List of Favourites

As someone who is meant to do a lot of writing, it is funny how often I avoid the task. It might have something to do with my preclusion for hard work, or my affinity for easy work, but writing, whichever way you cut it, is hard. Making lists? Not so hard. So, here is a list of some of our favorite things that we have discovered during our time in Uganda. It was difficult to narrow our choices, but we have done so because it was easier than explaining them in long form. Just consider the bullets points to be poetic grammar or something.

– Paul

Album
Paul: The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
Krista: The Oh Hellos – Through the Deep, Dark Valley

Song
Paul: The Oh Hellos – The Lament of Eustace Scrubb
Krista: Wild Cub – Thunder Clatter

African Song
Paul: Mampi – Why
Krista: Mampi – Walilowelela

Non-Fiction Book
Paul: Neil Postman – Technopoly
Krista: NT Wright – Surprised by Hope

Fiction Book
Paul: John Steinbeck – East of Eden
Krista: Alan Paton – Cry, The Beloved Country

Movie
Paul: Zero Dark Thirty
Krista: Spirited Away

TV
Paul: Downton Abbey S.2
Krista: Downton Abbey S.1

Restaurant Food
Paul: Indian
Krista: Indian

Local Food
Paul: Pineapple
Krista: Avocado

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Africa is confusing

I have lived in rural Africa for over 6 months, and even though I have become acclimated in many respects, there continues to be an ever-expanding list of things that confuse me about life in Africa.

I don’t understand why, for example, Africans seem to be the only people who have figured out that carrying things on your head is better than carrying them in your arms, or why Africans seem to possess super-human patience that allows them to sit through excruciatingly long church serves or bus trips, or why staring is not a frowned upon social practice.

I think I have marginally inherited many of these traits – I have definitely developed a penchant for awkwardly staring at people, especially white people, which might prove difficult when we move back to Canada – but the trait that has confused me more than any other thing, so much so that I initially refused to let myself inherit it, is Africa’s affinity for community participation.

Yes, this sounds harmless enough, I know, but the fact that it confused me as much as it did revealed to me just how ‘Western’ I really am. Let me explain.

The first time I saw African participation in full force was at our primary school’s music, dance, and drama day. The day is essentially a big performance for the parents and the community and it goes on all day – I mean all day – and they even bring in judges to determine which team will win the grand prize of a goat. Yes, a goat.DSC_8549

The day was going well, but as we entered the drama section at the 4th or 5th hour mark, I noticed that some people from the audience would get out of their seats, move toward the stage area, and hand the performing kids money in the middle of their act. The first time this happened I thought it was part of the performance because no one seemed to balk at the idea of someone completely breaking into an actor’s ‘space’, so I just sat there dumbfounded hoping that eventually I would clue into what was going on.

It was a very kind gesture, no doubt, but I simply couldn’t get over the fact that someone would distract the audience and the actor away from the actual performance and onto themselves. I found the whole ordeal so confusing that I actually felt a little righteous indignation rise up in me on behalf of the kids. Yes, it was nice that they were giving money to some (but not all) of the kids, but did they not have any respect for the boundary between an audience and a performer?

Well, I didn’t fully understand any of this until I found myself on the receiving end. A few weeks after music, dance, and drama day our village soccer team played in the quarterfinal match of the district tournament, the biggest and most important tournament of the year. There were well over 1,000 rowdy people at the match who lined the field on all sides. It was a real community event if I have ever seen one. Our village won the game 2-0 and I scored the second goal to secure our place in the semi-finals (we ended up losing the finals in penalties), but after I scored, as hundreds of screaming fans stormed the field, one man handed me 10,000 Ugandan shillings (equivalent to $4 Canadian – a heck of a lot of money for many in the village) in thanks for the goal I scored. It was incredibly humbling to be on the receiving end of an extremely generous gift that I only a few weeks earlier thought was untactful. As a Westerner, my first inclination was to politely decline the gift for fear that reciprocation was an expectation, but for Africans, offering money is an act of participation, an act that brings people together, not an act that drives them apart.

The Fans

The Fans

The post-goal mayhem

The post-goal mayhem

My inability to grasp this point was evidence to how Western I am. I was brought up, both implicitly and explicitly, in the Western tradition of Rene Descartes, who said that our identities are determined by what we think, not the context in which we think it. I don’t think Descartes was necessarily wrong in his famous dictum “I think, therefore I am”, but I think his unyielding pursuit of simplicity in this matter has caused us to apply his mind-body distinction to all areas of life.

It is natural for Westerners to distinguish between a thinker and their context. We tend to think, for example, that the object or product an artist produces is vastly more important than the elements that go into that object, to the point that the elements are effectively lost. In the case of the music, dance, and drama day in our village, I thought the performances of the kids were irrevocably damaged because of the audience’s need to participate in the actual performance, when in fact their participation probably provided a greater picture of what human creativity and art truly looks like.

Participation is central to African life for belonging and for knowing. They do not see themselves as independent minds that occasionally bump into other independent minds here or there, they see themselves as people whose minds are integrated with their bodies in a communal context.

John V. Taylor, an Anglican bishop who spent most of his life in East Africa, describes African participation in this way:

Any attempt to look upon the world through African eyes must involve this adventure of the imagination whereby we abandon our image of a man whose complex identity is encased within the shell of his physical being, and allow ourselves instead to visualize a centrifugal selfhood, equally complex, interpermeating other selves in a relationship in which subject and object are no longer distinguishable. ‘I think, therefore I am’ is replaced by ‘I participate, therefore I am.’

I have much to learn from the African way of life, I just hope these lessons continue to come in the form of me receiving money. However, the fact that this thought even crosses my mind is probably even more evidence of my Westernness. My next lesson obviously needs to be something related to the Jones, but I wait for this lesson with little trepidation because I know all too well that Africa will again confuse me in a good way.

– Paul

Highs & Lows

Paul’s Dad and two brothers visited near the end of August, and we really enjoyed spending time with them, challenging each other to physical competitions, debating ethical issues, and much laughter – the typical Arnold camaraderie!!

A highlight of their time here was our trip to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track wild Mountain Gorillas.  Paul and I loved hiking through the rainforest, (it made us miss summers hiking in British Columbia), but watching Mountain Gorillas in the wild was unreal!  We were often quite close to them.  One six month old baby even wandered up to Paul’s Dad and touched him on the knee!  I loved being so close to the baby, but I got a bit terrified when the Silverback would growl and tumble through the bush towards us!  Overall it was an incredibly unique and intimate experience.  I’ve posted some photos of our adventure to my facebook page, but below are a few more.

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In addition to being a great encouragement to us, receiving a visit from family caused us to realize how much we miss the deep relationships we have with family and friends in Canada.  Although we’re somewhat integrated into the community here, factors such as the language barrier and difference in lifestyle make us feel isolated at times.  Being with people who had just come from home also reminded us of the lifestyle we enjoy in Canada, causing us to miss things we had forgotten about to some extent, such as hot showers, toilet seats, fresh veggies, dairy products, etc.  This, coupled with being sick, has made it a difficult few weeks for us.  I think it’s safe to say we’ve been homesick!!  Sometimes when we realize we have five months left here, it feels like our departure will come too soon, but at other times it feels like it can’t come soon enough!

I’m sure it’s normal to feel this way though, and Paul and I are thankful for the opportunity to depend on God more than we do when life is peachy.  One benefit of remembering life in Canada is that it’s enabled us to start thinking about what our life might look like when we move back.  We currently have no idea, but are excited (and somewhat overwhelmed) to begin pondering about the possibilities!!

Overall, we would warmly welcome prayer for patience, endurance, and motivation during the remainder of our time here, as well as guidance to discern what God has for us next.

With love,
Krista Joy

Remembering the Rwandan Genocide

This article was originally posted at Converge Magazine here.

Thirty kilometers south of Kigali, where the towering hills of Rwanda’s capitol city give way to the softer hills of the countryside, sits the small town of Nyamata. The main road of the town is lined with orchard trees and retail shops that give it a lively atmosphere without being overbearing – typical of most African towns that are situated along a highway.

My wife and I arrived in Nyamata in an overcrowded matatu (a local bus) and were relieved to stretch our legs after they were pinned for the better part of an hour against the metal rods of the bench in front of us. We endured the short journey to Nyamata for one primary purpose: to see the genocide memorial site that was once a Catholic Church.

Nineteen years ago this spring, Rwanda experienced one of the most dehumanizing acts of violence that we in the modern world have experienced. In 100 days, as many as 800,000 Rwandans were killed with machetes, clubs, and rifles and many more were left scarred, raped, abused, and alone, as the violence left individuals, many of whom were children, without their loved ones. The destruction and devastation that occurred during those 100 days in 1994 were so extreme that it is difficult for those of us who haven’t experienced such manifest evil, myself included, to imagine the reality of such atrocities. To think about these things is uncomfortable and arresting, but that was why we came to Nyamata and really why we were in Rwanda in the first place: to learn about the uncomfortable truths of what it means to be human.

The church at Nyamata is a beautiful red-bricked building tucked away from the main road that runs through the town. The space that separates the church from the road is filled with old gravestones overgrown with grass. The graves were traditional, some had cross-monuments and others had non-descript stones, but they were all distinct, with each gravestone having a name and a space in which to lie.

As we walked past the graves toward the church, we wondered whether many of the genocide victims had been buried there, whether the families of the dead had a place to call their own to honour and remember their loved ones. But, when we entered the church it soon became clear that this was most certainly not the case. Not only did the dead not have a grave, they did not even have a name.

It is believed that up 10,000 Tutsi individuals, men, women, children, and babies, were slaughtered within the grounds of the church by the Hutus during a 5-day period from April 14 to April 19, 1994. The church did its best to be a place of refuge – unlike many churches in Rwanda who simply stepped aside and provided no active resistance, or sometimes a veiled condoning, to the atrocious killings happening on their door step – but it could not resist the overpowering thirst for blood. Eventually, machetes, hand grenades, and rifles overcame the barricades set up at the church, and the Tutsi inhabitants were brutally murdered with those same weapons. Men and women were hacked to death and babies and children were taken by the legs and smashed against walls.

The remains of many of the dead have been collected in underground catacombs behind the church. Thousands of skulls, young and old, broken and intact, sit in the catacomb, open for the public to see. Inside the church lay the dirty and torn clothes of the dead. The clothes are piled on the church pews, along the bullet-ridden walls, and underneath the bloodstained altar cloth. Even though the clothes lay motionless, inanimate objects that they are, they still exude a measure of life, a certain amount of timelessness that our flesh and bones do not possess.

It was very difficult for me to imagine that such unspeakable tragedies occurred where I stood, to people who wore clothes like me, a mere 19 years ago. I stood among the clothes and the bones quietly, not because I was reticent, but because I did not feel an overwhelming sense of anything. One might expect, as many do, to feel a sharp sense of grief or anger when they are presented with such assaulting stories and images, but for me, I felt curiosity more than anything else.

My curiosity was born out of a desire to understand how people not so different from myself were consumed by a hate that made their own humanity barely recognizable. I thought my ability to understand would help me to empathize with the victims, but as I discovered, my inability to empathize had more to do with a lack of experience, not a lack of knowledge. I grew up in a loving home in a safe Canadian city and I have rarely, if ever, had to face the grim reality of death, especially the all-encompassing death experienced during genocide.

What I found was that as I toured the genocide memorial sites in Nyamata and in Kigali, in my attempt to understand the violence, I ended up rationalizing it and in some sense explaining it away.

Since violence always has a history and history always has more than one side, I found myself thinking that surely there were wrongs on both sides that contributed to the genocide, which, by definition, is a one-sided ethnic killing (though, to be more accurate, there were wrongs on all sides since it was more than the Hutus and the Tutsis involved; the Belgian Christian colonialists after all were the ones who practically created the distinction between the Hutus and the Tutsis.) Of course, there will always be wrongs on more than one side, but the danger is to rationalize these wrongs as something that is to be merely understood, not experienced. If we try to understand something that we have not experienced, like a tragedy or religious faith for example, we will more often than not end up explaining it away as something no more than it’s composite parts. This is why genocide is often explained away as civil or political strife (or simply explained away entirely as in the case of many Holocaust doubters), and faith is often explained away as an opiate or a primitive belief, when in reality these things reach far beyond their explanation.

I asked our local Rwandan friends and hosts while we were visiting whether Rwandans still talk about the genocide since it is apparently illegal to ask someone whether they are Hutu or Tutsi.  “Oh, all the time,” Bernadette told me. “For us, the genocide did not happen 19 years ago, it happened 2 years ago. We are never far removed from the pain and the reality of what happened in 1994.” What then is it like having visitors like me come to learn about a history that I am sure Rwandans would like to forget? “Actually, it is a very good thing because it helps the world not to forget what happened here.” This is was message I found all over Rwanda. On the memorial at Hotel des Mille Collines (“Hotel Rwanda”) it reads “Never again” and the closing words at the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali were “We remember the past in order to learn from it.”DSC_8933DSC_8945

I was in Rwanda for 2 and a half days, barely enough time to know your way around let alone understand the impact of the genocide that took place there. I came to Rwanda hoping to learn about it, and learn I did, but I left hoping not to forget it or to rationalize it, no matter how tempting that may be.

– Paul

Buynoni & Kigali

We recently took a short trip to Lake Buynoni in Uganda and Kigali in Rwanda, so I thought I’d write a bit about it and post some photos.

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View from our geodome

View from our geodome

Lake Buynoni is beautiful!  The further south you travel in Uganda, the more drastic the rolling hills become.  So Buynoni, a large lake full of small islands, is situated amongst stunning, terraced hills.  We canoed for about 45 minutes to get to the island we stayed on.  Once on the island, we stayed in a “geodome”, which is a dome with a large opening at the front, constructed of local materials.  Our geodome was nestled in the forest on the side of a hill and the front looked out onto the lake.  It was the perfect place to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary as it was scenic, peaceful, and private.

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So when I say "we" canoed, it might be more accurate to say "Paul" canoed... ;)

So when I say “we” canoed, it might be more accurate to say “Paul” canoed… 😉

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After spending time at Lake Buynoni we spent a few nights in Rwanda, staying with the parents of a friend.

Kigali

Kigali

Kigali is a lovely city.  It’s very organized and clean.  Most of the streets are beautifully paved and lined with trees.  The motorcycle taxis have to be registered, the drivers can only take one passenger, and the passenger must wear a helmet – it’s quite different than Kampala!  The president has even outlawed plastic bags!

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So bizarre that a site of such atrocity is now so serene

So bizarre that a site of such atrocity is now so serene

In Rwanda we spend most of our time enjoying good food and learning about the genocide that took place 19 years ago and how it affects Rwandans today.  (Paul is going to post more on this later).

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We also enjoyed the company, wisdom, and care of the Rwandan couple (Francis & Bernadette Kabango) who hosted us.  They’ve spent a number of years living in Uganda and over 25 years living in London, Ontario; so it was a blessing to spend time with people who understand the place Paul and I come from, as well as the place we’re currently living in.

Overall, it was great to see more of picturesque East Africa, to spend time with each other, to learn about a significant event in history, and to spend time with friends!

– Krista

Sometimes I forget I live in Africa

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Sometimes I forget that I live in rural Africa. Sometimes I forget that my toilet is a hole in the ground, and I forget that the only water available for bathing is cold (that is, at least, until I bathe), and I forget that many of my neighbors live in mud huts and the roosters that wake me each morning are their savings account.

I would not consider myself a very absent-minded person – even though I do lack a certain amount of mindedness from time to time – so to forget where I live is not something that I necessarily expect, especially when where I live is far from the comforts of home.

Thankfully though, these times of forgetfulness are usually brief because something unexpected always brings me back to reality. One such time was just the other day when I was running with our 2 dogs on one of the many paths that web the countryside where we live. This is something I do often so I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary – you know, beyond the expansive pineapple fields, the tropical vegetation, the roaming cattle, the rolling hills, and the exotic birds – but this time I came across a family of vervet monkeys. These small, blue-balled monkeys were hovering in the trees above, wearily looking down at the dogs who wanted nothing more than to give them a good chase.

This might sound ridiculous, but my first instinct after seeing the monkeys was to keep running. If I slowed down or stopped it would have gotten in the way of my workout. But that is when it hit me. I live in rural Africa. I live in a place where I can encounter a family of monkeys on my evening run. If I don’t stop I am not only in danger of missing out on the monkeys, I am in danger of missing out on my surroundings entirely. So, needless to say, I stopped.

In our technological age of Smartphones and Facebook and Twitter we often lament the fact that we forget our surroundings. We forget about the person sitting next to us on the bus as we listen to our iPod, we forget about the trees and the buildings and the people we pass as we text walking down the street, we forget about those closest to us as we watch TV in our homes. In our attempt to be relevant, available, and efficient, we end up being irrelevant and unavailable and ignorant to the world all around us.

Technology, though, is not the whole story. I am far away from many of the gadgets that now characterize our technological age – I don’t have a Smartphone or ready access to the Internet – but I can still forget my surroundings.

The reason I continue to forget my surroundings is, I think, because it isn’t necessarily a bad or unnatural thing to do. For me, the fact that I can forget I live in rural Africa is a sign that I am becoming more part of rural Africa. I am less of an alien now than I was when I first came, which is a good thing. The colour of my skin doesn’t allow me to pass as a resident very easily (or at all), but if I can forget that I am an alien, even for a fleeting moment, then I know that my environment is beginning to settle into my being. I will never become my environment, nor do I want to, but I can at least become part of my environment.

The irony of course is that the more we are part of something, the more we forget about it. Like a fish in water, if there is no reason or tension or incongruence that forces us to think about our environment, we tend to ignore the things around us and we develop this annoying habit of forgetting our surroundings.

The point though is not to be afraid that we will forget things – we all have limits and we will all forget important things from time to time – the point is to fight against the habit of forgetting. Our habits are reflective of who we are and if we orient our habits away from our surroundings in the service of ease and predictability, efficiency and productivity, what does that say about who we are?

Efficiency and productivity are good things, but our habits cannot begin and end there. This is why we need to develop a habit of remembering. We need to be able to slow down and remember that there is a world beyond ourselves. The habit of remembering requires that we put aside our gadgets and our to-do lists so that we can learn how to better become part of our environment, not increasingly distant from it or comfortable in it. This practice of remembering is not easy, but thankfully we have the Sabbath to try anew each week.

– Paul

Music, Dance & Drama

Tekera Primary School’s annual “Music, Dance and Drama day” took place last week.  It was a real blessing to see the kids singing, dancing, and acting.  Two things stuck out for me: First, I LOVE the dancing here!!!  For the most part, people don’t care who is watching or what they look like.  They just move to the beat and have a good time.  It’s so freeing!  …that being said, most people look really good when they’re dancing!  Haha.  Second, it was interesting to see both the beautiful and the painful aspects of Ugandan culture that were displayed.  Some of the songs and dramas highlighted the problem of drunkenness and domestic violence.  This made me realize that even though there are so many wonderful things about life here (such as the peaceful rural setting, the simplicity of life, the close community feeling, etc.), I can’t romanticize it.  There are a lot of really painful and sad things about life here too.  Sometimes it seems like both the good and the bad things in life are magnified here.  Anyway, these are just some reflections prompted by this recent event.  Hope you enjoy the photos!  (There are more on my facebook page).

With love, Krista Joy
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