It seems almost daunting to know where and how to start sharing about the two weeks I recently spent in Uganda, East Africa. Definitely needs to be told though, so here goes!
About two months ago, the Optometrist I work for announced that he was going back to Uganda to do another medical missions trip and would love to have one of us techs go along. Dr. T. went last summer and I had seriously prayed about going then (even getting my passport), but, the timing didn’t work out with the trip being very close to my brother’s wedding. My first thought this time was, “No. I’m good with staying home.”. Then, it was “Are you kidding? You’re continuously having to lay down your impatience with “nothing” ever happening in your life and here God might just be dropping a marvelous opportunity in your lap.” After praying some more, I just didn’t feel I could say no anymore and so just said yes!
The ministry we went with is called New Hope Uganda and was founded in the 80’s (in the aftermath of Idi Amin’s dictatorship) by a missionary couple, Jay and Vicki Dangers, to share the love of the Father with the fatherless and abandoned. (Ps. 68:5,6) The more I know about New Hope the more I am blessed and challenged by their passionate, prayerful, Biblical vision for ministry. They have an amazing amount of avenues for reaching people and seem to be very reliant on God’s direction for growth and enacting. Unlike a typical orphanage, the children are separated into family groups with their own home area and Father and Mother. The goal isn’t necessarily to adopt the children out, but, to raise them in loving, Godly families and train them to be able to provide for themselves and know what God’s vision for families is. It is really wonderful to see in action! New Hope has three sites in Uganda, Kobwin in the north; Musana, their camp on Lake Victoria; and Kasana, the main and original children’s center and schools. We were at both Musana and Kasana. If you want to know more about New Hope you can visit their website at newhopeuganda.org.
Kampala. Notice the cell tower in the distance. Nearly all Ugandans have cell phones and I’m pretty certain Uganda has better cell coverage than the US!
As we prepared to leave, it was amazing to see how time and again the Father would provide just exactly what I needed both through the gracious support of friends and family and in other ways too. For example, the shots I needed to go ended up costing a bit more than I had counted on, but, when I came home from seeing the Doctor I found my bank statement showing that my income tax return had come through! Also, the dress code for women is a bit different than the US and I was going to need skirts and dresses that came below my knee. Even though I wear skirts a lot most of them weren’t quite long enough, so, several, kind, friends donated clothing that I could wear over there and then leave behind for the girls at New Hope. When it came time to pack I discovered that I had been given exactly the number of skirts as days that I would be over there! God’s matchless grace and provision certainly continued during the weeks in Uganda and as He had perfectly supplied my physical and monetary needs before going, He supplied all the desperate heart needs I had in going without my family to serve in such a completely different place. One quickly realizes how utterly dependent we are on the Holy Spirit to accomplish anything that would glorify Him or speak to the heart of another person.
We had a splendid aerial view of the Alps.
It was a long, but not unbearable, trek over there. We had a short connecting flight to Minneapolis, an eight hour flight to Amsterdam and an eight hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda that also included a brief stop (we stayed on the plane) in Kigali, Rwanda. Thankfully, on the flight to Entebbe there was nobody in the seat next to me, so, I could stretch out and sleep a bit!
Should mention that our “team” ended up being just the Doctor, his two, teen-age sons and me. I was bit nervous about how it would be traveling with just fellows, but, it worked out totally fine. Our family has been friends with their family for years, so, it definitely wasn’t like going with complete strangers and they were quite sweet about making sure I was taken care of.
My first thought on getting off the airplane in Entebbe was, “It is sooo hot and humid! How am I going to bear this while we’re here? It’s hard to breathe.” And it was evening! That first night felt stuffy, but, after that I adjusted quickly and found the weather like a beautiful summer day. Uganda is presently in their rainy season, so, it would periodically cool off and rain torrentially and then, clear up quickly into sunshine again. The average temperature year round is in the upper 70’s or low 80’s. Nice!
Dr. T. said the airport was like stepping back into the 70’s in terms of simplicity. Personally, the thing I noticed right away was the intimidating fellow in full, soldier regalia guarding the door with a gigantic machine gun! Saw God’s grace in easily passing through immigration and getting our visas and also in all our eight pieces of 50 lb. luggage showing right up. We tried to pack most of our personal items in our carry-ons and then filled up our allotted checked bags with items and equipment for New Hope. (Solar equipment, cables, computer batteries, washcloths, quilts, Tupperware, glasses, the Doctor’s equipment etc.)
We were warmly welcomed at the airport by the people from New Hope. This included Uncle Steve and Aunt Virginia who run the Guesthouse at Kasana and help coordinate teams coming in, Uncle Dan, the Ugandan driver, and Stephen a fellow from back home who is currently spending five months going through the Institute at Kasana and getting a feel for New Hope. Uncle Steve and Aunt Virginia have recently moved to Uganda from California and so were very understanding and helpful in knowing what we were experiencing. They were around the entire length of the trip and I definitely was feeling attached to them by the time we left! Uncle Dan was an enormous blessing the whole time we were there in getting us safely over the crazy roads to where we needed to go – always with a very gracious, gentle spirit. With Stephen, it was just nice to see a face I’ve encountered before! Should mention, that with their emphasis on family, the adults involved with New Hope are called either Aunt or Uncle.
Since it was late at night when our plane arrived we all spent the night in Entebbe at a guesthouse. Woke up fairly early the next morning to the sound of many birds chirping and a rooster trying to get his two cents in. During the entire trip, at all hours of the day, one could hear the music of birds and insects! I had a difficult time that morning, perhaps due to jet lag, with feeling tired, alone, and wondering why I had come at all. This however started off my trip with running to Jesus for comfort and strength.
After a quick shower, I stepped across the lovely, guesthouse lawn to the main building where we would be having breakfast. How green and lush Uganda is! Slowly we assembled at the breakfast table and were fed yummy fruit (the fruit in Uganda was always delicious), superb Passion fruit juice (this became one of my favorite drinks while there), your choice of hot tea, coffee or milk (tea and coffee were offered everywhere we went and the traditional, Ugandan way to drink either is with lots of milk!) and then whatever we wanted to eat. I had an omelet.
The Breakfast Building
Uncle Steve hurried us all up with packing and made sure we were on our way without much delay. We were headed to Musana Camp first and had a several hour drive ahead of us. The road trips in Uganda were always an adventure to say the least! The eight of us were packed into a van the seats of which were scantily padded, extremely close together (another moment to be grateful one is short!) and lacking seat belts. The van had air conditioning, but, this was only rumored in the back seat so we spent the trip with the windows flung open. Only the main roads are paved (and then they are two lane), the rest being red, dirt tracks riddled with bumps, potholes and speed bumps (the Ugandans seem to take great delight in erecting speed bumps). The Ugandans drive on the left (Uganda was originally a British colony and therefore carries on some of their customs)……usually. On the dirt roads one drives wherever the road is least rough, which could be way on the left, way on the right, or straight down the middle! At one point after being continuously jolted about we spotted a sign that said, “Humps ahead”. This set us into whoops of laughter. They also seem to think nothing of passing between your lane and oncoming traffic. They cram as many people or items as possible into any vehicle or on their bicylces and motorcycles (which they call boda-bodas) and oftentimes I found myself puzzled as to how they managed to get the vehicle off the ground! There is no shoulder to the roads and people and animals walk practically on the road with the cars scraping by them and nobody (driver or pedestrian) fliniching in the least. Despite all of this, I thoroughly relished the road trips – the fellowship was jolly and there was always SO much to see and take in out the windows. Everything – the people, the landscape, the houses- is utterly different from home.
The scaffolding on construction projects always looked dangerously rickety.
Roadside scene. You see the yellow, “jerry cans” that they use to haul water all over the place.
Two common sights: goats and speed bumps!
As we were leaving Entebbe we stopped briefly at a mall to exchange our money. Currently you get about 2,500 Ugandan shillings for one US dollar, so, Doctor walked out of the exchange office a triumphant “millionaire”. His son thought he would be better termed a “shillionaire”. :) The mall was one of my first experiences with how nearly every place you go has security guards you must check in with at the entrances. Whenever we were at a mall, Uncle Dan (bless his heart) would stay with the van and luggage since robbery is rampant.
View from the Mall.
We also made a brief stop in Kampala (the capital) for Doctor to buy a rolling-stool at a medical supply store and to meet up with a fellow who had traveled from Kobwin to collect the supplies we had brought to him.
Now that is Chicken on a Stick! Notice the wrapper that came around the meat – somebodies recycled notepaper. :)
One other highly notable experience was our stop for lunch at a roadside place the missionaries have dubbed “Chicken In Your Face Place”. As we were pulling up we were instructed to close and lock all the windows and doors. The moment the van came to a stop we were surrounded by a horde of young people waving water, soda, and meat on sticks. We sent Uncle Dan out with everybody’s order, but, nevertheless, the sellers continued to pound and tap on the windows, peer in at us, and break into selling antics whenever we involuntarily made eye contact. They kept this up until we pulled out and it definitely gave me an odd, caged-animal feeling. The chicken was delicious though, hot off the grill and seasoned with big, crystals of salt. We also had small, grilled bananas that were scrumptious.
Saw several, vast tea plantations. Tea is an important export for Uganda.
Driving through an enormous field of Maize.
Pine trees grow VERY quickly in Uganda and are planted for timber. Made me feel at home!
Papyrus looking very Dr. Seussical.
Finally we arrived at Musana! As this post is already getting outrageously extensive, I think I will save the Musana story for another day….