Dear Family and Friends,
I have quite a lot to write so you might want to print it off and make it your bedtime reading for two or three days. :)
Ethiopian Airlines is looking better! We took the team to the airport this morning using three vans, as there was so much luggage along with the 18 people. One van had a flat on the way, but another van came to the rescue, and they moved quickly to the airport. When they were checking in, they learned that none of the seats had been booked for the Texas team, plus Karen's ticket had even been canceled. After much, much time they finally arranged seating for them. Every single flight - whether with American Airlines or British Airways - has been a mess! It is really frustrating, but the important thing is they are fine and on their way back to you.
Maria, a young Ugandan woman that has worked for Herb and Ellen for several years, and I left the airport and headed for Mary Kevin's school to pick up our tools and generator. It is 'off the beaten path,' - or in this case one could say 'down the beaten path.' The dirt road to the school is horrible, but even worse because of recent rains. Once there, I went into the library and was amazed once more at how beautiful it looks. Maria and I then headed toward Kampala only to have to stop because someone's chicken, with half a brick tied to its leg, had managed to drag itself to the middle of the road! They had several others tied the same way in front of their home.
(I must go back and mention the toilets at Mary Kevins! I have traveled for years, and it is one of the 'best.' Thank goodness it is a 'long drop' squat pot because the ground down the hole was moving, moving, moving, with vermin and ???? - just sliding around all over. I should mention that first I had to open the door and stand there trying to wave swarms of flies and (?) out the door before I could even enter. Then I glanced down. ... I'll leave it at that! Ugh - and I have to spend a long day there Friday! Say a prayer!)
I have so much news I want to share ...
By Wednesday, we had not only finished the libraries and enjoyed opening ceremonies, but we had interacted with approximately 9,300 children. It was truly go, go, go from morning to night, but what a wonderful way to spend your days! The children are delightful. I know I have said before that their eyes dance - but they do just that. Those smiles and beautiful eyes will melt your heart every time. We are truly the ones who have received!
Break Time: (Wednesday) The team loaded into a large van to travel to Murchison Falls Park for a much deserved break.
After arriving, we took at boat ride down the Nile River. All but four fit on one boat, with the others traveling on a smaller boat. The scenery along the river is breathtaking! We saw many animals along the river banks, including birds, rhinos, crocs, African cape buffalo, etc. The other boat was excited because as they passed several elephants, one of them 'trumpeted' them. However, we outdid them, because just as we got close to some elephants, they decided to become intimate. :) It was quite a sight!
Murchison Falls is a huge, beautiful, cascading falls. Our plan was to climb all the way to the top of the falls through the 'forest.' However, as we were unloading our boat, the rest of our team yelled to say that our van was broken down and couldn't pick us up at the top of the falls. Back on the boat we went for the return trip to the boat dock.
After returning to the dock, we heard some sad, shocking news. Our van driver, Eddie, a young man, had been working on the bus in a small area near some of the Murchison Falls employees homes, which consisted of about five tiny, mud, circular homes. As he was leaving, he didn't notice a two-year-old boy crawling behind the bus. Eddie ran over the boy, killing him. A person in one of the homes grabbed a gun and shot at Eddie. Eddie ran for his life knowing that the practice in Uganda is mob justice. The guards at the gate saw him running and stopped him. They called the police, and Eddie was off to jail with the bus and all our luggage.
We learned of these happenings as we got off the boat at the landing. We were walking with our boat driver back to our camp, the Red Chili Pepper. As we were discussing it, our boat driver told us it was his son that was killed. We were just shocked and so sad. At the camp, we met for a time of prayer and reflection. We decided we should donate money to the family to pay for their gas to Gulu, where the burial would be, hopefully leaving some extra funding, also. We all pitched in and then walked to the family's home, meeting with the mother and father.
As spokesperson for the group, I had been trying to think of what to say, and just couldn't seem to think of the right words. As I shared with my team, as soon as I opened my mouth the words came easily as I talked about how the young boy was now in Heaven feeling fine - playing, singing and laughing in the presence of Jesus. I also shared that many of us are parents and know how much love is felt between children and parents. I truly thank God for giving me the words that were needed. We sadly left the family and returned to the camp. Paul and Tom, a young American guy that works with Herb and Ellen, went to the police station to retrieve our luggage. They did leave my brown sandals because they said they looked like something our driver would wear! What kind of deal is that?!
The travel company sent two small vans for our use. Thursday evening found us on a wonderful safari (game drive). One of the highlights was being close to and seeing a group of about 25-30 giraffes doing their 'rolling' walk, as they moved in a line through the bush. One of group commented that she felt like she was in a National Geographic magazine.
The two smaller vans were nice because we could drive off the main path and get 'up close and personal' with the animals. We spotted a lioness in a patch of high weeds, so each van went to a different side. She looked at us and yawned. Dave finished looking out the window through the viewfinder on his camera. He lowered the camera and there he was eye to eye with the lioness! He threw the window shut fast! The lioness then headed for our van's windows - so we too quickly shut them! We loved it!
Before we left Austin, Paul had mentioned that he didn't have peace about us going to Gulu. That evening at the camp, I had five different people come to me to say they didn't feel good about the trip, including Tom. Therefore, we cancelled that part of the trip.
Friday morning, we caught the 7:00 am ferry to go on another game drive. This time we spotted two lions and drove right up to them. They looked at us awhile and then stood and leisurely strolled away.
Now, it is time for me to tell you about those in our van's highlight. We were cruising down the 'washboard' road when we passed some elephants, including four young ones. As we passed, one of the elephants threw up his trunk, trumpeted us, and then charged toward the van. There was a mixture of screams and laughter. We were yelling at the driver to hit the gas pedal. Off we went over a hill in the road and down. As we looked behind us, we watched the elephant come lumbering over the crest of the hill, ears flapping, as he headed right down the middle of the road trying to catch our van! What a sight! I have been on safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, and in Uganda - but I must admit, this was a monumental memory! Wow!
In the park we saw giraffes, elephants, cape buffalo, Ugandan Kob, Jackson hartebeest, oridis, bush buck, water buck (the last three Donita renamed as deer-o-lopes), wart hogs, baboons, fish eagles, lions ... .
After a morning safari, we ate and then headed home to Kampala. Our drivers took the scenic tour - which was beautiful - but ended up being about a nine hour drive. The roads in Murchison were comparable to driving over endless cattle guards. The roads (or not roads) to Kampala consist of huge potholes with some tarmac in places. Donita said it was like taking a matchbox car and trying to run it over a piece of swiss cheese without hitting the potholes - not possible, of course. By the time we got home, our bottoms were rearranged! We were exhausted, but what great memories!
We had an exciting ending to the day. In the house we heard a rumble and the floor started rolling! Yes, an earthquake. OK, it only lasted a few seconds :) but how exciting is that! The earthquake registered 5.8 on the Richter scale. The center was in the Congo. Lake Albert runs beside Murchison Falls and partly separates Uganda and the Congo. If we had been in our cabins and tents, we would have been rockin' and rollin'. I know - I have a sick sense of what is fun. :)
Saturday we had a nice relaxing day and went shopping. Later in the evening, the team enjoyed (?) eating grasshoppers!
A few Uganda phrases:
hoot instead of honk
give you a push - see you to the door
rest your soul - go to the bathroom
get knocked - hit by a car
Our team's new word - Oh, matuke!!! Uganda's national dish is matoke, made from bananas. Some on our team didn't like matoke - so changed it a bit to make it our 'bad' word!
Comments from our last team meeting about the trip:
- It was great how students were included in the opening celebrations through skits, dance, poetry, song, etc.
- It is impossible to realize the significance of the libraries to the Ugandans and how much they feel it will add to the students' knowledge, until you have been here and listened to the various speakers, as well as the students and staff.
- A quote given at the grand opening by the headmaster at Mengo by Winston Churchill: "All people can do great things. Great people just do things differently."
- It is so wonderful to bring people to create the libraries so that the Ugandans can see us face to face, and it not just a donation sent from the States.
- The impact on the teachers is huge as they realize the amount of resources now available to them.
- Creating the libraries is like the roads. You can't really grasp it until you have lived it.
- Their celebrations are huge because the library donation is a huge happening for them.
- Jan was visiting with several girls. They wanted to feel her hair. They also wanted to know if the freckles on her arm was a disease. The girls wanted to know if children in America have to do chores like carry water to their homes.
- We love the kids waving to us along the road. It is fun to share the students' excitement as they watch us through the windows and doors.
- Many don't understand the concept of a library, as they have never been in one.
The significance mentioned of the trees planted at Mengo was that what we have started must continue to grow.
- Roger, the assistant principal at Namirembe, said that we had given them a baby, which had elevated their status. Now all aspects of their school must also be elevated to meet the standard that was set.
- Wilber, Sarah, Herb and Ellen are wonderful people.
- The worship at Wilber's church was exhilarating. The atmosphere was awesome. It is amazing to think people from around the world worship God - but in different ways (such as quietly or through dance). That must be what Heaven will be like.
- The church was humble, but they know how to raise the roof!
- The young girl who lived in the slum area with her mother and 9 siblings had read a book, "The Good and Bad Luck." When asked what her good luck was, she said learning. When asked about her bad luck, she said she didn't have any.
- Clint begged me not to tell, but we caught him putting deet in his hair. I guess he didn't want mosquitoes landing!
- To make a point that we are alike, though with different skin color, an assistant headmaster had Melissa come up and write her name and then had a young girl do the same. They were both left handed!
- A common happening on such things as the length of the time home:
"I'll bet you a deet wipe."
I'll see your germ x and raise you 3 fruit snacks.
I'll raise you a roll of toilet paper!
(pop tarts were usually the winning word:)
Thank God we weren't on the bus when it ran over the child.
I forgot to mention that Sunday Paul drove one of the vans to church with a group. He made it. We attended Herb and Ellen's church. Maria sang in the choir. It was a good service.
I must wrap up as I must owe quite a bit of money by now.
The team: Awesome. Inspiring. Funny. Thoughtful. Gracious. Loving to each other and our Ugandan friends, and hard working. There just aren't words to describe this group. It has been the best of experiences to share their company for two weeks. They have my highest respect, friendship, and love. They have touched volumes of lives, as well as having their lives touched and changed.
Our deepest thanks to our supporters who have made these libraries possible . I have repeated over and over the past few years the words of a young boy at our first library ceremony, though I am changing the ending, as it fits so well:
"May He bless you as you have blessed the children of Uganda (and the Libraries of Love team)." Thank you!
I have a busy schedule the next many days. I will be training the librarians, staff and some students at our four schools, as well as returning to our first school to enjoy time discussing the library with Damallie, our librarian, and Jane, the headmistress.
In summary: The two weeks have been an incredible experience. We have accomplished so much, yet enjoyed our time. Please keep the group in your prayers as they travel home. Also, keep me in your prayers as I work and travel in Uganda. I will return home July 16th.
My love and best to each of you.