My Year of Miracles: A review of my tenth year as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

10 years! I remember it like it was yesterday; the day I got baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I felt so lost and out-of-place I wondered if I would make it through the week. I felt strongly that I had made the right decision…but boy was it going to mean big changes for me; many of which there was no way to be prepared for.

Since that day each year on the anniversary of that day I spend some time alone, thinking, pondering and reviewing my choice, my commitment, and the consequences of that choice, be they good or bad. Every year I look back filled with gratitude, sometimes sadness, but always in awe of what has transpired since that time and most especially in the most recent year.

This year more than any other year I see so clearly how that choice I made ten years ago continues to grow in its impact in my life. Almost every single decision I made this year…and I made some big ones, was in a large way influenced by my decision to join this church.

So here is a year in review:

May 2013

I arrived in Uganda just 1 day before my 9th anniversary as a member of the LDS church. That first week was hard. Really hard. It took some getting used to, it was fun, it was an adventure, it was eye-opening to see a way of life so different from my own. That month I learned to live without so many things. I ate strange foods and even insects (check out the video!)

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This was my bed.

I went way to long without showers because of a lack of water, met so many new friends, learned to sleep in spite of the lizards crawling on the walls, and the mice and rats fighting over food remnants in our kitchen. I used pit latrines, carried water in a jerry can, was smothered in love and dirty hand prints by dozens of children who all wanted to hold my hand and have a piece of my attention. I felt completely overwhelmed by all of it. Especially the stifling heat. Oh and I didn’t know it then but I met someone who would change my life forever. It was a good month!

After adding a few of my things and scrubbing vigorously!

After adding a few of my things and scrubbing vigorously!

June 2013

I agreed to go on a date with Joseph Ssempala. That date colored the rest of my month. I saw him or talked to him every day after that. When he told me he loved me after just a few weeks I responded by teaching him a new phraze…”take a chill pill.” fortunately he isn’t one to give up easily and while he did give me the little space that I needed, he continued to make me feel like the most amazing woman alive. He showed me so many things and we had some amazing adventures that month. I realized I was falling in love in a strange country with a strange and wonderful man who took my breath away. It was a great month!!

Joseph and I on our first date.

Joseph and I on our first date.

July 2013

After traveling to Rwanda and having some crazy adventures there. I accepted a proposal of marriage from the man of my dreams and after only dating just two days shy of a month. Joseph and I began planning our wedding. At first we planned for the wedding to take place in October. But it wasn’t long before we realized that, that plan wasn’t going to work and we moved the date up to the 27th of July. It gave us two crazy weeks to plan for the day I had waited my whole life for. It was nothing like I had imagined but all the important elements where there with the exception of the attendance of family and friends. I was head over heels in love with the man I was marrying, I wore a beautiful white dress, and the end result was that I found myself a married woman and so blissfully content that nothing else mattered. What can I say, it was a phenomenal month!!!DSCF1436

August 2013

As July turned to August I learned many new skills. Like how to shower outside with a bucket of cold water, how to cook on a charcoal stove, and how to have an argument and still stay friends with your new husband. I planted a garden, created a home, met some wonderful new neighbors and took a pregnancy test that turned out to be positive! What more can I say…My joy was complete and it was the month of my dreams.

September 2013

September came with its own challenges and joys. I learned that morning sickness is NOTHING like being car sick but just in the mornings like I used to think it would be. I ate less and threw up more than I would have dreamed was possible. I spent most of my day resting and trying to help my body create another human being! I started teaching piano lessons, getting more involved at church, and just tried to survive being really sick. I also got to travel to South Africa where my new husband and I went through a very special ceremony where we were sealed together for time and all eternity in the house of the Lord. One of the most sacred and special moments of my life was when this man who I love so much took my hand and led me through this process that would bind us together for eternity. Eternity wouldn’t be long enough for me. It was a legion…wait for it….dary month!  (a little How I Met Your Mother reference for those of you that love Neil Patrick Harris).

October 2013

With the blush of spring and the warmth of summer past, October saw me traveling home alone. I needed to eat and rest and get strong for the baby growing inside me. I needed my family and I needed to be back in America. I would come, work on getting Joseph a visa, finish up my last two semesters of school and prepare for our coming baby. It was a long and lonely month.

November 2013

I turned 32 this month and being married took the sting out of being another year older, the day passed and aside from having a wonderful Skype session with my husband I hardly noticed. I prayed for a mild winter, worked and waited and waited some more. I found an apartment for us to start our lives together in and my mother graciously helped me to furnish and make our little two bedroom apartment feel like a home.

December 2013

Began to realize that Joseph wouldn’t be coming as soon as we had imagined and tried to adjust to a new kind of loneliness. With Morning sickness easing up significantly and the second trimester under way I felt like a new woman and I couldn’t believe my growing body. We had an ultra sound and discovered that our baby was a boy. We agreed to name him Preston Joseph.

January 2014

Started my final semester of school!! A degree 8 years in the making finally looking like it was coming to an end. Began a new job at Cedar Fort planning events. Life began to settle into a routine.

February 2014

As I moved into the third trimester, things began to get a bit more difficult. Preston became heavier, my belly got tighter and I felt sure my skin was going to pop! The miracle that takes place in a pregnant woman’s body on a daily basis never ceases to amaze me! Our baby was moving and growing and I was experiencing sweet moments that I had only ever dreamed about. I never dreamed that I would feel them alone, and experience my first pregnancy in such a way but I learned some good lessons about love, communication, patience and not taking things for granted. I learned about disappointment as Joseph’s application for a visitors visa was denied and we continued to wait for his immigrant visa.

March 2014

After passing out at work, and showing significant signs of impending labor I went on bedrest to keep from having our baby prematurely. This month I learned about accepting help even when you want to do things yourself, about exchanging independence for kindness, about learning to let go of expectations and about trust as I had to realize that this baby was going to be born without Joseph being here. My entire pregnancy was going to come and go without Joseph getting to be a part of any of it. On the other hand my exhausted body was grateful for the rest and the time spent with family. It was a very long month.

And Finally April 2014

And now we have come full circle. With my baby 13 days over due I find myself sitting down to write this review of what might possibly be the most eventful year of my life so far. April was long and exhausting, Big changes in our family. Joseph still unsure of when he will be able to join me and the anticipation of the nearness of a new life have left me a bit of an emotional basket case. I cry almost daily for no good reason. I sit, I stand, I walk, and I lay down in an effort to find a position where something doesn’t hurt. Then I give up until 5 minutes later when I will try it all again.

I am eternally grateful for the child growing within me, for the husband that I trust, love, and adore with every part of my being, for a family who has carried me through this incredibly difficult time. But more than anything else I am grateful that I followed my heart, the direction that I felt from the spirit that day ten years ago. I am so grateful that because of what I know and love about the gospel of Jesus Christ, this year and everything I have experienced in it has been worth it. It has been so wonderful, hard and overwhelming. But I have grown and never once have I doubted that my Father has a plan for our little family, that he brought us together and he can keep us together if we draw close to him. I haven’t doubted that he loves us, that i am exactly where he wants me to be and that I can approach him in peace knowing that in spite of my imperfections he is proud of me and so willing to help me. I love my Lord, I love his church, I love my husband, my baby my family and my life. Every year so far has seen blessings and adventures. But this year, this year that marks a full decade in the church…This year was big…

this year was beyond description!!!

 

 

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God Bless America

I love America, I always have. I love everything that it stands for. I love the stories of bravery and incredible integrity of those men and women who made America something to be proud of. I love the stories of courage and sacrifice from men and women who understood what it meant to be free both in terms of rights as well as responsibilities. I loved the stories of people who believed that they could stand up against tyranny and succeed. Even when that tyranny came from their own king and country.

I didn’t always appreciate every aspect of it, I didn’t always know just what it meant to have the freedom of the press and just how important that right was. I never really understood the significance of certain laws and rights that I took for granted.

Then I volunteered to spend three months in Uganda, working to help bring jobs, education and better living conditions to single women there and I started to see. I started to gain a deeper understanding of what my country stands for and what those rights means. Mostly I gained an understanding for how important the system is that keeps these rights in check, the systems of law and order that made my world a safe, mostly predictable place to live.

When during that time in Uganda I met and married a Ugandan man, my world changed and my understanding changed with it. Gaining a better understanding of the protections and the rights that I had as  US Citizen, seeing by contrast what his were in his own country scared me. When I returned back to the United States I sobbed when my feet finally touched the ground and I felt a certain peace and security that I had always taken for granted. There is security in knowing that there are laws and rights and resources to go to when laws are broken or questioned. I’ve always felt protected by the system.

We knew when we married that it wouldn’t be easy to get a visa for Joseph. We knew it would probably mean being separated for a time. We did everything we knew to prepare for that and to make it as simple as possible. We crossed every T and dotted every I. I learned more about the immigration laws and system than I ever thought was possible. We were prepared to follow the path, and work through the red tape. We were prepared to utilize every resource at our disposal but we knew that in the end it would be hard. We looked forward with a sigh of sadness and with great excitement to the day that Joseph would leave his own beloved country and become a citizen of the United States. In his words he would be stars and stripes all the way.

When we applied to the United States Embassy in Kampala for a visitors visa so that Joseph could be with me when our baby is born, we were hopeful. The law says that since we had a pending spouse visa it wold be assumed that Joseph intended to stay in the US. That was understandable. Who wouldn’t want to stay with their wife and new-born baby.  We were informed that it would be up to us to prove during an interview that he intended to return. This could be proved by providing documentation showing strong ties to Uganda. Things like family, work, owning property etc. could be used as proof that he would return.

We went to work gathering documents, showing that Joseph owns a business in Uganda, in fact he had just renewed his business license for another year, we gathered documents showing that he was the president of a non-profit organization that provides help for the disabled, we had documents showing that he was contracted to do work for a company for two months following his return to Uganda, he had a speaking engagement scheduled for after his return, he had exams and a letter from a dean at the University stating as much, vouching for his character and recommending that Joseph be given a visa. His entire family is still in Uganda. We were hopeful because we had all the evidence that one could ask for. I sent a letter of invitation and bank statements showing that we could support him while he was here, and just to be sure my parents sent the same as well.

Joseph paid the $160 fee (this amount could easily have paid three months rent for us in Uganda) and excitedly boarded a taxi for the three-hour journey to Kampala to the embassy for his appointment. This visitors visa would give us a chance to spend 90 days together at the time when I would need him most, it would give him a chance to be there when his first-born child, enters this world. It would allow him to hold his new-born son before he is already walking.

His interview lasted all of about 1 min.

The letter denying him the chance to visit had been drafted before he even arrived. You were unable to provide sufficient evidence that you intend to return to Uganda at the end of your visit… was the reason he was given. He protested that he wasn’t given a chance to prove it and was sternly told to leave the embassy NOW! He was told that there could be no appeal, but that he was welcome to reapply if he wanted, he could pay the fee again and see if they would treat him fairly the next time.

As he left the woman’s office he encountered another man in the waiting room ready to fight because he too had been denied a chance to visit his wife who was delivering their child in a months time. He talked to him, calming him down and explaining that fighting would get him nothing. And they left the embassy.

Joseph’s first interaction with the United States government shook his faith in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. He had always seen America as an example to be followed. Democracy, liberty and Freedom as something to aspire to. Now he saw them as predators, stealing from innocent Ugandan civilians their hard-earned money and their hope. He saw them as a land without concern for right or laws.

So, now we wait. we contemplate leaving America to find another country that will allow our little family to be together while we wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn in our favor. I console myself by knowing that I am not alone in this. How many soldiers wives, give birth alone, in the early days of our church how many missionaries left their wives pregnant and sick to go on missions only to return to a two-year old child and a wife stronger for having had to do so much on her own.

I tell myself these things and yet those women can also tell themselves that their husbands are doing it for a cause. For freedom, for liberty of our country and others, for the eternal welfare of a soul. I get to do it because someone had a bad day, or decided that they didn’t want to do an actual interview, and no one thought it was worth doing anything about. So when I am tired and sick, lying in bed alone aching for someone to rub my feet or help me up to go to the bathroom yet again, when I am lying in that bed holding my first child, my newborn son in my arms and marveling at the beauty of it all and the miracle of life I can console myself in the fact that my husband is 9000 miles away because someone didn’t want to take time to look at some papers and it will make me feel so much better.

I still love America. It will always be my home. I still sing our National Anthem and my eyes still fill with tears at the heartfelt passionate lyrics

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

In fact if anything I love her more. Because I see how fragile America is and how quickly all that was fought for can be lost. And I will pray that God WILL Bless America because she is my home that I love and she needs all the prayers she can get.

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My Whirlwind Romance Part X My Wedding Day! “Its not over, its just the beginning”

When I decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a long hard year making that decision. On the day of my baptism as the meeting ended, I stood at the bottom of the stairs in the chapel, my hair still wet from the font and I shook hands with one of the most influential people in my life. “Well, I did it. It’s over I said.” Brother B looked at me with something in his eyes, I saw happiness, I saw that he was proud of me, I saw support and tenderness, and I could swear I saw a glint of humor. Was he laughing at my stupidity? Smiling at my naivete, or just smirking with the knowledge that he knew something that I didn’t?

“Vilate he said, It’s not over, it’s just beginning.”

I planned my whole wedding down to the tiniest detail when I was about 10 years old. Sure my opinions and desires changed over the years, but I kept it updated I was prepared at any given moment to put on the wedding of my dreams in about two weeks flat. I had everything primed and ready, like dominoes all set so that when the time came all I would have to do is push that first one and things would fly into motion.

That wasn’t because I wanted to plan my wedding in two weeks. It was just because I was so excited for it that I couldn’t help but do everything to prepare that could possibly be done before you’ve actually met the man of your dreams. That and that I’m a planner. I just enjoy the whole process.

So when Joseph and I decided to change our plans and get married before I left Uganda, I felt I was up for the challenge. It actually meant that I would be planning the wedding in two weeks, but I was ready. Since the wedding would be taking place in Uganda it meant some minor (cough, cough sputter) changes to my plans but nothing I wasn’t prepared to handle.

What I wasn’t prepared for was Joseph’s family. they had ideas, they had traditions, and they had culture that COULDN’T be messed with. Normally I am the kind of person that when I am told that I “shouldn’t or can’t” do something…well thats the first thing I am going to attempt to do. And I usually succeed… or fail depending on how you look at it.

Before I had a chance to say “boo” they had taken the whole affair into their hands, and the wedding was planned.

We had tents set up in Uncle’s yard, there were tables and chairs with embroidered cloths, there were ribbons and decorations. There was food prepared, and the word was spread. Literally before I hardly knew what had happened the whole thing was planned.

It was a little hard, seeing it all taken out of my hands, and I wanted to protest, and did a couple of times, but realized that by this time I needed to just let it go.

As the plans progressed Joseph begged me to be sure. He sensed my hesitation and fear at the step we were about to take. “Vilate, he told me one day, my family is starting to travel in from all over Uganda to be here for our wedding in just a few days, if you are going to change your mind, please do it now.”

I didn’t know what to say, I felt good about progressing I felt good about the steps we were taking, I knew I loved Joseph, but I still didn’t “know” that it was the right thing for me. We met with the new Mission President and begged for counsel. “The only person who can answer your questions is the Lord,” President Chatfield told us. You need to take it to him and that’s all I can tell you.

He left and Joseph and I knelt, he took both of my hands in his and we prayed. As we did, I felt like a little girl again, listening to the deepening tones of my dad’s reverent voice as he prayed. I felt so loved and protected and like I could face anything that could come my way. I felt trust and love for Joseph like I had always felt for my dad. I thought about having children with him and how I felt confident that my children would look up to him with love and respect the way I had with my own father, and I knew that I would trust and respect him and support him in that role as well.

I felt peace completely surround me. And then I thought. I am getting married in two days to a man I have known for a matter of weeks! A man who no one in my family and none of my friends had ever met, I was marrying him in Uganda, in a strange country, completely alone and with out support. I was marrying a black man! In spite of how I had always felt and what I had believed about them. I was marrying a man much younger than I was, from an entirely different background and culture. Even his first language was different from mine. I had every reason to be panicked. I had every reason to feel overwhelmed and lost. But I didn’t. I felt loved, protected, secure, and filled with peace. I knew those feelings could only come at a time like this, so powerfully as to over come all other feelings, from one source. It was the final answer that I needed. The Lord approved, he was here in this very room helping me at this moment. And I knew everything would be ok.

When Joseph finished the prayer I looked into his eyes hugged him and told him that I was ok. I knew we were making the right decision and that I was not going to back out.

The day before the wedding I only saw Joseph for a few minutes in the afternoon. He took a break from setting up tents and chairs and making arrangements to come be with me for an hour or so. When we first started dating Joseph and I had set a couple of firm rules for ourselves to help us to make sure that we kept the standards that we believed in regards to physical intimacy being saved for marriage.

Some of these rules were that we would never kiss lying down, we would save passionate kissing and necking for after marriage and we would never spend the night together in the same home by ourselves. It was so nice to be approaching our marriage the following day knowing that we had stayed true to our convictions and had kept the rules that we made for ourselves. We had told no one of these rules and there was no one to judge if we broke them, but we knew and it felt good.

That afternoon as we spent our last few moments together still “limited” by these rules and yet aware that our marriage the following day would change everything, we spoke to each other with loving words and I felt that my heart would burst with Love for him. I had no desire to do anything that would damage the special feeling that “waiting” had created between us. We held each other, talked of our plans for the future, and savored these final moments together as single people.

Later that night, Joseph’s sister Tinah met me at the hotel where we would be spending the night. She brought, my wedding dress with her, and all was set.

The following day after a much-needed and incredibly enjoyable hot shower, Melissa, my only friend from the states who was there came and did my hair for me. I went to a salon and got my nails done and then waited patiently for the car to arrive to pick me up. I had warned everyone that my wedding would start on time! When the time came for the car to arrive to pick me and my brides maids up to take us to the church I was ready and waiting. No car showed up and the minutes ticked away.

Finally I gathered my full skirts in my hand and told Tinah, “Im leaving. If I have to take a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to the church I will but I am going to the church right now!” Tinah was frantic, you can’t do that she told me!

“Watch me I said cause I’m doing it.”

She tried to call Joseph as I headed down the hallway squeezing my dress between the narrow doorways.

When I reached the curb the car was just pulling up. We piled into the car, and headed to the church. The page-boy and flower girl, Joseph’s niece and nephew sat on either side of me. They were enthralled with the idea of having a new white “mother.” In Uganda the children refer the their aunts and uncles as mother and father. So I was now Mommy Vilate (although when the children said it, it sounded a lot more like Mommy Violent, and I hoped it wasn’t a prediction of the kind of mother I would be!) 1148794_10151529135790658_775137388_n

They wanted to touch my hair and my skin, they sat quietly and shyly next to me. We arrived at the church about the time the wedding was supposed to start and I was like a crazy woman trying to get in to the chapel to make sure things happened just the way I wanted. Life rarely happens the way we want, you would think I would have figured that out by now and quit trying to control every little detail, but for some reason I wasn’t willing to just sit back and let this day happen. I wanted it to happen the way I wanted it to be. DSCF1427

Joseph and I met in the hallway, My veil was over my face and through it he looked fuzzy and white. And oh so handsome in his dark suit and yellow tie. His eyes glowed in appreciation as he looked at me and he didn’t need to say anything, his eyes said it all. We posed for a few pictures together and then went to the chapel for the wedding. DSCF1431

Every seat in the chapel was full, and some were even standing, but I didn’t notice. I was frantically trying to get my family on skype and get things ready so that we could start. I was way too excited that my wedding day had finally arrived to be shy or nervous.

JInja Chapel, where Joseph and I were married.

JInja Chapel, where Joseph and I were married.

I finally got my family on skype and after a quick wave to their sleepy faces (it was 3 AM their time) the ceremony started. They started by singing a song that had always been a sore spot with me. And was especially so on this day.

trying to get my family on skype

trying to get my family on skype

Families Can Be Together Forever

I sat there trying not to think about my mom and my sisters watching silently over skype as I took this step. I tried not to think of the spiritual, temporal and physical separation as what I was doing further widened the gap between my family and I. I tried not to think of my own father who I loved so dearly, not even able to be there on this most important day for me. It didn’t work and before I knew it I was sobbing and gasping for breath in my fitted dress. My whole body was shaking uncontrollably.

Finally the song ended and the branch president spoke for a few minutes. When he finished he asked Joseph and I to stand, we stood facing each other and holding hands. Joseph’s head was down and I longed to see his eyes. I wanted to see if he was still sure, I wanted to see the love that I knew would be reflected there. He didn’t look at me. As the Branch President spoke I leaned down a little trying to catch his eye. It worked for a second, just long enough for me to see that he was really nervous.

When it came time for him to say Yes, he did and when it was my turn I said it, wishing it was a longer word, or that there was some way to capture the significance of the moment. Then, it was done we were married, Joseph kissed me for the first time as his wife and we headed for the door with his family and friends yelling and shrieking behind us in the unique way that women in Uganda celebrate the marriages of their loved ones. DSCF1438

As we stood outside the church taking photos with friends and family, I couldn’t stop smiling, the peace and contentment that I had felt in the last few days leading up to this day remained and was intensified by the contentment of knowing that I was finally married. I didn’t feel a rush to get through the reception, I didn’t feel anxiety about anything. All I felt was utter and complete contentment in that moment. Joseph squeezed my hand and I wondered if I would ever again need to see any face besides his.

Joseph's family

Joseph’s family

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When the pictures finished we moved on to the reception. DSCF3281As the day progressed there were moments of surprise when something didn’t happen the way we wanted it to, there were moments of frustration where too many people were telling us what to do, where to stand, where to look, too many hands were pulling, hugging, fixing this or that. Music was playing to loudly and too long And for a few seconds I thought I would scream. Then the moment would pass and the contentment would flood in again and I would remember that it was my wedding day, a day that would never come again, a day I had waited 32 long years for. DSCF3288

This cycle of feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and being so in love and reveling in the joy and the beauty of the day continued. As Joseph and I sat front and center at a table beautifully decorated for us, surrounded by hundreds of people who had come to celebrate with us, I felt that life couldn’t get any better, and as my head pounded with the noise and the craziness of the day as the hours wore on I turned to Joseph, “I can’t do this, anymore” I told him. DSCF3297 DSCF3341

“You have to deal with it, its as simple as that” he answered, smiling yet again as someone else hugged us and someone else pulled on our arms trying to tell us that we need to speak, or take a picture, or accept a gift.

we had out first dance together

we had out first dance together

we said a few words to our guests

we said a few words to our guests

and we cut the cake

and we cut the cake

Finally I had truly had enough, The music was pounding in my head and all around me and my large personal space bubble had been invaded one too many times. I wanted to scream and run away from it all. Someone was yelling in our ears, trying to be heard over the music, telling us what to do and someone else was contradicting them in the other ear. I gathered my skirts in my hands and walked as fast as I could toward the road, leaving Joseph and everyone else behind.

I didn’t know what I planned to do when I got out of the yard and to the road, I just knew that I couldn’t take one more minute. Joseph ran up behind me, shouting for someone to bring the car. He seemed angry with me. We are going right now he told me. We got in the car with three of Joseph’s friends and drove out of the yard. Just as we were pulling out on to the road I remembered that my clothes, everything except my wedding dress was in a suitcase with Tinah. Joseph, we have to go back, I said, I need my suitcase. Again he seemed upset but drove back. I tried to get out of the car to go get it. Joseph told me to stay put and he would get it for me. I couldn’t very well tell him in front of his friends that I needed Tinah’s help to help me out of my dress and into something more romantic underneath for our wedding night. And Joseph wasn’t listening besides. “Would you just stay here!” His voice was harsh and angry sounding, something I had never heard from him before.

I was mad that his friends were in the car with us, mad that the reception had ended the way it had and madder still that my husband had been gruff with me.

I sat on my side of the car with my dress piled around me. Ignoring Joseph and his friends as they talked. They unloaded our gifts at our apartment and then took us back to the hotel where we would spend the night. We unloaded our things and they left. I sat on the bed furious and near tears.

Joseph came into the room after seeing the boys off. His smile back on his face and his eyes happy as though nothing had happened. He walked to me and put his arms around me. I pushed him away. He was not going to pretend that nothing had happened!

Before I knew what was even happening I was seated on one side of the bed and Joseph on the other, our backs were to each other and the gulf between us seemed unbreachable. I looked around to see if there was a tree near the window, thinking ironically of the scene from 7 brides for 7 brothers where Millie dooms her new husband to sleep in the tree on the night of their wedding. Is that how this night was going to end?

I felt stuck and I didn’t know who to even blame! Technically the only thing Joseph had really done to make me angry was to get a little short with me. The only thing that anyone else had done to make me angry was to try to make my wedding day perfect. I didn’t know why I was so mad and I didn’t know how to fix it. I wanted things to be good between Joseph and I but I felt like just ignoring how I was feeling would just put a band-aid over the issue.

I closed my eyes and said a little prayer. Father, I prayed, I feel like this is my fault. Can you show me how to fix it?

“You can start by getting on the same side of the bed.” The thought came clearly to my mind and should have been a no brainer. Joseph, I said, meekly. Will you come sit by me?

He did, his head down and tears brimming in his eyes. “I wanted this day to be perfect for you, I worked so hard to make it perfect, but I failed.”

I couldn’t lie and tell him that it had been perfect. I was too honest a person for that and he would see right through me and it would mean nothing. I sat silently for a few minutes. I thought again of another story, this time from a book instead of a movie. In the work and the glory, shortly after a young couple marries, the husband is feeling dejected because he sees the conditions his wife is living in and feels that he is putting her through too much. She sees what her complaining has done and fixes it by finding things to be grateful for and the two end up laughing over their own difficulties. It gave me an idea.

“I loved seeing your face when I first walked into the church” I told him. “And I loved that I got to make my own wedding cake, I loved that there was some African culture and tradition in our wedding as we walked through the little arbor decorated with ribbon and flowers and cut the ribbon that symbolized the official beginning of our wedding reception.” What did you like best? I asked DSCF3287 DSCF3290

He looked at me a little confused. ” I liked when the Casperson’s gave us a picture of the Joburg temple and the letter confirming the dates of our sealing” DSCF3338

“Oh and I loved when your mother told me that I was her daughter now!” I said, the feeling of making a game out of this catching on.

We layed back on the bed looking up at the ceiling and recounting our favorite parts of the day. Soon we were laughing and it didn’t feel fake anymore to pretend that everything was alright. It was in fact truly alright. Whatever petty things had left me feeling disgruntled about the day were gone. I turned to Joseph, as far as I see it there are only three things that needed to happen today to make it perfect, I said. You and I need to have made covenants with each other, you need to be happy and I need to be happy. As long as those three things happen, this day is a success in my opinion. So the first one happened. And I’m happy, so how about you? I asked, “Are you happy”

“I am” he smiled then you succeeded, you made our wedding day, perfect. I told him, meaning every word.

He kissed me and bridged the final steps in the huge gulf that had separated us just moments before.

And so my whirlwind romance turned into a marriage. A marriage that would see, difficult times, a few arguments here and there, a baby sooner than anyone could have expected, and a separation that would only increase our love for each other.  Who knows what still lies in store for us. Because just as Brother B had told me years before, this is not the end, it is only the beginning! DSCF3325

Random tidbits

I guess I should start this post with an update on the little boy I had mentioned previously who needed surgery. So many people have been so kind and so willing to help.

My mother was the first. As soon as I explained the situation to her she told me that she would have the money in my account in the morning for him to be able to have the surgery.

And while I don’t believe in just giving things to people and solving their problems for them, I couldn’t help but remember the kindness of a man who saw a girl working on her own to finish highschool from her front porch. And offered to buy her the science kit and microscope that she needed to be able to understand the science she was trying to learn on her own from a book. I couldn’t help but remember the doctor who repaired a torn up shoulder for free because a certain girl couldn’t afford to pay for her surgery, and I couldn’t help but remember countless other times that others had stepped in and helped me out when I needed it. And yet, I still know that it’s not good to just swoop in and handle someones problems for them.

So I was pleased when during a discussion with a carpenter, trying to negotiate a good price for furniture for the Musana women so that they have a nice work place, the most perfect solution dawned on me and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. Benji’s father is a carpenter. He can build the furniture for us, and it saves Musana money, the women get their furniture, Benji gets his surgery, and Benji’s parents get to be a part of solving the problem. It seems a win win for everyone.

I don’t know how I became the designated take people to the hospital person but, somehow I am.

Emined called me the other day to tell me that one of his students had something seriously wrong with her and needed to see a doctor. He told me he needed my help. I met him at the taxi stage and he came with a little girl whose head was covered with a black scarf. She allowed me to remove it and look at her head. She had a huge lump growing about two inches off the top of her head. It was oozing and looked terrible. 973903_170390523135670_1847109875_n

We took her to see Andrew, the Scottish doctor who is a volunteer at Living Water clinic and is a friend of ours. As soon as the little girl saw him putting on gloves she began screaming and covering her head with her scarf. It took four of us to hold her down so that he could have a look at her head. She had some kind of abcess on her head that was full of infection. She is on an IV antibiotic and they lanced the absess and packed it. She should be ok.

The little girl with the burn on her arm is doing much better also. I invited her and her mother to come to church with me on sunday. They agreed. When I showed up sunday morning to get them the mother said she had somewhere to go but the daughter was ready to go. We went and she was a great addition to my little primary class. I have no idea how much she understood. I don’t think she speaks much English but I know she had fun with the other kids and she is especially happy to see me when I pass her house on the road these days.

My little friend, showing off our matching arm bandages.

My little friend and I showing off our matching arm bandages.

The other day I scratched my arm. It was hardly deep enough to bleed but I didn’t want it to get infected so I wrapped it. I told her we were twins.

I had a hot shower the other day. It had a legit drain, a shower head, warm water, and even a shower curtain! It was heaven.

I met a woman here who invited me to her home. She lives on the Mehta compound. In fact her husband is the head of security. She said she gets bored and lonely there all by herself all day. She has a beautiful home with a real kitchen, it even has an oven! She doesn’t really know how to cook so I’m going to go help her. I am excited to get to know her. She has lived an interesting life all over the world.

I went to the Rainforest Lodge and went swimming. It was incredible I saw monkeys swinging from the trees in the forest as I walked there. And I saw some of the most incredible butterflies!

The lodge itself was beautiful and relaxing and there simply aren’t words to express how much I enjoyed the swimming pool.

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

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

First Night

DSC00193I am in Entebbe, Uganda. It seems like just yesterday that I randomly saw a post from a friend on facebook about an Internship in Uganda, and thought “would I be crazy to consider going there for the summer?” I had plans to go to DC for to do a paid internship and to get some great business experience, while possibly learning more about how our government is run. Yet here I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I left Salt Lake City two days ago. I flew to New York where I caught a plane for Amsterdam. I have always dreamed of going to Europe and especially to Holland during the tulip festival. It killed me to be there at this time of year and see nothing outside the airport. I did take this picture, as I was thinking of my mom and her love of tulips. She would have loved these beautiful boxes filled with tulips that line the hallways of the airport in Amsterdam.

I found the gate where my plane would leave for Rwanda. Two black ladies were sitting chatting and when I sat near them they struck up a conversation with me, asking me where I was going and giving me lots of friendly, helpful advise. I left my bags where I could see them and ordered a sprite. When I returned the ladies gave me a little lecture about how I should never leave my bags even for a second. They told me that in Uganda I would meet many people like them who would be friendly and kind and I would be tempted to trust them, but “If you do and you leave your things where you can’t touch them, even for a second, you will come back and they will be gone!” they told me.

I had to go through another security check leaving Amsterdam but the plane ride to Rwanda was not as uncomfortable as the others had been since the plane was not full so I had the whole row to myself. The armrests did not move so I had to try to maneuver around them to sleep. I decided that plane rides are neither here nor there, the seats are almost comfortable, they allow you to almost fall asleep, the food is almost tasty and the drinks almost enough. There is almost enough room for me to stretch my legs, and I almost feel sick the whole time.

The plane only stopped briefly in Rwanda and then we were off for Uganda. As I exited the plane the air was thick with the sickly sweet smell of many bodies, rain water, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I went through immigrations and got my visa and then gathered my bags from baggage claim. I was told that someone from a hostel called “Backpackers” would be meeting me and to look for a sign with my name on it. I scanned the line of people holding signs, but didn’t see one, someone suggested trying outside. I stepped outside the door and almost immediately spotted my name on a sign. The man holding the sign wore a blue coat with the hood on and his head down. When he looked up, in the darkness I saw only his eyes. It frightened me for a moment and for just a second, I thought of Harry Potter and the Dementors. The man’s name was Collin and he helped me load my luggage into his car and laughed when I attempted to get in the wrong side of the car, since apparently in Africa the driver’s side is on the right.

We talked a little as we drove. Soon we came to a tall wooden gate, which was opened after a few seconds by another man. Collin led me into a small living room where I signed in and was taken to the dormitory.

DSC00200Inside the dormitory there were four sets of bunk beds. One of them was already occupied by an Israeli man named Nimrod. He told me his name with a chuckle and explained that someone had already told him that in America Nimrod means basically the same as Dork. We were told to keep the door locked from the inside and that if one of us left early we were to wake the other so that they could lock it again after us. We were both cautioned not to go outside of the gates alone as there were often people waiting in the bushes to jump you.

I guess I had slept enough on the plane, and since my bodies clock thought it was morning I wasn’t tired at all. I wondered how many before me had slept on the sheets and if they had been washed. Nimrod showed me outside to the shower and toilets. I had seen better in camp sites and I hoped I wouldn’t need to use it until morning.

Nimrod was friendly enough and we lay in our beds talking for several hours. He told me about his life in Israel, and answered my many questions about Judaism. Finally I thought since he had already been in bed when I got there I should let him sleep. After a few moments of silence, he whispered, “Vilate, are you asleep?” I told him that I wasn’t and didn’t expect that I would sleep much that night. “Tell me what it means to be a Mormon.” He asked.  I stumbled a little as I struggled where to begin and what to say to this man who did not even believe in Jesus Christ.

I decided to start with God. I explained how we believe that he is literally the Father of our spirits and how we refer to him as Heavenly Father. I explained that we believe that Jesus Christ is his son and that when we die,, we have the opportunity to become Gods like them.

He asked about marriage and if we could marry outside of our religion. I explained to him that we can, but that because of our beliefs in our ability to progress eternally and because we believe that the best kind of marriage starts with a temple ceremony that will seal us together for all eternity, it only makes sense to marry someone who also believes those same things and can participate fully with us in the temple.

We talked about our similar beliefs about the Sabbath, the word of wisdom, and saving sex for marriage. Finally we fell silent and after a few moments he whispered again. “Goodnight Vilate.”

I lay there trying to sleep aDSC00197nd pretending that I didn’t feel the need to visit the outdoor bathroom. But after a while I couldn’t deny it any longer and I slipped from underneath the mosquito netting, pulled my dress over my head and headed outside. The door is reinforced with bars, like what you might imagine to see in a prison and it took me a little while to figure out how to unlock the door. I eased it open, careful not to wake Nimrod and stepped out into the darkness. The bathroom door wouldn’t lock and there was no light so I hoped for the best, did what I came to do and went back inside. I couldn’t find anywhere to wash my hands so I made a mental note to make good use of the hand sanitizer I had brought with me.

I woke this morning early, surprised that I had indeed slept. It was raining quite hard and yet there were so many birds twittering outside the window that I couldn’t begin to distinguish between their many sounds. I am quite sure that some of the sounds I heard were monkeys. Nimrod is still sleeping and I am not sure what I am expected to do at this point. I understand that someone will be picking me up today, but I am not sure when or if I should try to call someone. I hear voices so I may go inside and see what I can find out. So until next time…DSC00199

Off we go on an adventure!

I remember when I was a little girl, going into our storage room and just standing there looking at all the food. I would imagine that we fell on hard times and had to ration the food to make sure it was going to last. Eventually that would lead to daydreaming about Ethiopia. As every kid knows Ethiopia is where are the really poor kids are that would be happy for your oatmeal mush. I would day-dream that I would go there with nothing but a handful of corn and little by little I would work my way into owning a mansion and employing dozens of locals and completely changing the village that I lived in. That’s what I day dreamed about when I was nine years old and supposed to be doing the laundry.

Yesterday, I got some exciting news. I am going to Uganda. Not with a handful of corn and not to make my fortune but to hopefully make an impact in the lives of the women who live there. I am going to be working with a company called Musana that is dedicated to helping the women of Uganda better their lives by providing work and an opportunity to learn some new skills. The wanderer in me couldn’t be more please with this opportunity to once again embark on a journey outside of the country. The story-teller in me couldn’t be more satisfied with the plethora of stories that I will undoubtedly have to tell about the people there, their experiences, and my life there as well. I am excited for all the ways that I know I will grow and for all the friendships that I will make. This experience is going to change my life forever. There are just three things that I am worried about.

imgres-2The first as you might guess is money. As a student it is not something that I have just lying around waiting for me to decide to take a trip to Africa. The university will give me a scholarship that will help but I am still going to need to come up with about $2000.

url-2The second thing that I am concerned about, and this might seem silly to most of you, but it’s not silly to me, it’s very VERY real and very VERY scary and well…it’s SPIDERS. icky, wiggly, hairy, leggy spiders. What if they crawl on me in my sleep? What if they… well I don’t know exactly what they could do but I know that just by being there crawling in their creepy little way its scary. And what is even more scary is that they might not be so very little. I picked the least scary, most harmless looking spider I could find because even seeing one on my blog is terrifying.

My last concern is without a doubt the most difficult and the only one that really gives me pause about going. And that is my dad. When I was little I remember my dad having breakfast with us when it was over he would roll up his bib cross the ties across the top put his hat on his head and say “that’s all folks” then he would do a little jib as he walked down the hallway through the kitchen and just before he turned the corner he would lift his hat to us and say see you later alligator!

The other day after dinner he finished eating and told my mom he was ready to go back to his room. slowly he turned his legs toward the side of the chair and my mom held on to his hands and pulled him to his feet. He stood there a little shaky trying to get his balance before he slowly shuffled from the room hanging on to her arm. As I watched him go I thought of my old “papadoplous” and his funny little jigs, and his playful attitude. I thought about him going off to work everyday to provide for us and I wondered if I can really go for three months not knowing if he will still be here when I get back. Saying goodbye is going to be difficult no matter what the circumstances but I don’t want to say goodbye when I leave for Africa and have him die while I am gone. I want to be here with him during his last days.

To be honest I don’t want him to go at all. A girl just shouldn’t have to lose her dad at my age. I’m not ready for that and I don’t think I will ever be ready for that. But…I also don’t think he would want me to continue to live my life in fear of him going. I don’t think he would want me to turn down opportunities. So I am going. I will pray that he will be ok. That I will come back and get to tell him all about my adventures there. He will probably even think that he went with me!149692_449132820657_467824_n