I’m sitting on my bed underneath my newly installed mosquito net and looking out the window at the huge tree with bright orange flowers in the corner of the compound. It’s been just over a month…soon to start my 6th week in Uganda. It’s been amazing but today it feels a bit like I’ve hit a wall. Just keeping it real. Please don’t think that by sharing this that I have somehow changed my mind about being here. I’m in the right place, no doubt about that. I love the people the Lord has placed me with and the kingdom work He has called me to do. But I’ve lived long enough to know to anticipate the emotional and physical fatigue that comes with new and different experiences and to not react to it but to name it for what it is and walk through it. Jumping into a completely different culture cannot be without significant impact and I think I’m just beginning to really feel it.
About four days ago I started to get a cold…allergies really. Lots of sneezing. I think it’s due to the red dust that permeates everything here. The red soil of Uganda turns to mud in the rainy season and a very fine dust when there is no rain. There is significant road work being done just adjacent to the Diocesan property. Even when there is no road work the red dust coats everything. But now…with heavy machinery pushing dirt around…the red dust is even thicker. Everything is always covered with it. I can dust my bedside table and within a few hours it has returned. It covers the floors, it gets into your clothes, it coats the dishes in the kitchen. It’s getting into my computer. It’s everywhere. You can’t get ahead of it. The bottom of my feet are beginning to look stained from the red dust. In fact, my feet are nearly always covered in dirt. It’s especially hard to keep it out of your bed. I think breathing it has caused me have an allergic reaction. I’ve been on Benadryl for a couple of days. The good news is that the road will soon be paved and this should cut down on the red dust tremendously. But it’s hard to feel clean…ever. It’s just a part of life here and it’s obvious that others have adjusted to it. It may take me a little more time. Today I’ve had it with the red dust.
In addition to dust allergies, I’m dealing with bacterial intestinal stuff again. I don’t think I need to explain some of the unpleasant symptoms of this…but let’s just say it keeps you close to home. ;>) I have no idea how I’m picking this stuff up. It can come from simply shaking hands with people…which I do countless times everyday. I’m on antibiotics and Dr. Katie is keeping an eye on me. But today I’m feeling physically tired from allergies and intestinal stuff and I’ve had to take a day of rest to regroup.
Not having my own mode of transportation is a challenge as well. I’ve managed to catch rides with Sandra and Katie into town when needed (they are very gracious and kind to help me) but I’m not used to having to rely on other people to get where I need to go. Not being in control in this area is hard. Most people in Uganda do not have transportation so they ride a boda (motorcycle taxi) or walk so I’m in good company. It’s just that having transportation gives you freedom and I’m feeling that loss a lot lately.
Yesterday I returned from two days in Kampala. Kampala itself is exhausting for me. Lots of people and thousands of motorcycles and noise and CRAZY traffic and strange smells and the Islamic call to prayer going out over loud speakers, which sends shivers down my spine. I prefer the quiet life of Gulu to the hustle and bustle of Kampala any day. It was good to get back. But while there I felt stressed and anxious for a number of reasons. You can find a lot of stuff in Kampala that you just can’t get in Gulu. As I was shopping for food, I realized my anxiety was high because I was in hoarding mode. My thinking was… “you don’t know when you will be back here so you better buy everything you will need and get a lot of it too.” It felt sort of like I was preparing for the end of the world. I believe it’s my western mindset thinking of “I can’t do without this” that has not clicked off yet. Maybe it never will. There are lots of businesses in Kampala and Gulu that cater primarily to westerners for this very reason. Emotionally I felt a bit frantic. I stopped at one point and said as much to Sandra. She nodded and said she sometimes feels the same way. It felt like I needed these certain things to feel connected to home and to be able to survive being deprived. Non-sense but none-the-less a very real emotion.
My primary purpose in going to Kampala was to begin the process for obtaining my three year missionary work permit. I learned of a man who works in the provincial offices of the Church of Uganda who helps missionaries with this process. I called and arranged to meet him on Monday to hand off all my forms. Got to his office and I learned he is out of the city for three days. What?! I traveled to Kampala just to meet this man and he is out of town…after I had set an appointment with him. (Culturally I’m told this is not uncommon.) I then had to figure out how to get this paperwork to him and to make a long story short, I ended up leaving the folder of materials with another employee to give to this man. It made me nervous because if it gets lost or misplaced…that’s it. I’d most likely be coming back home to the US. I was also required to leave my passport in Kampala during this approval process. Another reason to feel anxiety. Apparently applying for this special permit requires standing in a lot of lines and going from one govt. building to another and it can take several days, spread out over weeks, to do this. But…there are people you can pay to do this for you and it’s perfectly acceptable. I opted for this because it’s impossible for me to stay in Kampala long term or to be able to drive down on a moment’s notice, transportation being one of the main issues. Anyway, this man comes highly recommended by the Rev. Dr. Canon Alison Barfoot, an American missionary who has lived in Uganda and worked for the Archbishop for ten years. Now I just pray and wait and trust that it all goes smoothly.
While we were in Kampala we also learned of an attack on a church in the western part of Uganda by some Muslims. I wasn’t going to mention this on the blog or Facebook because I didn’t want to alarm my family, who worries about me a lot. As it turns out, there is no cause for alarm. As the police have been investigating, they have determined that this was not anything from an organized terror group. It was an isolated event. The Christian people in the village took measures into their own hands and burned down the tiny mosque in response to the attack. One Christian woman and a police officer were killed. I admit this rattled me a bit. Christians and Muslims live peacefully alongside one another in Uganda. Although its neighbors are dealing with terrorists/rebels in Kenya, Congo and Sudan, Uganda is peaceful and I believe its people want it to remain that way. However, part of being in East Africa is knowing there are some risks. It’s a challenge to my faith in a way I’ve never experienced, obviously, having lived nearly my whole life in the US where freedom of religion is protected and enforced. What is happening in the world right now is very disconcerting. ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Boka Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya (and have threatened Uganda), Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and other parts of the world. So much hatred toward Christians and Jews and even other Muslims. It boggles the mind…how there can be men so eager to shed blood in the name of God. It makes no sense unless you consider the sin-filled world in which we live. Anyway, I have been anxious this week. I admit it. Christians are facing persecution all over the world. Islam is growing in its influence here in Uganda. And that is why it is so important to continue to strengthen the church by training more leaders. I’m learning to trust God in another whole new and different way. It never stops folks. There is always more room to grow in faith and trust.
Some have been asking about how the chemo treatment has been going. I thank all who have been praying for me. I finished my first two-week round last Friday. I’m doing fine. No obvious side affects but it’s hard to tell whether some fatigue is due to chemo or allergies/bacterial intestinal infections. Either way, praise God, I think it’s going to be all right. I’ll start my second round this Friday for two weeks.
This is a long post but before I end I just want to say briefly what an awesome two weeks I’ve had prior to hitting the wall. I’m having more interaction with the students and developing friendships. I thoroughly enjoyed the graduation ceremony of the Women’s Development Center and I’m getting to the know staff better. I’m starting to feel at home. Some prayer requests: please pray for good health, for favor with the work permit, and for patience as I navigate the red dust. Pray that I would know God’s peace at all times as I trust in Him for safety and protection. Hitting the wall is not bad…it’s expected. It’s part of the process so I am glad to know I’m progressing through the necessary stages of adjusting. It’s a privilege to be here. Praise God, who is still on the throne!
PS. Praying for all my friends in SC as Hurricane Arthur approaches this week. Sure is early for a hurricane!