This weekend I had the chance to visit the places I stayed at/worked at with the team from JBU five years ago! My previous visit was a big reason for why I ended up here in the first place, and visiting these places again gave me such a nostalgic feeling. This visit was long overdue!
On Saturday, we took a drive up to the top of Bugembe Hill, which has a beautiful view of Lake Victoria and the city. While we were at the top of the hill, I began to recognize the places I had been before. My roommate and I then drove around and saw the school where I worked for two weeks, the church we were connected with, and the streets around the area where we stayed.
The view from the top of Bugembe Hill. The school is the long building towards the right of the screen.
It was so interesting to see these places but from a very different viewpoint–I remember being afraid to ride on a boda or walk around the streets, thinking that a certain strip of shops was the middle of Jinja (it definitely is not), and feeling like it was a completely different world from what I knew (which it was at that point). But now, these places are home! They are familiar and I am comfortable in them…and love them. I love the freeing feeling of riding a boda, the store fronts and potholed roads, and the contrast of red dirt and growing green. I also more deeply feel the frustrations of boda drivers who try to charge me extra, constantly driving on potholed roads, and red dirt that tracks in our house and gets my clothes dirty. But in the end I think understanding the frustrations just makes me love it more. After a year of living here, this place is feeling like home.
The gate of the place we stayed.
The church that is connected with the ministry we worked with.
The school we taught at.
Today the kids at Amazima put together a cultural fair. Different teams shared about different tribes that are represented at our school–mostly from Uganda but also from Rwanda…and America! The group that shared about America asked us to come up and do a traditional American dance with them…the Electric Slide!
Each group shared their greetings and their traditional dress, food, marriage traditions, and dance. It was interesting to hear about the diversity of tribes around Uganda.
Here are some clips of the dances! The first is from the Baganda tribe, which is from where our school is located. The second is actually the traditional circumcision dance from the Bagisu tribe which is located in eastern Uganda.
I’m sitting here with the Red class, 24 of our Senior 1 students here at The Amazima School. I’m supervising preps, which is like study hall. This is great because I can actually accomplish some of the things that I need to get done while they are working, and I have internet that actually works since I’m at school. Wow! It seems like every night has been busy, and we haven’t even fully gotten back into the routine of things.
I have been thinking lately about how in a way we shape our own memories. I’ve been reading a book by Madeleine L’Engle called Two Part Invention, and she talks about how when we write things, we remember them better. After reading that I thought about how much I want to remember certain small things from my time here in Uganda, and I decided I would try to get in the habit of journaling a few minutes each night so that I can remember those small things.
Then I thought—why not share some of these on the blog? So here you go.
The other day my roommates and I were driving into town to meet a friend and do some shopping. We were driving down a generally quiet road when we began to notice a few cars zooming past us now and then. As we kept going we began to wonder if we were in the middle of a car race. Then we turned a corner and found ourselves in the middle of a crowd, and a race car (ish) came whipping around the corner and almost ran into us! We drove through one more street full of spectators, laughing about how no one had blocked off the road that would be part of the race—only here would that ever happen to me. I can now proudly say that I have driven in a car race (although that may be stretching the truth a little bit).
January and February were extremely hot and dry months. One day I said, “I just hope the rain will come back soon!” and the next day it began to POUR during the last 30 minutes of our school day. It continued to pour for the next hour after that. My kids were in awe of all the erosion (which we’d just been talking about in class), we found a giant frog watching the rain with us from our shelter, and we ended up taking off our shoes and running through the rain to get to our car. They say these crazy torrential rains are the “mango rains” because this is when mangoes become ripe and when rainy season starts.
The other day one of the parents of my kids stopped me and told me that the other night they had a bunch of white ants fly into their house. White ants are big, flying things with huge white wings—eventually they drop those wings when they die, and the students will pick up the ant bodies and fry them and eat them (what a treat)! She told me that when the ants flew in they panicked and were running around trying to find a way to get them all out. Adam (my student) told his parents, “Don’t worry! Miss Kirstin said that God is always with us!” If nothing else, I’m glad my students are learning that!
Someday I hope that I’ll remember all the little things along with the big things…it is such a blessing to be able to experience daily life here.
Today I replaced 4 lightbulbs in my house!!! (Insert dancing and excitement). I’m very proud of myself! I can actually see while I’m sitting in my living room! I know, I know, replacing a lightbulb doesn’t seem that exciting. But to me, this is a BIG DEAL.
Some of you already know about my lightbulb dilemma. I’ve shared it as a way of explaining why life is just a bit harder here. Let me explain.
If my lightbulb burned out when I was living in Northwest Arkansas, I would:
- Take out the old lightbulb and drive 5 minutes down the street.
- Walk into Walmart, pick up a lightbulb (see below), and go through self-checkout.
- Drive home and put it in.
But here, the process went something like this:
- Put off buying the lightbulb for two months.
- Finally ask my neighbor where to find lightbulbs, how to get there, what kind to buy, and how much to pay.
- Stack a chair on a table and climb up to take down the old lightbulb and find out what kind to get (pin or screw?).
- Drive to town and make a few laps around the area that my neighbor described trying to find the stall where I can buy lightbulbs. Finally get out, ask someone where to get lightbulbs, and follow their directions to the place.
- Stand there for 15 minutes while 3 men search the shelves for the right kind of lightbulb, test the bulbs to see whether they are warm or cool light, and convince me to buy a different kind than planned.
- Ask the men to give me a fair price and hope that they did.
- Drive home and put the lightbulb in (and clean some spider webs and dirt off the ceiling while I’m at it).
So needless to say, I’m pretty proud of myself for replacing our lightbulbs. Things take a few more steps here, and it seems like everyday there is something new to figure out. But the good news is that the next time one of our lightbulbs burns out, I’ll know just what to do!
Saturday was one of my favorite days here yet. I got to take a bus full of 26 Amazima students to Ekisa, a ministry here that works with kids with special needs. Each of our students had a buddy who they spent the morning playing with. Since I know several of the Ekisa kiddos, I was so excited to have the worlds of Amazima and Ekisa blending.
As I walked around checking on the students and joining in the play, I was filled with so much joy. It was beautiful to see the way our Amazima students jumped in and found ways to connect with their buddies. I was so proud of them for the way they loved on kids that are often overlooked here in Uganda. Both Ekisa and Amazima did such a great job of preparing our kids and discussing how all people are made in God’s image and have worth. I was pretty close to tears the whole time.
A few moments that especially stuck out:
- Victo (Amazima student) singing worship songs with Misach, with Misach taking the lead…he was in his element! His favorite goes, “Yesu mulungi–ye mulungi” or “Jesus is good, yes He is good.” When we left Misach was in tears and Victo was shouting his name out the window of the bus. Oh, my heart.
- One of the girls in my small group who recently lost her mom and is usually sort of morose being so animated with her buddy. She did such a great job of connecting with her. (Side note–this student and I have really bonded recently. She jokes with me and hugs me and even came to sit next to me during church today. Thankful to the Lord for this relationship!).
- Brian leading all the Amazima students and Ekisa kids in a time of worship at the end of our visit, singing “This is the day that the Lord has made, these are the bodies that the Lord has made, this is the place that the Lord has made.” The kids were dancing and jumping and there was just so much joy. Then Henry prayed, “Thank you for the chance to make new friends. We know that these children are important members of society and that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in Your image.”
I was just filled with so much joy and pride, and still am! I can’t stop looking at the pictures from the day. So that you can join in the joy:
Wow, time moves quickly! I can hardly believe it, but I’m almost 4 months in to my time here, and only a month away from heading home for Christmas! Life here has been busy and tiring and fun and rewarding all at the same time.
Here are some recent highlights:
- Getting to know my small group, including playing “pterodactyl” together (insert laughing so hard I’m crying emoji here):
- Playing soccer and getting to know the neighbor kids better.
- Watching/helping my kids lead “Wednesday Worship” for our school by acting out David and Goliath and reciting Psalm 23.
- Listening to my kiddo who came in knowing 2 letters identify 24 LETTERS AND READ A BOOK (banange, mamanze, WOW).
- Ancient Egypt day at school!
- Dancing with the girls leading worship at chapel tonight, and just worshipping with the students in general. (Imagine me up there at the front! Ha!)
Also, BONUS! Here’s a few examples of how people try to say name here (also, I’ve taken to going by Kiira since that it’s the closest thing to Kirstin that most Ugandans can say!).
Here’s some beautiful things I saw this week:
- Both this lovely white flower and this moth blew me away. God is so creative!
- Wednesday afternoons I will be spending time at Ekisa ministries, an organization which works with kids with special needs. They love, value, and educate those who are often overlooked. This was my first week, and I sat with the kids while they read a book and then said a prayer. Like normal, one sweet little one led the prayer by asking God to bless several things, and everyone repeated him each time. He prayed, “Bless our our 10 fat sausages [which comes from a counting song that they sing.] Bless our letter e. Bless our letter J for Jackson” and so on. Maybe you had to be there, but seeing that little one ask God into the daily things, the unextraordinary, the things we don’t even recognize as blessings was so beautiful. I couldn’t help but think about how much joy that must bring our Father’s heart, and how much I need to learn about humbly and simply thanking God for the unextraordinary.
- #3 is related to #2…Ekisa sent some of their social workers to share at Amazima’s Thursday night student chapel. They shared with our students about the value and worth of people with special needs, and had our students come up with some reasons why this was true. Our students spoke of how we are all equally valued in the eyes of God, how we are all one body of Christ despite our differences, and how God calls us to love everyone. This might not seem that exciting, but this mindset isn’t one which is very common here. How beautiful for our students to be learning this now.
- When an important official came to visit our school recently, he said to our students, “We are Ugandan, and our loyalty is to…” and then waited for them to finish the sentence. Our students replied, “CHRIST!” Of course, our students also feel very proud of being Ugandan, but how beautiful that they recognize that we first and foremost belong to Christ!
Slowly slowly (mpola mpola) I’m learning a little Luganda, the language of the Buganda tribe (the tribal region where our school is located). Uganda has many tribes that all speak their own tribal language. Since the Buganda tribe is the largest, it is the most commonly spoken. It’s a challenging language, especially since it doesn’t sound at all like English and there are about 3 ways to say each phrase you might want to use!
Here’s some phrases you might use to greet someone (spelling is definitely just a guess):
- Oli otya?: How are you? (the answer to this is “Bulungi”, or “good”)
- Abeka?: How is home?
- Webale mirimo: Thank you for your work (the answer to this is “Kale, nawe”, or “Yes, same to you”)
- Gyebale ko: Well done
- Ogamba chi?: What’s up (the answer to this one is “Tewali”, or “nothing”)
Some of my favorite phrases are:
- Bonga!: Fist bump!
- Baambi!: Oops or uh-oh
- Banaange!: Wow
So there you go. Hopefully by the end of 2 years I’ll have a lot more Luganda to share with you!
We are in the middle of a three week break. It has been so wonderful to have a little time to slow down, because it feels like I haven’t had a chance to stop since I decided to come to Africa! The 3 months before coming were a whirlwind of packing and preparing (and a trip to Europe), and then when I got on the plane I felt like I was at the finish line…and then realized it was just the start! The first month of being here was a whirlwind of learning a new town and culture and jumping right into teaching. So this break has been much needed! We have spent some days volunteering with other ministries and some days settling into our home. Then last week we had the chance to get away for a few days with some of the Amazima staff to visit one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been: Sipi Falls, on the slopes of Mount Elgon here in Uganda.
We went on several hikes, watched the sunset from a beautiful vantage point, and went on a coffee tour (we made our own coffee–from start to finish!). There are three amazing waterfalls, and we got to walk behind two of them and stand at the base of the other. I kept thinking of Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Our God is so creative and powerful! The pictures below don’t even get close to doing it justice. Thanks to my friends Sarah, Claire, and Mackenzie for the photos (since my phone/camera is broken)!
Yesterday we went with an organization called Sole Hope to help with a jigger removal clinic. Some of you might be wondering what a jigger is, so here’s what Merriam Webster says:
- a measure used in mixing drinks
- one that jigs or operates a jig
- any of several sails
- a mechanical device
- gadget, doodad
But everyone here knows what a jigger is, and to Ugandans it is none of those things. Here, a jigger is a tiny parasitic insect that burrows its way under the skin, attaches to a blood vessel to consume blood, and swells until it is the size of a small pea. Jiggers have to be removed by shaving off some of the skin and digging out the jigger with a pin. Let me warn you, DON’T go search for images on Google. Jiggers cause pain, can lead to infection and other issues, and are a stigmatized condition here.
So now you know what a jigger is.
Yesterday, after bumping around in a van for an hour to get to the village (and honestly, those were some of the better roads I’ve seen), we played games with the kids and then started the clinic. There were three stations: foot washing, jigger removal, and education on how to prevent jiggers. I helped with the jigger removal station by taking notes on where the jiggers where found.
As I looked at the people around me washing and taking care of people’s feet, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in John 13. Washing feet can be a pretty difficult and unappealing job, as we experienced yesterday–and yet the God of the Universe did it for his people. He humbled himself to come and make us clean, and now continues to refine us and purify us. Just like we removed jiggers, he removes our sins…except we have a lot more of them and they are a lot uglier and harder to remove. And while we weren’t even able to get through all the people waiting in line for jigger removal yesterday, he is sanctifying his people all over the world, not just the little corner you and I see. Praise be to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!
Thanks for helping me think some deep thoughts, you nasty little jiggers.