I made a website!

I recently joined a (fake?) club that is all about doing new things.

My assignment this week was to watercolor a dream journal.  Because that is something I have never done before.  And by doing new things we can learn and grow as people.

I’m guessing that I was recruited for this club because I did a lot of new things over the summer.  One new thing I did is create a new website for Rafiki Africa Ministries.

You should click here and check out all my hard work!

Well, of course I did have some help…

It is like I always say… it is so much easier to use technology when you have at least three children climbing on you.

Ok, go look at their new website!

www.rafikiministries.org

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elephants: my best animal

Picture yourself innocently driving along a bumpy dirt road, peering out the windows at the scenery, and suddenly your driver says, “Look, there’s an elephant crossing the road up ahead!”  I think that you too would have gasped “OH!” ridiculously loud with excitement and joy. 

And perhaps you too would have been mocked in Luganda by those listening.

But seriously guys – it was SO COOL! 

And every elephant thereafter was equally awesome.

Welcome to Queen Elizabeth National Park. 

I loved the elephants so so much.  I loved their trunks.  I loved their ears.  I loved their slow lumbering gait.  I loved the babies.  I loved spotting them across the savannah.  I loved everything about them.  They were one of my favorite things to see.  Or as my favorite Ugandan children say, “elephants are my best animal.”

We saw more elephants the next morning when we headed out for our game drive.  It was kind of perfect – they were just a ways off the road, framed by trees and morning mist.

Good Morning Elephants!

If you were driving along and you saw a whole bush shaking, you knew there was an elephant eating a little snack.  

If I were you, I would turn off the sound when watching this video of the elephants.  Or if you want to hear our guide, that is cool too.  I was trying out a new iPad app.  And honestly this video isn’t anything to write home about, but elephants are cool, so you should probably still watch it..

I was kind of an expert at spotting elephants.  Which sounds so silly because they are huge.  But they also are really slow moving and blend in quite a bit to the landscape.  Are you a rock in the distance?  A tree?  Or an elephant?  I’m guessing my incredible skill is primarily due to my elephant spotting practice drills prior to heading to Africa.

We also saw elephants across the Kazinga Channel while we were crabbily drinking tea.  Nothing remedies a bad mood like a good elephant sighting! 

And as luck would have it, we soon went on a boat ride that took us right past those elephants we’d seen from afar.  It was perfect.  They were incredible. 

On the ride back to the lodge (which I will be giving you a tour of next time) I said to my sister, “I just want to see one more elephant.  Maybe standing close to the side of the road looking at us.” 

452 pictures later, I walked (drove) away satisfied. 

I love elephants. My best animal. 

Roadtripping in Africa

Friends, I am so excited to tell you about our epic safari adventures.

I must put it a little bit of a disclaimer out there and say that this is a crazy time of year for me… hence the recent lack of posts (as I set up my classroom and prepare for a new year of kindergarten… and then get started with a new year of kindergarten – which is always a tough few weeks full of tears – mine and theirs).  So I can’t promise a post a day or really any sort of schedule.  I am a P in the world of Myers Briggs – a posting schedule would stress me out when my life is already busy 🙂

But bear with me and eventually you will feel like you were on safari with me.  I promise not to drag this out until Christmas, but I make no promises when it will actually wrap up 😉

As Julie Andrews so wisely sings, “Let start at the very beginning… a very good place to start.”

As previously mentioned, my sister flew out to Uganda toward the end of my mission trip to go on a safari with me!  And the day to head out on Safari finally arrived.

I knew that the three national parks we would be going to (Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Lake Mburo National Park) were all in western Uganda, but I didn’t think through the fact that to get to each park we would have a full day of road tripping through Uganda.

Fortunately, Rachel and I grew up going on family vacations that involved intense road tripping across the United States to various national parks.  So basically it was like we were on family vacation.  Without the rest of the family.   And without Adventures in Odyssey on cassette tape.   And with slightly different scenery.

We got up early on Day 1 ate breakfast at the orphanage and sipped some African tea until Joseph (our guide) and Obed (our driver) arrived.  Fortunately the kids were up and had started getting ready for church, so I was able to say goodbye to them before we headed out.  (Although they were a bit confused because when I tucked them into bed the night before, I said that I was going on safari with Uncle Joseph in the morning and would be gone for a few days.  So they didn’t really understand what I was still doing there.  However, This is Africa, and sometimes you leave an hour late, and that is just how things roll).  We eventually climbed into the van and the kids stood out on the front porch and we waved and blew kisses until I was through the gate and off on our adventure.

in our van, ready to go!

Anytime we go anywhere the first stop is always for fuel…

 

Rachel does love studying the map. I on the other hand glanced briefly at it.

Roadtrips in Africa involve snacks that Rachel packed from America, lots of bottled water, and having cameras on standby at all times.  You never know when something interesting might pass your window.  Mostly we hated the speed bumps that were virtually constant on the main road we took.  We should have counted our blessings that there was a paved road to drive out to Western Uganda, but mostly we felt sad about all the speed bumps – they were big and there were always five or six in a row.  My brain got tired of being jarred around pretty quickly.  However, the one positive spin I could put on them, is that it forced us to slow down when entering towns which gave me more photo taking opportunity.  Eventually though, most towns looked the same when you were just passing through on the highway, so I could only play the camera game for so long (but I did last for most of day 1).  We also did some reading, and on the way home we even played boggle on the iPad.

We saw lots of people carrying water, bicycles loaded down with bananas, boda boda drivers hanging out, cows, cows, and more cows, tea plantations, goats, women in beautifully colored dresses, and Joseph’s jjaja.  Yep – we stopped off to meet Joseph’s Grandma.  Joseph is one of the directors of the orphanage and both of his brothers are on staff, so it was pretty cool to meet the women who raised them.  

We will end there for today, but I will share some pictures from the car ride with you.

Next post will start including some animals in it.  Animals other than goats and cows.  I promise.  And if you are lucky, perhaps you will even get to see some of my sister’s nature documentaries.  She is really good at whispering while filming animals.  Get excited.

Where I buy all my drugs. Ok, that was a lie.  I don’t do drugs. 

 

Sadolin paint is advertised everywhere. If I had painting needs in Africa, I would absolutely buy this paint. I have fallen hard for their incessant advertising.

 

Where does everyone get their Jerry Cans? and why are they called Jerry Cans? These are questions that I have, but I have put no effort into finding answers.

 

soooo many bananas

oh you know… just hanging out on the equator. no big deal.

We Love Our Sponsors

Sponsorship is what makes it possible for children to become a part of the family at the Rafiki children’s home. Each of the kids has multiple sponsors that help cover the cost of food, clothing, school fees, medical bills, etc.

Without sponsors faithfully contributing $35 a month to Rafiki Africa Ministries, these kids would still be living in a closet in their grandma’s house; walking a mile to get water multiple times a day; suffering from spinal tuberculosis; living on the street; raising their younger sibling; malnourished; hungry; without hope …

Right now there is an empty bed in the girls’ room at Rafiki, just waiting to be filled.  Waiting for sponsors to commit to helping one young girl in Uganda find new life.  Right now there is a little girl in Uganda who needs a home, who needs a family, who needs food, who needs clean water, who needs an education, who needs sponsors. 

The kids love their sponsors so much.

They are so thankful for them. 

We spent quite a bit of time this summer working on cards for our sponsors. 

But what really got to me was watching a couple of the girls receive a card in the mail from their sponsors.

It was a simple card with a cute letter about what the family had been doing this summer, a family photo, and some stickers.

But these cards meant the world to Esther and Fauziya.

They carried their cards around with them all day and showed it to anybody who would look at it.  They kept their cards in their beds and slept with them at night.  Following the example that we had set, they even shared their stickers with their friends if the other child would recite a Bible verse. 

For information on sponsoring a child at Rafiki Africa Ministries, contact the director, Sara Kiwanuka at sara@rafikiministries.org

The best part though was when I asked Fauziya, “Who is in that picture?”  and she responded without hesitation, “My Family.” 

 

Graceland

A person that kept coming up during conversation was a lady named Sherry.  I didn’t know her last name, and still don’t, but I did eventually meet Sherry and she is so fantastic.  She has a ministry called Loving One by One.  Some of the things she does through her ministry is that she runs New Creation Children’s Home (where we taught at the beginning of the summer) and New Creation Centre (the school where we organized books and taught about cockroaches).  She also takes groups on short term mission trips to Uganda to do medical clinics.  In fact, Sara, the director of the Rafiki, and Allie, my surprise roommate, both first came to Uganda with Sherry’s teams.  That is actually how Sara, Allie, and Tricia (Africa Arise – Acholi Quarter ministry founder) all met each other.  Sherry is quite the spitfire – she has endless energy and she has the drive and the know-how to make things happen – which is quite an accomplishment in Africa 😉

Recently, Sherry purchased some land outside Kampala to relocate New Creation Home to – her vision is awesome and includes building multiple homes in the fashion of Watoto Children’s Villages, and having a school, dining hall, a guest house for volunteers, staff housing, etc. all on this gorgeous plot of land.  They dug a well and plan to open it to the community in the morning and the evening.  They not only want to be a blessing and a light in the lives of the orphans they care for, but also desire to be a blessing to the surrounding community.  

The day before Allie flew back to America, Sherry took us out there to see the land.  I guess that she had jokingly called it Graceland, because it is totally by God’s grace that they acquired it, but the Ugandans, having no associations between Graceland and Elvis, loved the name and it stuck.  

The land is at the top of the hill and the view is absolutely breathtaking.  It was so cool to walk around it, having Sherry paint a picture of what it will look like when construction is complete.  Many children from the community followed the van to the top of the hill and hung out with us while we looked around.  We took some time to pray over this land and the ministry, and then headed back to the city. 

Sherry normally drives the kids back to the entrance of the land, and it was starting to rain, so we all piled into the van for a hilarious ride.  I was in the backseat with 11 kids and there were more in the middle seats with Allie, Jessica, and Sherry.  We sang songs, such as the ever-popular, “Baby Jesus, Baby Jesus, I love you! I love you!  You are my Savior.  You are my Savior.  Everyday.  Everyday.”

It was such a fun day – I love hearing about how God is working in Uganda!

Click here to learn more about Loving One by One.

Turn on Your Wipers!

The police in Uganda are a smidge different from the police here in the States.

For example, their uniforms, in my opinion, make them look like spacemen hanging out on the side of their road.  They wear white and they wear big astronaut helmets.  (These helmets probably should not be actually used by real astronauts).  I don’t have any pictures of it, but I’m borrowing this picture from Brad, who I’ve never met, but is a friend of a friend who is part of an awesome ministry in Jinja.  Visit his blog by clicking here.

Secondly, as you may have picked up on from my previous paragraph, they don’t drive around and turn on their lights to pull you over, but rather they hang out on the side of the road at police checkpoints and just wave you over if they want to pull you over.

During my 2 months in Africa, our van was pulled over at least 4 times while I was in it.  I’m guessing that having it packed super full with mzungus did nothing for our favor in passing police checkpoints.  When they pull you over, they look desperately for something to give you a ticket for.  Once, after carefully inspecting the van and finding nothing, they even told our driver, “Turn on your windshield wipers!”  Sorry cop – they work and we have wiper fluid in there, so you are out of luck . We are legal today.  I’ve heard lots of stories of police just wanting a bribe from you as well.

There are also lots of traffic control people out on the roads – especially at busy intersections (and it is urban Africa, so most intersections are crazy busy).  One time we ended up kinda stuck in the middle of the road, potentially blocking other traffic I suppose, and the traffic cop guy was upset with us.  Our driver told him that he wasn’t Ugandan.  And the guy replied that he was and shared what tribe he was from.  Our  driver then replied that people from there are mean and he should leave us alone.  Then our driver was shushed so we wouldn’t get in more trouble.  It was pretty funny – mostly because everything was fine. 

Another fine moment on the road was after picking up Rachel from the airport, we saw a police vehicle with lights on going through traffic – it was super confusing, because that isn’t something we’d seen at all.  ever.  We pulled over to let them by and then started driving again.  Then suddenly there were more lights and sirens behind us.  We quickly realized we had accidentally pulled into a motorcade that was escorting somebody important in their fancy vehicle with tinted windows.  Oops!  Sorry important person for getting in the middle of your escort detail.

Suffice it to say that the thought of driving in Africa terrifies me.  Not only is it on the other side of the road, but traffic laws are not really abided by.  We once saw a stop sign.  But I don’t think that anyone has ever stopped at it.  Sometimes being on the road is like a big game of chicken – two (or more) cars speeding towards one another down the middle of the road.  Who will swerve first?

we all fit in the backseat! it’s fine 🙂

(and yes, I intentionally put up this post after I came home safely so that my mother would not read it while I was away… 😉

Don’t Drink the Water

One fun thing about this summer (on my list of 5,379 things – I think that this is officially #2,118 on the list) was the opportunity to teach the kids at the orphanage so many new things.

For example, they didn’t have any books prior to this summer.  But really – books aren’t very prevalent in Uganda.  So we had to teach them how to take care of books, how to read a book, and the most important rule so our books didn’t get destroyed was, “Don’t go in the book cabinet without an auntie or an uncle!”

We also got to teach them to use fun art supplies! 

When my sister came at the end of the summer, she had a lot of donations from family and friends back in Minnesota who had been following my blog, wanted to do something to help orphans in Africa, or hadn’t been able to support me prior to my trip.  It was SUCH a blessing – so if you donated items or money for Rachel to bring toys, games, clothes, a CD player, CDs, books, and craft supplies, thank you SO much.  Everyone was super excited.  It was like Christmas.

One request I had sent home was for paint.  So Rachel brought watercolors, fingerpaint, and tempera paint. 

Which meant that I had to tap into my kindergarten teacher knowledge reserves and give some in-depth painting tutorials. 

The kids loved painting so so much.  I have never seen children take such time and care in creating a watercolor masterpiece.  The only thing I forgot was the direction, “Don’t drink the water”.  At one point I looked over and Don was taking a hearty sip of very too-blue-water.  Oops!  But the chagrined look on his face was so worth it.  Hilarious.  

What did you eat?

Since coming home, lots of people have asked me, “What kind of food did you eat in Uganda?”

Well folks, let me tell you!

My favorite things to eat were fresh fruit and chappati (but not together, because that would be weird).

Each afternoon for the kids would have a snack – either fruit or popcorn.  (Don’t get me started on the popcorn – it was DELICIOUS).  And the fruit we had includes watermelon, pineapple, bananas, and mango.  And it all tasted amazing.  I’ve never had a good mango in Minnesota.  Probably because Mango feels so sad if it is shipped all the way from its home to Minneapolis.  But in Uganda it was heavenly.

Chappati is made of some sort of flour and some other ingredients such as egg(?), milk (?), carrots(?), onions(?), and maybe other things.  There is really no way to know.  After the dough is made, you form it into balls and roll it flat.  Then you fry it on the stove.  YUM!

I also really enjoyed African tea.  It is a milk based tea (similar to chai in that respect) and has some spices in it – like maybe ginger?

I clearly should have spent more time in the kitchen so I’d have more facts to share with you.  Sorry!

Lunch was always posho and beans.  If you haven’t had posho, and I’m guessing 95% of you haven’t, it is like a paste made of cornflour that looks like mashed potatoes and doesn’t really taste like anything.

If we were at home, peanut butter and bread was also a lunch option you could make for yourself.  I enjoyed that option except for the week we tried to save money at the grocery store and bought a new brand of peanut butter.  A brand that consisted mostly of sand.  We went back to the usual brand the follow week – it was worth a money saving shot! 

Dinner rotated depending on the day of the week – but it usually involved some combination of the following: rice, beans, cabbage, matoke (mashed plantains), chappati, avocado, guacemole, g-nut sauce (purple and delicious), irish potatoes (regular potatoes), sweet potatoes, chicken, minced meat, and did I mention rice?

p.s. i apologize for these photos of half eaten plates of food.  take it up with jessica – not with me.  she took the pictures, i just stole them for my blog 😉

Acholi Hospitality

One of the limited options for women in the Acholi Quarter to make an income is to make paper bead necklaces.

Here is a short video you can watch to see how these necklaces are made.  It is pretty cool!  It is only a minute and forty seconds of your life.  Just press play.

We really wanted to support these women, and let’s be honest – they are super talented and make really pretty jewelry, so Sara and Tricia coordinated a time for us girls to come back to the Acholi Quarter and buy necklaces from some of the women.

Tricia invited her first group of ladies who went through their counseling and discipleship program to come and meet with us.

We piled onto some boda bodas and headed up the steep hill to the Acholi Quarter.  We were a little concerned that we would just slide right off the back of the bodas, but everyone arrived safely.  Whew!

We walked in the doorway of Africa Arise’s office, and there were beautiful women sitting around the perimeter of the room, and the floor was entirely covered in a gorgeous array of colors and beads.  It was a sight to behold. 

Before the shopping started, we all introduced ourselves.

Soon we were able to start buying pretty necklaces from these lovely ladies.

Some of the girls were leaving the next day, so we all were counting our shillings to see how much money we had left and how many necklaces that meant we could take home with us.

Then the rain came.  And came.  And came.

Bodas would not be a feasible option to get home.  We’d have to call Godfrey to pick us up in the van.  Which would take forever for him to drive their in rainy weather traffic. Yikes.

But we were glad to have as much time as we could with these precious women.  Most of them spoke Acholi with only a handful of English words.  Yet we figured out how to communicate.

At the end, before they packed up their wares, one woman, the one who spoke the best English, came into the middle of the group and thanked us for coming and for supporting their families.  She said that if we were to visit the an Acholi family in their home in the north, it was their custom to invite you in and offer you some tea.  It is seen as an honor to entertain guests in your home, so she said that they would then give their guest a gift to thank them for coming.  She said that they did not have any tea to offer us, but they are still honored by us coming, and so they’d like to give us a gift.

Then these women, who have so little in this life, stood up and walked around to each one of us, putting necklaces on around our necks.

It was one of the most special and humbling experiences I have ever had.

I was so grateful they let us visit them and were willing to sell us their jewelry.

I was so grateful to have the opportunity to help support their families.

I was so grateful for just the smallest glimpse into their lives and into their love.

Yet they were the ones thanking us.

They were giving us gifts so freely.

I was overwhelmed in the best way possible.

That is a culture of generosity.

That is love.

Bubbles!

Who knew that it would be such an adjustment to life in America – one of my top five strengths is adaptability – it should be easier than this.

Fortunately my roommate is watching out for me and forcing me to go grocery shopping (even if I did buy rice for my first meal to cook for myself) and stopping me from darting out into traffic when I think it is ok, but apparently it isn’t.

My brain is in a general state of confusion as I process through what it means to be home and attempt to adjust back into my life (and responsibilities) in America.

So mostly in the land where Laura can’t handle going to Target, she also struggles to type blog posts.  But don’t worry kids – slowly but surely I’m pulling myself together.

All this to say sorry Grandma – your daily emails will be resuming.

And to tide you over, here are some cute pictures of kids and crowns and bubbles – because who doesn’t love that?!