Pumpkin spice lattes and football. Back in the United States, those were my two favorite things about this time of year. My Starbucks intake increased dramatically in September and October, and Saturdays were spent cheering on all my favorite football teams, from my little nephews’ games to the NCAA games on television.

I’m not sure it ever dawned on me that someday everything could change.

Saturdays in the US were spent supporting my nephews' football teams.
Saturdays in the US were spent supporting my nephews’ football teams.

Pumpkin spice lattes have turned into Stoneys and Novidas.

Driving around in my Camry with the windows down has turned into boda rides and boat trips on Lake Victoria.

Instead of cheering on football teams, I’m cheering on groups of Ugandan children just running around an open field being silly.

My Saturdays have changed. And while I miss the old… I love the new.

Since I arrived almost two months ago, I’ve spent a Saturday taking supplies to an orphanage in a village. I spent another Saturday visiting a village on an island. Another Saturday I walked a 10K to help raise awareness about child sacrifice. And today we went back to the island to help run a jigger clinic.

A year ago when I sat in my comfy Colts chair at my nephew’s football game and sipped my latte, I never imagined that a year later God would have me at a jigger clinic in Uganda. To be honest, I wouldn’t even have known what that was. But today, I found out.

We thought "she" was so precious in her little red dress.
We thought “she” was so precious in her little red dress.

While we expected the people to come in masses to the clinic where jiggers would be removed, no one actually showed up. Since the process involves using a safety pin to cut around a jigger buried in the skin, then squeezing it out along with a bunch of disgusting bodily fluids, I can’t say I’m completely devastated that there weren’t a ton of people there.

We thought our mission had changed. Instead, we would play with the kids. But while doing so, Tiffany discovered our first patient, a little girl in a red dress who had jiggers in her toes. Tiffany scooped the little girl up and we followed them to the clinic.

The child was probably three or four years old, and once her filthy red dress was removed so the child could be bathed, we were shocked to discover the “she” was actually a “he.” This precious little boy was wearing a red dress, probably the only thing he had to wear.

Tiffany and Allison were quick to put on gloves and grab washcloths to start cleaning the boy and prepping him for the jigger removal. He didn’t fight it. He didn’t cry. He just kind of sat there in the water, allowing them to clean his soiled body. The love that Tiffany and Allison showed this child reminded me so much of Jesus, who was never too good to do things for those who were dirty.IMG_4094

Finally, the nurse took over and started to work on the removal process, and just as it was time for us to leave, more and more children showed up, their tiny African feet filled with jiggers.

Saturdays are so different now. Today I really stood back and observed what was going on around me. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, wanting to capture everything in photos and now in words, but I did feel a little overwhelmed today and really got to thinking, “Where do I fit in?”

It was wonderful and simple to know my role on a Saturday back in the United States. I was an aunt, a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece, a cousin, a friend. Here I’m just Natalie on any given Saturday, a child of God trying to find her place in Africa.

Bloody mornings and impending terror…

Between spitting up blood each morning and the likely terrorist attack that will occur here in Kampala, it’s been quite a week.

And we’re only halfway through it.

It’s common for me to wake up each morning, go to the sink, and spit up a bunch of phlegm. My sinuses are constantly draining junk. But when I spit on Monday morning, it wasn’t phlegm. It was blood. Not blood in the spit, but straight blood.

My CT scan from today's hospital visit.
My CT scan from today’s hospital visit.

I quickly examined my mouth, thinking maybe my gums were bleeding from something, but they weren’t. I spit again. More blood. This went on five or six times until eventually it wasn’t blood anymore.

If you know me well, you know I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. Needless to say, spitting up blood while living in Uganda wasn’t exactly the best of feelings in the entire world. I have God to thank for keeping me calm through my phone call to our personnel director who said she would escort me to the doctor.

My blood pressure was fine. Temp was fine. Chest sounded clear. They took blood- all of my counts were good. I wasn’t in any pain. It was quite perplexing to both me and the doctor. She determined that maybe I had a cut in my throat that bled, and that would be the end of it.

However, I woke up Tuesday morning and spit up even more blood. Back to the doctor I went. This time they did a chest x-ray to rule out something like pneumonia. Chest x-ray was fine. She referred me to an ENT.

Today I was at the hospital from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., waiting to see the ENT doctor, seeing him, and then waiting even longer to get a CT scan. When I first saw the doctor, I showed him the pictures I’ve taken of the last two mornings and the blood I spit up.

“Whoa. That’s a lot of blood,” he said.

After the scan, the doctor did an initial review of the film. He didn’t see anything wrong, but said that doesn’t mean my sinuses aren’t irritated, possibly from the change in environment. What I find odd is the fact that I haven’t been in any pain, nor do I feel any sinus pressure.

He said the complete report might show something different, but that whatever it is, it isn’t that serious or it would have shown in the scan. Still, I’m a results girl. I don’t like not knowing the exact reason why I’m spitting up blood every morning. He prescribed me some antibiotics and a steroid, as well as nasal spray, and I’ll wait to hear what the full report says.

My mom wants to know why I’m handling this so well. To be honest, I haven’t had much of a choice. What good is freaking out going to do? I did have a few breakdowns today, just simply from feeling like a lab rat with all these tests and not knowing what’s wrong with me. But I definitely have faith that God is with me, and that I will get through this, whatever it is.

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about this week.

It started with a few discerning emails from the American Embassy stating that Americans should avoid shopping malls, festivals, large gatherings, and other places frequented by white people, until further notice because of the attacks in Nairobi (which is around 400 miles away from here).

Sure, we can do that. We don’t go to places like those very often anyway.

The city of Kampala. Please pray for our safety.
The city of Kampala. Please pray for our safety.

However, the American Embassy also has visited our school for the past three days. We’re a clear target for terrorists. While this is true even on a day-to-day basis, it’s never been more imperative that we increase our security at school.

I know, terrorist attacks can happen anywhere. They happen even in the United States, and violence occurs at movie theatres and elementary schools and shopping malls. But when your own government (both U.S. and Ugandan) flat out tell you that you’re a prime target for an inevitable attack in Kampala, it’s kind of scary. It’s more than kind of scary.

Ugandan police have increased our security at school until further notice. Luckily, we’ll be surrounded by armed guards until things settle down.

Today my roommate and I went to the grocery store. As we pulled into the parking lot, soldiers not only took out our backpacks and searched them, but they also went through the backseat as well as the trunk of the car. While it’s reassuring that they are thoroughly searching every vehicle, it’s a little unsettling to know that it’s come to this here in Kampala.

But what breaks my heart more than anything right now, is the fact that one of my Kenyan students lost more than a handful of friends in the Nairobi attack. The attack there not only occurred close to us physically, but it has broken the heart of a student I love dearly. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.

Please keep us all in your prayers. I’m not the only one dealing with confusing health problems, and there’s an entire school and city on edge right now just waiting to see if our home will be the next victim of senseless violence. I’m learning to have faith like I’ve never had to before.

Just a morning trip to Surgery…

It’s quite disturbing that the clinic the school sends us to is called, “The Surgery.” It gave us all quite a scare the first night we were here and were told, “If you start to feel sick, have a fever, chills and body aches, let us know and we’ll take you right to Surgery.” (Imagine hearing that and NOT knowing “Surgery” had a capital “S.”)

With my poor excuse of a digestive system, I figured I might end up there eventually. I just didn’t think it would be only a few weeks into my stay here in Uganda. But sure enough, some nasty things started happening on Friday, and by Monday, they were no better.

And I wasn’t the only one.

Many went to the Surgery over the weekend, and three others were headed there in IMG_20130819_084704the school van on Monday morning. It was suggested that I go, just to make sure I didn’t have a parasite or anything.

Richard, one of the drivers at school, took us downtown to Surgery. Once we registered, they asked if we wanted to go in as pairs to make things go faster. We agreed. ANYTHING that would make the process quicker. Wayne and I were having similar issues, so we went in as a pair.

HIPPA does not exist in Uganda. Patient confidentiality…none. Let’s just say Wayne now knows my entire medical history, including the starting date of my last menstrual cycle.

After talking about my symptoms, I was handed a small Dixie cup for a urine sample, a clear little bottle for a stool sample, and a paper for the lab where they would take blood. I was shown to the restroom where I would uh… you know, and then told where to take everything.

So there I was, walking with my urine-filled Dixie cup and stool sample (in a clear bottle) to the different places they were to be taken. Dropped off my stool sample a few doors down, and then took my urine up a flight of stairs to the lab.

Then came the really tough part. If you know me well, you know I hate having my blood taken. I have horrible veins and am often poked and prodded multiple times until they find a vein, and then it’s a matter of finding a vein that doesn’t collapse or “roll.” Can you imagine my horror hearing they were about to take blood from me… in a clinic… in Africa?!

I was led to a room where I was told to lie down on a padded, wooden exam table. I looked around and saw a few spider webs in the corners, wide open windows with no screens, a couple of giant canisters of helium, and I told myself not to freak out.

Another nurse came in and the two of them searched my arms high and low for a potential vein. Finally, they found one in the back of my hand. They ended up using a butterfly needle that they typically use for infants, and the pain began. They were young, very kind ladies, but it was frustrating to hear them frantically speaking in Luganda and me having no earthly idea what they were saying.

IMG_20130819_095811I felt like the process was taking forever. Naturally my anxiety began to kick in, but then something stopped it. What was there to be afraid of? Of course God had me safe in His arms. Sure it hurt as they moved the needle around to get the vein, but I had faith that the pain would be over soon. And it was.

I returned to the waiting room to wait for my results. It had completely filled up since I left. There were people of all nationalities spread from one side of the room to the other. Once Stephanie came out we decided to get some fresh air. As we did, we saw Richard talking to a young man with both his hands completely bandaged up and some nasty open wounds on his legs.

“Boda accident?” Stephanie asked.

“Yes!” he said, shaking his head sadly.

I asked if he was the driver or the passenger, and he was the passenger. He went on to tell us how he is a musician. He can’t work without the use of this hands, and from the looks of things, he wouldn’t be using them for a while. I told him that I’d pray for him, and I loved the look of joy on his face when I said that. I feel like today God gave me peace in that clinic and also to this young man we met.

Finally, after we had been there for a few hours, I got my diagnosis: food poisoning, bacterial infection, and a yeast infection in my stomach (same as a few other people from school). Apparently my digestive system is depressed. Who knew that your digestive system could be depressed? Poor thing. So it was all kind of a chain reaction- food poisoning, bacterial infection, depressed digestive system, yeast infection in my stomach. I got a whole bag full of pills I’ll be taking for the next week or so.

The doctor and nurses really were wonderful, and the facility was clearly better than any I could have gone to in a village. What I’m really thankful for today is the fact that school administration wanted us to go see a doctor. I’m so blessed to work for people who care about the wellbeing of their teachers. Although I’m still feeling icky, I realize that I’ve still got so much to be thankful for.

Lessons everywhere in 2012…

I’m glad that Tuesday is a new year. Not that 2012 wasn’t good, I’m just positive that 2013 will be better. Once you truly believe that God has an awesome plan for your life, you actually look at the future with hope.

I learned a lot in 2012. Some lessons were new, others I was just reminded of. Here are the top things I learned in 2012:

A liar to others is a liar to you. I should have seen the light earlier. When you have a fairly new friend and you realize she doesn’t keep friends long, that should be a red flag. But you know me, I stayed friends with her, let her manipulate me throughout the entire friendship, and I believed all her lies. It was silly to believe her when I knew she was lying to pretty much everyone else in her life about the most random things. Never have I felt so betrayed by a friend in so many different ways. I don’t know what she’s like now in her friendships, but I know that for me, I’ve become a much better person since I cut off the friendship and her lies last February.

Some of my TRUE friends, who I love with all my heart!
Some of my TRUE friends, who I love with all my heart!

Guys will never ever understand some things. I’ve learned that with a person like I mentioned above, guys will never see it. A girl can sit there and lose a female friend after female friend on a consistent basis, but guys will never see the girl’s true colors. That’s because she won’t reveal her true colors to them. I learned this years ago because I’ve seen it my entire life. Just a lesson from the past that I had to learn again in 2012.

Life is short, don’t save things. I’m not talking money for retirement here. I’m talking about gifts, perfume, vacations, etc. etc. I have gift cards from last Christmas that I still haven’t used. I have a spa gift certificate (that never expires) from COLLEGE. I let my favorite perfume sit on the shelf unless it’s a special occasion. That’s crazy! Life is too short to save so much for a “better time.” No time is better than now. I’ve learned that I need to enjoy life and the gifts I get when I get them. No need to wait.

I’m tired of going “out”. I’ve been tired of this for quite a while actually. I really didn’t go out much in 2012, but it was enough to annoy me. This is a blog post in itself. It’s hard when you’re single and want things to do and want to meet people and there are so few options of ways to do that.  I’m not saying I’ll never go out again. I might step out for a birthday or something, and I’d really like to do some entertainment writing, but for strictly social reasons, I’m done. I don’t need that “escape” or that atmosphere to feel better about myself.

That's me, happy as a clam just out to eat with my parents!
That’s me, happy as a clam just out to eat with my parents!

I can move on from someone I thought I’d always be in love with. This is an amazing lesson to learn, because at the time of the breakup, it seems so impossible. I thought I would never, ever get over my ex from a few years ago, but I did. Not only that, but I’ve realized his purpose in my life, I’ve realized how our failed relationship taught me so much. And he’s become one of my very best friends. I learned that I can move on, because in early 2012, I did move on. So while I’m sitting here now trying to mend my broken heart from someone else, I can confidently say that I’ll be OK. I will move on. It gets easier every day.

You can’t make someone love you. We all know this. So why do we try? Why do we constantly think that there’s something we can do to make someone love us? We can’t. There is nothing you can do. It’s exhausting and pointless to even try. You have to let go. There’s no other choice. Even though it hurts and literally feels like someone is ripping your heart apart, you have to let it go.

Blogging changed my life. I started a blog that no one knew about. I was crazy honest in it, and random people from around the world read about my most personal experiences and commented on them. It was amazing. The support from people who had never even met me was overwhelming. One specific person has turned out to be one of my best friends. How crazy is that?

I don’t need a gimmick to lose weight. I’m not against Body by Vi or any of those weight loss programs, but I’ve learned that you can lose weight without them, simply by changing your diet and exercising. I’ve lost 15 pounds since October by counting calories and exercising. I’ve only been exercising twice a week most weeks, and I’m going to kick that up a notch in 2013. I have another 30 lbs I’d like to lose!

The Jorgensen YMCA where I work out. Zumba twice a week! About to start yoga and belly dancing in January.
The Jorgensen YMCA where I work out. Zumba twice a week! About to start yoga and belly dancing in January.

Peace can only truly be felt when you accept the fact that God’s timing is perfect. To say I’ve grown spiritually in the past four months is an understatement. By accepting the fact that God’s timing is perfect, I’ve got a new peace in my life that I haven’t felt in a long time.

Happy New Year everyone! Have a wonderful and blessed 2013!

Is the new diet a broken heart?

“Wow she’s lost a lot of weight,” I thought. “She must be working out. Must be eating better. Maybe she’s on Body by Vi.”

Not the case at all. Some people’s stomachs are tied directly to their hearts. Their hearts break, and it’s like their stomachs do the same.

There are a few women in my life right now who have recently lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Not because of eating habits, not because of exercising, but from simply not being able to eat because of a broken heart.

Unfortunately, none of my broken hearts have caused me to lose weight. Recently I had my heart broken, but I didn’t think, “Boo. I hate food.” I guess the good thing is, I also didn’t think about buying out the entire section of Ben & Jerry’s at Kroger. Needless to say, I’m clearly not an emotional eater.

These women who have lost weight look phenomenal, but it’s not healthy. It’s really got me thinking that the new diet is a broken heart. And I find it difficult to tell them how great they look when they lost the weight in such an unhealthy way.

My recent experience with a broken heart led me to join the YMCA and start working out. But to me that’s a healthy way to handle heartbreak. I figured out that working out was how I would deal when one day I was upset, went to work out anyway, and afterwards I felt AMAZING. It was like I didn’t even care about what had upset me earlier.

I hope my choices continue to be healthy. Maybe it’s an age thing, a maturity thing. Dealing with heartbreak as a 32-year-old is definitely different from dealing with it when you’re 23 (whoohoo let’s get drunk!). I just hope these ladies know that once they get back to actually eating, they will gain the weight back unless they make some lifestyle changes.

A broken heart is sad enough as it is, ladies. Don’t destroy your bodies by not eating, or by excessive drinking or any type of drug use, just because of a breakup or some other heartbreak. Get through the heartache with prayer, exercise, and surrounding yourself with great people.