Life is What You Make It.

My Mother always tried her best to bring my flighty, romantic little brain solidly back to earth. She was always reminding me that life isn’t one of my romance novels. I fought her hard on that one. I never wanted to give in a believe that those magical moments, the romance, the adventure weren’t real. I felt somehow that if I gave in and believed her it would suck all of it out of my future. And I wanted it oh so badly. I wanted to fall hopelessly and madly in love. I wanted to have crazy adventures and travel the world. I wanted to have those picture perfect moments, I wanted the little women sweetness of sisterhood moments and the Last of the Mohican’s “I will find you” kiss. I wanted it all.

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The other day talking to one of my dearest friends I said something that hurt my heart just a little. I said that we read books to escape the mundane reality of life. Turns out my Mother didn’t need to try to convince me of the hopelessness of my romanticism. Life would do it well enough on its own.

Or at least it would try.

But you see. During those teenage years filled with longing I learned something. Something that I had forgotten, and only just now remembered. Life is what you make it. Movies and books are full of wonderful exotic and romantic moments but so is life! The only difference is that books skip all the boring moments in between and in real life you see them all. But I firmly believe that if you don’t allow the mundane moments to cloud your vision and alter your perspective you will see, feel and experience in all its wonderful fullness the fantastical moments of your very own story.

I used to imagine my life through the eyes of a book. I used to read it in my mind how it might read if it were a story and I found that it really wasn’t far off. I could see many many moments of my life depicted in a novel I just had to imagine it it. I remember one time frantically gathering my music at the last-minute for a Christmas recital. The family was all trying to get ready in time, there was yelling going on to remember this or that and to please not sit on the lemon bars. It was a mundane moment that with the right perspective seemed story book worthy. And it made it so much more fun to experience it when I saw it for what it was. A future memory.

Tonight I sat watching a romantic movie and thinking about how that part of my life is now over and I am an old married woman. But you know what I got my story! I rode on a motorcycle, the wind in my hair and the sun setting at my back and fell in love with the man of my dreams in a foreign exotic country. I’ve experienced utter exhilaration as I ran into my husbands arms after more than nine months a part. I’ve held a new-born baby in my arms knowing that this little soul straight from heaven was created from the love that we share. I’ve had my heart-broken (as everyone should) and I’ve found healing, happiness, hope, and love.

And now the mundane sets in again. I have diapers and dishes and laundry up to my eyeballs. I have late nights and crying babies and teething and hormones. But I truly believe that if I can remember the secret I learned as a teenager I can make even the mundane magical and I won’t miss those sweet moments when life could just slip by without my noticing. I will turn that movie off and LIVE each of those mundane moments vividly and with full consciousness of the fact that EVERY moment is part of my story and I can make it what I will!

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Life and Love in Uganda

After Joseph and I were married we moved into his apartment. There is really no way to describe those first few days of marriage. The strangeness of someones else’s home suddenly becoming your own. Joseph made room on his shelves for my clothes even though we were only going to be there a few days. Sunday, the day after the wedding was spent mostly on church activities and visiting with his family. Monday morning we woke up in our little apartment, crawled out of bed and sat in our pj’s eating left over wedding cake and opening gifts from our reception.

Joseph left for work and I pulled out some tubs and started doing some much needed laundry. I could see the women in the houses next to ours watching me in my clumsy efforts to fill the jerry can repeatedly to fill the tubs. I started scrubbing the clothes and it wasn’t long before two girls from across the street came over and begged to help me.

With their help it wasn’t long before I had two full lines filled with our dripping wet but clean clothes. The girls didn’t stop there they used the cleanest of the remaining water to wash the floors in our house and finally to clean our porch. They were so friendly and we laughed and talked as we worked together. I gave them some treats from the box of things that I still had left from what I had brought with me from Utah and we visited, looked at pictures and talked until their mothers called for them from across the street.

The following morning Joseph woke me early to tell me he was leaving to go get a truck to help us move our things to our new apartment. Joseph’s apartment was not within a gated compound and he felt that it was safer for me to be inside a gate. He left and I started packing our things. I opened a drawer in a large cabinet that Joseph had and was met by three LARGE scurrying roaches. I screamed bloody murder and ran from the house almost tripping over my feet in my hurry to get away from them.

My neighbors say on their porches laughing. I could see that they were thinking, “crazy mazungu” but they didn’t say it. I had gotten to know the two families that shared a porch with Joseph and I during the time that we were dating. They were very kind and had known Joseph since he was a boy. About the time I bolted out the front door I was greeted by the missionaries looking for my husband. They took care of the roaches for me and when Joseph arrived with the truck they helped us load everything up and take it to our new apartment.

The next few days felt a little like living in one of my favorite pioneer era novels. I cleaned walls and floors, Joseph had an old cabinet whose glass top had broken that he was about the throw out. I had convinced him to keep it and I used a piece of plywood covered in laminate and nailed to the top as a counter top. I purchased a couple of basin’s from the market and asked Joseph to get the largest water jug he could find and put a spout on the bottom of it for me. He did and after propping it up on some bricks it fit perfectly over the basin and created a make shift sink. By leaving a couple of nails sticking out the sides of the cabinet I had hooks to hang hot pads, rags, and towels on.

I had found some sheets that we weren’t using and a little sewing kit with needles and thread that Joseph had and sewed some curtains using string and nails to string them up to serve as cupboard doors for our shelves. It would make a perfect cabinet to store our food. Sister Casperson, one of the Senior missionary couples had given me a cutting board, and several empty cookie containers that worked perfectly as canisters to store flour, beans, rice, and other food. I went shopping and filled our shelves so that I would be able to cook us dinner. I was pretty proud of my little kitchen!

Figuring out how to cook on the charcoal stove was a little harder. After several failed attempts at starting the coals on fire I went to knock on the neighbors door to ask for help. Her name was Josephine and she was very kind. She came and showed me how to melt a plastic bag and use the dripping plastic to start a fire, she showed me how to fan the coals until they began to turn white and then red. Finally the coals were hot enough and the smoke had stopped enough to put a pan of rice on to cook.

Charcoal StoveThe rice cooked surprisingly fast and when it was done I was at a loss as to how to turn the coals off. So I decided to boil some water, and when that still didn’t use up all the coals I decided to try my hand at making a cake. I had some fresh pineapple and I decided to make a pineapple cake. It was an old muffin recipe actually that my family had used a lot when I was growing up. I just poured it all into the one pan since I didn’t have a muffin tin and decided to call it cake. I filled the pan with the sweet pineapple filled batter and set the pan inside another pan as I had seen other women do. I put a lid on it and covered the lid with hot coals. I was surprised about twenty minutes later to see the golden brown top of the cake and smell the sweet goodness inside and know that i had baked my first cake over charcoal.

While it was cooking I chopped some vegetables that I had purchased at the market and made a makeshift african version of hawaiian haystacks. I think Joseph was surprised to come home and see that his wife actually did know how to cook something for his dinner. We piled our plate high and each took a fork and dug in. I don’t know why we did it that way that night but we somehow started a tradition of eating our dinner together off the same plate. After that day, Each night when I would cook we just filled one plate and always ate together. It was a time I will never forget!

 

 

MY Whirlwind Romance part IX “I won’t leave her”

Leaving Rwanda wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been to get in. You see Rwanda, in an effort to encourage tourism, doesn’t charge a fee for a visa. So when I entered, I simply had to get my passport stamped. Uganda’s policy is different. They require a $50 fee and since every penny I had was stolen I had no way to pay the fee.

We stood pleading with the immigration official, explaining our situation to no avail. You simply can not enter Uganda without paying the fee, he told me. I am sorry for what happened to you but we can make no exceptions. “What should we do then?” We asked, desperate for an answer out of this impossible situation.

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He turned to Joseph, “since you are African you don’t have to pay, you can go. Leave her here and you go get the money to pay her fee.” The idea was unthinkable, it would take him two days at best to get back to Uganda, get the money and get back to me. In the meantime I was in a no man’s land between borders. I had no way to get back to the city and no place to stay if I did make it back, I had no money and nothing to eat. It was simply out of the question. “I will not leave her” Joseph said adamantly.

“Then find someone else here who will give you the money” the immigration official said callously before moving on to the next person in line.

We decided to try the bus driver, we found him loading passengers back on the bus, they were getting ready to leave and we literally had minutes to figure this out. We explained the situation to him and asked him to loan us the money until we got back to Uganda. We can pay you as soon as we get there we assured him.

He refused.

We approached the conductor on the bus (this is as assistant of sorts to the driver) We asked him and he also refused. You will not pay he said, people always say they will pay and then when we get them back they leave and never bring me the money. “I will leave something with you, I promised, something that I will have to come back for. When we give you the money you can give it back to us.”

He thought about this for a minute. What will you give he asked. I searched through my belongings looking for something that would do and my eyes rested on the shiny new engagement ring on my finger…

I hesitated, I will give you my ring, I told him.

“No” It came out in perfect unison from both Joseph and the Conductor. I was a little relived.

“My camera, then” I said suddenly remembering that I had a camera that might be worth something to him. He agreed, took my camera and gave us the money. We were the last people back on the bus. My heart was beating and I felt like crying.

Also not my picture although it is an actual picture on the bus route that we traveled from Kigali back to Uganda

Also not my picture although it is an actual picture on the bus route that we traveled from Kigali back to Uganda

As we drove a sales man stood up and began putting on something of a show advertising his healing products with magical capabilities. He spoke fluently in five or six languages, none of which I could understand. Finally he turned to me and asked in English, “do you understand what I am saying,” I shook my head.

Do you speak any language besides english?

I admitted that I didn’t

He had a playful smile on his face, and I knew I was about to be the butt of one of his jokes. See that man sitting next to you? He asked, “say to him Nkwagala” he told me. (that word means I love you in Luganda) I laughed to myself. I may not know Luganda, but I knew that word. People around us were watching and snickering to see if I was going to fall for his joke.

I turned to Joseph and took his face in both hands, Nkwagala Nyo I said, adding emphasis on the Nyo (very much) I said it with my sweetest sappiest, love-sick voice I could, so that everyone would know that yes, I knew what that word was and yes I DID very much love him and the joke was on the salesman. The bus erupted in laughter.

“If you want to see what love looks like, look at these two,” he told the passengers.

We arrived home just in time for fast sunday and we decided that our fast would be devoted to Joseph getting a visa so that we could have our planned wedding in the Salt Lake Temple in Oct.

All day we went without food and prayed for our request. By evening as I went to bed, I felt so uneasy that I couldn’t sleep. I got up and started researching the visa process. Everything I read terrified me. People who had been separated for years as they waited for a visa, reports of complications and difficulties in obtaining a visa. The feelings that I had as I stood at the border being told that Joseph would have to leave me, and feeling so loved and reassured as he refused. We had found a way and we would do it again. But I knew one thing…I couldn’t leave him either.

I finally fell into a restless sleep and woke with one thought on my mind. Call the man who left you his number in the taxi several weeks ago. I had met a man who was a government official. He had given me his number and told me to contact him if I needed anything during my stay. I didn’t know what he could do to help but I called him.

Turns out he was just a few minutes away from where I lived passing through on his way to Jinja and he agreed to stop and talk to me. He did and I explained my situation. Just marry him here and then wait together for the visa he told me. You can wait here until he gets it and then you don’t have to leave him.

It would mean marrying outside of the temple, it would mean marrying without any member of my family present and no friends of mine would be there. It would mean giving up on all the dreams and plans I had for my wedding. But it would mean that I wouldn’t have to leave him. It was the only option. I thought it over all day and that night when Joseph came to Lugazi to see me I sat him down.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think we need to change our plans” I told him. His face looked weary, hesitant and slightly scared at what I was going to say next. His normally smiling face was serious.

I paused, for dramatic effect and swallowed hard, knowing that what I was about to say was going to make him so happy.

“I don’t think we should get married in October,” I told him. ” I think we should get married here, at the end of this month!”

He looked at me as though he wasn’t sure he had heard me right. I explained my thought process to him, but before I could even finish he had crushed me in a bear hug. Joseph normally has a radiant smile, but his smile that day was like something I had never seen before! We talked about our changed plans, it felt good, it felt peaceful, I knew it was fast but it didn’t feel fast. It felt right.

The Proposal I Waited my Whole Life For

 

I met Joseph at the Space Café, a little tourist place that had great food. I was excited to tell him that I had “slept on it” and had an answer for him. The out door setting was secluded and romantic. We found a corner table with comfortable whicker chairs and sat down and ordered a milk shake and samosa.

“I’ve been thinking about what we talked about the other night,” I told him. “And I think I’m ready to take a step forward. I think we should get engaged.” I don’t know what I expected from him but the huge smile and the bear hug that I was soon engulfed in took me by surprise. I laughed and moved over to sit on his lap. We sat that way unaware of anyone else and just talked through our plans.

“This isn’t official though until you propose properly with a ring and everything,” I told him. “And you have to make it a good story. I’ve waited a long time to be proposed to and I’ve always wanted a good story. If you need help, coming up with something I can give you my friends phone number and she can help,” I told him, feeling quite sure that he wouldn’t have the first idea where to start to plan the kind of outrageous proposal that would live up to all my day dreams of how that moment should go. He insisted that he could do this on his own and that he didn’t need help, he could make it special and romantic.

“One more thing,” I added, “about the ring, I kind of know exactly what I like and what I don’t like. But I want you to pick it and I want it to be a surprise…so I could maybe show you some pictures and then you would know what to look for…” I told him. He assured me he would work something out.

We talked then about our plans, we would start the fiancée visa application right away, and then when August arrived and I headed home I could start planning the wedding. He would join me as soon as possible and we would be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple.

We called the temple and set the date. October 11th.  It seemed everything was falling right into place. Our evening was perfect.

A few days later he called to ask me if I could go look at rings with him. I thought we would just look to give him an idea of what I liked, but when we got there, there wasn’t much of a variety to choose from and we quickly found one that suited our purposes. And since it really was the only option as far as I was concerned, we bought it there on the spot.

The cashier put it in the little velvet box and handed it to Joseph. He handed it to me, You keep this for now he told me and make sure you bring it with you when we take our trip to Rwanda.

We were planning a trip to visit Rwanda that weekend. I laughed a little. It was a bit un conventional and not at all what I had in mind but, what did it matter now. I begged Joseph to let me wear the ring for just a little while. He agreed and we had lunch and then headed back to Jinja.

Finally the weekend arrived. I wondered what Joseph had planned, as I packed the ring in my bag. I hoped it would be good. In the taxi on the way to the bus station, I talked to Joseph about something that had concerned me. I was very open about my concerns, never realizing that it might look to him as though I was questioning our decision to marry. Somehow it ended up in an argument.

Both of us were very emotional and I felt he wasn’t listening to me and being understanding. I have no idea what he felt but when I looked over at him, he had tears in his eyes as they looked straight ahead, he didn’t seem to want to look at me. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I had told him of my concerns because I wanted him to comfort me, not the other way around!

Giving a new meaning to bumper to bumper...

Giving a new meaning to bumper to bumper…

The taxi was stuck in the bumper to bumper traffic like nothing you will see anywhere except Kampala streets and as the minutes turned to hours we knew we were about to miss our bus if we didn’t do something quick. Finishing this conversation would have to wait. We exited the taxi and found a couple of boda boda drivers. We need to get to the bus station Joseph told them and we need to make it in 20 minutes no matter what. Can you take us there. They spoke among themselves for a few seconds questioning if what we asked was possible. Ok they told us we can take you but hang on tight and don’t let go for anything, we will not be stopping if we are going to take you.

In order to make what we had planned possible we would take two separate bodas. Normally the drivers wanted you to hang on to the bike and not them but this time the driver told me to put my arms tight around his waist and get ready. We zoomed in and out of traffic sometimes coming so close to the cars on either side that I worried that my feet would hit them as we passed. When the cars closed up around us the driver whipped up over the curb and took the sidewalk, sometimes using his feet to help balance and sometimes using his hands on passing cars as we squeezed through small spaces. I clung to him for dear life and tried to keep an eye on Joseph’s back just ahead. In almost exactly twenty minutes we whizzed into the parking lot where our bus stood waiting. It was dark outside and the lights where on inside the bus, we could see that most of the passengers where already seated. I grabbed our things paid the boda men and raced up into the bus.

It wasn’t until we were safely in our seats and the bus was on its way that Joseph chose to resume our discussion from before. This time however, everything was different. We were seated in our two chairs side by side in the dark bus as it rumbled along down dirt roads, our chairs reclined just a little to allow us to sleep as the trip to Rwanda was going to take all night. Joseph raised the arm rest between our two seats to allow us to be closer and then he put both arms around me and cradled my head on his chest. “Im sorry, he whispered to me, There is just nothing that frightens me like the thought of losing you. Hearing you talk like that made me think that you might go home and I would never see you again..

Tears streamed down my cheeks. “I love you Joseph, I said, I would never leave you. I just wanted to be able to share with you some things that were hard for me. I wanted to hear you reassure me that it was all going to be ok. That’s all I really wanted.” His hand stroked my hair and down my back as we whispered lovingly to each other until we both fell asleep.

We had survived our first fight.

Morning arrived, although it was still dark outside and for the first time since I had come to Uganda, it was cold. Joseph informed me that we were very near the border, in a place called Kabale, It was here that we would be required to get off the bus and cross the border on foot.

We exited the bus, I wrapped up in my blanket to try to keep from shivering, As we stood in line to declare our possesions and obtain permission to pass into Rwanda we snacked a little on Mendoza ( a type of deep fried bread) and Fanta. Finally we finished the requirements to enter the city, changed some Uganda Schillings into Rwanda Francs and walked across the border to reboard our bus.

As we continued our journey the sun slowely came up to reveal the beautiful country side, that one pictures when they imagine going to Africa.  The red sand, open saces, and funny little trees off in the distance kept me captivated.  I marveled abit at how I had come to be here.

I had always wanted to live a life of adventure but I never imagined I would be sitting on a bus watching the sunrise as I entered Rwanda with my future husband by my side. I felt like I was living in some kind of dream. I struggled to wake from this dream and realize that it was in fact reality so that I could soak it all in, enjoy every second of this magical journey that had surpassed all my imaginings..

Finally we reached Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. It was so interesting to know the recent history of this place and yet to find myself here. Where stories that I had only read about took place, seeing and being greeted by adults who no doubt had been present, a witness to, if not a participant in the genocide that took place there. We took a taxi to a hotel, paid for our rooms and settled in to look around.

Kigali (pronounced Chigali) The Capital City of Rwanda)

Kigali (pronounced Chigali) The Capital City of Rwanda)

Our room…two rooms really, separated by a half wall. Each room with a small cot against one wall and one room with a sink attached to the other wall. A small table sat in the room that would be Joseph’s.

Joseph, on his side of the room.

Joseph, on his side of the room.

 

 

We unloaded our belongings and headed out to get some breakfast. We stopped on our way at an ATM only to discover that it wouldn’t take a visa so we went in search of another that would. We tried another and when it wouldn’t either we decided to just head to the mall to get something to eat and we would find a place to change more money later. I stuffed my small coin purse with all of our cash and my credit cards back in the backpack that Joseph carried on his back and we headed to the mall.

When we arrived I reached in expecting to feel the coarseness of the bark cloth coin purse only to feel nothing. We put the back pack down and searched every possible pocket taking everything out of it in our desperate search. I was near tears realizing that more than likely it was really gone.  We retraced our steps back to the last ATM homing against hope that we would find it along the way, but the purse was gone.

We better report it to the police, Joseph told me, see if they can help us. I was near tears, not sure what we were going to do without that money and completely at a loss for how I was going to survive the rest of my time in Uganda without access to any of the money in my bank account. Assuming of course that whoever took our purse didn’t get everything out of it before I could call and cancel the card.

I was frantic, Joseph and I stood looking at each other, just inside the mall entrance. I didn’t know what to say to him, I was a little afraid that he would be start blaming me for not putting the purse in a pocket that had a zipper as I now realize that I should have done.

I looked at him, he looked at me and then he started to grin.  Joseph this isn’t funny I said, this is really serious. We have nothing! And no way to get home until the bus leaves in another three days!

We will be ok, he told me, and think of the stories we will have to tell our grandkids.

I looked at him not sure if I should be angry with him for not taking this situation more seriously or to hug him for being such a good sport about it all and for reminding me of something that I should have remembered. This was just another adventure, and if nothing else it would make a good story later. I knew from past experience that often when things go horribly wrong, the make the best of memories years down the road when you can laugh at the craziness.

“You’re right I said, we will be fine. It might even be fun. I said with a twinkle in my eye. It won’t be the trip we planned but Im quite certain it will be an adventure. He hugged me then and we sat down to assess our situation.

Just then a couple walked by, obviously tourists as they were white and spoke with an Australian accent. They had twin daughters, one of which was in her mothers arms and the other was trailing behind the couple. She looked at us and without a word walked straight to Joseph and lifted her arms to be picked up.

Joseph stood unsure of what to do. Her little face, framed by blond curls, looked up at him, her blue eyes so peaceful and sweet demanding his attention.

He picked her up and walked toward her mother who stood watching, looking slightly unseasy. When Joseph reached the mother he held the girl out to her only to have her little arms wrap tenderly around his neck and she turned her face to hide in his shoulder.  He spoke to her for a minute and encouraged her to go to her mother. She finally did while her twin looked on quietly sucking her thumb.

I stood watching the whole scene in amazement. To me Joseph shone with kindness, his smile radiated goodness and I saw it from the moment that I met him. To see this child react to that confirmed to me that President Jackson’s words to me that day at the wedding were more true than even I imagined. Joseph really was everything that I thought he was. Even a child could see that and loved him.

I imagined him holding our child in his arms.

After the little family left we gathered up all the loose change and any bills of any kind that we had on us. We changed them into francs and discovered that we had just enough left to take a taxi back to the bus station with a little extra. We went to the grocery store to see what we could find. We bought a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a knife and a carton of milk.  It wasn’t much but at least we wouldn’t starve.

It was a holiday so most places where closed, and Joseph and I were unable to report our stolen wallet to the police as the station was desereted.

We went back to our rooms and sat on the bed. We read to each other and talked for sometime. Later that evening, we sat talking and Jospeh asked me if I knew what day it was. I did. It was the fourth of July. I knew everyone back home would be celebrating with fireworks and good food. But I was happy right where I was with my peanut butter sandwhich.

My bed, in our fancy hotel!

My bed, in our fancy hotel!

Did you bring that thing I asked you to pack? Joseph asked, referring to my engagement ring. I laughed knowing what was coming. I did, I told him.

Well we are going to need it now, he told me. I scooted off the bed and went to my side of the room to get the little black velvet box, this was so inconventional and so not what I had imagined. I brought it back and gave it to him. Ever since I got home from my mission, I have been praying and looking for a girl that would commit herself to me and to the gospel, he told me. I wanted to find a girl that I could trust to raise our children in the church, to have family home evening with me, and who would support me in my callings, he told me.

When I met you I was amazed by your goodness and I knew without a doubt that you would make a great mother, the more I got to know you I saw that you were committed to the gospel. I have told you some of the reason’s why I love you.  He said, but the biggest reason I love you is because it is so clear to me that you love the Lord. He promised to send me a handmaiden of the Lord and when I look at you, that is what I see.

Joseph, I interrupted, knowing what was coming and knowing that it couldn’t happen with both of us seated on his bed. Joseph, you know you can’t do this sitting down right? I asked not sure if he knew that he should be down on one knee.

Oh, ok lets stand up he told me, we stood and he continued, I have never been more sure about anything than I am about the fact that I want to spend the rest of my life with you…

Joseph, I enterupted again, you know you can’t do this standing up right? He looked at me confused. You have to get down on one knee. I told him laughing a little at how this was all turning out.

No problem! I will get down on two knees, he told me and he started to get down on the hard concrete floor.

No Joseph, Ilaughed again, its done on one. In America when you propose you get down on ONE knee. He seemed confused at why two wouldn’t be better but he did as I asked.

Finally he finished, look around you Vilate, this room, this place is nothing fancy, this trip is probably going to be a little bit hard. We don’t even have anything to celebrate with except more peanut butter sandwhiches. Our life will probably be something like this, full of unexpected adventures, difficult times and trials, but I love you and I promise you that if you will marry me I will do everything within my power to make you happy and to be a good husband and father.

Our room number...I didn't want to forget anything about that day.

Our room number…I didn’t want to forget anything about that day.

I gulped, still trying to grasp at the reality of this moment that I had waited almost 32 long years to experience. Nothing was the way I had imagined it. I looked around me at the cold bare walls, at the hard floor and the dirty sink in the corner and I realized that his proposal couldn’t have been more perfect, that he and I couldn’t have been more perfect. It would never have done to have him show up with roses and a cute little proposal, that just wasn’t me, or him. What could have been more appropriate than the way this had all happened. I said “yes” and Joseph slipped the ring on my finger.

I also had imagined that I would be a bucket of tears, that my hand would shake as he put the ring on my finger and that I would be so overcome with emotion that I wouldn’t hardly be able to stammer a yes. I felt none of those things. I felt peaceful, it felt normal, and I was happy. Over the last 16 years or so I had imagined every possible scenario in which this moment would happen. I never once imagined this one and once again life managed to throw me a surprise, an adventure and a curve that I never could have seen coming. Once again life had proved unpredicatable,… just the way I liked it.

Right after he proposed.

Right after he proposed.

And yes...neither of us even noticed that the ring was on the wrong hand!

And yes…neither of us even noticed that the ring was on the wrong hand!

My Whirlwind Romance part V “The Wedding”

Since Joseph and I had decided that we were officially dating, I wanted to find out all I could about him. I didn’t want to be in a relationship if it was a dead end. So the following Wednesday I had agreed to help out with a choir practice in Jinja and Joseph and I agreed to meet up afterward. We sat on the lawn with a notebook and had a very honest talk. The search was still on for the true Joseph. I knew he couldn’t be as wonderful as I thought he was. I asked him straight out what he felt his biggest faults were and he told me, I told him mine also and we talked about what and how we felt we could deal with these. We talked about many other things as well as we sat under a tree on the church lawn. After awhile we noticed quite a group gathering for a wedding.

There were three couples arriving to be married and President Jackson, the Mission President would be performing the ceremony.  It would be a very simple ceremony that would turn Uganda tradition on its head, proving that weddings don’t have to be big expensive affairs that take a lot of money and planning.

We crowded into the chapel and as I watched the ceremony, with Joseph seated next to me I kept thinking to myself about what a wedding to him might be like.  As President Jackson spoke about the sacred commitment that these couples were about to make I looked at Joseph to find him already looking at me. We smiled surely thinking the same thing and he squeezed my hand.

A mass wedding in Uganda

A mass wedding in Uganda

The wedding was beautiful with all three couples standing in turn to make their covenants with each other and with God. One by one President Jackson made them kiss, not just once but until he felt that they had done it right! He wanted to see a real kiss that showed they were thinking more about their love for each other than their shyness at kissing in public. As the couples kissed awkwardly it looked as though they were trying their best to only touch lips and no other part of their body.

I whispered to Joseph. “We would have no problem with this, I think we could give them lessons,” He agreed with a huge smile just as the wedding ended. We stood around waiting for the couples to take pictures and to be greeted by all their friends. As we stood at the back of the chapel, President Jackson saw me standing there holding Joseph’s hand, your looking suddenly very happy he told me as he passed by. It was true, I was blissfully happy.

I could feel so many eyes on us and I knew that my holding hands in public with the second counselor in the district presidency was causing a bit of a stir. I wanted a minute alone with Joseph. We went for a little walk around the church. As we got to the backside of the building where no people were we stopped and enjoyed the privacy and the quiet, away from prying eyes.

After the wedding, we attended a dinner at Two Friends resort. The food was good and the couples looked so happy.  We were seated at the table almost directly across from President Jackson. As they were cutting the cake Joseph left the table to get us drinks and when he was away President Jackson came to my table looked me straight in the eye and said “I just want you to know, that man is everything you think he is. I haven’t met a better man and neither will you.”

I felt chills go through my body and I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I had found in my Joseph everything that I had prayed for for so long. It scared me.

When Joseph returned President Jackson shook his hand and told us he would be performing two more weddings that following week. He asked if we would attend. We agreed and then with a little twinkle in his eye he said, “You know we could make it three!”

We both laughed, but later as Joseph was saying goodbye, a van full of missionaries and others from the wedding waiting to take me back to Lugazi, I considered for the first time what It might be not to have to say goodbye to him. He held me and we tried to ignore the eyes watching us. “You have to go, he whispered, they are waiting for you. “ I clung to him wanting more than the simple goodbye hug but knowing it wasn’t possible there with everybody watching, so I said goodbye and started the long drive back to Lugazi. The next morning my first thought upon waking up was, I could be marrying Joseph next week! The thought was surprisingly appealing.

The next day I met with President Jackson for a temple recommend interview. After seeing that here in Uganda a temple recommend wasn’t so much about the ability to GO to the temple but a sign of your WORTHINESS to attend the temple, I felt ashamed at having let mine expire just because I didn’t think I would be needing it in Uganda. President explained to me a bit about blacks and the gospel and about the church’s position on interracial marriage. We also talked at length about Joseph, about my relationship with him, about my fears and my concerns. He offered to give me a blessing. He gave me some very specific counsel and advice about things I should be doing and told me that no one could get this answer except me but that if I would listen very carefully and try my best to follow what my heart told me, it would not lead me astray.

President Jackson with a few members from the district.

President Jackson with a few members from the district.

My Whirlwind Romance part IV – “Are you gonna kiss me or not”

Someone pointed out to me the other day that I had left quite a few holes in my story. The truth is I just haven’t written. Pregnancy has taken so much out of me. I thought I was the most prepared person on the planet for having a baby, somehow I missed the memo about how hard pregnancy is. How tired it makes you and how much you eat! It’s been the most amazing adventure of my life. But here I am finally adding another chapter from my African romance,

My Whirlwind Romance Part IV

Since our first date Joseph and I had been talking to each other every day. One day about a week after our first date we were chatting on Facebook and he told me he loved me. I was kind of freaking out because when he said it, it was so different from the other random guys that would throw that term out at me on a daily bases. I knew he meant it and it scared me.

So…I taught him the meaning of “take a chill pill” and explained that he needed to do that in regards to me. I explained that Love is a pretty big word with deep meaning. He agreed and told me if I needed to talk he was ready to listen. I didn’t know what to do with his calm reassuring demeanor. He wasn’t put off by me at all and he wasn’t pushy just confidant and direct in his feelings. It scared me.

That weekend I went with him to have lunch with some of his good friends. Since things seemed to be moving so fast I was actively trying to discover his faults so when I got a minute alone with his friend’s wife as we were cooking lunch I asked her how well she knew Joseph.

She explained she had known him since he was about 11 and that he had been the one to baptize her. Everything she had to say about him was good. “Be real with me,” I told her, “I need to know what I’m getting myself into. What’s he like when he is angry?”

“Honestly I have never seen him angry before. He really is just what you see.”

That was pretty much the same response I had gotten from everyone else. I didn’t know whether to be frustrated that I wasn’t getting any dirt on him or happy that he seemed to be as wonderful as I thought he was.

That day he took me to his apartment; we sat on the couch and talked. It was interesting to see his personal touch in his apartment. I felt at home with him and comfortable in his living space.  We agreed that week that we would date only each other and we would move forward with this relationship.

The next day he came to Lugazi to speak in our branch. He sat up front and looked so formal and official it was hard to believe that was MY Joseph sitting up there, laughing and talking with my branch president. They started the meeting and announced that President Ssempala would be presiding at the meeting. “President Ssempala”, it fit the man in the suit. I was a little startled to realize that the President Ssempala they were referring to was MY BOYFRIEND! People who preside at church are old men, not handsome kind men who smiled at me the way he did. I watched him wondering when and how this had happened. He looked up at me and winked. I blushed knowing that I probably wasn’t the only one in the congregation to notice.

"President Ssempala"

“President Ssempala”

As he was speaking his eyes caught mine several times and each time a huge smile would break out on his face. It gave me butterflies.

My Joseph

My Joseph

After church we went back to my apartment and watched The Last of the Mohicans.

The movie ended and we sat cuddled up on the makeshift couch. His arms tightened around me. “I love you,” he whispered to me again.

This time instead of asking him to take a chill pill I decided to take a different approach. “I know you do,” I said “Just tell me why? Every day people here claim they love me. I know you are different, but I just want you to tell me why it should mean more coming from you. I want to know why you love me.”

“I’m glad you asked”, he said, “I made a list”

He then started talking in great detail about various character traits that he had seen in me; he talked about how he had noticed them in me and why they were important to him. He reminded me of things that I had told him and experiences that we had together that had increased his feelings for me. Just as I was starting to feel a little insecure that maybe he only loved me for my ‘Sweet spirit” he told me that he thought I was beautiful and that he had put my picture as the wallpaper on his phone.

When he had said all he wanted to say, I was quiet for a few minutes, thinking of how I should respond. In all honesty I felt the same way about him and could have given him just as long of a list. I could have told him how my soul had longed for someone who would be as sure of his love for me and as confident in his desire to move forward as he was. I could have told him how I trusted him, how I could see the goodness in his heart and the proof of it in his actions. I could have told him how his optimism and continual smile brightened my day and made me feel so much more capable myself. I could have told him that I loved him. Finally I knew how to answer. “So are you going to kiss me now or are you going to leave me hanging all night…”

He didn’t leave me hanging.

This awful photo had to be included since it was taken just minutes after our first kiss.

This awful photo had to be included since it was actually taken (from skype) on that day.

My Whirlwind romance part III “The Mazungu” (White person)

Every week I went to get a large jug of drinking water for our apartment at Gapco. The man that works there is an Indian man and he seems very friendly. On this particular day as I was waiting for the water he asked me how long I was going to be in Uganda. I told him and he told me he would like to take me on a date. I was caught completely off guard by that and wasn’t sure how I was going to answer, then he asked me if I would be willing to meet him at the Rainforest Lodge. We can have something to eat and go swimming if you like he told me.

The Rainforest Lodge is a beautiful lodge in the middle of the rainforest. I had never been there before but I had heard about how incredible it was. I also knew it was the most expensive place in town and that I probably wouldn’t afford a trip there on my own. I was also pleased that he wasn’t suggesting that he pick me up but that I meet him, in a public place, so I figured what would it hurt, I might as well go. DSC00510

Joseph and I had been talking on the phone for a few minutes every night so I told him that I would be coming to the Rainforest and since it was almost halfway to Jinja I might as well continue on and come see him. It had been several days since we had seen each other. So we agreed to meet at the chapel near Two Friends.

That morning I went to a school to volunteer for the day. It was good but also a little overwhelming. There were so many children and each one of them wanted to hold my hand. At one point there were about 60 children all clustered around me, each one trying to get closer than the other and all of them trying to hold my hand, or my dress, or touch my hair. For a person who doesn’t much like to be touched it was pushing my boundaries about as far as I could take them.

Finally when they got so many and the weight of them started to make it impossible to walk, I found myself losing my balance I started falling over so I stopped and made them let go. “Gende, Gende” (go away) I said, and then feeling a little bad I felt like I should explain “You are too many!” Then 60 little voices followed me all around the school chanting “you are too many, you are too many” I had to smile. DSC00497

It was touching and also a bit saddening to see the conditions of the school. The crowded classroom had no lights, just the light that came through the openings for windows that had no glass. Benches resembling those that children in Colonial America had used were crowded with far too many children.  There were no books, except one little notebook for each child. The children sang for me and I taught them some new songs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azTp0LJ825g&feature=youtu.be

Finally it came time for me to leave the school and head to the Rainforest lodge, Although I wasn’t really interested in the guy, I was still excited about the date. The long walk to the lodge was beautiful, I saw monkeys swinging from the trees and everywhere was beautiful butterflies in the most vibrant of colors. I arrived before my date and recognized a friend who had come to enjoy the quiet of the lodge to get some work done. We visited until my date arrived. The lodge was comfortable and clean in a way that I hadn’t often experienced in Uganda.

My date arrived and we decided to head to the swimming pool to do some swimming, we would have dinner later. As we were walking through the beautiful, secluded pathways he reached for my hand, I pulled it away, but he tried again. I pulled it away again and said “no.” I felt so uncomfortable; I had never had to do that before on a date. We continued to the pool and I enjoyed cooling off in the water as I hadn’t been swimming since I arrived. Again in the water he tried to touch me and to hold my hand and each time I pulled away shaking my head and saying “no” Finally I couldn’t take anymore so I told him “you know what I need to be heading back, I have another appointment.”

The pool at the Rainforest Lodge. It was so refreshing!

The pool at the Rainforest Lodge. It was so refreshing!

He offered to drive me but I told him that my work had already sent a boda boda to get me. He asked if we could take a picture together and I agreed. He stood behind me and put his arms around me hugging me to him and putting his cheek against mine, I tried to pull away but he held me there. After the picture he continued to hold me close to him and we started walking. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to get him to let go of me without bringing it to a full fight and I didn’t feel like I would win. I waited until we were in a more populated area and then I pulled away from him more forcefully. He finally let go of me and I headed to the front gate. I found a boda boda and started driving back to the main road. I felt like crying.

AS we rode the boda driver said, “Mazungu, are you married?” I told him I wasn’t and he asked how old I was. I told him and then he said, I think you are good for me. You should marry me and take me to America. People often made comments like that to me but after what I had just been through I didn’t feel capable of laughing it off. “Why?” I said, “You don’t even know me all you see is my white skin and you think I have money, that’s all you want. How do you know I wouldn’t be a horrible wife? How do you know I wouldn’t beat you and yell at you? You don’t want to marry me”

He laughed, “You would be a good wife, I know” he told me, “Why won’t you marry me?”

I couldn’t believe he was asking this as a legitimate question and I wanted to just get off the boda and walk the long way back to the road, but I couldn’t.

“Do you know how many times a day I get asked that question?” I asked him. “I wish people here would see more than my white skin.” He continued talking but I was finished with that conversation and I just listened refusing to argue any further with him. He dropped me off with a friendly smile and a wave and left me to board the taxi headed for Jinja. I would be so glad to arrive and see Joseph.

On the taxi, they had squeezed five of us on to a seat made for 3. The man seated next to me kept getting closer even than I felt he needed to. He kept trying to lay his head on my shoulder and touch my hair. Finally he said, “Mazungu, give me your contacts.” I stared straight ahead, afraid I would cry if I had to go through this all over again. Who knew that adoration could also be a form of racism? I was DONE being “Mazungu” being loved for the color of my skin, being shouted at everywhere I went from children, to adults, I was tired of being told to buy people drinks or to give people my watch, or being hassled by shop keepers and taxi and boda drivers, I was tired of my race defining who I was.

The man continued in spite of my refusal to talk to him. “Mazungu, I love you he said, give me your contacts.”

“No”

“Why,” he asked

“Because I don’t want to. I don’t know you and I don’t want to know you. ” I thought perhaps my curt reply would put him off but I was not so lucky.

“Just give me your contacts” he continued, just give me your number that is all.

Others on the taxi were starting to look at us. I continued to refuse to look at him and eventually stopped answering him altogether. Finally after what seemed an eternity I arrived at Two Friends and got off the taxi. As soon as the taxi left a man approached me. “Mazungu,” he said, “be my girlfriend.”

“I have a boyfriend already,” I exaggerated the truth a bit. I am here to meet him.

“No, you can be my girlfriend”, he persisted.

“No, you leave me alone. “ I said,

“One day you will dream of me, I know,” he said as he walked away.

I stood on the corner waiting for Joseph and fighting back tears. I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to stay here one more minute. I didn’t even want to see Joseph. I didn’t even know why I was going on a date with him anyway. He was no different than all those others; I had just somehow fallen for his advances when I hadn’t the others. I needed to put a stop to all of this and I needed to go home. I closed my eyes wishing that when I opened them I would be home and praying that no one else would speak to me. If one more person told me they loved me I would probably gauge their eyes out with my bare hands.

After a few minutes Joseph arrived, He looked so comforting and refreshingly put together, I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and have a good cry. I forgot about him being like all the others.

“I’m sorry I’m late” He said, I was on the taxi and it was taking so long I almost jumped out and took a boda boda to try to get here faster. But I brought this for you.” He pulled a Snickers bar from his pocket and handed it to me. I had told him on our first date that I loved Snickers, but I had not seen one in Uganda. I was impressed that he had remembered and tracked one down for me.

As we walked I poured out my woes about my day. Starting with the children, pulling on me and almost tackling me in the desire to be close to me.  As I told him he laughed. “Why are you laughing?” I asked genuinely perplexed as to why my sorry situation would have him in stitches.

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to laugh,” he said “keep going”

I continued with my story and by the time I finished telling him about that man’s parting comment of “You will dream about me, I know” he was laughing so hard he almost couldn’t stay standing.

“It wasn’t funny! It was horrible!” I said.

“I know, I’m sorry” he said, trying to keep a straight face, “but you have to admit it’s kind of funny. I keep picturing you trying to fend off all those kids, telling the boda driver you might beat him, ignoring the man in the taxi as he is putting his head on your shoulder, and it’s kind of funny!”

I started laughing; there was some humor in the situation. “I’m sorry you had a hard day though,” he said more seriously.

I squeezed his hand. “Thanks, it’s getting better now.”

He took me to Forever Resort and we sat on the banks of the river and watched the sun go down. He told me about his Grandma who had died recently of Alzheimer’s. He said that towards the end she didn’t remember anyone. The last time he had gone to see her she had been unable to feed herself and he got to sit and feed her. As she ate she opened her eyes and looked at him, then she smiled “Joseph, she said, you look so much like your father, he always loved you best.” She died the next day. Joseph told me he would always cherish the fact that he got that chance to care for her and that in that final moment she remembered who he was. It was a beautiful story and I made a mental note to watch The Notebook with him.

We ordered a pizza and some sodas and sat and ate and continued to talk. He told me about how shocked he was when he returned from his mission in South Africa and saw the living conditions in Uganda. Even though it was his home he was ashamed and embarrassed to see the contrast of how people here lived compared to how they did in other countries. His own family had suffered some serious financial losses and he returned to find his home and everything they had owned gone. He spent his first night home sleeping on the floor.

I took a late taxi and returned home later that night. Joseph promised he would see me on Sunday as he was coming to Lugazi to speak to our branch.