Memorials

Sometimes, living in the blessedly productive world of the orphanages, we are able to forget the depths of sorrow this nation has known. We are reminded about sorrow when we visit guardians and villagers. But there is another reminder, standing alone on the road to Kasensero, which is breathtaking in its enormity.

Photo 8 Photo 9




I had just finished the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina a couple of weeks before we made the trip to Kasensero, so the history and the events of the Rwandan genocide were still very fresh in my mind. We drove past the large marble cross on the way there and I didn't really pay that much attention in the early hours of that day.
When we arrived at the landing site, we asked Uncle Ddembe about it. "That is where the bodies are" he said. What bodies? "From Rwanda. From the river." The way the world found out about what was happening in Rwanda was the blood and bodies that began washing down the river shortly after the massacre began.
On the way back home Uncle Ddembe stopped so we could look at the memorial. The memorial itself is set on a large piece of granite in the middle of a field so at first we thought that this was simply a commemoration of the events. As I looked around though, I noticed what at first appeared to be nursery beds, with one slight difference. At the corner of each plot was a small red flag. It was then that I realized the enormity of what must have happened there as I stared at the mass graves of almost 3,000 people.
I find it difficult to comprehend why it was necessary, but I am also "puzzled", for lack of a better word, at the way that the world responded. I feel I will never fully comprehend the choices nations make to interfere in some instances but in others to simply look away. What is the criteria? What is the line between humanitarianism and selfish interference? For me, this is just further emphasis on how sad and broken and lost our world really is.
- Tim

Kasensero

Talitha writes:
The school term came to an abrupt end on August 10th, and Sabina sent its students home. Born out of an effort to keep children from spending their whole lives in an institution, Sabina is run like a boarding school, and on term holidays the children are all sent to whatever family members or friends they have. There is a group of children with absolutely no one to turn to, who all stay in the home bored over holidays But there is another group as well, children who have families they would love to see, yet no means of raising the money for transportation. I sat with Aunt Deborah looking at a list of these children, and we puzzled over what to do. I offered to take one particular child, Stella, to her home, and Deborah immediately raised her objections: It's too far. The road is too bad. It goes through a dangerous forest. You'll never get back. One vehicle goes there per day, and it spends the night before it comes back. You can't go!
I, of course, took this as a challenge, and found myself some willing travel companions. Disguising the entire endeavor as a P7 class trip, we made arrangements to drive there the next day.
Tim writes:
Kasensero is a small town on the shores of Lake Victoria with a cannery that preserves the locally famous Nile Perch. Fishing boats come in every day with the night's haul and sell the fish to the market buyers. In order to see them at their arrival, our trip started at 6 AM. The journey took 2.5 hours, due to the condition of the roads rather than the distance. This was the first time we had really left the beaten track, and we enjoyed the long stretches of road without any man-made interruptions.
Talitha writes:
Of all the places I've been, the road to Kasensero was the most like Storybook Africa. Mist rose from the ground as our truck rattled down the endles road, the children singing their morning prayers in the back of the truck. We saw monkeys. We saw ancient men emerging from the forest carrying armloads of medicinal herbs. We saw occasional vehicles, most of them fish trucks headed for a delivery. We dropped Stella and her brother off on the road near Kasensero, to walk or get a ride to their home over the Tanzanian border (we muzungus decided not to go to the border with our expired Ugandan visas). We proceeded down the road, and arrived at the ramshackle town of Kasensero well after most of the boats had put-putted back to shore.
The local industry is a strange mixture of hi-tech and low-tech materials. Most boats have outboard motors, but all of the nets we saw were held down by bags of rocks, and held up by similar plastic-bag floaters. There is a complex factory there, with many stages of production, but the fishheads and other waste from the factory are given to local women who dry them in the sun to make chicken food. There appear to be quite a few affluent businessmen around, but everyone else seems dirt poor.
Tim writes:
After driving all the way here, we decided we couldn't return home empty-handed, so the bargaining began. After three different boats tried to charge us double based on our muzungu status, we hid in the back of the truck and Uncle Ddembe took the cash and went shopping. Ten minutes later, two boys came to the truck struggling with a 35 lb perch. Everyone ate well that evening!




The trip Truck o' fun
The trip
lush, scrubby land as far as the eye can see
Truck o' fun
at hour 2, we were getting tired.
One of the hundreds of boats fishers with their catch
One of the hundreds of boats
fishers with their catch
the weighing/buying station bait
the weighing/buying station
bait
fishheads, drying in the sun Is this one big enough?
fishheads, drying in the sun
Is this one big enough?
Our fish we tied him on the side of the truck for the journey home
Our fish
we tied him on the side of the truck for the journey home

Africafé

Cassie writes:
Right now, I'm sitting in the Sabina staff room enjoying my morning cup of instant coffee. In America, I would not dream of consuming such a crass substitute for my normal no-foam extra-hot soy latte, but here it somehow tastes delicious. The milk came from our cow at six this morning, and its raw taste has a hint of smoke from the cooking fire where it was boiled. The instant coffee is dark, nutty, with subtle hints of the half-melted plastic straw we stir it with. Add tons of sugar and it's enough to get me out of bed in the morning!
A few houses away, our neighbors are growing fresh coffee beans. They pick them, then sell them to their neighbors who collect from a few others, and dry them in their front yard. The beans are then mixed with a special blend of goat urine and road dust before being packed into sacks. About once a week a large truck comes through the village, buys the bags, and continues down the road to the next town. It's all exported, except for a few beans which remain in Kampala so tourists can buy souvenirs.
So, next time you order a five-dollar coffee, think of me, at the source, with an ironic cup of instant brew. Also, think of the goat pee, and consider whether your Joe is really worth the price.


Coffee Beans, on the tree
Coffee beans out to dry
Coffee Beans, on the tree Coffee beans out to dry

Jaja Bena


Singing Laughing? Crying?
Singing
Laughing? Crying?
everyone Playing
everyone
Playing
Jaja Bena is wearing Auntie Cassia's hair



"Then (Job) fell to the ground in worship and said:
Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away
May the name of the Lord be praised." (Job 1: 20-21)
This has always been one of my favorite Bible verses. I love the picture of Job losing absolutely everything, and still falling to the ground in worship of a God who is always good, no matter the earthly circumstances. But I can't even pretend to understand what Job went through when he was informed that all of his children were dead, and all his riches gone. I can't wrap my mind around that kind of suffering, or comprehend how Job was able to praise God in the midst of it all.

On Sunday I met someone who could. We visited the Jaja (grandma) of one of the boys at our school. We came on Sunday because she is too old and sick to travel to church and we thought we could bring a church service to her. She lives alone in a little mud hut that's seen better days. She's seen better days too, and calmly informed us that her life is coming to an end. She's old and frail, and any American would have sent her to a nursing home long ago. She has no one to care for her, or bring her food and water, except when the neighbors drop in. All ten of her children have died of AIDS.

This day, someone had brought her food. We walked in on her while she was finishing her lunch, and naturally she insisted we have some too. Unfortunately, the cold slimy fish she was eating was a bit too much for us to stomach, and we serruptitiously passed it down the line and out the doorframe. Thank God for the pig who destroyed all the evidence.

When we finished "eating" we were ready to begin our service. Our small gathering consisted of myself, Sarah, Tim, the home administrator Aunt Deborah, and our good friend and trusted translator Gonzaga. Between the five of us we had a Methodist hymnal, a Luganda Catholic hymnal, and a handful of English Bibles. It took long to find songs that we all knew, and the five of us crowded around one hymnal or another to help us stumble through the words. Jaja knew them all, and joined in wholehartedly, praising God for His goodness. When she sang, she smiled and laughed, and seemed so full of joy. But every few verses tears would begin to stream down her face. She kept on singing till she was crying too hard to keep the tune. Then she'd hold up ten fingers and cry out to God, demanding to know why he didn't leave her with at least one child out of ten. "No one should have to bury ten children," she'd tell Deborah in Luganda. When she dropped out, she insructed us to keep singing and not mind her. We sang softly as she cried and talked. She always joined back in. "God is good," was always her conclusion.

Jaja Bena rarely gets visitors, so she did everything within her power to keep us there as long as possible. She told us stories of her mzungu catichism teachers who taught her about Jesus, and beat her if she didn't adhere to their teachings. She claimed she was a mzungu too, then lifted her gomez and showed us the light skin on her stomach. She admired my hair, the tried it on herself and posed for a picture. She danced for us. She thanked us profusely and begged us not to leave. She asked us if we thought she'd see her children in heaven.

We read this passage from Job to her before going. We were all at a loss for words, and none of us felt like we were in a position to offer consolation to her when she broke down and cried to us. Only God's words can heal a life like that.

running out of time

The last few days have been jam-packed with activity. We have had no time to write blogs. Occasionally, as we embark on another strange adventure, someone makes an absurd comment and we all remark, "that would make a good blog title..." We laugh, then sigh, then continue with all the work we must finish before we depart tomorrow night. We'll write (and sleep) when we get to America.
In the meantime, for your personal entertainment, some of our best potential titles have been:

"How many goats can you fit in the trunk of a sedan?"

"Can you just hang meat out on hooks like that?"

"Why do rats prefer brown bread to white?"

"English-dubbed Spanish soap operas: the next Ugandan craze?"

"Aunt, these people, they are stubborning me!"

Stay tuned, we have many half-started blogs to write on the plane!

distribution

the truckloads of Stuff which we  purchased for secondary and vocational students are about 85% distributed, with 3 days to go...
the room which we set up as a shop has been torn apart by our p7 shopper-helpers, who each took a plastic bag and a list, and went around the room filling up bags for their older friends. Then we loaded the bags  back on the truck and went on various journeys to deliver them. COU does not have a secondary school, so we send our 300+ children to various boarding schools around the country. At each school we gathered the COU students  in as private a place as possible, to start the proceedings off with a pepe talk about  HIV testing and safe sex. We have purchased HIV test kits, so from now on the students can be tested any time they want at the Kiwanga clinic. After this talk we would start our distribution, which was a huge task. For some reason, most of the girls' shoes were too small, and most of the boys'  too big. During the shopping process there were even some  confusions about gender, and two boys got inexcusably girly shoes. on that account. We were sure to bring estra shoes to re-fit some people, but  unfortunately there were some mistakes that just could not be rectified.
In addition, some children misestimated their sizes -- as evidenced by the requests we received for size 32 shoes and  "size 49+" trousers.
The receptions ranged from frustrated (and/or manipulative?) tears to hugs, long effusive letters, and speeches made proclaiming their undying devotion to us and to thse who sent the money for their "things."  One boy who has come to Kiwanga for his term break came up to us yesterday saying, "you know, I am still appreciating my gifts."

Despite the many items we forgot, the  sleepless nights, disappointed children, leftover size 14 mens' shoes, and the many times we declared "never doing this again" .... somehow.... someday.... We can look back on it all as an enormous privilege we had, thanks to you friends and family wh donated the money and  clothes to make this project possible, wherein we were able to meet the immediate needs of hundreds of children.
Someday... like when we're old, and the most complicated thing about shoes is whether or not to cross the velcro straps.

Ugandan rest stops

Yes, goat on a stick really is only 30cents...
The tricky thing is the haggling, throwing money down, getting your meat or roasted bananas... while reaching out of a bus window.




Muzungu! Bring me money! Sometimes the bus doesn't even stop completely
Muzungu! Bring me money!
Sometimes the bus doesn't even stop completely

(no subject)


Ugandans eat with their hands. Demonstration: by all the muzungus
Ugandans eat with their hands. Demonstration: by all the muzungus
We had a party on the last night before children started leaving for holidays. It was a great party... Detailed entry to follow.

Ostrich Farm, take 3

We took the p4 class to the ostrich farm, which is rapidly becoming everyone's favorite class-trip destination. We've gone in 2005 and 2006 as well, but each time we've taken a different class with us. The point of it was to get the kids out of the small area in which they live in, show them some novel animals, teach them about agriculture, and even to encourage creative thinking. We had to press them to ask questions, but after we got them started the questions rolled out -- where did you get the first ostrich from? How many days does it take to cook those big eggs? How old is that one?



The Horse Whisperer Or, the Ostrich Scolder?
The Horse Whisperer
Or, the Ostrich Scolder?
Touring the ostrich facilities And then, the piggery
Touring the ostrich facilities
And then, the piggery
Taking careful notes regarding the sheep
Taking careful notes regarding the sheep


The next day, I (Talitha) taught p4 English. After practicing speaking skills as we talked about the trip, I had each of them write a report on the trip. Some children took the opportunity to entitle their essay "If I grow up to be a farmer" and wrote about how wonderful their future farm was going to be. One girl's essay, after talking about how she would have more cows than the ostrich farm, ended in capital letters "I WILL BE RICH!"

Leading Pigs to the Light


Pig Evangelism Touched by the Holy Spirit?



As our time in Uganda comes to a close, we have become aware of an urgent and pressing need in this country. Ugandan pigs don't know about Jesus. According to a study, 99.99% of pigs in the Rakai district have never heard the gospel, the one exception being the above pictured pig, who was so eager for the truth that he stuffed his snout into Sarah's bible as soon as he saw it. And so, with only two weeks left, we have decided to spend the remainder of our time travelling from house to house, reading the bible to pigs. Volunteers are needed, preferably fluent in pig latin, Luganda and English. We hope you will consider it a worthy cause to support.