Terror threats: it’s different when you’re there

Screenshot_2014-09-14-07-59-09I’d been in Uganda less than two months when the first email from the U.S. Embassy arrived in my inbox in 2013. The Nairobi terror attacks were ongoing, and we were in the country next door. Our military was serving in Somalia, just as Kenya’s was. And that’s why they were attacked.

It was made pretty obvious that Uganda was next on the list.

It was scary. We have had varying levels of “terror threats” here in the United States, but I’ve never received an email from the government telling me to be careful about where I go.

While my co-workers, who had been in Uganda for more than a year, seemed to not worry too much, those of us who had never experienced anything like a serious terror threat were pretty uneasy. It didn’t help that my two European roommates at the time told me that the U.S. is paranoid and always sending out terror-threat messages. They completely brushed it off.

I might have smiled a little in October of that year when they said the same thing after I got my next email from the US Embassy, and within hours they received one from the Dutch Embassy as well.

Americans know terror. On September 11, 2001, we experienced true terror. We don’t take it lightly. And I thank God for that. I’d rather be “paranoid” and nothing happen than the other way around.

The emails continued throughout the year, but nothing ever came of them. Some were as simple as, “Be vigilant.” Others were more specific, “Don’t go to the mall this weekend.” And security at school was beefed up with armed guards and emergency drills.

Yesterday, from the comfort of my warm, cozy bed, I checked my Facebook and saw that Uganda was under another terror threat- this time a “shelter-in-place” terror threat. I don’t recall ever being on this type of threat when I was there. People were told to stay in their homes. Do not go anywhere. “This is serious” was the basic message the US Embassy and Ugandan police were sending.

It upset me. Uganda is filled with people I love. Some of them I know, others are just the people there in general, but my heart loves them all. I thought of Florence, I thought of Gideon, I thought of my teacher friends and their families. I thought of the guys selling toilet paper at the intersections downtown, I thought of so many wonderful people and how terrible it would be to lose even one.

I prayed, and then I went about my day. I went to my best friend’s house and we packed up her two boys and headed to the University of Saint Francis football game. We tailgated with her family and then headed into the game. It was a gorgeous fall day yesterday, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Then I remembered what was going on in Uganda. I started to feel guilty. There I was- enjoying the many luxuries we have in America, and people I love were stuck in their homes because of a terror threat. It just wasn’t fair!

Then it all came together for me, and I remembered this: It’s different when you’re there, especially compared to how Americans would imagine it’s like.

No matter the threat level, never once did I find myself cowering in a corner or hiding under my bed. If there was a warning to be vigilant in public, we were for about a day… and then we’d forget about it.

There was even that one time we were told to stay away from Acacia Mall because of a planned terror attack. But we really wanted Cafe Javas, which was right across the street. Cravings for Cafe Javas simply must be addressed! So we went. I remember telling my friends, “If we go and I die in a terrorist attack, my mom is going to kill me!”

It’s different when you’re there.

Yesterday I saw a few people post things on Facebook about how they aren’t living in fear because of the terror threats. Initially I thought, “Yeah right. Stop putting on that Christian front that you aren’t scared!” However, then I remembered what it was like to be there. Sure there’s fear to some degree, but you cannot let it consume you, or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Life must go on as normally as it possibly can.

I was pleased to wake up this morning and see in the news that although there really was a planned attack on Kampala, it was stopped. Praise God! But I imagine this is far from over, and my Ugandan family is in my prayers daily.

I now know how my family felt last year when I was there and the terror threats moved in. It’s scary because you automatically picture the worst. But for the people there, it pretty much just becomes another day. I can guarantee that life will continue as usual today in Kampala, as if there was or wasn’t a major terror threat the day before. I’m not, by any means, trying to minimize the severity of the situation, I’m just hoping to shine a light on how brave the people are who dedicate their lives to God in countries who face things like this every day. It’s sad, but terror threats have become so common for so many people in this world.

It’s different when you’re there. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop praying for my loved ones in Uganda, their safety, and their mental well-being as they face a million other obstacles while doing God’s work in Uganda. Compared to some of the other junk they are dealing with, terror threats aren’t all that scary.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

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.