Things that we have been surprised by in Uganda

  • Full moons – After living in Uganda for 4 months, I eagerly await every full moon. It lights up the night sky in a way we do not get in Canada. When the moon is in full force there is no need for a flashlight because it casts sharp shadows on the ground making even the smallest ruts easily visible. This made last Sunday’s “Supermoon” all the more impressive. People were calling it a Supermoon because it is the closest the moon will be to the earth all year. I did not know it was a Supermoon at the time, but I remarked to Krista that I didn’t think I had ever seen such a large or bright or orange moon before. The next full moon is scheduled for August 20th – the night when we will be camping in the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with my brothers and dad when they visit. Can’t wait.
  • Lightning and thunderstorms – The rainy season might be my favorite time of year even though the rain makes life much more difficult. The reason is that the rainy season brings lightning and thunderstorms that you can watch on the horizon for hours. The storms here are very isolated so you are able to watch lightning illuminate a storm cloud like popping corn kernels and not be affected in the least. I think part of the reason why I enjoy the storms here so much is that my appreciation for storms has been heightened after living in Vancouver for a few years where lightning and thunder are even more infrequent than the sun.
  • Missing Ontario cottage country – I often remark that living in rural Uganda is very much like camping. Cooking, cleaning, showering, and washrooms are much closer to camping than city-living. But having said that, our living conditions are probably much closer to a rugged cottage than a collapsible tent. This might be part of the reason why we find ourselves longing for the Ontario cottage-country more than the BC wilderness from which we came. Don’t get me wrong, we miss many things about BC, but we didn’t expect to miss Ontario quite as much as we do.
  • Ugandans like country music – This I can provide little commentary for because I have little understanding for why many Ugandans listen to country music. Now, it isn’t as prevalent as the dance club music you hear from sun-rise to sun-down, but it isn’t uncommon to hear Ugandans listening to Dolly Parton or Brooks & Dunn.
  • Krista’s love of powdered milk – Krista has always had a difficult relationship with milk. Over the past few years she had taken to drinking almond milk (yes, there is such a thing) so when we moved to a village I thought that I would be the one longing for milk and dairy products. But for reasons that are still a mystery to me, it is quite the opposite. Krista longs for milk in her tea so much that sometimes she craves it more than she craves chocolate or warm baths. She longs it so much that she actually craves powdered milk. Maybe the moon has something to do with it, who knows.

– Paul

Four Months In…

If we thought May was busy, June has turned out to be even busier!  The month started out with the tragic death of one of our teachers.  Then we lost two other staff members for various reasons.  It has been challenging to deal with the aftermath of these things, hiring new staff, and navigating related issues.  At times I feel like I’m in way over my head, but I suppose that’s good because it makes me trust that God has us here for a reason and it forces me to rely on God’s strength to keep going.

We also had a volunteer from the UK come to the centre at the last minute.  It always feels busy when we have volunteers come because we live in the same house as them, cook with them, hang out with them, etc.  But we got along really well with this volunteer, so it was enjoyable to live with her for a couple of weeks.  We dropped her off at the airport on Friday and spent the rest of the weekend in Kampala at a friend’s place.  It was a nice break to get away for a bit.

While in Kampala I read a book that taught me a lot about the church and people of Uganda.  The book is called “A Distant Grief” by Kefa Sempangi and I highly recommend it!  It’s about Kefa’s experience as the pastor of a church in Kampala during the reign of Idi Amin.  The main lessons I took away were:

a)      God speaks to the church in Uganda directly – he doesn’t just speak to the church in Uganda through the West.

b)      Many people here aren’t looking for a God that will provide them with the best worldview.  Rather, they’re looking for a God whose power will enter their lives in a practical way.  Living in a village where the simplest needs (such as clean water, mosquito nets, etc.) aren’t always met and where people are looking to God to meet these basic needs has challenged me to pray for God’s power in my life in a more practical way.

Anyway, I’m not providing enough context to explain these things nearly as well as Kefa Sempangi but his book impacted me so much that I had to write about it.  Hopefully you have a chance to read it one day!

With love,

Krista Joy

The Curious Case of Our Lost African Dog

Note: I wrote this story a few weeks ago now, and it was originally posted at Converge.

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“SIERRA!”

I yelled that name dozens of times last Sunday afternoon; each time my voice trailing off with a measure of embarrassment.

You see, Sierra is our new puppy that we lost less than 24hrs after we got her. She was given to us by a friend who knew we were looking for a new dog to help control the neighboring chickens that were eating all the crops on the farm of our community centre in rural Uganda. She is a beautiful puppy – a mutt that resembles a German Pinscher with short dark hair and light brown colouring on her belly, legs, and face – but she is also a nervous puppy – having been abused when she was younger.

Therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, when a neighbor rode close by on their bike, Sierra panicked. Still terrified of new people, specifically new African people, she took off having little idea of where she was going or how to get back to where she was. After she failed to return to us immediately, we got that sinking feeling that she may not be coming back.

So, we started to search and holler for this puppy for the next 5 hours amongst huts and homes in the countryside. We tried to explain to our confused neighbors that we were searching for our pet dog but I think our intentions were lost in translation because people here don’t keep dogs as pets. We also tried to explain in broken Lugandan that she was wearing a collar, but since dogs here don’t wear collars most people thought we were looking for a necklace – which would have been just as futile since looking for this terrified dog in the long grass of the expansive Ugandan countryside was very much like looking for a needle in a haystack.

For many of the locals, it would have made more sense if we actually were looking for a necklace. Here, dogs don’t wear collars and people don’t go around yelling for a lost dog. There is too much else to worry about. Last week, for example, 5 children in the village lost their father to an illness that seemed entirely preventable if the right medical attention were available. He was only 41 years old. Such are the worries of life in a village. Such are the worries of life in Africa. This is why many of our neighbors must have thought we were crazy spending as much energy as we did walking, biking, and shouting in an effort to find our dog Sierra.

We searched for hours on end – we have the sunburns to prove it – with no luck. Eventually we regrouped for some food and water. My wife mused that if we lose a dog within 24hrs, how are we ever going to be responsible enough to have kids? And so, with that new found motivation, we launched one last search party – but this time we brought along the centre’s older dog, Cujo, for moral support if nothing else.

As we neared the place where we lost Sierra I thought I might as well give Cujo something of Sierra’s to smell so that she might clue in to what we were doing. Then a funny thing happened: Cujo darted into the long grass with purpose. I followed, not yet making the connection that it had anything to do with Sierra. I struggled to keep up as we made our way through waist deep grass and shoulder deep bushes, but then I heard a whimper come from the bushes not far ahead of me – Cujo had found Sierra. It was difficult to settle Sierra down in her excitement after she spent 5 hours in the heat of the day hiding in one spot, too terrified to move. We were elated to find Sierra, and our neighbors were relieved that we had stopped yelling for her.

Having moved to rural Uganda from Vancouver, I am able to see first hand the differences in how people from different cultures treat dogs. In the West, dogs are a source of companionship; they are man’s best friend. There are hotels and gyms and spas for dogs. People even buy outfits for their dogs.

In the West, dogs are members of a community, but in Africa, they are protectors of a community. People in rural Africa rarely have the resources to treat dogs as another member of the family, and as a result, dogs end up serving a practical rather than relational purpose. They become guard dogs if they haven’t already become a nuisance – which is exactly what most dogs here are.

Having had a few hours to think about the purpose of dogs when we were searching for Sierra, I think the truth about dogs is somewhere in between Africa and the West. We should not value dogs so much that we put their needs before people, which happens too often in the West, but we should not value dogs so little that abuse becomes normative, which happens too often in Africa.

My point here, however, is not to paint Africa in a negative light. There are many people in Africa who do not mistreat their dogs just as there are many people in the West who do not overindulge their dogs. My point is this: we must determine how to appropriately care for all things in creation – dogs, animals, people, and plants alike. If we reduce creation to raw material it will become a tool for use to use and abuse, and if we elevate creation into a deity it will become an object of worship. The truth about creation, like the truth about dogs, is somewhere in between.

– Paul

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