Having free time, electricity, and Internet access is for me like winning the American lottery while in Uganda! I woke up at 5:00 in the morning, as though it was Christmas, wishing the time would arrive to walk to town. On the way I was afraid the place would be shut or there would be no power! I have quite a lot to write - everything from teaching over 1,100 kids a day to the ride from Hell. You might want to read it in two settings, however.
Beside the lack of electricity, we have not had water for two days. We had someone bring some and it is in a large barrel by the bathroom. Using lanterns is one thing, but really - we need water!
After the team left last Friday, I spent two days with my friend, Margaret, a Ugandan nurse, and a friend of hers. Sheila's husband is an "ambassador" from Uganda to Italy, so they have a nice home. Also, Sheila has a car! I took time to go see Richard and Tabitha's families (they are Ugandan friends in America), took care of some things at Namirembe School, and visited the secondary school into which Namirembe feeds. That sounds simple, but it is not. Due to the roads and traffic, things that should take an hour, turn into half a day of frustration. Those four visits took the entire day. Sunday was interesting. Sheila is Muslim and Margaret is Anglican. They decided they would take me to a large church near Sheila's home. It turned out to be KPC, Kampala Pentecostal Church. It probably has a membership of 15,000. It was like being in the Bass Concert Hall with an amazing choir performing. The choir had red, gold, and black, dresses and shirts! Fantastic music!
Monday, I caught a ride with a man from Canaan Orphanage near Jinja. The pastor who runs the orphanage has an amazing story. He and six pastors were rounded up in the middle of the night by Idi Amin's men. They were put in prison and told to renounce God. When they wouldn't, they were lined up and shot. When the bullet was fired at Pastor Isaac, he slumped and fell over. The bullet went through his arm. The bodies were thrown in a huge pit full of other dead bodies. After the soldiers left, Isaac climbed out and was tended to by two "cowboys." This is the short version of the story ... more later.
My stay at the orphanage was wonderful. I had a room to myself and finally had time to have some quiet time and recoup from our whirlwind schedule. That evening a group arrived from a Baptist church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. There were four women and two men. The women moved in my dorm, and it was comparable to being at a ladies retreat. We totally enjoyed each others company and stayed up late visiting. During the next two days, we had plenty of time to play with the kids, which was wonderful. The group's leader was a wonderful man that has organized contributions over a seven year period for Canaan. The day I was leaving, I shared with the group the beginning of Libraries of Love, and Pastor Isaac shared his story. We were all in tears and it was a special time.
It was time to move on to Mbale, so I needed to find a means to travel. In Kampala. I take public transport vans which are white window vans, which are stuffed with people, and not really safe to ride. However, it is not how one would want to take a long trip. Jinja to Mbale is approximately 2 and 1/2 hours if all goes well. The roads fluctuate between horrible to not bad. I told the pastor I would like to take a costa, which is a larger bus. He, however, had a van of five people waiting on him to go shopping. Since he knew I had traveled before (at least I am rationalizing that is the reason), instead of taking me to the city park where I could have caught a larger bus, he dropped me beside the road. He then looked uncomfortable not knowing whether to stay until a bus came or leave with the others. I told him to go. He said he would check on me in 30 minutes, but by African time that could be three hours! So, yes I was left by the road once again - hard to believe, isn't it? :) At least there were about seven people and I wasn't totally alone!
Before long, a public transport van arrived, the caller threw open the sliding door, and yelled, "Mbale." I had a choice to go or wait until ...? I stepped forward, looked inside the van, and knew there was no room! Usually, I travel with one bag. The group had forgot a suitcase of puppets, so I had my bag, a bag of clothes, small suitcase of puppets, and a bag with two big puppets. Believe me, this is not the way to travel here! However, they had seen me move forward, and soon I was being helped to the third row of four rows of seats. Picture the van: a long, wide strip of sheep hair across the dash, huge gold tassels from the mirror, and leopard fur wrapped around the rollbars over the windows. On the van it says: seating capacity 14.
The van was totally filled, with people standing in the doorway leaning over the others. I counted - 24 people, not including me! I counted again, still 24 people! Suffocation was definitely a possibility. My bags were stacked on my lap and my suitcase had been handed to somebody in the first row. I couldn't breathe or see anything except a sea of heads! We were soon flying down the road. I tried to keep my eyes closed as I was petrified at the way the guy was driving from one side to the other. Everytime we had a "pit" stop, we were swarmed by people trying to sell us food, etc.
After thirty minutes, the driver swerved to the side of the road and stopped. He yelled, "Muzungu (white person) - front seat!" Believe me, the only thing worse than being in the third row, is being in the front right next to the glass where you can really see what is happening! I thought about screaming and begging for mercy. Was he putting me in front so in case of a wreck, I would be sacrificed first,or to be nice? I was going for the first explanation!
My driver was a young, arrogant Muslim man. He seemed to know every driver on the road. It was a challenge for them to pass each other and it didn't matter if it was safe or not. At times, when we were supposed to be in the left lane, we made a lane two lanes to the right. We whizzed between huge trucks and other vans. It was like a cross between bumper cars and demolition derby - add in huge holes - and it definitely became the trip from hell!
I thought you might enjoy the progression of my prayers and thoughts as we flew along the road. I wish this were a joke - but it wasn't!
- Dear God, please get me to Mbale safely.
- (begging) Please, God, the children in Mbale still need me! Please!
- Just don't let us hit any petro trucks - no fire!
- Don't let me lose any limbs, please!
- Please don't let any more goats or cows wander into the road. OK, it is a chicken, that's fine, we can just squash it!
- Keep these rivers of beautiful children walking along the road safe from my maniac driver.
- Lord, we shouldn't be passing on this hill and curve. Please take care of it!
- (As we created a center lane between a truck and van) If I am going home, Lord, just make it fast! I wonder if they will put in one of those funky Ugandan caskets with the glass on each side and on top of the face.
- I have got to take my mind off of this trip. I know, I will count the men urinating by the road. They say to avert the eyes, but I won't! I will count them like we count volkswagens in America!
- Mbale - 50K. I may make it alive. When I get off the van, I am going to kiss the ground.
I'm safe. I then traveled with my many bags from the main road, down the dirt road, and "home"!
I journaled the above by lantern light. It was then time to put the mosquito netting down and thank God for his protection. Some of Paul's last words to me were, "Be safe! Don't do anything crazy." Really, I am trying, Paul!
June 21st: I woke up early so I could walk Mercy - Wilber and Sarah's six year old - to school. Then on to Namatala! I arrived at school to find they had dumped in the library the 6,000 extra paperback books that we were to give students and teachers. That was not going to work, as I needed to teach. I hurried and got the list of classes and the number of children in each class. Sorting began. Later, an American friend that is here for a few months, Jessica, arrived and took over the organization, so that I could begin teaching the students how to use the library.
Jessica returned several afternoons and was a HUGE help. She cut and taped all the identifying signs on each of the shelves to make it easier for book placement, and she helped with children as they came into the library to maintain order. She was a life-saver as we were showing children the information needed on cards to check out books, which was difficult with so many children doing so at once. All in all, Jessica was a Godsend and I appreciated her help so much!
The younger classes I taught in their classrooms, but the five older grades came to the library in groups of 60. The first day I taught three kindergarten classes (sizes: 135, 125, 111) Then, I met with first grade (249, 243) and three sixth grade classes in the library (103, 103, 120) for a total of 1,189 students. I then taught kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers. By 6:00, I was exhausted. I walked to get Mercy and then home! The electricity came on at 7:00, but I was too tired to wash my hair and use a hairdryer. Hopefully, it will stay on tomorrow. I did wash my clothes (in a round, rubber tub). We have to hang them down the hall on the clothesline, as we aren't home during the day so they might be stolen.
The next morning, Mercy and I were off at 7:15 again. It was an emotional day, perhaps because I was still tired. I taught second-grade classes (170, 183, 173), third grade (171, 165, and 157). In the afternoon I met with fifth grade (144, 134) The electricity was on for about an hour so the teachers came in on my break and I taught computer skills. My days are running from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
A teacher had plants in her room as that was the unit they were studying. I went to the library and checked out books for her on plants. The word went around the school and teachers were scouring the shelves for their subject area. By the end of the day, we had many books checked out by teachers. The teachers even came in at the end of the day and the floor was full of teachers reading books. Awesome sight!
The third day, I met with fourth-grade classes - a total of 497 students, so it was a light day. :) The rest of the day was spent teaching the teachers of the older grades. The teachers have asked me to come back today (Saturday) as the electricity is on until 7:00. They want to learn how to use the computers.
I would be less than honest, if I didn't saying it has been overwhelming meeting with one class after another. But, when you receive their wild cheering, hand claps, and watch their eyes dancing as they look at the 8,500 books in their library, it is worth every bit of effort!
Starting Monday, we will begin the schedule for students to actually have library time and check out books. I will work with the libarian for two or three days until she is comfortable with her job.
Keep me in your prayers that I will get everything accomplished before I leave for Kenya next Thursday.
Love and best wishes sent your way. Enjoy your hot water, regular toilets, and electricity! :)