First world problems in a third world country

My roommate used to have this thing she would say to me when I was voicing my frustrations over various issues. She would sigh and shake her head and say, “oh first world problems.” Meaning that maybe before I complained about the internet being slow I should remember the fact that simply having a computer puts me miles ahead of where someone might be in a third world country and that I should be grateful.

DSC00311Since coming to a third world country for the first time I have noticed something interesting. There are first world problems, there are third world problems and there are first world problems in third world countries. I was surprised to find that slow internet, a head battery, and a file that won’t download are still the most frustrating things to me. When the electricity goes out, as it did today, I simply open the curtains to let a little sunlight in and do something that doesn’t require too much light. When the water goes out, as it has been for the last week, I haul water in a Jerry can, and shower in a bucket and don’t think all that much about it. But when my computer freezes, the internet refuses to work or I am having other first world problems I still find them the most frustrating. I had a good laugh today when Luta asked if he could borrow my computer. After a few minutes on it, realizing how slow it was he just shook his head and he said with a truly concerned look on his face. “whenever the computer won’t work fast enough I feel pain here, in my heart!” He was genuinely distraught about the situation and looked as I imagine I must have the first time I saw the mud huts along the road and smelled the smell of the sugar cane factory. It was ironic.

Since, I think this is the first time I have mentioned Luta, let me tell you a little about him. I love him. He is one of the people who make it so that I can’t hardly imagine leaving this place.

Luta’s family comes from Rwanda. His parents fled when the genocide first started there. They moved to Uganda. During that time as refugees Luta’s mother became quite close with another woman. This woman became “grandma” to Luta. In America when someone becomes really close or fills a role in our lives we will often say, “she is like a grandma to me.” Not so in Uganda this is not the first time that someone has introduced me to a mother, grandma, sister etc. only to later find out that they are not actually related. It seems family is more about a way of life and less about blood.

Anyway, Luta grew up in a very poor district in Lugazi. Gehry Gehry is the slum. No one there had ever graduated from University. Luta will be the first when he finishes next year. In the district where I live I am told about 55% of households have running water. In Gehry Gehry it is more like 15%. As we walked around the village Luta told us stories. He told about how he spent a number of his growing up years in an orphanage, not because he was an orphan but because by being there he could get an education. He told about his ingenuity in coming up with ways to pay his own school fees from the time he was quite young. DSC00331

He told about the time that he spent in a Ugandan prison on false charges and how he eventually got things straightened out. He told about his good fortune in being able to work as a caddy for golfers and how that led him to all kinds of opportunities. He calls himself the town dog, because everyone in town knows and loves him. And it is true, as we walk everyone stops to say hello to him.

He told us about two girls who came to their village, one day when things were especially bad. The well had become contaminated and there was no water. People DSC00317were going to die. These two girls used their own savings and had a well built. It saved the lives of many village people who surely would have died without water. (since one of those girls was my friend Melissa, it also explains why she is such a celebrity here.)

Currently, he is a student in the capital city, Kampala. He is getting a degree in business, and doing stand up comedy along the way. He became a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints just a few months ago. To see him showing us around, wearing nice clothes, and speaking with excellent english, one would never have suspected that he grew up in a mud hut on the side of a dirty crowded street. Yet to see him go back there and sit in front of that same house with his mother and baby niece, to see him being greeted warmly by everyone there, there is no question that this boy has done something amazing.DSC00322

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I Love Sundays!

Today was the district conference for the Jinja area. It was wonderful. The first few days I was here I woke each morning half hoping that when I opened my eyes I would be home. Today is one of those days when I feel like three months here won’t be nearly long enough. I meet people and I want to get to know them, to be a part of their lives. I want to be apart of watching the church grow here. And there just isn’t enough time.

I am starting to love being here, I don’t notice the smells so much anymore, My stomach has adjusted to the food, I am sleeping again. It’s all good again and I can begin to really enjoy this experience.

The branch here hired a couple of buses to take us all to Jinja. When we arrived there were a whole bunch of missionaries waiting to greet us. I went and met them, several of whom were from Utah. The missionary couples and the Mission president were there as well. I got to meet the Mission president. He is leaving in just a few weeks and he was very emotional as he has been here for six years. As the congregation sang God be with you till we meet again, and he was waving to them from the stand, the whole congregation was waving back and he was crying. It was so touching.

President and Sister Jackson with Emined and I.

President and Sister Jackson with Emined and I.

Emined was the first Ugandan member that this mission president sent out. Now they have many. He was very excited to get to see him. As he shook his hand President Jackson said ‘Emined I started this off with you and I now I will end it with you” and he gave him a big hug. It is touching to see how much the people here love him and how much he loves them.

I was amazed during the conference at how direct the speakers were. They talked about several issues that I happen to know are quite cultural issues. I would have thought they would be hesitant to address. But president Jackson was very clear about the fact that these things are chains that are still binding this people. They talked about bride price (the tradition of paying a large sum of money to the brides parents) and how the church was really discouraging this tradition. They talked about modesty and president Jackson said they had raised the expectations and that more was going to be required of these people. He talked about paying tithing and so many things and I left feeling that surely if these people could change so much and walk away from their traditions I can do as much to become a better person.

After the conference So many members came and shook my hand and wanted to stay in touch and take a picture that if Emined hadn’t insisted that we needed to get going I don’t think I ever would have made it out of there. We went to a members home for dinner. Sister Gertrude was one of the very first members in Uganda. She is an amazing woman who is a single mom. She has raised her daughters in the church and she is so strong. Her testimony is so vibrant and real only someone who has really sacrificed to live what they believe would be able to speak with the conviction that she has.

Sister Gertrude and her two daughters with Emined and his mission president.

Sister Gertrude and her two daughters with Emined and his mission president.

She kind of adopted Emined. When he was just new in the church his family had disowned him and he had nowhere to go for shelter. She took him in and he stayed with her until he was able to get on his feet. She says he is her son and her home is his home. So we had dinner with her and her daughters. Her daughter recently served a mission and is a beautiful strong woman also. I think we will be good friends. And I look forward to knowing her.

After dinner we rode back to Lugazi just in time for a little goodbye party for Ellen. We had a picnic at a little park just outside a local church. It was quite interesting to see the pastors there playing games with us and joking with Ellen who has been so vocal about being atheist. That is one thing that I love about Ugandans. You can disagree with them and have little arguments without anyone getting their feelings hurt. The pastor jokingly referred to Ellen as his enemy and asked me if now that she was going if I was going to be his new enemy. I told him that I didn’t think that was necessary. That in spite of the fact that our opinions differed a bit on religion we are still Heavenly Fathers children and we can be friends. He laughed good-naturedly and went on his way.

Saying goodbye to Ellen

Saying goodbye to Ellen

At a loss for words

Usually I am long on words. Today not so much. I am hot, tired, not feeling well but also feeling overwhelmed with everything that I am experiencing. Overwhelmed in a good way. I love the people here and I am loving my experience. Before I came I knew I would love the people but then, they didn’t have names.

Names like Davis and Joseph. The two boys who live across from us in the compound and who come by practically every day to see us, they sing for us, they help us with our dishes and they share their food, their lives, their seemingly endless smiles with us. They are like brothers to me and I have truly come to love them.

Making curtains for the apartment while visiting with Davis and Joseph.

Making curtains for the apartment while visiting with Davis and Joseph.

Hot and dirty but the apartment is clean!

Hot and dirty but the apartment is clean!

Emined and Davis cleaning the apartment

Emined and Davis cleaning the apartment

The other day I was cleaning the new apartment getting it ready for the other girls that are coming soon and both boys just showed up with rags ready to work. Emined came also and together we scrubbed the walls and the floors. It was fun working side by side with them and made a big job a joy. Even little Joshua followed their example and came to help.

Little Joshua sweeping the floor for us. He helped us all day.

Little Joshua sweeping the floor for us. He helped us all day.

We mopped the floor of our little kitchen and when we were finished the water was so dirty. Who knew that such a small space could contain so much dirt!

The other day I made my first solo trip to Kampala. I had a batch of jewelry that needed to be delivered to a customer and everyone was busy so I took it in. I took a taxi to Mukono and then a boda boda to our manager’s house to pick up the shipment. Then I took another taxi to Kampala and met Ashley at a great little restaurant called Dorman’s it was the most “western” place I have eaten at since I got here and it was heaven!

Tina's baby Mercy.

Tina’s baby Mercy.

Little Kayla's shoes sitting next to emined's. They are so little and cute. She always says hello to me and when I ask her how she is she answers in the cutest voice ever "I am fine"

Little Kayla’s shoes sitting next to emined’s. They are so little and cute. She always says hello to me and when I ask her how she is she answers in the cutest voice ever “I am fine”

Inside Dormans restaurant

Inside Dormans restaurant

Serving in the Church

I pride myself on not being a stereotypical over emotional woman. However, there are just times when for no good reason, things that you sometimes can deal with just fine suddenly seem overwhelming and beyond your capabilities and the slightest thing can make you cry. I know it doesn’t make sense and I don’t like it but it just happens sometimes. Friday night was one of those nights. All the little things that I have been ok with so far suddenly just became too much and I felt like I was going to lose it.

I have been having some stomach issues as I try to get used to the food, I am not sleeping as well as I might wish for and on Friday night I was awakened at just after 1 o clock in the morning by the sound of mice fighting in our kitchen. I could hear them under my bed. They were running back and forth knocking in to things and squealing. I could hear them gnawing on something in the kitchen. I just lay there in the darkness praying that they would not come up on my bed. I started to fall asleep and then I felt something brush against my arm. I woke screaming and threw it as far from me as I could only to find that it was just my flashlight. I lay awake the rest of the night listening to the Born agains and their Friday all nighters which were interesting the first week and just annoying that night. Finally the sun started to come up and I got a phone call from Emined. He asked if I could help with a primary program at the church that day.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell him no and I wanted to be on the next flight home to Utah, have a shower and sleep for the next week. But crying was the only one that was really an option and that would have just given me a headache and made the morning worse so I said I would go.

I arrived at the church and Emined was waiting for me outside. “ok Vilate this isn’t going to be easy but we just need to do it.” He told me. I groaned inwardly. He explained that the program was a district program and would take place in Jinja about an hour away. We were to gather up the children from their homes and take them on a bus to jinja. There I was supposed to represent the primary president from our branch and give a talk about having a body like heavenly father. Then I was supposed to lead the children in giving a bit of a presentation (although they hadn’t really prepared one). Then we would eat a bit of lunch and bring them all home.

JInja District primary

JInja District primary

We started walking and after only a few minutes I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. It was so hot and so humid that I started to panic that I couldn’t breathe. It took everything that I had in me not to sit down right there in the middle of the dirty road and cry. “I don’t know if I can do this Emined” I told him. Meaning it ever so literally. He hardly acknowledged my comment. “You will be fine. “He said “it’s what we must do.” We gathered the children and walked to the taxi park where we caught a bus. As we drove I tried to focus a little on what I might say in my talk. With one child sleeping soundly on my lap and another sitting next to me, and Emined in the seat behind with 4 others I wondered what in the world we were doing. I didn’t even have a calling! Emined was the Sunday school president!

Our little group of children from Lugazi at the district primary program.

Our little group of children from Lugazi at the district primary program.

How did we end up doing this I thought? At that moment I thought of a phrase that I had heard many times and thought I understood. For the first time I thought of it entirely different. “Serving in the Church” is more than fulfilling your calling, more than doing your visiting teaching, more than accepting a calling when one is offered. It’s also a single man spending an entire Saturday hauling 6 children an hours walk and an hours bus ride to the city for a primary program and then sitting with them to keep them good and then standing up to singing with them when they don’t know the song. It’s me going along to help when I had no idea of what needed to happen, no notice, and nothing left in me to give. And doing it because it needs to be done. I understood and that understanding has changed me. It also gave me a deep respect for Emined as I watched him step up and do what he needed to do. Today was church and he was called as the second counselor to the branch president.

We had a baptism after church and I got to spend some time talking with an investigator that has been coming to church. She took quite a liking to me and as we walked outside to watch the baptism that was going to take place in a large water vat in the yard behind the church, she linked her arm with mine and said “maybe it will be my turn next.” I made her promise that she would do what it took to be ready before I leave so that I can see her take that step. Her name is Leann and she lives just down the road from me.

One of the Elders here is new and he is really struggling. He is having a hard time adjusting to the food as I am and also sleeping. He seemed at his wit’s end yesterday as well and even mentioned going home. I could totally relate since I was feeling the same way but I encouraged him to stay. As we sang the opening song in church the familiar words took on a new meaning for me. I thought this verse was meant for he and I that day.

I choked back tears a little as I sang these words.

“In every condition, in sickness, in health,

In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth

At home or abroad, on the land or the sea.

As they days may demand, so thy succor shall be.”

There are beautiful things to be found in even the most difficult circumstances

There are beautiful things to be found in even the most difficult circumstances

Life in Lugazi

It’s been a week. The newness and the strangeness of it all is starting to wear off and I am starting to settle into a bit of a routine. I have done my first laundry and it was good. A LOT of work. But good. I fully intend to bring some of their laundry soap home as my whites came out whiter than the clean ones I hadn’t washed yet, and as I scrubbed I was surprised that spots came out so easily.

My daily late afternoon showers is one of my favorite things. Funny since that was one of the few things I was concerned about before I came. But I love it and look forward to it every day. My friend Emined went with me to get a cell phone. It’s nice to feel a bit more connected now and I can even text the US a bit.

Emined in front of the cathedral

Emined in front of the cathedral

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This is one of the panels about the Ugandan Martyrs. In case you can’t read it it says. I am a Christian Kill me.

At the cathedral we ran into a man named Simon Peter, he was teaching a large group of children on the steps of the cathedral. I was impressed with how well-behaved they were. He had probably 50 children and they all sat quietly listening to him speak, they would repeat things together and he had their full attention. He left for a moment to see about opening the chapel for us to go inside and while he was gone Emined and I got a chance to visit a little with the children. I asked them what they were learning about. They all sat there silently, just looking at me with their big dark eyes. Finally one brave little girl spoke up. “We are learning about Jesus” she said. I pushed them a little farther hoping to get more of them talking. What are you learning about Jesus” I asked, There were a few giggles from the group this time, but still no one answered. After awhile the same little girl spoke up. “That he loves us” she said. I was touched at her simple declaration and the truth of her statement hit me hard. I think she must have believed what she said. But I wonder if she could ever really know how true that is. I wonder if any of us could know how true that is.

Me with the children

Me with the children

I showed Emined the Musana workshop and Harriett, one of the women taught him how to make paper beads. They sat together talking, listening to Emined’s music (Just a side note: I was surprised to hear a familiar voice in one of the songs we listened to. It was one of Jessie Clarke Funk’s songs. I wondered how she would feel to know that clear across the world people are listening to and enjoying her music) and making strings of beads for several hours. Harriett is one of the hardest working women I have met. She reminded me a lot of “Mother Clean.” No matter what is going on around her she just keeps going, working quietly and efficiently. The other day a mad man came to the shop, he wondered inside and sat on the workbench and started picking things up and looking at them. One by one the women came and started telling him to leave. “Get Out”they shouted at him. Soon the whole room was full of angry women protecting their space and each other. Through it all Harriett just kept right on making her beads and hanging the strings of beads up on the line across the door way. Harriett has aids, she caught it from her husband who didn’t realize he had it for many years until he became sick and died from it. Their two daughters have it as well. Now they all take care of each other. Her English is very good and she has a great sense of humor. I feel a sense of affection for her already. I am going to be making some videos about the women. I have been making a list of ideas of questions for them. I would love to hear any suggestions you have of things you would like to know, or would find interesting.

Harriet. she is such a strong woman!

Harriet. she is such a strong woman!

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Zion is Growing

Elvis and his mother Cissi came to visit. Poor Elvis has maleria

Elvis and his mother Cissi came to visit. Poor Elvis has malaria

It’s amazing to me how simply by attending church it can make such a difference in how much this feels like home. Sunday morning I woke early as I do most mornings and by 8:30 I just couldn’t stay inside any longer. I thought I would just go for a walk and then come home, shower and get ready for church at 10. I never did get my shower. The water was out so I figured they would have to just take me as I am. Everyone was very happy to see me and put me to work right away playing the piano. The branch president told me just before the meeting started that he was going to ask me to speak. I guess I should plan on that kind of thing more in a small branch but it hadn’t even crossed my mind. The meeting was in English, although I struggled to understand the speakers. I’ve learned that the degree to which someone speaks English reflects their schooling. Those who don’t speak much at all probably never really went to school.

I helped teach primary and then after church several people had gathered around the piano to sing. I offered to play and we stayed for another hour just singing hymns. Every time we would think we were finished someone would say “just one more” and they would give me a number and off we would go again. It was a lot of fun.

I told them that if they want we can make that a regular thing and I will teach them some new songs and how to sing different parts and we could have a regular branch choir. So it’s settled, and I found myself volunteering for my most dreaded calling. Funny how things are just different here.

After church one of the men in the branch asked me to show him where I lived. He walked home with me and as we walked he told me a little about how he came into the church. He said that his mother was catholic and his father Muslim  (or the other way around, I don’t remember). He said that he had been praying and telling Heavenly Father of his confusion and his desire just to serve him. One day as he was walking down the road he passed two missionaries. He thought they were Jehovah’s Wittnesses so he just kept walking. He hadn’t gone very far before he felt like he should go back and stop them, so he did. He asked them if they were JH’s and they told him that they were missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints. He said that was the first time he had heard of the church. They started teaching him and when he decided to get baptized his Father told him that he wouldn’t be allowed to have contact with the family if he did. For 14 years his family would have nothing to do with him. Even now they are not welcoming to him and though he has seen some of them on occasion they are no longer a part of his life.

His name is Emined and he is a school teacher here. He is on vacation at the moment so he has been showing me around town, helping me get my cell phone set up and explaining a little about the culture here. It’s nice to have a friend.

I was impressed at the size of the branch since when it was first organized in December there were just two families and the missionaries. Now it seemed like there were about 30-40 people there. I look forward to seeing even more growth.

Walking in a side of town I had never been in before I came upon this view and just had to take a pic. Once again the camera can't capture the beauty that the eye can see.

Walking in a side of town I had never been in before I came upon this view and just had to take a pic. Once again the camera can’t capture the beauty that the eye can see.

You ate what?

Before I came here a friend who had pretty extensive experience traveling told me to try to get past the initial shock and learn to just enjoy it as quickly as possible. I confess that I wasn’t entirely sure what he was talking about. Now I am. I remember my first day in Alaska, being horribly disappointed because when I thought of Alaska I thought of pristine mountain vistas, fishing, and  being surrounded by the beauties of nature. That first night there and the first few days that followed all I could see were the drunk homeless people who sat on the curbs and  wandered the streets that smelled of beer and urine. However I soon came to see past all of that and when I remember Juneau, I remember the waterfalls cascading off the mountain that I could see from  our apartment window. I remember late nights with the sun not ever completely gone down fishing in the channel on the outskirts of town. I remember the fog, the sunshine, the wildlife and the beautiful mountain vistas that often literally took my breath away.

I think it is easy at first to project your own standards of what should be on a community that is so different from your own. I think this must be what my friend was talking about. And so I have decided to look past the things about this place that I don’t understand or don’t like and try to just experience it so that when I leave I will have memories just as treasured as the ones I came home from Alaska with.

I came to this conclusion as I sat in a crowded taxi stuck in traffic in Kampala. I was so frustrated at the apparent lack of a system. The taxis that really function a lot more like busses have no specific route, with no specific time-table. The fare is not set or standardized and I didn’t see one street sign on the whole journey of over two hours to help me determine my location. Since I am trying to familiarize myself with this place so that when Ellen leaves in a few weeks and I need to make these trips myself I can know what I am doing, this was especially frustrating.

On the road to Kampala

On the road to Kampala

We sat in the very back seat of a van filled to capacity and beyond. I couldn’t see around the heads that were blocking my view of the road and in the jerky stop and go traffic I was getting quite sick. The roads here are far from smooth and as we rattled along I often found myself bouncing so far off my seat that several times I almost hit my head on the ceiling. I thought of my dad’s little story he always tells of my great, great, grandparents and their first experience in a car and I couldn’t help but hear his voice saying “Did you raise, Jane?” as I would try to lift myself off the seat a little so as not to get the full impact of the bumps. By the time we arrived in Kampala I was so ready to get off that bus and I didn’t care if I ever saw one again. Kampala is an experience.

Kampala Taxi park

Kampala Taxi park

We went to a a little coffee shop called 1000 cups and I ordered a plate of fruit and some juice. It was delicious and refreshing. The lounge style dinning room was comfortable and cool and I felt refreshed and ready for this experience.

Ellen bargaining for ear rings.

Ellen bargaining for ear rings.

We went to a market where Ellen was looking for gifts to take home to her friends and family. It was good for me to watch her bargain and talk to these people. I think it will help me in the future when I need to do the same. Ellen is very good at disagreeing with people, expressing differences of opinion, even questioning their honesty and doing it all with a smile, a laugh and leaving with a new friend.

In one shop after a heated debate over whether the jewelry was truly made from cow bone or whether it was wood that was just painted, Ellen and the shop keeper played a game together laughing and talking the whole time. We ended up buying several things from them before going on our way. There was a man walking around with a bucket filled with fried grasshoppers. He was selling them and one of the women offered one to me. I gave her an emphatic no but then Ellen and some of the others encouraged me to try it and I thought why not. After all I am here in Africa I might as well really experience Africa. So I ate one. It wasn’t at all bad as long as you didn’t think too much about it.

On the way home I sat in the very front seat of the taxi and actually found I enjoyed the ride. The country side is beautiful, there is always something interesting to see and the cool air from the open windows, blowing in my face felt wonderful.