Archive for March, 2016


The Waisana’s Water Tank

For years the family of Pastor David Waisana in Bugembe, Uganda, had to trek downhill to the community borehole (drilled water well), fill up jerry cans, then trek back up the quarter mile or more to the house with the heavy water-filled containers. Now, because of the generosity of Mosaic Fort Worth Church, the family has a water tank at the house and does not have to spend much of their time carrying water.

If you don’t remember this family, let me remind you. The Waisana’s typically include about 26 people. Most of these are children the parents have taken in off the streets or from difficult or abusive family situations. The current number, as of last week, was 24, the lowest I have seen since I have known them – several have married or returned to their own parents. These children include physically and emotionally abused children, children of Islamic families who became Christians and were kicked out of their homes, children who were not being properly cared for because of abject poverty or substance abuse, street orphans who showed up at Pastor David’s church, etc. They all call David and Sarah, “Daddy and Mummy.”

The Waisana’s have six of their own children in among the crowd. David is not paid as the pastor of the church. He tries to earn a little bit from small market shop, and they have a “neighborhood shop” with a few items that they have set up in front of their home. They have lived for free in their home for several years through the grace of the owner who works in another country, and it is one of the few Ugandan homes large enough for such a sizable clan. Now, however, the landlord is asking that he pay rent of about 450,000 shillings per month (roughly $100). So far they have not been able to pay any rent, and they do not know how much longer they will be able to stay in the home. If they have to move out, this family will be broken up because no one will rent a house to someone with so many children and there are few houses big enough that they can afford anyway.

The Waisana's Wonderful Water Tank

The Waisana’s Wonderful Water Tank

Enough about their somewhat precarious situation. I really wanted to write a follow-up about the water tank, which they have had for about a year.

Their tank receives water from two sources: it catches the rain, and it is on the local water service, which they pay for monthly. Having no water at the house was a big problem because they live on a hill, so the walk down and back up with the heavy cans was truly difficult. Having water at the house provides a resource for them that is almost impossible for a westerner to appreciate since we all have water piped into our homes and tend to take it for granted. Most here in Uganda do not. They cannot even load the jerry cans in their car because like most Ugandans, of course, they don’t have one – David has a motorcycle, but most of their moving about is by foot. Even the Waisana’s still fill the jerry cans from the tank and carry it into the house, which for them is unbelievably more convenient than before.

One of the problems they have had with the tank was that one month their water bill was higher than normal. David checked the tank for leaks and could find no problems. Finally, his neighbor told him that a family from down the block was waiting until they went to church on Sunday, then coming with many jerry cans and filling up – stealing water from the Christians. David put a stop to that.

The Waisana Family, missing older children who are at school.

The Waisana Family, missing older children who are at school.

The best report I have had from David was when he told me that recently the city water system was out for a whole week. This is very common here and these houses that are built up the side of the hill, if they have a tap at their house, are the first to lose their water service when there is a problem with the city supply system. I have heard complaints about the inconsistency of the city water service from my first days in Uganda, so it is a frequent and common problem.

During the recent breakdown, the Waisana’s blithely went about their business, using the water from their tank, and never even noticed that there was a supply problem because they had filled their tank while the water was flowing. It was only when a neighbor reported to David that they had no water at their house that he became aware that the city water was turned off.

This is truly a kind of freedom that David has never had before. He was effusive in his gratitude for the generosity of those kind Americans who contributed to the purchase of his water tank. The amazing thing to him is that no one in his family was even aware that the city water was not working. That was a big first for all of them.

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Recently the national elections have concluded here in Uganda, and the accompanying national chaos has receded. I purposely scheduled my trip to Uganda this March to miss the election excitement, which is better avoided by musungus, I think. The final results which re-elected the popular and even beloved President Museveni to power in February, continuing his thirty years as reigning president, are being contested at court, the voter count is challenged, corruption is charged, etc., etc.

With a strange sense of déjà vu, I was amused to read in the local paper when I arrived several weeks ago that there had been a break-in to the chief opponent’s offices where the affidavits of voter corruption were being kept, and which, of course, were stolen. The opposing party was screaming that the police were behind the raid on the offices. I sooooo flashed back to the early 1970’s during the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon which featured a very similar break-in to the opposing party’s offices attempting the theft of certain documents.

As I ministered on Buvuma Island last week, I felt mostly out of the flow of national politics since there are no TV’s where I could watch the news, and no newspapers trumpeting the latest scandals. However, I did run into a unique situation caused by our current election process in the U.S. which managed to reach even into the isolated populace of the island- the bishop mentioned to me that one of the locals had off-handedly wondered if perhaps I was an American spy for Donald Trump.

Ugandans, like people everywhere, love their politics and their conspiracy theories. This particular comment rose from some remarks made by Mr. Trump during one of his blustery speeches. I can assure you that every Ugandan heard some version of his remarks about their president when he threatened to work towards ending President Museveni’s [Uganda] and President Mugabe’s [Zimbabwe] long hold on power if elected US president. He also remarked that President Museveni belongs in prison. His thoughtless remarks have precipitated a rise of anti-American sentiment that is troubling to those of us who are here to help. Fortunately, the kick-back is very quiet and only voiced in remarks like that of the Buvuman who wondered if I were secretly working for Donald Trump.

I tried to express to as many as I could that Donald Trump is a businessman and not a politician. Many in Uganda think he already controls the government which is why he can make such broad threats against other world leaders – they think when they hear such things that he is stating American policy. His remarks, which often seem tactless and in violation of every rule of international diplomacy, are really just his negotiating style. He negotiates hard, then makes friends, it seems to me. Much of what he is saying now to win the vote would never be acted upon if he should reach the White House because he is a canny negotiator who comes on strong during the negotiation but doesn’t reference his true objective until he wins the negotiation. It should be obvious that his objective now is to win the presidency by capturing votes, and as a negotiator, he is saying what he thinks he needs to say to win the election. I’m not sure I agree with his method, but his objective is clear. Ugandans, however, can’t sort that subtlety out as they hear him threaten their president and their sovereignty.

This all puts American missionaries in a strange position. I am hopeful that Mr. Trump will not “ramp it up” and repeat these kinds of remarks. I am blessed to be very well received by the locals here, and I have not heard a repeat of the kind of thing said on the island. Surely, if Africans understood that Mr. Trump at this moment is not related in any regard to any aspect of the American government – he is not a congressman, senator, a governor of a state, has never held an elected office or even an appointed government position; he is just a private citizen, a businessman, no less, who is making a run at the presidency, and as a private citizen certainly is not sending spies to Uganda – perhaps they would relax and wait to see if his words will ever actually reflect American policy, at which time, I hope he will learn to negotiate in a more diplomatic manner.

[ Note: I am not writing this as a political piece, but rather as a perspective on what Ugandans hear when such things are said and reported from political campaign speeches. If I have offended anyone politically, that was not my intention. I am neither pro nor con any particular Republican candidate at this time and will not use this blog to take sides in the upcoming campaign.]

resurrection2a

Meet Davis, the Artist

Much of the artwork you see here in Jinja is “street art” meant to be sold to tourists as a souvenir. It’s quality is quite poor, and much of it seems to be mass produced in hack-shops by only moderately talented copy-artists. If you know where to look, you can even see these production shops set just behind the street shops where the art is displayed, with groups of paint-daubed laborers working to reproduce “tourist art” en masse.

However, as I was prowling around the gift shops, looking for little gifts for the family several trips back, I stumbled into an artist’s room “hidden” behind a souvenir shop. By “hidden” I mean it was open to the public, but not marked or advertised in any way. Suddenly you step through the door, and you’re in the artist’s world, his colorful renderings covering every square inch of the walls and racks.

These paintings have the quality of real art, the touch of an artist’s hand and eye. The artist is named Davis. Africa speaks from his canvases, and I confess, I was dumbstruck at first. I asked the young lady who manages the shop, who, it turned out, was the artist’s sister, why these wonderful paintings are hidden back here where no one can see them. Why aren’t they out on the street where the tourists can see their quality and buy them? She said that if they put them out on the street, the other shops would copy them and steal their artistry. So, conundrum: if we put them out to sell them, the images will be stolen and counterfeited; so instead, we hide them back here where no one can see them and non one can buy them. I’m thinking only a real artist could even come up with that.

I felt a little like I had stumbled into pirate treasure, and it was mine, Mine, ALL MINE!!!! HAHAHAHA!!

Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but I like the pieces very much. If I were rich, I would buy many of them and decorate my home in these colorful cultural artworks. And the amazing thing is, they are priced Ugandan. So a musungu could really clean up. The highest piece in the shop might be 300,000 Ugandan shillings – that’s about $90.00.

So the only other thing I have to say, is, look at the pictures. See for yourself. If you’re interested, tell me by email or “comment,” and we can work out the payment and I will bring one of these canvases home for you. I am interested in supporting any Ugandan who is serious and trying hard to make a living here in this poor nation. Check it out… [The titles are mine for ide

Sunset

Sunset

ntification only.]

smaller women4

Women around tree 1

The artist, Davis, shows off his work.

The artist, Davis, shows off his work.

smaller children

Children with Water

smaller trees

Mighty Baobab

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Travelers

Women in Sun

Women in Sun

IMG_0943

Pentecost

Crowd

Crowd

IMG_0940

Going to Market

Finding Egypt on Buvuma Island

My faithful companion Alfred and I returned from Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria to the mainland after ten days, and I was thoroughly wrung out. It seems to be the hot season here, though the locals pretty much only recognize two seasons happening several times intermittently throughout the year – hot and rainy. A drop of 5 degrees puts most of them in arctic parkas or ski-type jackets, especially the boda-boda men (motorcycle taxis) who have to contend with the wind factor. Just about the time I was saying to myself, “My, isn’t this a pleasant change of weather,” everyone else here was shivering and covering up.

This trip to the island found us right between sweating to death and shivering Ugandans, that is, the dry season and one of the several rainy seasons. The humidity hovered around 90-100% most of the trip so that changing to a dry shirt was utterly pointless within three minutes. I preferred the rain because it dropped the temperature just a tad. We worked hard through the ten days, and between the pace of teaching and driving back and forth across the bumpy roads to one meeting or another, I was ready for bed by end of day, sometimes falling onto my sweat-rack (“bed”) as soon as I returned to my room around 7 pm each night.

These concerns are just the typical adjustments of living in an equatorial location. You get used to it if you stay long enough, I guess. I’m not complaining, really – I’m just describing…no, really!

When we first arrived for the Lake Victoria Bible Institute, Bishop Waako’s vision-based name for the ministry of teaching the pastors in the islands, we needed to select a new location for the meetings. Our usual “hall” that we rent was being used to store furniture and equipment for some reason. The hall is the best building on the island, I would say, having been donated to the community by an organization in the U.S. for community meetings and such. Being used for storage sort of diminishes its general effectiveness, I think.

The first site with no walls

The first site with no walls

So there were two church buildings we could choose between, one close to the village of Kitamiru where we are centered, and the other a short travel distance away (a mile and a half), which would require moving people daily from their lodgings in the village to the training site. To avoid that cost, we attempted to use the church at the village. The problem was that it was composed of a series of vertical posts with no walls and only half a roof. It sat deep in a shadowy banana and cassava field, so we at first thought this might mitigate the bright light factor a little so that the projector would be visible to the students. We chose the Kitamiru site and began the engineering project of trying to cover enough of the space with tarps to block out the ambient light.

We had to begin by digging a ramp from the main road onto the property so the car could enter the area, so at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, several hardy Ugandans were busily hoeing dirt into the ditch along the side of the road. That completed, we began hauling tarps back to the building to cover it and block the light. This business of building a theater wherever we go for the projector often makes we yearn for the days when all I had was a whiteboard or a big piece of paper to draw on. The projector does a fine job if, and that’s a big IF, we can block enough of the light to make the images sharp enough actually to see. And all of this requires carrying a generator with us as well.

We worked for about four hours. Finally, around 12:30, the light still swirling around me and laughing hysterically at my hubris in thinking I could block it out, I threw in the towel and told the crew we had to move to the other site. The other site was fraught with logistical issues as to the transportation of the students, but at least it had walls and a roof which would go far in closing off most of the light. So we quickly tore down everything we had just spent four hours building and moved. My only cogent, perspiration-basted thought at this point was, “Arghh!!”

The final site with walls and a roof.

The final site with walls and a roof.

Several hours later, with a new light blocking theater constructed at the new site and students beginning to arrive in pairs and drabbles by motorcycle, we began the first day of teaching. I think I got an hour and a half in on Monday. Arghh again. But the new space provided enough shadow for the projector and a lovely view of the lake just 100 yards away.

I try to call Gail on my cell phone every night from Buvuma which has no internet. My report to Gail that firstbnight was that I was too tired even to talk briefly; I just said, “Hello, love, I’m too tired to talk,” and we signed off till the next night. When we finally talked Tuesday evening, my report of Monday’s exertions went something like this:

We spent the day hauling giant stones up great, high ramps with thousands of us hitched to great ropes that moved the stones inch by inch up the steep slope atop rolling logs as the bishops lashed us with whips from the sidelines to keep us pulling desperately on the great square blocks. Finally, we would reach the top of the ramp where the great stone would be set into the side of the gigantic structure our harsh masters were forcing us to construct. Once the stone was set in place, we were then forced to go back to the bottom of the ramp and hitch ourselves to another huge stone, only to repeat the long, arduous climb, delirious in our exhaustion from which there was no respite, no mercy, no compassion from the taskmasters driving us ever upward as the great pyramid we were building slowly took shape.

Well, okay, it wasn’t that bad, and I can laugh about it now. But it sure felt that way. I gotta

The "theater" we finally successfully created.

The “theater” we finally successfully created.

figure out a better way of using the projector than having to build impromptu theaters everywhere I go.

Out of Touch on Buvuma

I will now be out of touch and off the grid on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria for ten days. No electronics, poor phone service, generator electricity only. See you when I get back.

Bob

We were sitting in downtown Jinja in the mechanic district where most of the mechanics, body shops, auto and truck parts, etc., are concentrated. This follows the African pattern of organizing their marketing by category so most of the shops of a specific type are located in the same area or district rather than the western style of trying to be the only one of your type in an area. We happened to be repairing our generator – all it needed was a small air intake adjustment lever, but the part had to be pirated from a used part, so the mechanic and Alfred were disassembling and reassembling busily at the trunk of the car were the generator was. I was sitting in front, feigning disinterest.

I have developed some skills at feigning disinterest over the last several years, which is hard for me because I’m interested in all of the cultural exchanges that go on around me. So I learn with my ears but keep my eyes averted and use a bored expression as if I couldn’t care less whether they fix “Alfred’s” generator or not. This particular skill is necessary because any musungu interest at all in a business matter of any kind tends to drive a $3 purchase (which this should be – around 7-8,000 shillings) up to a $10 purchase (20-30,000 shillings).

Only after the price has been settled can I show interest. Then I am all smiles, trying out my Lusoga dialect, asking questions, etc. But for now, I am apparently in another world, just along for the ride in this Ugandan’s car. This is not to say that I don’t ever enter into active negotiation, which can be fun, but for most utilitarian projects like this, I let Alfred lead as it saves time and energy. In this manner, I manage to have to pay an inflated musungu price only about once a day. It just can’t always be avoided.Strange Place for Such a Thing

I was busily avoiding all interaction, which affords me the opportunity to observe other things which I generally would miss. Yesterday was once of those opportunities. The picture here shows a power pole that was just across the street from where we were parked. This was in downtown Jinja. You notice that diamond-shaped aura at the top?

That is a spider web. It is about six feet from top to bottom and six feet from side to side. It is so thick that it looks able to trap a small bird. I always think Uganda must be a great place for spiders, but, thankfully, I rarely see any. I saw more large, colorful and monster-like spiders in the garden in Southern California when I was a child than I have ever seen here in Uganda. But this web was a new one for me. It is either a very industrious spider or a colony of spiders who make their living from the bugs attracted at night to the street light that extends off the pole.

I asked Alfred if he knew what kind of spider this was, but he gave me the standard non-committal Ugandan answer which portrays that no one ever thinks about such things or notices them…they are just part of the scenery – “Spiders? There are spiders? I’ve never noticed.”

Nightmare ColonyIf you look closely at the picture, you will probably agree with me that the poor city worker who has to change out that street light or repair the lines at that pole notices them. It would take quite a bit of spider-fighting before anyone could do much at that light pole – the spiders seem to be well in control.

I haven’t seen this before. But perhaps they’ve just blended into the scenery. I don’t think so though. Arachnophobic that I am, I tend to notice spiders, especially if I have to interact with them. Feigning disinterest with spiders doesn’t get me very far. And even though I generally manage to avoid them, in my family, where the women all have a healthy arachnophobic bent, I am usually the one who has had to fight the battles. I have to say, upon deep consideration, any plans I might have entertained to take up utility pole climbing have now been laid firmly on the back burner.

Enjoy the pics. Here, it’s just part of the scenery.

(For the beginning of this story, see I’m in a Sitcom, Right? Part 1)

As they all stood around me, apparently arguing about the proper management of the musungu’s money, suddenly, we were all packed back into the vehicle and heading to the University, which sits almost exactly between Bugembe, the suburb I am staying in every night, and Jinja. The distance from Bugembe to Jinja is about seven miles, so we drove to the university and stopped on the side of the road and let the father of the missing girl out to cross over the median and try to find his daughter at the university.

The chairman was not happy about all this and hadn’t expected his partner to pass the money off to someone else after he passed it off to him, so he would gesture in intense flying Lusoga at his partner, now retreating as fast as he could across the road to the university campus, and alternately turn back to us and smile another, “It’s fine. There’s no problem” in English.

We then continued to drive to Bugembe, where we started this day not an hour before. Why? Well, the Ugandan road authority is big on medians on the few roads big enough to have them. This is one of them. They don’t, however, so much believe in turn-arounds. The median on this road runs unbroken all the way to Bugembe, where there are only two turn-arounds, only one of which is legal and, of course, is the most distant, all the way on the other end of the town.

Finally, we arrived in Bugembe. So I have now made a complete circle in less than an hour. The first turn-around here has the obligatory “No U-turn” sign, causing me to wonder why they installed it at all. Alfred, usually a stickler for these little traffic regulations, causing me to spend endless hours riding to the far end of Bugembe to turn around where it is legal, on this occasion chose to ignore the sign and turned around. Now we were headed back toward Jinja – for the second time so far today. I silently blessed him for this criminal time-saving act and said to myself, “It’s fine. There’s no problem.” (You see? I can learn.)

We then drove back to the university, which we couldn’t get to earlier because ogf the median. There we waited and waited until the father came out to meet us – his daughter, being the good girl that she is, had, of course, already returned to Jinja and was waiting there with my $100 bill. We loaded up again and headed back to our starting point in Jinja. All of this incomprehensible running hither and yon took about 20-30 minutes. All this time, the car was full of Lusoga conversations so that I didn’t have the least idea of what was going on. Every now and then, I would ask Alfred for an update and he would try to fill me in. I’m not really sure he knew what was going on either.

Finally, we reached the spot in Jinja where we started with the chairman, and, sure enough, there stood the girl herself, whom I have never seen before, waving my hundred dollars at us like a flag as we pulled up – or maybe I just imagined that part. Now, funds were quickly exchanged, papers were signed, and we all shook hands and parted ways with the phrase “It’s fine. There’s no problem” ringing in our ears.

Once we were away and I could pin them down, I asked Alfred and David what that was all about. Why did the daughter of the partner of the chairman have my $100? They then explained to me that the university was pressing the girl for fees to attend classes. The father and the girl were waiting for funds to come in to pay her fees. So, once the chairman had my $100 in his hand, the partner asked if he could give it to his daughter to take to the university to prove to them that their fees were going to be paid. So my $100 bill was used as surety against her fees. Is that complicated enough?

So you see, without even knowing it, I did a good deed for this girl and her family. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s the way I’m choosing to spin it.

Seriously though, this strange story gives a lot of insight into the day-to-day struggle Ugandans live with and take for granted. Life here really is about how to put food on the table (or pay fees) today, NOW. That priority of last minute immediacy, and always living to catch up to the demands of survival, drives the culture here in so many ways that a westerner cannot relate to. So much of what we observe and find inexplicable actually makes a lot of sense when you know the back-story.

Word of advice for would-be third world travelers: don’t expect cultural situations to unfold in straight lines; mostly, there just aren’t any. And again, you can’t make this stuff up…