Africa destroyed me, and for that I am thankful.

IMG_4864It’s been nine months, and I am just now figuring out what to say to people about my time in Uganda. What’s ironic about that is that no one is asking anymore. In a few months I’ll have been home longer than I was there.

But just because no one is asking doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking about it. To be honest, I think about Uganda every single day. I often have dreams about Uganda, whether it’s that I’m riding a boda through downtown Kampala or teaching my students back at Heritage. It’s true what they say: once you experience Africa, it will always be a part of you.

But aside from all the good times and unforgettable experiences… Africa destroyed me. Not only because of the poverty and suffering I saw- I’d already seen that in Niger, Zambia and Nicaragua. God sent me to Uganda to be personally and spiritually destroyed, torn to pieces, ripped to shreds. And He did it because He loves me.

IMG_0318I needed to be destroyed. There was no true way to piece me back together, into what God wanted me to be, without destroying me first. So He did what He had to do. He allowed Africa to destroy me.

Somehow God used me in other ways while I was there. He used me to be a friend to people, a mentor to students, a feet washer at the jigger clinic, a tub scrubber and a window washer at the baby home. I actually find it quite amazing that He had the ability to allow Africa to destroy me, continue to use me for His glory, and put me back together as a new person, all at the same time

If your life seems a mess, if you’re feeling defeated, remember that God is still at work. He will do whatever it takes to make you the person He wants you to be. I know I still have growing to do, as we all do, but looking back on my year in Africa, and looking at who I am today, I am eternally grateful that I was destroyed in Uganda.

Thank you, God, for loving me enough to destroy me and then put me back together.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:5

Spitting blood and feeling fine…

Yup. That's a hospital gown selfie, moments before my endoscopy.
Yup. That’s a hospital gown selfie, moments before my endoscopy.

My mother thinks I’m crazy. She finds it absurd that I talk about my health problems on social media. Some of her friends find it odd. I think most people in my life from my generation and younger don’t think a thing about it.

I’m a writer. I write about my life. I’ve been spitting up blood for more than a year now, starting when I moved to Uganda. That’s a big part of my life, and I’m naturally going to write about it.

I write about it because I want prayer. I write about it as a witness tool- to show that although I’m spitting up blood, although we don’t have answers, I still have faith that God is in control. I also write about it because I hope that maybe someone somewhere will stumble across this post and have an answer. There are many reasons I write about it.

I love all the prayers and love people are sending me from around the globe, and I think it’s so sweet when people tell me they hope I feel better. But that’s the weird thing. Overall, I FEEL fine. There hasn’t been pain associated with the blood. That’s certainly been a blessing through all of this. While it made sense that the bleeding was associated with the half a dozen sinus infections I had during my time in Uganda, apparently they were unrelated.

But for whatever reason, I have been spitting up blood for around three to five days every month since September 2013. (With the exception of August and September 2014.)

One source of frustration throughout this whole ordeal is people who think they are smarter than doctors and tell me, “It’s probably just (insert random idea here).” I’m sorry, but if I’ve seen almost a dozen doctors over the past year and not one of them has had an answer, what makes you think you’ve got a medical degree, can diagnose me, and tell me I’m fine? And there’s a difference between telling me everything will be OK (I believe it will), and telling me that I’m worried for nothing. Not one doctor has said, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” They have each been concerned.

It’s been especially tough to return to the US and not get answers. I expected to see a doctor, for the doctor to hear my story, and then say, “Oh, well that sounds like (insert health ailment here).” But not one single doctor has said that. Each doctor and specialist has heard I’ve been spitting up blood for more than a year and have no other symptoms, and each doctor and specialist has given me a blank look. They have no clue.

Really tired of having blood drawn!
Really tired of having blood drawn!

So basically, I’ve been a lab rat. They keep taking blood (what else could possibly be left to test in my blood at this point?!), I’ve had a nasal endoscopy, an upper and lower GI endoscopy, two CT scans, two chest x-rays, an esophagram barium swallow, and allergy testing, and apparently… I’m fine. At my endoscopy on Monday they removed a gastric polyp, but they don’t believe that’s the source of bleeding. I’ve been referred to a pulmonologist, who I will meet with tomorrow to schedule a bronchoscopy and possible chest MRI.

It never ends.

Or at least that’s how it feels. I know it will end eventually. I know that either we’ll reach a conclusion, or I’ll someday stop spitting up blood every month.

The bright spot to all of this is that I haven’t “felt” sick. Besides the sick feeling I get in my stomach after each procedure when they say, “We found nothing,” I feel fine. If I wake up and spit up blood, I do so, and then I get ready for work and go about my day. Even on days I spit up blood in the middle of the day, it doesn’t impact that day’s activities.

I am grateful for the loving support of family and friends as I work with doctors to find the cause and source of bleeding. I’ve never been a smoker, so to think this is in my lungs is really discerning. But, through it all, I still believe God is good. Whether it’s a parasite, some sort of disease, or simply a burst blood vessel, it does not change my faith. If anything, it makes it stronger.

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

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

The missing person I hope is gone for good

It might be time to put out a missing person’s report… for myself. The girl who got on a plane a little more than a year ago and moved to Uganda is no longer the same. I’m not sure where she went, nor was there anything wrong with her, but I’m glad she’s gone.10427690_10152090158296573_1541129307916478648_n

At first I wasn’t sure how I had changed. But as I was home back in America longer, it was pretty obvious. Finances changed,  friendships changed, priorities changed, and my overall sense of peace and contentment with life changed.

Financially

The great thing about living in a third-world country for a year was that I returned to America and decided there were a lot of luxuries I could do without. Starbucks, the mall, pedicures, makeup, television and even flat-ironing my hair were a part of my past.

If you know me, you know this isn’t even remotely true. I’m still the first to jump at a trip to Starbucks, and I do my hair and makeup pretty much every day. I love shopping, Target, Macy’s, and fancy perfumes. The difference is, now I appreciate them so much more. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t look around me and think, “Thank you God! I have so much!”

Sure, I have changed my spending habits. I no longer have to have a Coach purse (I sold them ALL before moving to Uganda- there were lots), and I’m satisfied buying my jewelry at places like Target instead of from Premier Designs. But I’m not going to start doing all my shopping at Goodwill and going Starbucks-free because of my experience in Africa. That’s just not the type of impact it had on me.

Friendships

There were a few friendships I was really excited to come home to. I had warned some of my friends that I had changed, but apparently some of them weren’t ready for those changes. While it breaks my heart to see some of my friends make poor choices, like cut out someone like me who is a positive person to have around, it’s not my job to try and “save” anyone from making mistakes.

I’ve returned from Africa realizing I’m worth more than being anyone’s doormat. I’m not the girl who sits back and lets people walk all over her. Loyalty always has been and still is one of the very top things I value in friendship. When that loyalty was broken in the past, I would feel very hurt but probably let it slide. Not anymore. Life is too short to let some things “slide.” If that changes the degree of some of my friendships, so be it. I’ll never stop loving certain friends, I’ll never stop calling them “friend.” We simply have less in common now and aren’t as close. I’m pretty sure that’s just a part of life.

fortwaynerescuemissionPriorities

Volunteering was something I did on occasion before I moved to Uganda. I always wanted to make it a priority, but for some reason I never went through with it. Since coming home, I have felt an incredible tug at my heart to volunteer on a regular basis. I feel like I’m just not me if I’m not doing something to help those who need it. So, on Wednesday and Friday mornings I head to the Rescue Mission at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast to the homeless. Yes, it’s early. It’s hot and stuffy in there, and I leave smelling like sausage, but the smiling faces of the homeless keep me going back.

I’ve also added working out and reading/learning to my priority list. There’s so much to learn about the world and God, and I believe we should take the time to do so.

My Disposition

I’m different. Maybe it isn’t noticed right away, but I’m different. Things don’t bother me like they once did. I’m not chasing after things or people I know God doesn’t want me pursuing. I am… content. With what I have.

This changes everything.

It changes the way I treat people. It changes the way I see myself. It changes the way I see my future. It changes the way I handle hurt. It changes the way I generally feel on a daily basis. I am content. There is nothing else I “need” to be happy.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. I was nothing like this while I was in Uganda. Uganda was almost like a detox for my soul, and I didn’t reap the benefits of it until I came back to the United States. It reminds me of this verse from Galations:

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Galations 6:9

I might seem like the same Natalie I was before I lived in a third-world country. The outside of me hasn’t changed. But know that on the inside, I’m completely brand new. God used Uganda to do so many crazy and unexpected things in my life and in my heart. I will thank Him every single day for the hurt, fear, struggle and heartache, knowing that it’s what got me to where I am today.

Five things I’ve learned about missionaries…

All Christians are missionaries. Let’s first get that out of the way. If you’re a Christian, you’re called to spread the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you have to move to another country, continent, or planet to do so. We are ALL called to be missionaries.

But for this post, when I refer to a missionary, I’m talking about the ones who have moved their families to different countries and cultures completely different from the ones they were born in. I’ve spent time with missionaries in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, and I’ve learned a lot about their way of life. I’ve learned a lot about missionaries that I never imagined I would learn.

Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn't compare to being with family.
Turkey in a box. Christmas in Uganda was interesting, but doesn’t compare to being with family.

1. Being a missionary sucks. I lived in Uganda for a year. For one year, I gave up American friends, family, food and holidays to live in a third-world country and serve God. But the people who do it full time? They give all that up… every… single… year. No Starbucks, no Target, no Macy’s at Christmas time, no nieces and nephews in school plays, no grandma’s 90th birthday party, no fun of the “normal” kind. Missionaries are literally a world away from their family and friends for a majority, if not all, of each and every year of their lives. It’s a part of the “job” that really sucks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being a missionary, especially in a place like Uganda, means spiritual warfare is a very strong and very real thing. Missionaries experience it like you can’t even imagine. It’s treacherous on the heart and soul, and it’s easy to lose faith. Your soul is constantly under attack in ways that can’t be explained. And don’t get me started on the physical threats missionaries face.  Most probably won’t admit it, but being a missionary sometimes sucks.

2. Being a missionary is awesome. The benefits far outweigh the bad. There was a time where I began  to wonder why anyone would do such a thing to their kids- move them to a foreign country where life would be so drastically different from the rest of their peers back in America. Then I got to know and teach MKs (missionary kids) for a year in Uganda, and I saw that they are simply spectacular children who have experienced life to a degree their friends in America will never understand. They are smarter for it, better for it, and more cultured because of it. Not saying it makes these kids better than those who aren’t MKs, but being an MK certainly doesn’t make their lives any less awesome. Being a missionary, or an MK, is incredible. The experiences both culturally and spiritually are matchless.

3. Not all missionaries are “nice.” Missionaries do great things. That’s obvious. They have hearts of gold for people who have less and need assistance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean missionaries have good people skills with people of their own kind. Some missionaries appear to be very bitter, or they seem to not care about any mission other than their own. Missionaries gossip, missionaries sin, missionaries say hurtful things, missionaries…. are human. And we can’t forget that. They do a tough job, and maybe on some days it’s difficult to put on a smile. While the downright “coldness” I sometimes have felt from missionaries still shocks me, it’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. Being a missionary doesn’t mean being Miss Congeniality.

4. Missionaries don’t care about your mission trip. They won’t admit it, and maybe the wording is harsh, but full-time missionaries in the field often feel like they are being stabbed in the gut when you say, “Oh I know what it’s like in Uganda! I went there on a mission trip last summer!”  No. You don’t know what it’s like. Not at all. I went with some friends in Uganda to pick up someone at the airport after we’d lived there for about six months. While waiting, we saw wide-eyed mission teams ready to take on life in Uganda for a week or two. We kind of laughed at them and the idea that they thought they would truly experience Uganda. It was the first time I really realized why missionaries were never impressed when I told them I was going to spend two weeks in Niger, Nicaragua, or Zambia. A few weeks doesn’t even begin to compare to a lifetime. And the same goes for my situation. I was in Uganda for just short of a year. I still don’t know what it’s like to truly be a missionary in a third-world country. My year in Uganda is but a spec of time compared to those who serve their entire adult lives. I can’t blame them for not being impressed that I lived there for just a year.

Can't imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.
Can’t imagine surviving my year in Uganda without the opportunity to go somewhere nice and relax.

5. Missionaries deserve treats, just like the rest of us. Probably more than the rest of us. Oh the things people say. A few of my missionary friends in Uganda have even stopped posting pictures on Facebook of times they go out to eat because one of their supporters will say something about it. “Wow. Looks like a nice place you’re eating at there. Guess you aren’t “roughing it” after all.” Or, “I see where my support money is going now.” Yes. People say things like that. People are ignorant. If you support a missionary, you support their well-being. Part of surviving, and part of staying healthy, means having some time off. It means enjoying a special treat or vacation. Yes, even with your support money. A missionary will never succeed if he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to get away and unwind a bit. In my opinion, they need it and deserve it more than the rest of us, who are technically living in luxury each and every day of our lives. Do you have a car? Air conditioning in your home? A television? You are living in luxury compared to the rest of the world.

As Christians, we have to support missionaries. Some might not all be super friendly. They might not be impressed with your mission trip. They might not even love what they do every day. But the bottom line is, they are doing God’s work, they do it for a living, and they don’t get paid. The best way to support missionaries is financially and through prayer. Trust me, every little bit helps.

Unless you’ve done it, you don’t get. And I mean really, truly done it. Not even serving for a year in Uganda makes me qualified to say I know what it’s like to be a missionary in place like Uganda. These people go through things we can’t even imagine, both heartbreaking and fantastic things. They need, and deserve, our support. If we’re really Christians, we will support them, as we continue to be missionaries to the people around us, no matter where we’re located.

“How was Uganda?” I’m running out of adjectives…

Almost three weeks ago I stepped foot on American soil for the first time in nearly a year. My mom and dad were waiting for me in true American style with red, white, and blue flowers, and they were wearing “USA” T-shirts. My experience in Uganda was over, and I was home.10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_n

I remember coming back from my first big mission trip to Africa. I spent two weeks in Niger. It was difficult, when I returned, finding the words to describe what that trip was like. Being in a radical Muslim country and sharing the Gospel was something I’ll never forget, but explaining that, explaining what it was like… it was difficult.

A few years later I went on a week-long trip to Nicaragua where we built latrines and did Bible school with children in the village. I also got to meet my sponsor child. I came home from that trip with even fewer words to describe what I had experienced.

In 2013 I made my way back to Africa for almost two weeks. We spent the majority of our time at Lifesong for Orphans Zambia. Those children, those faces, and their voices will forever be engraved on my heart. Still, when I came back to the US, I wasn’t sure how to put those experiences into words. I even wrote a blog post about it then.

Now, after living in Uganda for almost a year, I’m asked the same basic question, but with a different location.

“How was Uganda?”

Amazing. Intense. Outstanding. Life-changing. Difficult. Spiritual. Aggravating. Incredible. Terrifying. Awesome. Fabulous. Insane. Wonderful.

I’m running out of adjectives.

Before I came home I had this fear that no one would want to know details about my time in Uganda, and there are still plenty of people who don’t care, but it’s kind of ironic that so many people have asked about it, and I have literally nothing to say but a few flowery adjectives.

I had difficulties summarizing a week or two across the globe, how in the world do I summarize an entire year?

My dad asked me the other day why I hadn’t blogged since I’ve been home. My honest answer was, “Because I don’t know what to say.”

And I still don’t know.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

IMG_0137Maybe it’s because I know most people will never understand. Maybe it’s because there’s just too much to tell. Maybe it’s because I can’t think about saying goodbye to Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, without bursting into tears. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting if I say, “God sent me there for my students, and a few of them even flat out told me that God sent me there to help them.”

My emotions are so mixed right now. I was told to take plenty of time to reflect on my time in Uganda, take time to rest and recuperate. I was told to take at least a month to really let things sink in and to process all I had experienced. However, since I’m unemployed, I couldn’t turn down a summer job at my old place of employment. I started a week after I got back. So much for relaxing and reflecting. So much for processing. A part of me feels like I’ve been forced to put processing my entire experience on the back burner, kind of like, “I’ll get to it later.”

What I do know right now is that I’m running out of adjectives to use to describe my time in Uganda. There’s just so much to say that I really don’t know where to start. So forgive me if you run into me and ask, “How was Uganda?” and my response is just a few descriptive words and I leave it at that.

I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends, whether it was financially, prayerfully or both. I am beyond blessed to know so many people who have taken an interest in what God is doing in Uganda. I pray that if you have any specific questions, even if they sound silly, that you will ask me! I am more than happy to share about any and every experience I had in Uganda. It’s just a little difficult to wrap it all up in one response to the question, “How was Uganda?”

Just call me Howard Wolowitz

Photo Credit: ScreenCrush.com
Photo Credit: ScreenCrush.com

Anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory and also knows me would probably say I’m most like the character Penny. I love shoes and shopping, and I hate science. But unfortunately, I feel there’s a bigger connection between me and Howard Wolowitz, the nerdy, Jewish engineer.

Although I’m not Jewish, or an engineer, or nerdy (well maybe a little), Howard Wolowitz and I have something in common: we have experienced something our friends and family have never, and probably will never, experience.

You see, Howard Wolowitz went to space. When he returned, all he could talk about were his experiences in space. Every conversation he had led back to a story about being in space. His friends quickly became tired of him always talking about space, and they eventually called him out on it. No more space stories, they told him.

In less than a week, I’ll be Howard Wolowitz. I’ll return to my friends and family with stories of my life from the past year, and all of those stories took place in Africa. Everyone I’ve talked to who has spent time overseas and then returns to the US says the same thing: “Many people won’t really care. They’ll want a sentence or two about your time overseas, and then they’ll be over it.”

Ouch. I guess it’s good to be prepared, but… ouch.

IMG_20140524_175951My heart tells me that my very best friends will care. It tells me that they won’t mind that all I know for the past year is Africa, therefore, that might be all I have to talk about for a while. But what if that’s not the case? What if they get tired of hearing about Africa?

This is my plea to friends and family: be patient with me.

If every conversation we have leads to a story about Africa, I apologize, but that’s all I’ve known since the end of July 2013. It’s not that I’m trying to show off or brag about my time here, it’s that I don’t know any differently. My stories, my life, my heart, have all been Uganda for nearly a year.

Howard Wolowitz eventually realized that maybe he was talking about space too much, and maybe I’ll reach that point as well. But until I readjust to life in a first-world country, I am asking for patience and grace.

10 days left, 10 memorable moments…

Left in July, returning in June. For nearly a year I’ll have lived in a third-world country. Uganda has been everything I hoped it would be, and yet it’s been nothing like I imagined. I am forever changed, and I am returning to the United States a totally different person.

I have ten days until I return to the United States. I’m sure there will be plenty of memorable moments in the coming days, including a safari with the 12th graders, and I had some amazing moments in my two trips to Kenya, but right now I want to reflect on 10 of the most memorable moments from the past year in the Pearl of Africa. These are the silly moments, the moments that are behind the scenes in the lives of expats living in Uganda.

Going Raw1546282_10151849897326573_2063871615_n

My roommate Ashlie and I were psyched. We are going to eat raw for one week. We would lose a good amount of weight and use it as a jumping off point for eating healthier overall.  Our great adventure was kicked off with a trip to Ggaba Market. Our arms literally ached from the many bags of fruits and vegetables we collected and carried back to our apartment.

The night before the big day (our first day eating raw), we chopped and sliced like crazy. We even found lots of great raw recipes online. Eating raw was going to be amazing!

Monday came. I had a delicious smoothie for breakfast. For lunch I munched on carrots. Come 3 p.m., I was starving. I remember walking into our apartment. Ashlie sat on the couch with Analeigh and said, “Do you want to eat at Little Donkey tonight?” My stomach rumbled as I thought of my favorite shredded beef burrito and guacamole. “Yes!” I replied with enthusiasm.

We were officially failures. Eating raw lasted approximately 12 hours, and many of our co-workers loved making fun of us when we failed. But Ashlie and I will never forget the 12 hours we went raw!

IMG_20140518_113900Stoney. Period.

Every Stoney I’ve had is memorable. Stoney is a heavenly drink that Coca-Cola has for some reason decided should not be available in the United States. It’s a refreshing blend of ginger and soda, so strong that sometimes one sip will make you cough.

I have had Stoney’s at dinner, at school, at the beach, by the pool, and just lounging on the front porch. Every moment with a Stoney is memorable.

The Detour

It was December, and a group of ladies had gone Christmas shopping downtown. My car was loaded with me, Ashlie, Abbey, and Tiffany. About halfway home, the road we typically take was closed. This forced us to take a detour.

This wasn’t just any detour. This was a detour that movies are made of, like when the Americans get lost in a third-world country and never again see the light of day. The detour through a super sketchy neighborhood gave us all sorts of interesting sights: cats who looked like they were on meth, boda drivers who smelled like meat and cheese, nuns, and beggars who didn’t even want our G-nuts for a snack.

It had been a long day, and we were downright delirious. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed and cried as much as we did on our detour. You definitely had to be there, but it was a moment I will never, ever forget from my time in Kampala.

The Acrobatic Cockroach

I screamed my head off. A giant African cockroach was crawling around our kitchen counter.

“Ashlie! Bring the Doom!” I yelled.

She knew what that meant. She grabbed the can of Doom, Uganda’s version of Raid, and ran in the kitchen. Ashlie chased the giant bug as it crawled around the counter. She doused it in Doom, but it was resilient. It wasn’t going to die.

Somehow, the roach made its way into a big pot on the counter. We were afraid to look and see if he was alive or not. As we slowly approached the pot to peer inside, the roach catapulted itself out of the pot and back onto the counter. Our screams echoed throughout all of Kampala, but after a few more minutes of spraying, the roach was finally dead.

Morning Surprise

It was Sunday morning, and we were headed to church. As I rounded the corner of our second-story apartment porch, I looked down the stairs and saw a kitten.10155465_603901271423_936196015706335090_n

I started to say, “Awww!” when my eyes were drawn to something further down the stairs.

“O….M…G….” I screamed, loud enough that the neighbors heard.

Ashlie walked around the corner and saw the kitten.

“It’s just a kitten!” she said.

“No! Look!” I pointed.

There on the steps was a dead baby chicken. How a chicken even got on our compound is a mystery, but he clearly didn’t last long!

Crazy Caterpillars

It started off almost as a pimple, but after a few days, it had grown. And it looked nasty.

The disgusting sore on my arm changed shape and size every day, and it was growing new blisters by the minute. Finally, I went to the doctor to have it checked out. As usual, the doctors didn’t have much of an answer, except that it might be a caterpillar burn.

IMG_4723A what? Yup. Many of the caterpillars here in Uganda are poisonous. Just brushing up against the wrong kind of caterpillar can literally burn your skin.

To fix me, they popped all the blisters, drained out some nasty stuff, and then packed it with honey and gauze. Yes, honey, the apparent fix-all for any skin problem in Uganda. Sure enough, after a few days they took off the gauze, cleaned off the honey, and I was good to go!

I do, however, have a scar from my caterpillar burn. I’m quite proud of it. How many people can say they have a scar from an encounter with an evil caterpillar?

Solar Eclipse

Living on the equator means getting burnt after only a few minutes in the sun. It’s a pain, but living on the equator also means experiencing awesome, once-in-a-lifetime things like a solar eclipse.eclipse2

In November we observed a solar eclipse here in Kampala. It happened in the evening, and while it did get darker than usual, it was not a full eclipse that darkened everything. Still, I’ll never forget viewing it through the solar shades the school provided everyone. It was an event I’ll always remember.

IMG_20131217_185925KFC Crazy

I thought there was a McDonald’s in every country. Or maybe even a Taco Bell. There had to be SOME sort of Western fast food restaurant in Uganda that would cure our cravings when we missed home.

There were none.

Until December. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors to the people of Uganda, and we were some of the first in line to experience the awesomeness.

Did I eat a lot of KFC when I lived in America? Not at all. Hardly ever, actually. But just to have a taste of home was something we were dying for by our fifth month here. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Uganda, simply because it was a small reminder of home.

Power Outage Party

It happens here. A lot. The power goes out and you never know if it will come back on within a few minutes or a few days. We quickly learned, however, that you just have to make the best of it.

There was one night we were particularly excited because we had purchased bread, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese at the store. (Cheese can be next-to-impossible to find around here.) We were going to make one of our favorite dinners- pizza bites.IMG_0485

But the power went out.

Being the awesome gals we are, we didn’t let the lack of electricity cramp our style. Me, Ashlie, Stephanie, Elise and Nyenhial and her two boys packed ourselves into the kitchen, made our dinner by candlelight, and sang the hits of the 90’s. It was most definitely one of my favorite Africa memories!

Frozen with Florence

Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, is quite possibly one of the cutest four year olds on the planet. It’s such a blessing to be greeted by her each day, and sometimes we like to hang out. Florence knows very little English, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Sometimes we just play on the porch, sometimes I paint her fingernails and toenails, and the other day we watched Frozen.

IMG_20140517_071757Her reaction to everything was priceless. Throughout most of the movie she just pointed at my laptop screen and smiled. And the icing on the cake was after the movie when she looked at me and began to sing, “Let it Go.” The only words she knew were, “Let it go,” and that was fine. OK, it was amazing.

Every moment with Florence this year has been special, but one of my favorites was definitely watching Frozen together.

So many memories here in Uganda! I’ll never forget the faces and places from my year in the Pearl of Africa.

 

“Sorry!” and other things we say in Uganda…

I had only been living in Uganda for about a day when the strangest thing happened. I dropped something in the kitchen in front of my Dutch roommates, and they both said, “Sorry!”

Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I've picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!
Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I’ve picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!

It was my fault I dropped it. I was just clumsy. They weren’t in my way. They didn’t cause me to drop it. But still, they said, “Sorry!”

I chalked it up to being a Dutch thing, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that it’s a Uganda thing. And while I found it so strange, so unnecessary, so ridiculous… I find myself saying it all the time now. It’s one of the many words or phrases that we expats have picked up since living in Uganda.

Did you stub your toe? “Sorry!”

Had a bad day? “Sorry!”

Trip and fall? “Sorry! Sorry!” (some situations warrant two)

Here are a few more things you might catch an expat saying when they return to the U.S. after living in Uganda:

“Now now”

Although the very definition of “now” suggests that it means, well… now, here in Uganda there is something you say when you want something even quicker. “Now now.”

The other day I called for a boda. The conversation went like this:

“Hello Frank! I need picked up and taken to Italian Supermarket. Can you come now?”

Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come "now now!"
Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come “now now!”

“Yes. Now now?”

“Now now.”

“OK I am on my way!”

I guess “now now” has a greater sense of urgency than just “now.” So you must be very clear here about when you want something. Do you want it “now,” or do you want it “now now?”

“You are welcome!”

The first time we went to Friday Market, I approached someone’s shop and said hello. The lady said to me, “You are welcome!” I froze. Was she being smart? Did she say that because I was supposed to say, “Thank you” for something, but I hadn’t?

It took me weeks to realize that when you enter a store or even someone’s home here, they will say, “You are welcome!” It is not a response to “Thank you,” like it is in the U.S., it literally means, “You are welcome here, please come in!”

“It is paining me.”

One day I asked our house help how she was doing. “Terrible,” she said. “My tooth is paining me.” In other words, she had a toothache.

I’ve yet to hear anyone here say that something hurts. It’s always “paining” them.

“I won you!”

My elementary teacher friends hear this all the time on the playground at school. “I beat you!” or even, “I won!” aren’t phrases often muttered from children. Instead, if you win a game or are victorious in a race, children say, “I won you!”

“Just put it in the boot.”

The trunk. The back. I’ve never once heard of the storage portion of the car referred to as “the boot” until I moved to Uganda. I’m not even sure how it makes any sense. It doesn’t look like a boot. I don’t see people carrying boots in the backs of their cars. But nonetheless, here it is called “the boot.”

“Hello! How are you doing today?”

Clearly that’s a phrase we all know in America, but how often do we say it to strangers? In Uganda, it’s pretty much flat out rude not to ask how someone’s day is going. I was taught early on here to always ask how cashiers are doing, shop owners, support staff at school, and others I encounter. 1965021_10203543500770823_1566835692986534743_n

What a friendly concept though! I can only imagine some of the strange looks I might get when I return to the U.S. in June and ask the cashier at Target how her day is going. But honestly, I love it! I think being here has made me an overall friendlier person to strangers.

I might say some strange things when I get back to the US in 25 days, but it’s all part of the experience. I’m glad to know that my experience will continue long after I get back to the states. My friends and family will just have to adjust to my constant replies of “sorry” and wanting something “now now.”

What if I’ve missed something?

I imagine myself getting off the plane in Detroit in June. After a long flight from Uganda to Amsterdam and an even longer flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, I’ll finally arrive in America. While Detroit won’t be my final stop, it will be my first steps on American soil in almost a year.

In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.
In July when I left America for my new life in Uganda.

I imagine myself crying.

I imagine myself falling to the ground and kissing it. Yes, even the dirty floor of the Detroit airport.

I imagine myself running in slow motion with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing in my head, towards the airport Starbucks.

It will be a grand return to my home country, and the thought of it makes my stomach feel like it does when I ride down the huge hill of a rollercoaster at Cedar Point. It’s scary, but it’s also wonderful.

There are 52 days left on my journey in Uganda.

Although I’m as excited as ever about going home, I have to admit: I’m horrified. As my time here comes to a close, the same question keeps popping up in my mind: What if I’ve missed something? It sparks a long list of questions like: If God called me here, what if I haven’t learned everything I was supposed to learn? I’ve grown, but what if I haven’t grown enough? What if I haven’t given enough?

I came to Africa to help. I came here to make a difference, to follow God’s calling, be it for a year or for the rest of my life. But after a few months, I began to think that maybe God brought me here more so for me. He wanted me to grow, wanted me to experience things that would forever change the way I viewed the world.

Now, though, as time dwindles away and my departure date moves closer, I am realizing that’s not entirely the case. I am here for other people as well. They just aren’t the people I imagined they would be.

Maybe I’ve held some babies who were HIV positive. Maybe I cleaned their bathrooms and bedrooms. Maybe I washed the feet of people who had jiggers. But those aren’t the primary people God brought me here for. He brought me here for my students.

And as I worry, “What if I’ve missed something?” I realize that God wouldn’t let that happen.

“For this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” Psalm 48:14

In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.
In October we took the students on a spiritual retreat.

He’s been my guide this entire time. It’s because of Him that I have the desire to hang out in my classroom with teenagers long after the final bell has rung. It’s because of His guidance that I have the right words to say to my struggling students who come to me for someone to listen.

I shouldn’t worry about what I’ve missed. God won’t let my time here be wasted. Even though the bulk of my time here was spent with students from places other than Uganda, that doesn’t mean my time was in vain. Even if I was here to show God’s love to just one student, even that was worth my time here.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

I haven’t missed anything in my time here in Uganda. Because I trust in the Lord and lean on Him and not my own understanding, I can’t go wrong. I’ll continue to live the same for the next 52 days, as well as the rest of my life.