ronald, from Kenya, and his wife, Anke, from the Netherlands, have four children who my children love to play with.  We ate cake, roasted meat, and the kids had a great time playing together.  Ronald and Anke have started a great business venture in Kotido called Karamoja Arts  as a way of promoting the local culture and empowering the local people.

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“Mom, stop taking pictures and give me my cake!”

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Getting ready to sing Happy Birthday with friends Roma (far left) and Yala (right)

Water balloons + tile patio = great fun!

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Natalie with a giant water balloon

 

Due to a slower pace of life and a lack of structured children’s activities (it would be nearly impossible for us to overschedule our children if we wanted to) our children enjoy a LOT of unstructured play time at home.  Natalie especially is extremely creative in coming up with activities and games to keep her and Nathan engaged and happy.  Most of them are great fun, like pulling Nathan around on a blanket on our tile floors, and turning almost anything in our house into a drum that can be beaten while the two of them dance and sing (this game is Nathan’s current favorite.)  A few of them I don’t appreciate as much, like when she realized that toilet paper will dissolve in water and proceeded to fill our bathroom sink with water and almost an entire roll of dissolved toilet paper, which seriously clogged the sink.

But today’s game was one of the most fun she has come up with – she discovered that water balloons + a tile patio = great fun!  The water balloons will slide around on the wet tile, bouncing off the walls without breaking.  The kids were able to slide, throw, and kick the water balloons without them breaking.  And when the balloons did break, it created a fun slippery surface that they “ice skated” on and slid on their bellies.  The two of them played this game for almost two hours!

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So much fun!

 

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Nathan and his little water balloon

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Last year I posted about the crazy things that can fit on the back of a motorcycle.  The other day, we saw a boda in front of us carrying a giant fish.  I grabbed my camera and was able to get a quick picture before the boda boda sped off.

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A giant fish



 

Symbols of Christmas and Colonial Legacies




Every year, Watoto Church in Kampala puts on a spectacular Christmas show which is entirely free to the public.  I have heard amazing things about the show, and this year we tried to go, only to get stuck in traffic because so many people were trying to get to the church.  When we finally got to the church, we were among hundreds of people waiting in the rain to get a seat inside.  We, along with literally hundreds of others, were turned away because there just wasn’t enough space.

I don’t intend for this post to come across as critical of Watoto Church or their Christmas show, because I greatly admire what they do to put on this free show each year and I hope to get a chance to see their show another year.   Rather, the post is meant to be a reflection of the symbols of Christmas that we choose and the implicit messages that they sendIf you watch Watoto’s promotional video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z_-csDSTSo), they transformed their stage into a snowy winter wonderland – which I am sure made for quite an amazing show.  However, it bothers me that they chose snow as a symbol of Christmas, in a country where there has never been, and never will be, a white Christmas.

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In Uganda, many people celebrate Christmas by buying new clothes for their children, dressing up in these new clothes and going to church, visiting family in the village, roasting meat and feasting together with loved ones.  Symbols of Christmas here include the fresh air of the village, the excitement of trying on new clothes, church services on Christmas morning, the smell of roasting meat, and enjoying time with extended family.

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Getting the grill ready to roast meat

 

However, it is not hard to find Western symbols of Christmas in Uganda, especially in retail stores and Christmas cards.  Symbols like snow, evergreens, and Santa Claus, which developed primarily from a European cultural context, are imported and promoted in Kampala.  At Natalie’s international school, where there are children from a variety of cultures and religious backgrounds, their end of term show was not a holiday show, but a show with the theme “sharing the planet.”  (Natalie’s class performed a Bollywood dance!)  Yet even though the rest of the show was devoid of any Christmas elements, they still had a “Father Christmas” (Santa Claus) show up at the end dressed in a (very hot!) red outfit to give presents to the children.

One of the enduring legacies of colonialism is a sense of Western Cultural Superiority, which is reinforced today by advertising and marketing from Western corporations.  For many of these businesses, the Global South has huge market potential.  So they focus on not only selling products and services, but on selling Western culture.  And they have been extremely successful.  For many, a product associated with the West is cool, progressive and confers high status.  It’s why people will pay twice as much for chicken and chips (French fries) at a Western fast food chain, even though the chicken and chips at a local joint are cheaper, fresher, and healthier (with few or no food additives or processing done).  The Western fast foods chains are not only selling food, but the Western fast food cultural experience.

nativityThese dynamics of promoting Western cultural superiority is why seeing snow and Santa Claus as symbols of Christmas here in Kampala make me uncomfortable.  These symbols arose out of a specific cultural context, and are not any more authentic symbols of Christmas than new clothes and roasted meat.  The authentic symbols of Christmas transcend all cultures – the Biblical symbols of a baby in a manger, shepherds, wise men, and a star.  I’m pretty sure it was not snowing in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born!  Every culture that celebrates Christmas has additional symbols of Christmas that developed in their cultural context – and it’s good to celebrate these cultural symbols of Christmas as well.  There is certainly nothing wrong with the American celebration of Christmas with Christmas trees, gift giving, cookie baking, and cards adorned with snowy winter scenes.   And celebrating Christmas with new clothes, roasted meat, and time in the village with loved ones is also a meaningful cultural celebration of Christmas for many Ugandans.  Each culture should have the freedom to define and celebrate their own symbols of the holiday in a way that is meaningful for their cultural context, and not be made to feel that imported cultural symbols are somehow more meaningful or authentic.

 

 

 

Fun with the cousins!

Another highlight from last month was spending time with my sister in law Carrie and her family.  Carrie and her husband Maina have three boys, Shamal, Taj and Rio and they came to visit us for several days just after Christmas.  Natalie and Nathan had a blast playing with their cousins!   Some highlights from their visit (thank you to Maina for taking all these great photos):

We went swimming at a nearby pool complex

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Taj and Natalie making Rio laugh

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Big brother Shamal teaching Rio how to swim

We also went swimming in our “pool” at home:

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We spent an afternoon at the beach at Lake Victoria

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Uncle Maina with Shamal and Rio

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Playing in the grass

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A nice view

The kids played together at the house

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We ate good food:

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Carrie is an excellent cook – she made mandaazis for us and butternut chapatis – yum!

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And we also had dinner out at a Chinese restaurant

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And of course we had to roast meat to celebrate Christmas…Nathan is already learning the all important “manly” skill of roasting






Fun with Nana and Grandpa!

I took a break from blogging for the month of December – to be honest, the break wasn’t exactly intentional – there was just a lot going on “offline” that I didn’t have as much online time as I usually do.  We had a really nice holiday with family visitors (my mother in law, my parents and my sister in law and her family), a safari for our annual MCC Uganda retreat, lots of time with the children, and some much needed rest and relaxation.   Although homesickness always hits hardest around Christmas, we had a wonderful visit with my parents for 2 weeks at the end of November/beginning of December that did help the homesickness a little.  That 2 weeks was packed with lots of fun:

We had a Thanksgiving dinner together (they arrived the day before Thanksgiving) – we tried to get as much American Thanksgiving food as we could – a roast chicken (turkeys hard to find and very expensive!), gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sweet corn, cranberry sauce (which my parents brought with them), and a pumpkin pie.  And fresh passion fruit juice (I’m pretty sure there wasn’t passion juice at the first Thanksgiving but we love passion juice)

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We took a weekend trip to Jinja (about 2 hours from Kampala) where we took a boat ride to the source of the Nile River

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We did a lot of swimming (Natalie LOVES the water, she’s like a little fish!  I have no idea where she got that from 🙂

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We decorated our little Christmas tree

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Celebrated Christmas and opened gifts that Nana and Grandpa brought

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Ate some really good food (this is a wonderful Thai restaurant in Kampala)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Took Natalie to her first ballet class ever

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Played a lot and generally had a great time!

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Happy birthday Natalie!

Yesterday we celebrated Natalie’s 5th birthday!

In her school, the parents come to school with cake and juice.  And instead of all the children buying birthday presents for the birthday girl, the birthday girl is supposed to buy presents for all her classmates!

We were grateful Muigai’s mom has been visiting the past few days and she was able to be here to celebrate Natalie’s birthday with us.  So Muigai, Cucu (the Kikuyu word for grandmother), Nathan and I went to Natalie’s school where we sang to Natalie, and then she served cake and gave small presents to all of her classmates.

Then, for dinner we went out to a restaurant that actually has trampolines inside the restaurant where kids can jump while they wait for their food.  Muigai got stuck in traffic and was almost an hour late, and they were only kids there for most of the time, so they did a LOT of jumping!

Below are some pictures from the celebration.

But first, a quick update – a few weeks ago I posted about our very pregnant kitty.  Well, it turns out she is actually just fat and affectionate, not pregnant.  And it turns out I know absolutely nothing about the reproductive habits of cats, since I thought she was dying when she was actually in heat and I thought she was pregnant when she was actually just fat.  We had calculated that her kittens would be born in early Nov, and the kids and I even made and decorated a box for her to give birth in.  And then we waited.  and waited. and waited.  And then two days ago she started acting funny and we thought she was finally in labor.  Nope – she is in heat again!  So that is how we discovered she is not actually pregnant.   Haha.

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Natalie’s birthday surprise when she woke up

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The sign on the board at Natalie’s school – Natalie wore her birthday hat for literally the whole day! From the time she woke up until we got home. She only took it off briefly to jump on the trampolines!

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Waiting to cut her cake

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Serving Cucu cake

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Serving her classmates cake

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The trampolines in the restaurant

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Muigai’s coming home! And other things to look forward to…

Muigai has been traveling for the past three weeks, and he is coming home tonight!!!

For the past three weeks, Muigai has been participating in an MCC Sudan/South Sudan country review.  Every five years, each country’s program is reviewed by an assessment team, and Muigai was asked to be part of this assessment team.

As part of the assessment, he has been to Juba, Rumbek, Khartoum, Nairobi, as well as smaller villages in South Sudan.  On the way to one of these villages, they had to drive through the jungle where there were not even roads!  Every so often they had to get out of the car to move branches or stones out of the way, and they even drove through shallow rivers that didn’t have bridges!  I’m really looking forward to seeing his pictures, and I’ll post some of them soon.

So for the past three weeks I’ve been managing both home and the office solo.  Muigai works full time and I only work half time, so his absence has definitely been felt!  Thankfully November has been a relatively slow month in the office, but Muigai does have a lot of things waiting for him when he gets back to the office.

And of course the kids and I have really missed him at home.  When we pray for our meals, we’ve been praying for “baba” and his time in Sudan/South Sudan.  One time we forgot to pray for Muigai and as soon as we said amen Nathan said, “and Baba!!”  Now as soon as we start to pray he yells out, “and baba!  and baba!”  He also constantly goes into Muigai’s office to look for him – we tell him baba is on a trip but of course he’s still a little young to completely understand.

 

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We also have a lot of fun things that we are looking forward to in the upcoming days.  In:

0 days – Muigai’s home

1 day – My mother in law is coming for a visit

5 days – Natalie’s 5th birthday

6 days – my parents arrive for a visit

8 days – celebrating American Thanksgiving Ugandan style ( we are celebrating on Friday)

9 days – we’ll be spending a weekend in Jinja, at the source of the Nile River

 

Small things really can make a big difference: Alternative gift ideas for this Christmas

                One of the things I’m learning in my work with MCC is that small things really can and do make a big difference.

A good example of this is the family in Kamuli that I shared about in my blog a few weeks ago.  Our partner organization, Aids Education Group for the Youth, gave two piglets to this family, at a cost of only about $30.  As more piglets were born, the family was able to sell several of the pigs and buy a cow.  With the income from the pigs and the cow, they are able to support one of their children to attend University in Kampala.  A university education in exchange for a $30 investment is a very good return!

MCCChristmas     Every year, MCC puts together a Christmas giving catalog that allows people to contribute small gifts like these that can have a significant impact in the lives of people around the world.  As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us think about how we can reflect His love and give to others – not only to our friends and family, but also those in need.  Here are some ideas of “alternative gifts” for this holiday season:

–          Consider giving a relief or development gift through MCC or a similar organization that offers Christmas giving catalogs.  Or consider a combined gift – one year I gave my housemates a basket with the theme of “keeping warm.”  I made a contribution to buy blankets for those in need, and packed this certificate with some fuzzy socks, homemade hot cocoa, and a mug.

–          Get your children involved!  Having children involved in giving can also counteract some of the hyper consumerism that emerges  during the holidays.  Designate a set amount of money for each child and let them be in charge of deciding how they want to spend it to bless others.

–          Give a contribution as a family to an organization, a community initiative in your community, or a family in need – come together and decide as a group how you would like to be a blessing to others this season, or have a contest and see who can come up with the best idea on how to use a designated amount of money to bless others.

–          Hospitality is another great way to show love and give an alternative gift during the holidays.  Christmas has become such a stressful and busy time for so many people that it’s easy to overlook the many people who are lonely and/or far away from their families.  A wonderful gift would be including these people  in your holiday celebrations, or inviting them to your house for Christmas dinner.

These are just a few ideas – how do you and your family give back during the holidays?

Welcome to our new WordPress blog!   We’ve moved all our content from blogger, but you can still see our old blog at http://www.themuigais.blogspot.com

Here’s our explanation for the change:

 

So my blog layout and design is pretty boring – last year when we were at orientation for our job here with MCC, they were printing prayer cards and needed our contact info including our blog address.  We hadn’t yet started the blog so I quickly signed up for blogger and came up with a very basic layout.  Since that orientation (in June 2012!!) I have been planning to update the layout and come up with a better looking blog.  In fact, in my first post ever I said:

” First, let me apologize for the very boring blog – as you can imagine, an international move, new job, and two young children have been keeping us quite busy lately!  Since we left almost two weeks ago, I thought it would be good to at least post to let you know we’ve arrived and are settling in, and then hopefully I can work on editing the blog layout soon.”

Well, that time has finally come! (after only 17 months)  Thanks to our friend Thomas, who moved all my content from blogger to WordPress and set up a new blog for me, we now have a newly redesigned blog.  I’ve been frustrated with the formatting in blogger and wordpress is much more user friendly, so I decided to move my blog there.  You can visit my new blog at

www.themuigaisblog.wordpress.com  

 
 

 

Things I’m learning in Uganda #9 – nothing can stop a male cat who smells a female in heat

                When we got our kitty over a year ago, we decided we would have her fixed when she got a little older.  Somehow, it never made it to the top of our priority list, and I naively assumed that our ten foot concrete wall, barbed wire, and ferocious dog who does not like other animals invading her territory would make it impossible for a male cat to have access to our kitty.
                A few weeks ago, we came home to find kitty wailing and crouched down close to the ground.  She didn’t move at all, even when our dog Daisy came near (the two usually spit, hiss, and growl at each other until kitty runs away).  I literally thought she was dying.  Turns out she was just in heat.
               Soon we began to see a male cat hanging around.  As we found out, our wall, barbed wire, and dog were not enough to deter a determined male cat.
         So now we have a very pregnant kitty, and we are expecting kittens sometime in early November.  Natalie is thrilled.
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Natalie showing off kitty’s big tummy

And kitty’s pregnancy hormones have completely changed the personality of our cat.  Our cat used to be certifiably insane, as I wrote about in a previous blog.  She was definitely NOT a lap cat, and would only sit still for about 10 seconds until she would start to attack our hands that were attempting to pet her.  Now, she has become an overly affectionate cat.  She follows us everywhere, and as soon as I sit down she immediately jumps in my lap and starts purring.  She and Nathan even fight over my lap space, with kitty jumping up and trying to find some extra space on my lap while I’m holding Nathan.  The other day after I put Nathan to bed, I found her curled up right next to him.

 nathan cuddling
Cuddling with Nathan

Things I’m learning in Uganda # 8 – it’s good to be fat!

The other day, I had to park particularly close to a fence, and I asked Natalie if she had enough room to get out of the car.  She replied, “No, I can’t fit because I’m fat.”

My immediate thought was slight panic –

My beautiful girl

My beautiful girl

What??  She’s not fat!  Why does she think that?  Who told her that?  Oh no, the body image issues are starting already!!  Natalie is almost 5 and has never said anything negative about her body before, but I realize it’s increasingly common to find girls as young as 5 and 6

who have already internalized our culture’s obsession with thinness.

Wanting to find out what was behind her comment, I casually replied, “Oh, you’re fat?”
“Yes,” she said proudly.  “I’m fatter than Georgina (a friend from school).  But our other friend is fatter than both of us, she is the fattest.”

She seemed quite proud of the statement that she was fat, so I asked her, “Is it a good thing to be fat?”
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation, looking at me as though I obviously should have known that.
I let out a huge sigh of relief that her comment was not an indication of a looming eating disorder.  Having come from a culture that idolizes thinness and encourages women to be dissatisfied with their bodies, I have to admit it was very refreshing to hear my five year old daughter boast of being fat, regardless of how inaccurate her statement is.
The influence of the Western media in shaping our standards of beauty became apparent to me many years ago when I first moved to Kenya.  Traditionally in Kenya, being “fat” is a sign of health and prosperity.  It is a signal that people have enough wealth to buy plenty of food, and that they are healthy enough to put on weight.  Thinness is a sign of being poor or sickly, and it can actually be an insult to refer to someone as “thin,” whereas people will happily comment on others being fat or “adding weight.”

In Kenya, I was surprised to find that the models in the advertisements and the actresses on TV actually looked like normal sized women, with attractive feminine curves.  In general, an ideal size in this part of the world might be around a 10 or 12, and I recall only 2 or 3 East African woman that I’ve encountered in my 5+ years of living here who were on a diet.

A current advertisement in Kampala which demonstrates the different standards of beauty in this part of the world

A current advertisement in Kampala which demonstrates the different standards of beauty in this part of the world

How did our American culture become so obsessed with thinness? Why are so many American women unhappy with their bodies, even those who are slender? How did we get to the place where we consider a size unobtainable by the majority of women to be the most beautiful?

Our standards of beauty are shaped by the culture in which we live, and in the US the biggest influence in shaping our culture is the media.  More specifically, advertising, which is the foundation of the media.  All of us think we are not affected by advertising, and this is why it is so powerful.  In 2011, there were 36 companies that spent 1 billion dollars or more on advertising.  Corporations would not be spending this kind of money if advertising was not extremely influential.

A basic premise behind advertising is to make

How photoshop creates an unobtainable ideal

How photoshop creates an unobtainable ideal

us dissatisfied, so that we will buy things to address this dissatisfaction.  If a woman is satisfied with her natural appearance, she doesn’t need to spend much money to maintain it.  But if that woman can be convinced that she falls short of the ideal, and if she can be convinced to the degree that her appearance makes her feel bad about herself, she can be persuaded to buy all kinds of products to feel better about herself and help her attempt to achieve the ideal – diet books and plans, gym memberships, plastic surgery, makeup, haircare products, slimming undergarments, antiwrinkle creams, cellulite

The problem is that even the women we see in advertisements don’t really look like that.  Photoshop has enabled editors to erase every bodily flaw with the click of a mouse.  The “ideal” that is being sold to us is absolute perfection, which in reality is only possible with a computer program.  So we are all chasing after an impossible ideal, and spending a lot of money in the process!  I read a statistic that the average American urban woman spends 1/3 of her income on items related to her appearance.

One of the more disheartening problems of this impossible ideal is that even young girls pick up on our culture’s obsession with thinness and begin to diet and feel shameful of their bodies at such a young age.  So for now, this is one thing I appreciate about living in Uganda.  I love that both my daughter and I are surrounded by images of beautiful, normal women with healthy curves, and that my daughter feels proud and not ashamed of her body.

Having fun at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi

I didn’t post yesterday because we were on our way to Kenya!  We have our biannual East Africa Rep meeting with the MCC Country Reps from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Sudan/South Sudan.  We’re staying in the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, which has a gorgeous open area and gardens for the kids to play.  Here is a short video of their amazing swing and some other pics of the kids enjoying their time:
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There’s a tree that is the perfect size for Natalie to climb
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The kids were excited to find a new playground that had been built since we were last here in April
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Taking a short break from running and playing
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Waiting for tea break

Strawberries!

About ten months ago, I was given ten strawberry plants to plant in our garden.  Although strawberries grow well in Uganda, they are not very common here so we rarely eat them.  We all LOVE strawberries though, so we were very excited about the plants.

For the first few weeks, they grew slowly and we would get about one tiny strawberry every three days.  Nathan and Natalie would usually split the tiny strawberry and gobble it up.  The first day we were in the US for our vacation, Nathan singlehandedly ate about half a pound of strawberries!  He couldn’t believe the abundance of the sweet red fruit after growing accustomed to eating half of a tiny strawberry every three days.

Now, with the rainy season, our strawberries are thriving!  Strawberry hunting has become part of our daily routine and the kids always get excited when they find a nice ripe red one among the leaves.  Yum!

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Our strawberry plants are fruitful!
Strawb041erry hunting
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Nathan sees a ripe one!
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Showing off the ripe strawberry they found

Planning for a better future instead of planning for an imminent death

As we approached the last stop on our field tour in Kamuli, it was nearly 3:00, we hadn’t had lunch yet, and we still had several things we needed to discuss with the staff of AIDS Education Group for the Youth (AEGY), an HIV/AIDS organization that serves people living with HIV/AIDS in Kamuli, one of the poorest districts in Uganda.  We had left Kampala early and were tired, but we were instantly re-energized with the lively welcome we received from this group.

The lively welcome we were given - the lady in the middle in yellow and green was the song leader and is waving a pack of condoms

The lively welcome we were given – the lady in the middle in yellow and green was the song leader and is waving a pack of condoms

                As soon as we entered the church, the group erupted into song and dance, accompanied by large African drums.   The songs were all about HIV/AIDS, and the song leader was even dancing around while waving a package of condoms to emphasize the importance of prevention!  After the songs were over, several group members shared how their lives have been changed and they have been given new hope through the activities of AEGY.

More singing and dancing with another group

More singing and dancing with another group

Earlier in the day, we had visited three other support groups where we received a similar welcome and heard similar testimonies.  AEGY has facilitated the formation of 14 support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS in their district.  Through the support groups, the HIV positive members are given encouragement and hope, as well as practical support to improve their lives.  Each group has a savings and loan scheme, which allows member to borrow money and repay with a very small interest rate.

The AEGY staff shared that when

....and more with yet another group!

….and more with yet another group!

the groups first started, people would borrow money when they had problems – for example, when they fell sick and needed to go to a doctor.  But as the groups continued and people regained hope for their future, the focus shifted as more people began to borrow money to invest in their future – to buy livestock, seeds, and to improve their homes and hygiene, for example.  Several of the groups are even talking about beginning business ventures together.  The AEGY staff note this shift as one of their greatest achievements. As one staff explained, when the clients first realize they are HIV positive, many of them are thinking about suicide or planning for an imminent death.  As they engage in AEGY activities, they realize they can have hope for their future and they start investing in development and  planning for a better future instead of planning for their death.

                AEGY also provides its clients with livestock and seeds to help empower them to earn an income.  One family that we visited had been given two pigs from AEGY a few years ago.  In the past two years, they have sold several of the piglets and bought a cow with the profits.  They have even been able to support one of their children to begin University with the profits they have made from selling the piglets.
Some piglets from the mother pig supplied by AEGY

Some piglets from the mother pig supplied by AEGY

I was grateful to finally have the opportunity to visit this project in Kamuli, since HIV/AIDS is an area that I have a lot of interest in.  It was encouraging to see the work that has been going on and to hear the testimonies, and also to meet the staff who are very committed to the project.

AEGY also does a lot of HIV/AIDS education in local schools.  Here a student is reading a scenario about an orphan who lost his parents to AIDS and is struggling to provide some money for himself and his elderly grandmother.  The students have an opportunity to discuss and talk about different scenarios.

AEGY also does a lot of HIV/AIDS education in local schools. Here a student is reading a scenario about an orphan who lost his parents to AIDS and is struggling to provide some money for himself and his elderly grandmother. The students have an opportunity to discuss and talk about different scenarios.

A big mistake…and a few other photos

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The other day I made a big mistake….I really wanted to sweep the floor so I put Nathan in his high chair with a container of yogurt and a spoon to keep him happy so I could sweep, thinking that he has been feeding himself very neatly recently.  Not even a minute later this is what I found….
The yogurt container was on the floor.  So I not only had to sweep the floor, but also mop the floor and give Nathan a bath!
sept001

Nathan has gotten really into books lately and Natalie knows the words in a lot of the baby books we have, so our recent bedtime routine includes Natalie reading several books to Nathan – it’s very sweet!

sept104

Yesterday we took an all day trip to Kamuli, a district three hours east of Kampala.  It was a fun but long day, and we were welcomed with a LOT of singing and dancing.  The kids were especially excited by the big drums and had a great time joining in the fun.  More on our Kamuli trip on Friday’s blog….

Kijani diapers – we’re in business!

I’m excited that my small cloth diaper initiative is continuing to take shape – I now have a website www.kijanionline.com  and a facebook page www.facebook.com/kijanidiapers – and am starting to do more active promotion of the diapers. When I started getting orders a few months ago, I didn’t have any inventory and had to scramble to train tailors, find materials, and get the orders filled. I’ve been able to spend several months building up a good inventory before actively promoting the diapers.

This past Saturday, I went to my first sale to promote the diapers – a local country club has a sale once a month where you can rent a table.  All kinds of vendors come to the sale – local businesses as well as individuals and families selling their things.  We were able to sell a lot of diapers (thankfully, Muigai was with me – he is a much better salesperson than I am! And we had Nathan, our “live model” to show the diapers in action) and we also got a lot of interest – we talked to several people who had never seen diapers like these as there are few modern cloth diapers available in the local market.

 diapersale
Natalie helping me sell diapers at the sale

Please join me in prayer for the following items as we move forward with this:

 

The top layer of the soaker is made with recycled t shirts

The top layer of the soaker is made with recycled t shirts

– The biggest challenge I have is finding a way to get the materials to Uganda.  Unfortunately, most of the materials I need to make high quality diapers are not available in Uganda.  For now, I brought a lot of materials with me when we returned from vacation and have had a few other people bring materials for me when they come to Uganda.  Shipping costs as well as customs taxes are very high, and I am trying to find the best way to minimize these costs so I can make a diaper that is affordable for the local market.  I am also trying to be creative in thinking what materials are essential to be imported and what local materials I can use.  Part of my soakers are currently made using secondhand t shirts, which are available in abundance here in Kampala.

 

 

 

– I am currently working with two very diapers2skilled tailors, and one of them worked for an NGO for several years as a tailoring teacher.  I would love to begin identifying young women who are in need of a job/skills and train them in tailoring, then be able to give them some work making diapers.  Please pray that I would be connected to the right people and be able to begin training at least one new person.

Grieving with Kenya

As I was thinking about what to write on this blog today, everything seemed insignificant is comparison to what has been unfolding in Kenya since Saturday afternoon.
kenya
As I’m sure most of you have heard, terrorists from Al-Shabab stormed into Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi and began throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons indiscriminately.  Many people were killed, hundreds injured, and hundreds more deeply traumatized, including so many children who were in the mall with their parents.  The ordeal continued for more than 60 hours as the Kenyan special forces gradually took control of the mall, freeing people still trapped inside and cornering the terrorists.  As of this morning, the official news was that the ordeal was over, but there are still police and special forces combing through the mall, searching for more terrorists and survivors who may be hiding in shops.
We are grateful that none of our family, friends, or MCC colleagues were at Westgate during this attack, but this tragedy has still hit so close to home for us.
I have no words of wisdom or thought provoking reflections to share, just heartfelt sympathy and grief for all the families affected, those who have lost loved ones, those who have been injured, and those who have been left traumatized.
And in the midst of the terror, there are stories of hope that rise as well – of Kenyans pulling together as one people to offer love and support to the victims.
One story in particular has touched me – at one point, the terrorists were asking people to recite the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith).  If a person didn’t know it, they were killed.  A Muslim man helped a Christian man learn and memorize that Shahada, which ultimately saved the life of the Christian man.
My prayer is that when faced with evil in this world, we, like the Muslim man, can learn how to respond with love and compassion for all.  And that we can respond in faith and not fear, confident in the eternal hope and security that we have through Jesus Christ.

Three “firsts” for us and for MCC Uganda

As I mentioned in my last post, life has been too busy since we returned from our vacation.  I am so thankful that things have finally returned to a normal pace (didn’t I write a post last year about a slower pace of life here in Uganda???)  Thankfully, that still holds true most of the time.  Here are three highlights of three “firsts” for us and for MCC Uganda that have happened in the past several weeks:

First Ik female ever headed to University!

I’ve written several posts about the Ik education program we have in Northern Uganda for this marginalized group.  This year, for the first time ever, Priscillah, one of our Ik sponsored students, did well enough on her high school exams to be given a district scholarship to study Public Administration at Kampala International University.  We are all so excited for her, and her community even declared a public holiday in her honor.  Priscillah is the first Ik female ever to attend higher education!

Priscillah in the KIU library

Priscillah in the KIU library

 Unfortunately, this scholarship has come with its share of

Priscillah on campus at KIU

Priscillah on campus at KIU

challenges.  First, there was a lot of logistics and bureaucracy that we had to go through to secure the scholarship.  The biggest challenge, however, is that the scholarship only covers tuition fees, and there is no funding for books, accommodation, food, transportation, etc.  We are working on putting together a proposal to see if MCC Uganda can help cover these costs starting next year (our Ik sponsorship currently only goes through high school), but for now Priscillah has been staying in our house and we’ve been helping her with transportation money.  If anyone is interested in helping out with her expenses, please send me an email (mccrep@uganda.mcc.org) and I can give you more information.  Despite the challenges, Priscillah was finally able to begin classes a few weeks ago and she is enjoying school so far.

First YAMEN volunteers welcomed to Uganda

Mennonite Central Committee has three exchange programs for young adults:  SALT, where North American volunteers are sent to countries around the world to volunteer for a year, IVEP, where volunteers from countries around the world are sent to North America to volunteer for a year, and YAMEN, where volunteers from countries around the world are sent to other countries outside of North America.  MCC Uganda has always had an active SALT and IVEP program, but this year for the first time we received YAMEN volunteers in Uganda.

In mid August, we welcomed three new volunteers who will be living with local Ugandan families and volunteering in the communities for one year.  We welcomed Steven, from Colombia, Thany, from Cambodia, and Bethany, from Canada.   Steven will be assisting with the Living With Shalom training, as well as assisting with other youth programs through the Anglican Diocese of Hoima.  Thany, who has a background in counseling victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia, will be working as a guidance counselor at Stella Matutina, a school where many of the students have been traumatized by the 20 years of war in the North.  Bethany will be working at a mixed secondary school in Masaka teaching English and Computers to the students.

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Our current MCC Uganda team at our latest team meeting

We really enjoyed getting to know each of these volunteers during their orientation week in Kampala, and we are looking forward to working with them over the next year.

We hosted our first Learning Tour as MCC reps

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Several learning tour participants talk with students at St Luwum

Learning Tours are groups of people who visit countries where MCC is active in order to learn more about MCC programs and partners in that country.  While MCC Uganda has hosted learning tours in the past, this was our first learning tour as the Reps.  The group consisted of eleven senior staff and board member from MCC Canada, and one member from MCC USA.  They spent six days with MCC Ethiopia, and then spent 6 days with us in Uganda.  In those 6 days, we managed to visit 8 different MCC partners, some in Kampala and some in Northern Uganda.  The group also was able to meet and hear testimonies from several beneficiaries who have been impacted by the work MCC has been doing in the country.  We are grateful that all the logistics ran smoothly, and we really enjoyed the interactions with the group members.  Here is their blog from their time in Uganda:

http://mcceastafrica.wordpress.com/

Now that life is back to a normal pace, I hope to update my blog on a regular basis, hopefully on Tuesdays and Fridays.

We are back in Uganda! Highlights from the US…

We have been back in Uganda for three weeks now, and it’s been a crazy three weeks!  We ended up having 5 “bonus days” in the US because our travel agent mixed up our tickets and had Muigai and Natalie traveling on a different day than Nathan and I, and the only tickets available were on the later date.  Then, when we were at the airport at 1030pm waiting to board our flight, they announced that the plane had been hit by lightning on the way to DC and they had to run some extra tests, so the flight was cancelled!  The 5 bonus days were a lot of fun and quite relaxing, but it did make the return to Uganda a lot more stressful since Muigai had to travel to Kenya for work the morning after we got back and I had to deal with two jet lagged children all by myself, plus try to catch up from being out of the office for a month!

In the last three weeks since we got back, we’ve also welcomed and oriented three new volunteers, tried to sort out numerous issues with a district scholarship that was given to one of our Ik sponsored students to study at University, and prepared for a team of 11 MCC senior staff and board members who arrive this afternoon for a week long learning tour of MCC’s work in Uganda.  But more about all those things in future posts….

For this post I want to write about some highlights from our vacation in the US:

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“Don’t forget to bring me to the US!”
 mom
With my mom at her surprise party

My mom’s 60th birthday celebrations – technically, my mom is still 59, and she doesn’t turn 60 until the end of this month.  However, since Kelly and I will be on different continents, we thought it would be fun to celebrate over the summer when we were all home.  My sisters and I planned a surprise party for my mom with both local and out of town friends, and we actually managed to keep it a secret – it’s not a small feat to keep a secret like that from our mom!  Because the party was two months earlier than her birthday, she was genuinely surprised.  As a gift, we got her a complete family photo shoot in Harpers Ferry.  The children were all surprisinly cooperative and it was great to get some nice shots of all of us.  My mother is such a generous and giving person, she is always doing things for other people, so it was really great to have an opportunity to plan something meaningful for her.

 familyshoot
All of us from our photo shoot in Harpers Ferry

My Dad’s retirement luncheon – at the end of March, my dad retired from Exxon Mobil after working for the company for over 37 years, although he is not completely retired from working and already has a job with a consulting firm.  It was very touching to hear my dad’s colleagues talk not just about his expertise and commitment to the job that he did, but also his integrity, his willingness to help his colleagues, and his reputation for always keeping his word.  On the day he retired, I wrote him a letter thanking him for his 37 years of hard work and explaining what his job meant to me – the stability it provided, the income that allowed my mom to stay at home for several years, and the example he gave us of hard work, responsibility, and humility.  Most importantly, even though he was very committed to his work, he always made his family a priority and that is definitely a value I hold dearly now that I have a family of my own.  Even though I’m 32, my parents are still my heroes in so many ways.

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At my Dad’s retirement luncheon

Virginia Beach –  My parents took all of us (three daughters, two son in laws, and five grandchildren) to a few days at Virginia Beach, which was so much fun.  Natalie and Nathan LOVED playing in the sand and the ocean and we had a great time riding along the boardwalk in a four person bicycle.

Spending time with friends and family – this was definitely the biggest highlight of the trip – Natalie and Nathan had a great time playing with their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends, and it was great for Muigai and I to have a chance to visit with and catch up with many people.  Although there were several people we were not able to see that we would have loved to – three weeks is too short!

So many other things…..my neice Briana’s baptism (Muigai was the proud Godfather), a trip to Six Flags with my mom, sisters, and our kids, visiting our home church (Church of the Incarnation), mint chocolate chip ice cream (I think I had this almost every day…yum!), Chipotle, Bowl of Good, grapefruits, summer berries, riding bikes and scooters, swimming, relaxing, good conversations, and many other things!!!

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Heading to church for Briana’s baptism
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Sidewalks are great!  Wish we had some of those in our neighborhood in Uganda
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Playing on the slip n slide at Nana’s house
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Natalie playing “church” with good friends Amina and Ivana – we had a great time staying with this family for several days – big thanks to Chris and Biliana for hosting us!
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At Six Flags – even Nathan was able to go on some rides

One year in Uganda – our “new normal”

July 1 was our one year anniversary of arriving in Kampala, and over the past year we’ve settled into life in Kampala.  Things that first took some getting used to have now become normal life to us.  Here are some elements of our “new normal”:

Quality family time sometimes involves chickens
 Both of the kids are fascinated with our ever expanding brood of chickens (we currently have about 26) and they love helping Muigai feed them and chase them back into their house when they get out.  Even Nathan loves opening the feed bucket and grabbing handfuls of feed to throw to them.  When the younger chicks see Natalie and Nathan coming, they actually run towards them, expecting to get some lunch or dinner leftovers!
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Nathan feeding the chickens
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Natalie loves picking up the chickens, and has become better than I am at catching them!
Fun family adventures are frequent, and our children are becoming excellent travelers
Despite the challenges of traveling with young children, it’s a blessing to be able to travel with our children and share these experiences with them.  We will see if I still have the same positive attitude towards traveling with out children after our 17 hour journey to the US tomorrow!
 We drive in “hyper – alert mode”
 Driving in Uganda is quite different than driving in the US!  Not only do we drive on the left hand side of the road, we have to be vigilant to avoid pedestrians, bodas (motorcycles), potholes, cows, goats, 15 passenger van taxis, other vehicles, and pedestrians, all of which often come within inches of the car!  The roads near our house are hilly and narrow, with drainage ditches on each side of the road.   Driving rules are also different here – at an intersection, you don’t wait for adequate space before you pull out – you just begin pulling into the intersection and it’s assumed the oncoming traffic will stop for you.  We often notice international visitors are quite tense the first time they ride in the car with us.
 driving2
A downtown area of Kampala
 DrivinginUganda
Similar to the roads near our house with many pedestrians and drainage ditches
It’s very common to have guests at the house for dinner or overnight visitors
 One thing I love about our life in Kampala is the many opportunities we’ve had to host visitors.  Having household help takes much of the stress out of hosting visitors and allows us to enjoy the conversation and company.  In terms of overnight guests, in the past year we have had people from more than 9 different countries stay with us!
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Ceri, our friend from Wales, was our most recent visitor. She stayed with us for 2 weeks and worked in a local hospital as part of her midwifery training program. In this pic we are at the beach in Entebbe on our way to drop her off at the airport.
The line between home and work is very fuzzy
Not only do Muigai and I work in the same place, we actually share a position.  This definitely has its positive side – we spend a lot of time together as a family and are learning much more about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and it is helpful to see Muigai’s strengths compensating for my weaknesses and vice versa.  Of course, sharing a position has its share of challenges too, such as having boundaries between home and work (we’re not too good at this yet but we are trying!) and learning how to speak with “one voice” when we have different personalities and management styles.
We are always meeting inspiring people
Mennonite Central Committee does not implement its own projects, but rather partners with local people and organizations that are doing work that is in line with our values and priorities.  This means we are always meeting and interacting with people who have decided to make a positive change in their communities and are doing work that impacts the lives of others.
Skype dates are always a highlight of our week
By far, the hardest part of our “new normal” has been being so far away from my family.  Video skype has made it a lot easier, and we always look forward to skype dates with family back home.  My parents are usually available one or more times each week to read to Natalie over skype, and they read her bedtime stories over the video while I put Nathan to bed.  It’s not the same as being together, but I am grateful that skype is at least providing an opportunity for meaningful interaction.
We are always hot
 Kampala weather is actually quite mild compared to the rest of the country, and is generally in the 80s year round.  During hotter months, it will get into the 90s, and during rainy seasons it may get into the 70s.  There is basically no air conditioning – indoor temperatures are also in the 80s, so our bodies have adjusted to being very comfortable in mid 80 degree weather.  We are packing our long pants and long sleeves in preparation for the air conditioning in the US!!
We head out for our much needed and much anticipated three week vacation in the US tomorrow, so I won’t be posting much in the next three weeks except for maybe a few pictures if I have the time…I want to spend my limited time there with people instead of on my computer!

Fun family adventures resume!

                It’s been two months since either Muigai or I have traveled outside of Kampala, a record since we arrived in Uganda!  It’s been nice having a small break from our “fun family adventures,” but this month we are hitting the road again.  We spent the day in Masaka yesterday (about 3 hours south of Kampala) and will be headed to Jinja (less than 2 hours) in the upcoming weeks.  In addition, Muigai will travel to Soroti (about 6 hours north) and also Hoima (3 hours west).  Then, in mid July we head to the US for three weeks!
                This was our second time traveling to Masaka, and there is something about this region of Uganda that I love, so I was looking forward to the visit.  We have a strong partnership with the Catholic Diocese, and one of the Fathers, Father Peter Paul, is a good friend and advisor of MCC.
                The reason we were traveling to Masaka is to meet the host family of one of our volunteers who will be arriving in August.  We have a one year volunteer program for young single adults where they volunteer with one of our partners in Uganda and live with a local host family.  One goal of the program is to enable our volunteers to really immerse in the culture and understand what life is like in that context.
So early yesterday morning we strapped the kids into their seats and headed off to Masaka.

We stopped for a quick breakfast of katogo along the way…katogo is cooked banana stew with beef and rice, a common breakfast in the central region of Uganda.

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Nathan waiting for his breakfast
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Masaka town

We passed through the main town of Masaka and drove about 20 minutes into rural Masaka where we met Rose, a retired schoolteacher who will be hosting our volunteer.  Hospitality is extremely important, especially in the rural areas, and we quickly realized we shouldn’t have stopped for breakfast along the way.  Rose gave us each two bananas, a bread roll, a large queen cake (like a muffin), two hard boiled eggs, and a large mug of tea!  This was meant to be a mid morning snack, not a meal.

Rose has several agricultural projects on her land, including fruit and vegetable drying (with a solar dehydrator), rain water harvesting, chicken rearing, and pig rearing.  Natalie, who loves being outside, was in her element and happily entertained seeing the animals and playing outside while the adults talked.

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Rose’s compound
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Piglets – Natalie and Nathan had a great time chasing them and trying to catch them but the piglets were too fast
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Playing with a “ball” made from plastic bags and string

After visiting with Rose, we went to the Diocese for lunch and then visited the school where our volunteer will be working.  St Jude’s Secondary School is only two years old and struggles with a lack of resources, but the staff are committed to building and improving the school regardless of the challenges.

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St Jude’s Secondary School

After that we packed everyone back in the car and headed back home to Kampala, passing through the equator on the way back.

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I don’t know what I was thinking wearing a white shirt to the village!  We were all covered in dust by the end of the day

The countdown is on….2 more weeks!!

2 weeks from today we head to the airport to travel to the US for our 3 week vacation!  (technically we leave Uganda 2 weeks from tomorrow because our flight leaves at 12:35 am very early Wed morning)

I am SO excited for our vacation so I thought I’d share the top 10 things I miss about life in the US:

1. Spending time with my family

2. Living within 2 hours of my parents and my sisters

3. My mom’s visits when she would dive to Harrisonburg, play with the kids, and we would eat Bowl of Good (can you tell I really miss my family???)

4. All of our friends in H’burg, NC, DC and elsewhere…

5.  My Monday night Bible study

6.  Our church in H’burg- Church of the Incarnation

7. My favorite eating places in H’burg – Bowl of Good, Chipotle, and Kline’s

8.  The mama groups I went to – Birth Circle, MOMS, La Leche League (there aren’t any groups like that here, although we do go to a fun mama and baby play group)

9.  All the kids activities we had access to – children’s museum, library, parks, kinetic kids, etc

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We do have some fun playgrounds in kampala!

10.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream and grapefruit

Short term missions part two: Gratitude is not enough…

In my last post, I looked at the impact of short term missions on the participants, and the common response that goes something like:

“The people I met were so happy yet they had so little.  It made me realize I should really be more grateful for what I have.”

While I think that being more grateful in general is a worthwhile goal to pursue, this response of gratitude after spending time in a materially poor community is incomplete.

Gratitude is incomplete because it only requires us to change the way we think about our present situation, without challenging us to examine if there is anything that needs to be changed about our present situation.

Witnessing poverty should cause us to struggle with difficult questions:

Why is this community poor?  How do my own community and my lifestyle contribute to this situation?

The causes of poverty are extremely complex, and I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions.  These are questions that I have been struggling to make sense of for over a decade.

It’s not enough to talk about giving men fish, or teaching them to fish.  We have to ask who owns the lake?  Who is allowed to fish there?  Who benefits most from the fish that are caught?  Is the environment of the lake being taken care of to allow the fish to thrive, or is it being polluted so that life and therefore business cannot be sustained?

fishing

While there may be some people who are poor because of laziness or their own character flaws, the majority of people living in poverty are stuck in oppressive systems and unjust regulations that make it very difficult to get ahead.

There are complex global factors that perpetuate poverty.  The cliché of a global village is the reality that we live in today, and I want to share two examples of how our lifestyles in the West affect global poverty.

GlobalVillage

As a result of trying to keep up with ever changing fashion, many of us continually buy new clothes and replace old ones – not because they are worn out, but because they are out of style.  In order to produce clothes so cheaply, the majority of our ready to wear clothes are made in sweatshop factories in other countries, where workers are exposed to low wages, unsafe working conditions, and long hours.  Because competition for textile factories has become so fierce, contractors have to compromise on safety standards and illegally low wages for their workers in order to win contracts.  Our demand for cheap and fashionable clothing drives this competition and results in sweatshops that oppress workers and perpetuate poverty.

Many of us feel better when at least we donate our old clothing to thrift stores and charities.  But what happens to all of these discarded clothes?  Tons and tons of our discarded clothing is sent to countries around the world, where they are sold cheaply in second hand markets.  Although this does create employment for some people in terms of those who sell clothes in the market, the influx of cheap clothing inhibits the development of local textile industries which would benefit local communities a lot more than secondhand markets.  Locally made clothing simply cannot compete with cheap used clothing.  Kenya, for example, used to have a thriving local textile industry until cheap imported secondhand clothing arrived.

market

Another example of how those of us from the West impact global poverty is the issue of environmental degradation and global climate change.  If you have any doubts that global climates are changing, just talk to some rural Ugandan farmers.  Rainfall seasons used to be very predictable – although there would always be some difficult seasons where there was not as much rain, the actual time that the rains began and ended were very predictable, which allowed farmers to know exactly when to plant.  In the past decade, the climate has changed and the rains have become much more unpredictable.  As a result, small scale farmers are the ones who are hit the hardest with the unpredictability of the rains, as planting at the wrong time can lead to a smaller harvest or even a complete crop failure.  For a family dependent on agriculture, like over 70% of Ugandans, a bad growing season can result in debilitating poverty.

farm

Even though it is the lifestyle of those of us from the West that is disproportionately contributing to global climate change, it is the poorest communities in the world who are most affected by the effects of climate change.

For those of us from affluent communities, it’s easy for us to point fingers at poor communities and say “its them – they are lazy, and their government is corrupt, and they are stuck in a poverty mentality.”  It’s a lot harder for us to point those fingers back at ourselves and realize “it’s also us.Our demand for cheap and excessive consumer goods is contributing to unjust labor practices around the world, and our lifestyle contributes to environmental degradation which disproportionately affects the global poor, and our country is one of many that enforce unjust trade regulations, and was involved in a history of injustice and oppression that still has economic repercussions.”

This is a complex issue and there are no easy answers, and it’s extremely challenging to live outside of the “systems” that make up our communities, regardless of how oppressive we realize they are.  While I have changed some aspects of my lifestyle in response to the intricacies of poverty I have wrestled with, there are just as many aspects of my lifestyle that I struggle to change.

My point in writing this is to draw attention to these issues, and to suggest that spending time in a materially poor community should cause us to examine these hard questions and realize our own contribution to the problem, rather than just to be grateful that we have an abundance while others do not.  The solution to poverty doesn’t lie in those of us from affluent communities focusing on how we can change poor communities, it also involves us being willing to honestly and critically examine our own contribution to the problem and commit to change our own communities.

Short term missions: Gratitude is not enough…

                Summertime is the season of short term missions, which is causing me to reflect on the impact that short term trips often have on the participants and their response upon returning home, especially trips that take participants to areas where there is greater poverty than their home area.  Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with friends, colleagues, fellow church members, and many EMU students who have spent time internationally on a short term mission or study abroad trip.
      After spending time volunteering in an area where there is poverty, a common sentiment expressed goes something like:  “The people I met were so happy yet they had so little.  It made me realize I should really be more grateful for what I have.”
grateful

Based on the number of times I’ve heard this expressed, it is a very common response (and I’m sure I expressed the same sentiment after my first experience in another culture in 2002).  Upon further reflection, however, I’m troubled by this common response because I feel the response of gratitude is not wrong, but rather incomplete.  For those of us who were raised in an affluent community, spending time in a poorer community should cause us not only to be more grateful, but also to wrestle with two challenging questions:

1.        Why am I surprised to find that people are happy even when they have little?
2.       Why is this community poor, and how does my lifestyle and my community contribute to this inequality?
      I’m going to address the first question in my blog today, and then explore the second question in my next post.
In the US, we have been told over and over again that more things and more money will make us happy.  This sentiment is the entire basis of our multi billion dollar advertising industry and our capitalist economy.  Although many of us would claim that we don’t really believe this, our complete surprise that people can be so happy with so little is evidence that we have internalized this belief more than we realize.
So when we encounter people who appear to be content and joyful and yet don’t have much materially, it’s jarring for us.
By responding to this situation by committing to simply be more grateful for what we have, we perpetuate our false way of thinking:
Having a lot = happiness.
People with little = happy
 Me with more = more happy.
 Therefore, I should be even more happy because I have more.
The problem with this of course is that it doesn’t challenge the basic assumption that having a lot = happiness.
Short term trips should cause us to question that very foundation.  We should be asking, Why do I believe that more things should make me happier?  Are there things that this community has that my own community is lacking?
There are three things that I’ve noticed as I’ve spent time in other communities that I believe foster a sense of happiness and contentment that many of us in the West lack:
–          Limited exposure to advertising.  The purpose of advertising is to make us discontent.  If we were content with what we have, how we look, etc, we wouldn’t have the need to buy more things.  The general premise of advertising is to convince us that we are lacking in a specific way that their product can fix.  The promise is that true happiness will be found with the purchase of their product.  This promise is empty, and happiness continues to elude us as we try harder and harder to address our discontentment with stuff.
happiness

–          Strong community ties.  Many happiness studies have shown that strong relationships are one of the biggest determinants of happiness.  Many cultures, like Uganda, are people oriented, and place a very strong priority on relationships.   The average person in these communities has a strong network of family and friendship ties which also allows them to be resilient in the face of adversity.

community

–          Strong faith – with the rise of secularism in the West, the culture in general lacks an “overarching narrative” that gives meaning to life.  The secular view is that life began as a cosmic accident, there are no spiritual forces beyond what we can see and feel, and when we die we simply cease to exist.  This worldview can easily lead to a sense of hopeless and despair.  Communities that have a strong religious faith have an overarching narrative that enables them to look at the whole of life as having meaning.   In an oversimplified way, a Christian narrative states that we were created by a loving and benevolent God, our life is a meaningful invitation to participate with God in the way He is working and present in the world, and when we die we have the hope and promise of eternal life.  Embracing this narrative results in a sense of hope and joy, as well as resilience in even difficult circumstances.

faith
The typical response of determining to be more grateful is therefore incomplete because it enables us to continue with our false way of thinking, simply determined to “try harder” to appreciate the material abundance in our lives.  Instead, we should examine our own lives by asking questions such as:
–          How much and what kind of media do I expose myself to?  How does this affect the way I see myself?  How does this affect my ability to be content with where I am and what I have?
–          How much time do I invest in people?  Do I view relationships as expendable, simply a means to an end, or am I committed to the relationships in my life?  How can I rearrange my priorities to invest more in people and build stronger relationships?
–          Am I investing enough time in my spiritual life and spiritual development?  Am I being influenced by the meaninglessness of a secular worldview?  Do my life choices and actions reflect my faith and the ultimate meaning of my existence?

As a disclaimer, this discussion of people living in poverty and yet being happy can also cause us to idealize poverty, or to imagine that life in poverty is somehow ok because people appear to be happy.  True poverty is crippling and stressful, which leads us to the question I’ll reflect on next – short term experiences should lead us to ask hard questions about poverty and economic inequality….more on that next time…

Kijani cloth diapers – made in Uganda!

When I was pregnant with Natalie, we were getting ready to move to the US for Muigai to start graduate school and we were looking for ways to save money on the baby.  We were living in Tanzania at the time, and many women used cloth diapers and hand washed them.  I figured if women could use cloth diapers and hand wash them, how hard could it be to use cloth diapers with a washing machine?

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I did some research online and was amazed at the variety of modern cloth diapers, which looked not only easy to use but also much cuter and cheaper than disposables.   So we used cloth diapers with Natalie, and we loved them –  we literally saved thousands of dollars by using cloth, not to mention saving thousands of diapers from ending up in the landfills.
When Natalie was about 18 months old, went to Kenya for 3 months for Muigai to do his practicum for grad school.  I was introduced to a lady in my town who had a cloth diaper business, and she agreed to teach me how to make cloth diapers so that I could train some women in Kenya.  My original plan was to train women how to make the diapers so that they could set up their own businesses.
Unfortunately, the materials that are needed to make quality diapers were not available in Kenya, so my original plan fell through.
When we moved to Uganda, I brought along some diaper fabrics.  In January, I made a few diapers for a friend and through word of mouth, I started receiving some orders and requests for diapers.
Since January, I’ve trained two local tailors how to make cloth diapers and have been experimenting with different designs to find one that would be affordable for the local market, high quality, and relatively easy to make.
I’ve settled on an “all in two” design where
the diaper comes in two pieces – an outer
cover and an inner soaker that snaps onto
the cover.  When the soaker gets wet or
dirty, another soaker is snapped onto the
cover, which can be used two or three times
until it needs to be washed.  Since the cover
is more expensive to make, this design makes                                           062
the     diapers more affordable.  The diapers
and soakers are also adjustable, so the same
diaper will fit a newborn all the way until he/she is potty trained.
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I’m so excited to see how this project is taking shape.  Through word of mouth only, we have filled orders for 42 covers and 65 soakers since January!  Since this is something that I am doing in my spare time, I’m planning to keep it small for now.  My main focus is on training local tailors how to make the diapers in order to provide more work and income for them.  My role will be to source for the necessary fabrics (some have to be sent from the US) and coordinate the orders.
Here are a few pictures of the diapers “in action” – thanks to Muigai for these great shots – it’s nice being married to a good photographer!!
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Things I’m learning in Uganda #7 – Dancing is always appropriate!

One thing that I love about Ugandan culture is the way that music is so seamlessly incorporated into so many aspects of life.  Singing and dancing are a part of most occasions, regardless of how serious.  As somebody who is musically challenged (at least when it comes to singing) I appreciate the complete lack of self consciousness associated with singing and dancing and the related lack of biting and sarcastic comments about other’s abilities.  Music and dancing are joyful, community activites that everyone should join in regardless of their ability, and everyone is too busy enjoying the moment to analyze the skills or lack of skills in others.

A great example of how music is incorporated into various occasions was at our recent Annual General Meeting.  Two of our partners, Susan and Solomon, have done some singing together and have even created a CD.  They had an opportunity to share a song with us to close the meeting which included a lot of energetic traditional dancing from their region.  Everyone clapped along and cheered, and I couldn’t help but think how something like this would be so out of place in an Annual General Meeting in the US.  But here, in Uganda, where dancing is always appropriate, it was the perfect way to end our meeting.

Crazy cat video and the kids

I was planning to write about the final storyteller from our AGM, a shy, motivated, and intelligent Ik girl who was awarded a full scholarship to a University in Kampala, but I left my notes in the office.  So instead, enjoy this short video of our crazy cat.
This video makes Natalie laugh and laugh.  Our cat will attack anything that moves.  Two days ago I found a lizard head on our carpet.  Just the head.  I’ve found two squirming lizard tails in the past week and she also attacked a bird recently, leaving feathers all over our dining room.  Crazy cat.
And a few recent pictures of the kids:
Nathan’s favorite thing these days is music, and every time he enters the sitting room he heads straight to the CD player and turns on a CD, then he and Natalie dance and laugh together.
Our church recently had a special service at the beach, so here is a picture of Natalie with Lake Victoria in the background.

Surprising storytellers

As I was busy trying to get the laptop and projector set up for our Annual General Meeting, I noticed two young girls enter the room and head toward the back.  I was surprised to see them because the meeting was for our partners, who are all adults, and I was curious about who they were and why they were there.  I was even more surprised when I found out that they had offered to come share their stories as beneficiaries of Mengo’s HIV/AIDS Clinic.  Here are their stories:

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Monica (left) is currently 13 years old and is in seventh grade.  As a young child, she was thin, had a poor appetite, and was generally very sickly.  One day her mother took her to Mengo to be tested for HIV and she tested positive with a very low CD4 count.  Her mother explained to her what it meant to be HIV positive, and started taking her to Mengo regularly for treatment.  She also joined the Mengo clinic’s childrens club and Mengo sponsored her and paid her school fees all the way from first until seventh grade.  In Monica’s words, after several years of treatment she is now, “healthy, good looking, and ok.”  Her advice to us?  “Everyone should go and get tested.  If they are positive, they should take good care of themselves.  If young children are positive, they should give them treatment and take good care of them.”

Asumpta (right) is 15 years old and is an orphan.  Her father died when she was only 2 years old, and her mother died when she was 4 years old.  After her parents died, Asumpta and her siblings went to live with her uncle and his family.  When her sister noticed she was sick all the time, she took Asumpta to Mengo where she tested positive for HIV.  She was enrolled in their program and started taking ARVs.  Once she started treatment, she stopped getting sick, was able to attend school regularly, and joined the adolescents club at Mengo for HIV positive teenagers where she learned that “it’s not a crime to be positive.”  Through the adolescent club, she has learned skills, gained self confidence, and has learned how to live positively.

I was so inspired by the courage and confidence displayed by these young women.  In Uganda, HIV/AIDS is still stigmatized and many people are ashamed to share their status with their spouses and families, let alone in public (I did get their permission to share their names and picture).  For these two young teenagers to share their stories with a room full of adults was both inspiring and surprising.  We are grateful for the work that Mengo has been doing to restore the health and give hope and encouragement to young women like Monica and Asumpta.

Small investments yield huge returns…more HPF success stories

As part of the storytelling component of our Annual General Meeting last Friday, Hope Prisons shared several success stories from their income generating projects.  Because MCC’s partnership with Hope Prisons only focuses on primary education, Hope Prisons had to think outside of the box about how they could empower families so that children could continue their education into high school and beyond.  With only a very small amount of money for a “pilot project” in income generating activities, Hope Prisons was able to turn this small investment into huge returns.  Because I was so impressed with the stories that William shared, I decided to devote another blog to telling some Hope Prisons stories.

Here are some of the most inspiring stories of what these women were able to do with a little bit of capital:

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Beatrice is a single mother who has two children that are being sponsored by Hope Prisons.  Her husband was in prison for several years and then abandoned his family upon his release, and Beatrice had been struggling to provide for her family.  When William first met her, she was living in a very poor house in terrible conditions.  With the money given to her by Hope Prisons, she was able to set up a small food vending business where she cooks food and sells it out of her house.  The income she has earned from the business has enabled her to move into a good house and provide a better life for her children.
HPF
With the small loan that Betty was given, she was able to open her own salon.  With the profits she made, she was able to pay for both her daughter and son to attend high school.  Her daughter, who was able to finish high school, is currently studying to be a nurse.  Her son is in his second year of high school and is performing very well.  After serving a five year prison sentence, her husband was released and is back with his family; however he has not been able to find work since he was released.
HPF3
Florence and her husband separated after he was released from prison.  Although Hope Prisons works with ex-prisoners to transition back into society and encourages them to return to their families, it is common for men to abandon their families after being released.  The combination of having been away for so long as well as the pressure to provide for their families amidst the difficulty of finding employment drives many men away.  With her loan from Hope, Florence was able to open a small retail shop.  With the profits from her shop she is able to take care of her 7 children, 4 of whom are currently sponsored by Hope Prisons.
The final inspirational story is about a young boy who was almost forced to drop out of school in only fourth grade because his father was sent to prison.  He was accepted into the sponsorship program, and was consistently #1 throughout primary and secondary school.  After finishing secondary school, he performed so well on his exams that he was given a full scholarship to study medicine at Uganda’s largest public university Makerere.  This is one of the most prestigious scholarships a Ugandan student can receive, and it is even more impressive in light of all of the challenges this young man has faced in his life, and the fact that he almost didn’t make it to fifth grade.  He is currently in his second year at the University and is looking forward to become a doctor and give back to his community.
I’ll be sharing more stories and photos from our AGM in the next few posts…