Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'll Fly Away - Uganda

June 23, 2008:

Friends and Family,

I wanted to catch up on news of the last few days, but also to let you know the team is safely in London by now. I hope you will give them a few days to catch up on their sleep, as we have had a busy schedule.

I have not looked back at my emails, and have definitely not kept good notes, so if I repeat, please forgive me.

Thursday (June 19), we visited our last school, Bat Valley Primary. We again played 'futbol,' sang and shared with the children. The excitement of the children, as they see us again, always spills over onto us and gives us an energy boost!

Our favorite new song this year is one that starts Hallelujah, but then proceeds to verses like:
Shake a friend's hand - shake the hand next to you...
Hug a friend's neck - hug the neck next to you...
Hold a friend's hand - hold the hand next to you.
Scratch a friend's back - scratch the back next to you...

We were always sure team members were standing by kids so we could interact with them to this song. The kids are not used to back scratches, so that part always produced scores of laughter.

Thursday night, we moved from Namirembe Guest Houses to the Red Chilli Pepper Rest Camp in Kampala. It is actually a youth hostel. However, since they were the group taking us to the Red Chilli Pepper Camp in Murchison Falls, and on the safari, it seemed the place to stay for the night. We were in a dorm with two rooms, with a wide opening between.

There were enough bunks in the ladies for all of us - except two, so Donita and I bunked in the men's part of the dorm.

We left at 5:00 in the morning for Murchison Falls. It is a long trip - approximately 5 - 6 hours over horrendous, wash-board roads. There are so many potholes the whole trip consists of weaving from one side of the road to the other, down the middle, back and forth, etc. Honestly, it is indescribable. We probably all lost 10 pounds from bouncing!

The good thing about the ride is that you leave the towns and head past the villages, in the 'bush', which are located beside and off the roads. It seems like something you would see on TV, as you pass little circular mud homes with thatched roofs. Many times they are in clumps of two or three. Small mud-brick homes are also found along the way. Little children can be seen walking barefoot down the long stretches of roads; sometimes young ones are by themselves walking, with no sign of a home or school in sight. Now and then, we would spot a couple little children riding bikes too big for them, grinning from ear to ear. We passed men standing crowded in the back of trucks, along with long-horn cattle. We glimpsed a guy who had two live goats strapped down behind his bicycle seat. Women were working in the fields. There were countless children with their yellow water jugs pumping water from the lone water pump, or getting water from a dirty pond.

On Friday, we went on an early morning game drive. After you cross the Nile on a ferry, and then load into vans - the fun begins. The roads as you enter are covered with baboons. We saw herds of elephants, giraffe, water buck, Ugandan cob, aroibi, bush buck, Jackson Hartebeest, wart hogs :), and African cape buffalo. We also saw many Golden Crested Cranes - the national bird of Uganda. They are gorgeous. A large lion, lioness, and male cub added to our excitement. It is always amazing to just go off road and drive right up beside them. It was and awesome sight as the lion rose out of the grass and started walking.

We took a boat ride down the Nile River to Murchison Falls - which is simply magnificent. Later, we drove to the top of the falls. It should be one of the seven wonders of the world - truly awesome!

On the Nile ride, we were 'up close and personal' with a large herd of elephants - including a couple of new babies, and numerous hippos and crocodiles. We did get to see a hippo fight!

The team also went on a chimp trek through the forest. They were broken into two groups. One group saw many chimps; the others just made up stories about how many they spotted. :) The highlight for one group was when it starting raining while they were in the forest. Everyone said the sounds of the forest made it worth entering.

In the evening, we met for a beautiful devotion. Wilberforce and Melissa B. shared similar scripture about God's creation. Wilber talked of how amazing it is that God is mindful of us, even though He is the creator of all that we had observed throughout the day.

That evening we met and spent time talking about the memories that had been made in the past two weeks. The best memories are always those in which we spent time with the kids. They love to play with muzungu hair, touch members of the team's toes, hold hands, etc. It was interesting for some of our team to be able to sit in classrooms to observe teachers really doing incredible jobs of teaching 100 - 150 students at one time; others enjoyed going into classrooms and letting the kids simply ask questions. Our memories of starting with a bare room and then looking awestruck at the absolutely incredible, beautiful libraries is always truly special.

We also loved that we had the opportunity to share Christ with approximately 9,500 students, teachers, and administrators this year. As I have said over and over - this is as good it gets...playing a part in improving the education of thousands of children (over 16,000 now have access to books through LOL libraries) and being able to let them know that God loves them, and we love them, also.

Speaking of God - this team was definitely a 'God-send'. They were an incredible group of people who spent two weeks, working, laughing, and crying together. Each year, we find that as time together progresses, we all realize how much we have grown to truly respect and love each true once again this summer.
We had one person on our team, Nancy Carlson, who was just with us one week as we created the library. We appreciated her help and enjoyed her company! Best wishes to you, Nancy!

A couple funny happenings before signing off :

One night at the camp, I had been visiting with the Kansas group and Donita. I then noticed the Illinois team still had their lights on, so I shuffled off that direction and visited for sometime. As I was leaving, I noticed Melissa B. and Donita's light still on. It was really late by then, so I went to the window and scratched all over the screen, made weird noises, started shining my flashlight around the edges of the window, and telling them to get to bed. After I carried on for some time, a young British lady looked out the window laughing! I had walked right in front - and right past - Melissa and Donita's dark 'banda.' Ahhhhh

I had mentioned that the top of my hair was too long. Billy said he knew of a good place to get a cut, so like a crazy person I trusted him. I should have known better when I saw only men sitting in the long line of chairs. But, it was then my turn. I showed the man - only cut a little off the top and DON'T cut the bangs. Next thing I knew, he took his elector razor and starting from the bottom of my hair went right to the top. Before I could scream, he then did the same - starting with my bangs and going back. What could I do? I took off my glasses and thought about barfing on him, truly. Let's say I won't be sending pictures! Two good things about it - I know longer have to wonder if my hair looks good AND should I die, my family will save money; they won't need a hair dresser. I keep telling myself - there is hope!

After the cut, I went in the toilet room of a shopping center (Game) at which we stopped on the way out of Kampala. I was in the toilet room looking in the mirror trying to make my bangs, that I don't have, longer. Two of the ladies that clean that room were watching. The ladies had on their blue smocks that say Mr. Clean on the back. They were trying to cover their mouths so I wouldn't see them laughing. One lady, finally looked directly at me, shook her head and said, "There is nothing that can be done about it." OK, that sums it up. I bought them both lunch for their honesty and for trying their best not to laugh as I explained the problem!

Tomorrow, I start long days of teaching classes, teachers, and administrators about the libraries. What a thrill to see their expressions as they first walk into the libraries...definitely not words to explain the surprise and happiness!

On one of our last meetings, I asked everyone to close their eyes and just picture in their minds the faces of the children with which they have had one-on-one time, or visited in a small group . Debbie W. cried as she mentioned two little boys who had taught her many words in the Luganda language. Others shared as well. Our hearts were bursting with so many memories made in a short time of beautiful hands, and lives that have touched each of us. Buming summed it up when he said that he really felt that we were the ones that were blessed.

Your loved ones who made the trip will never be the same. Their traveling to Uganda was part of God's design for each life. His hands reaching down to guide and direct - and the children's hands reaching out to hold ours, has changed our hearts not just for now - but for a lifetime.


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