Saturday, February 27, 2010

Water

Today I had a truly African experience. For the past couple of days we haven’t had running water so the older kids having been going to the well to fetch water and this morning I decided I was going with them. I asked Cesar and, as I expected, he said it was too far, the terrain was too difficult, etc. but I insisted and he finally agreed. So, we headed off down the road, “my children” (what everyone in the community calls them when they see us together) and I, each one carrying a jug, the youngest two girls holding onto my hands. The well is only about ten minutes away but it is not an easy walk. First you head down a very steep hill, then you have to cross a shallow stream and then continue up another very steep hill on a narrow path with small trees and bushes on either side. The whole way it is very slippery as the rain from the night before has turned the dirt to sheer mud. (Barbara, the whole thing makes the walk to the beach in Jamaica feel like a paved highway). The younger kids struggled a bit but the older ones helped them along the way and the youngest girl even got on the oldest boy’s back to cross the stream. I slipped a few times but caught myself every time, managing to avoid landing in the mud. We reached the well, the kids filled their jugs and then we turned around and headed back. The whole thing took about half an hour being that the way back is longer as the kids move slower carrying those heavy jugs of water and stop to take short breaks along the way. By the time you get back to the house you’re filthy but you do your best to use as little water as possible to wash up otherwise you render the whole journey rather useless.

Being in Africa, having to pay for bottled water to drink, brush my teeth, etc. always makes me appreciate the easy access to clean water that we have back home but today brought that appreciation to a whole new level. Today I realized just how rich we are here and by here yes, I mean here at the orphanage. Although by Western standards they have almost nothing here, having running water alone (not to mention electricity, three meals a day, etc.) makes us rich. There are many others in this community who do not have running water, for whom that trek to the well is not an occasional inconvenience but a daily reality. We passed other children along the way today, some of them as young as our preschoolers, walking alone, carrying jugs bigger than the ones our kids were carrying. Still, even those children are among the fortunate ones as at least the water they are collecting is clean and clear. As we walked back from the well, I couldn’t help but think about the countless children across this continent who were also on their way to collect water this morning, only they would walk twice as far, perhaps even further, to fill their jugs with dirty water from a contaminated stream. Oh how rich we are indeed.

Note: The following pictures are from another day... Unlike the first time I went with the kids to collect water, early in the morning when it was muddy and slippery, these pictures were taken on a sunny afternoon when the path was dry. Nevertheless, to let you know just how difficult the walk is, even without the mud myself along with several of the kids slipped several times. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures at the actual well as there were several women there washing clothes, one of whom was topless... Still, I hope this helps to give you a bit of idea of what the experience is like.  


 
 




 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Update from Bideka

Well, here I am at the orphanage, located in the village of Bideka, in the Walungu territory (for those of you who are into maps). There are 25 kids here. The youngest is 2 and the oldest is 16 however the rest of the kids are between the ages of 3 and 12. They don’t really speak any French so we can’t communicate much, but they are really sweet and I love them to pieces already.

The biggest challenge so far is the language. Like I said, the kids hardly speak a word of French and neither do the two women who work here. The orphanage “supervisor”, a guy probably in his forties by the name of Cesar, speaks French however due to his accent as well as simply his personality he is very difficult to talk to. So, I am learning as much Swahili as I can yet conversations are few and far between. It’s challenging for sure but I’m getting used to it pretty quickly.

So, I thought I’d let you know what a typical day looks like so you can get a better picture of my life here…

My day starts at 5 a.m. as I get up, get ready and spend time with God before the day begins. From 6:00-6:30 I join the kids for a time of prayer and worship and then the kids get ready and eat breakfast before the older ones head off to school for 7:30. From 7:30-12:30 we are left with just the younger kids, 13 kids between the ages of 2 and 5. During that time I help with the dishes and every few days I wash my clothes. Most of that time however I am with the kids. We do organized preschool for about a half hour a day, aside from that I simply try to find things to do with them. We play with the ball (the one and only toy they have here), I chase them or swing them around or I simply let them clamour all over my lap as we play hand games, tickle each other, make funny faces and random noises or hum simple tunes. At around 12:40 the older kids get back from school, we eat lunch and then from 1:00-3:00 the kids nap. At that point I head to my room for some much needed alone time to refuel for the afternoon. During that time I either read, pray, listen to music, wash my “personal items” (you know, the stuff you don’t want to wash in front of everybody and then hang on the line for the whole neighbourhood to see…) or, if I’m really tired I’ll take a nap. At 3:00 it’s back outside to spend the afternoon playing with the kids. At 6:00 the kids bathe, at 6:30 they have another time of prayer and worship, at 7:00 we eat dinner and then the kids are in bed by 8:00. At 8:00 I get ready for bed, journal and am usually asleep by 9:00 in order to get a full eight hours (I figure I face enough challenges here, there is no reason to add sleep deprivation to the list).

So, that’s what my days look like. I hope that helps to give you an idea of what life is like here. I imagine you have some other questions too such as:

What is the food like?
Well, in the morning the kids eat porridge. It’s really not like what we would call porridge at home though. It’s millet flour mixed with water and then boiled until it thickens and depending on the day you can either drink it or eat it with a spoon. They have it in Uganda too and I have always hated it. It has this sticky, grainy texture and the few times I’ve had it it’s taken me like an hour to be able to finish one glass. So, for breakfast I have bread (one of the few things you can buy here) and a fruit 2 go which I brought from home. The rest of the time I eat what everyone else is eating. For lunch, 9 times out of 10 we have rice and beans however every once in a while the rice is substituted for potatoes. As all my friends in Uganda would tell you, I love beans, it is my absolute favourite African meal so I am thrilled. For dinner we have what in Uganda they call posho, here it is called foufou (sp?). It is certain type of flour mixed with boiling water until it takes on the constituency of what I could best describe as sticky mashed potatoes. Most of the time we have that with small, bite sized fish and a leafy, spinach-like vegetable which in Uganda they call “greens” and here they simply call “legumes”. Sometimes the small fish are substituted for “poison salé” (fried tilapia) or the greens are substituted for cabbage. I’m not a huge fan of any of those items in Uganda but they are prepared a little differently here and I really don’t mind them, in fact, some days I find it quite good.

               




What about electricity, running water, etc.?
We do have electricity here but only for about six hours a day, sometimes less and sometimes we can go days without having any electricity at all. There is never any electricity after 6 p.m. so the only thing the electricity is really used for is charging our cell phones. There is a bathroom in the house and there is running water however there is no plumbing. In other words, there is a toilet but in order to flush it you need to fill a bowl with water and pour it down the toilet. There is also a bathtub you can stand in to bathe however you need to first fill a basin with water and use that to bathe with.



No, it’s certainly not the cushy life I was living in Uganda with all the conveniences and luxuries of the West, surrounded by friends who spoke my language, etc. I will be honest and say that being here is a challenge but God told me it would be hard. He also told me that He would be with me and He is. Every day God reveals Himself to me anew and gives me the strength that I need to persevere and I am so grateful for this opportunity to draw closer to Him.

Anyway, it’s the 3:00, the kids are getting up and my laptop battery is running low so I’d better go. Thank you so much for your prayers!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Greetings from Bukavu!

So, here I am in Congo and I have much to say about my trip here… First of all, in case any of you have gotten the wrong impression, let me start off by saying I am not brave or strong or special in anyway. I am just an ordinary person with a list a mile long as to why I am the wrong person to be doing this, one of which being that I have for a long time struggled with what can sometimes be extreme anxiety in situations I’m not familiar with, with people I don’t know, etc. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that the peace that I have been feeling does not come naturally to me, it is God and God alone working in me that has allowed me to feel such peace leading up to this trip. That said, I’m going to be honest and tell you that once I was settled in on the bus Tuesday night I started freaking out. It was squishy, the lady beside me was taking up more than her share of the seat, no one on the bus was speaking either English or French and most were not even speaking Luganda, I was about to go 20 hours away to a place I had never been, surrounded by people I had never met, etc. I was ready to cry (which on a bus full of Africans would not have gone well) so I decided to start reciting the scriptures that God has given me over these past two weeks that I had memorized for such an occasion… By the time the bus was moving God’s peace had returned to my heart and has been there ever since.

Like I said, the bus was pretty squishy but the seats themselves were nice and although I wouldn’t say I slept well, I managed to get comfortable enough to drift in and out of sleep all night which made the time pass quickly. The daytime hours were actually great and, believe it or not, the 20 hour bus ride did not feel long at all. I realized that it’s about the same amount of time it took me to get from Montreal to Uganda and I would take driving along the road watching African life and beauty go by over flying any day.

I debated whether I should share this next part or not but how can I not tell of how good and faithful God has been to me??? We arrived at the Congolese border and everyone got off the bus to go and have their passports stamped. They hassled me a little, which took some time, but it actually went better than I expected. I walked out of the immigration office however just in time to see the bus full of people heading off down the road. My first thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me…” and I headed off on foot figuring they would be letting people off just around the corner as they had done in Rwanda. When I made it around the corner however the bus (with my bags on it) was not there. Generally I’m leery about talking to African men but I needed to ask someone so I looked around trying to decide who seemed to be the most trustworthy. There was a guy walking towards me who, instead of arrogance or the look of, “Oh, a muzungu I can make some money off of…” that I’m used to seeing he looked genuinely concerned so I asked him (I started in French but he replied in English)…

“The Ideal Express bus, do you know it?”
“What?”
“Do you know where the Ideal Express bus goes?”
“Just up that hill.”
“Is it far?”
“No?”
“So I can walk?”
“No, you should take a taxi.”

That would have been a fine idea except that at that point I had no Congolese money and no way to pay for a taxi. So, I decided to call Dechi, the guy who was picking me up at the bus stop, and ask him to come get me at the border instead and then we could go for my bags. The problem was, I had a Ugandan SIM card in my phone and while people could still reach me, I could not call anyone with that SIM card. At that point I was still totally at peace, not afraid or nervous at all and I just kind of laughed to myself and prayed, “Ok God, You got me this far… now what?”

The guy I had been talking to early said to me, “So, did you call?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t reach him.”
“You should take a taxi.”
“I know but I have no Congolese money to pay for a taxi.”

The guy told me he was a security agent and took out his ID to show me as proof… “Let me get a taxi and I’ll go with you to where the bus parks. Don’t worry about the money, I’ll pay for it.”

I shot up a quick prayer and the overwhelming peace in my heart was my answer. He got a taxi and off we went to the bus office. It ended up being about ten minutes away and the whole time I just shook my head rather disgusted that the bus would just leave without me (I was the only muzungu on the bus and I was sitting right in the front, there’s no way they didn’t notice I wasn’t on board!) while at the same time shaking my head in awe at this guy’s kindness to help me out. We got to the bus office and the guy paid the taxi and I told him if he waited for my lift to get there I would get the money from Dechi and pay him back. So he waited meanwhile I went inside to get my bags and when Dechi arrived he came in and met me. When we went back outside Dechi greeted the guy and said to me, “Is this the guy that helped you?” It turns out the guy works for Dechi! They laughed and Dechi paid him back and I just stood there blown away. When Dechi dropped me off at the guesthouse all I could do was pace back and forth praising God for what He had done. Out of all the people that could have been standing on that street corner, God sent me an English-speaking security agent who works for the guy I was coming to meet! One of the verses God gave me last week was Psalm 91:11 – “For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go.” Well, today, whether literally or figuratively I don’t know, I met one of those angels. How can there be any doubt that I am exactly where God wants me and that He is with me every step of the way?

Today Dechi has been showing me around Bukavu and tomorrow we will leave for the village where the orphanage is, about one hour from here. With all the ways I have been seeing God’s hand at work the excitement has just been growing inside of me to see all that God has in store. I don’t know what the internet situation will be like in the village but I will try to post again soon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

God Knew...

Although I’m sure that there are probably other reasons why God saw fit to postpone my trip to the Congo, I believe that one of the reasons was that He knew I needed one more day… I have been so busy these past couple of weeks here that I haven’t really had a chance to stop and take it all in. This afternoon, for the first time, I set off on my own to walk around the area I’ve been staying in. One of my favourite ways to spend time with God is prayer walks and so for hours I walked and prayed, lifting up the friends and ministries I have had the opportunity to spend time with during these past two weeks. It was good.

Anyway, my driver is going to be here in a couple of hours so I am going to go take a much needed shower, pack up the rest of my things and eat dinner before it is time to go. Here we go again…

Monday, February 1, 2010

TIA

So, the bus that goes to the Congo broke down sometime today and as a result the trip for tonight was cancelled meaning that I will have to take the bus tomorrow evening instead. I wasn’t really too shocked or surprised, like I said, TIA (This Is Africa) but I will be honest and say that I was rather disheartened. The first thing that flashed in my mind was dollar signs… I had just paid $30 to get my bags to the bus park, now I was going to have to pay again to take them back and then again to bring them back tomorrow, not to mention having to pay for another night at the guesthouse, etc. Yet I read just yesterday in my devotional that God plans out each day and has it ready for me long before I arise from bed so how can I not trust that He knows what He’s doing? I know that we choose how we react to situations that arise so tonight I am choosing to play the thankfulness game… God, thank You that I was not on the bus that broke down, thank You that Bonny was with me to help me sort out all the details and keep me company while I waited for the taxi to come back to get me and my bags, thank You for the extra few hours Bonny and I got to spend together, thank You for a reliable driver who would come and pick me up on short notice for a reasonable price, thank You for a safe, comfortable place to come back to for the night…

So, seeing as my friends are all busy tomorrow I guess I’ll just be hanging out at the guesthouse tomorrow and then at 7:00 the driver will come back and I’ll try again. Thanks for your continued prayers.

One last post from Uganda...

Seeing as my bus does not leave until 9:00 tonight I had to take advantage of the extra day in Uganda. Today is the day that all the kids go back to school and so I decided to go visit Bugolobi school, which I have mentioned before, where Teacher Hellen is the headmistress. I had the privilege of doing camp at Bugolobi school in both 2006 and 2007 and I love that school, the teachers and the kids there so much. Unfortunately, the kids I would know from my past trips are now all in what is called “upper primary” and were not there today but it was fun to meet the new, younger kids and great to see all the teachers again.
(Jenny, everyone was asking about you and send their love and greetings... I was sure to pass along yours as well!)


Because we ended up doing less bags for Bonny’s kids I had a good amount of stuff to distribute today… pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, calculators – the kids and teachers alike were so thrilled.



The best part of the day however actually came as a great surprise… I got to see Allan! Allan is a boy my family has sponsored ever since my first trip to Uganda in 2006. This past year however we were told that he was no longer in the sponsorship program and we lost track of him. Teacher Hellen told me when I visited her that the walk to school, one hour each way, was becoming too long and not so safe and so Allan’s aunt had decided to help with his school fees so that he could go to another school closer by. Allan and Teacher Hellen are very close however and they still keep in touch and today she brought him to the school to see me. It was so great to see him again. He showed me his report card from last semester and he had done very well. Allan has always reminded me a bit of my brother (who he always asks about by name). He is so smart and would like to be a doctor when he grows up. He could do it too if he was given the opportunity. Next week Allan starts high school so before parting ways today we went to buy the materials he needed for the upcoming year. Unfortunately my family is not able to continue sponsoring Allan as he is no longer with the program but it was such a blessing to be able to help him out with the things that he needed to start this new school year.


Mom, Brian, Allan says hi and thank you so much for everything. He also gave me the address of his school so that we can continue to write to him there.

Alright, less than three hours ‘till I leave for the bus so this is it for real now… Hope to write again soon!