Last Installment of Observations in Africa…

When I took on the adventure of following a similar challenge of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7 and drag along several of my friends with me…I was changed in how I viewed the world, our resources, and all things related.  But being here–I realize that Africa has some lessons to teach us on minimalistic living!!
People here live with very little.  And for the most part they seem pretty content.  I saw a woman today with her bra straps tied because unlike myself and all of my friends–when hers wore thin, broke, or she received this hand me down from another–she figured out a way to make it work!  Many Americans like being savvy, frugal, recycling, reusing, even thrifting and being thrifty.  But it is something that is more of an option not a necessity.  Clothes here are worn until they are down to threads.  I saw a man with shoes that only held the sole the rest of the shoe would flop on and off (strings, and the top part) with every step.  (It is doubtful that 7 items of clothing could be plucked from most closets.)  Homes are simple–people live with far less space and far more people.  They have small kitchens and turn off ALL their lights at night…if they have electricity.   Food is simple.  We have lived as a family off the same (or similar) meal for the past month.  Rice, beans, potatoes, and some sort of fruit or vegetable.  The beans are always in a delicious sauce–one that tastes unique or different with different spices–and the vegetables rotate with what comes up from the garden that day…but VERY similar food.  My children do not complain–and it makes me want to rethink the huge rotation I have at home.   Our guest house is powered by electricity and solar power–and sunshine is a resource they have plenty of–and so they use the sunshine and often switch over to solar when we lose power…and this happens quite often.  Speaking of using natural resources–the guest house also collects rain water from the roof and that is the water that is used for our showers each day.  Almost nothing is wasted…they re-use everything.
In our home they have avocados falling from the trees like rain drops.  The owners use those for meals–some are “borrowed” by the neighbors, but also the trees produce so many that they then sell the rest to a company in Kampala that uses it for cosmetics.  

The things you read or see and hear about in Africa are real.  The physical need here really is great. (Not for huge houses, electric stoves, or even cars.)  But for clean water and better medical clinics and stimulus of the economy.  With this lack comes an observable pain and brokenness.  (It is not that people are discontent–because amazingly many many are quite content and full of joy.  Their happiness is not based on material items.)   But there is suffering due to illnesses and lack of resources to care for those who are sick or dying.   There is lack that leads to little or no education, and this perpetuates a cycle of poverty and for some that means no food on the table.  The landscape of our pain in the US looks so very different but our threads weave similar stories.   We are broken in America too, our need is great.  There is still illness, broken relationships, and heartache.  There is a significant spiritual depravity in our country.  But those needs are often masked by prosperity and temporary comfort, by college football games and trips to the movies.  By haircuts, pedicures, new outfits, vacations, or fill in the blank for your own personal “treat” that helps to take the sting of pain away.   In Africa things are far more raw and real and pain is more on the surface.  Needs are more obvious.  There is a helplessness that I feel concerning the physical needs–but in the end, there are real world problems all over the world that money alone cannot fix.  

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Reflections From My First 20 Days in Africa: Boda Bodas and Java Divine

If you would like to read the history of these blog posts please see blog 1 of this series. 

I mentioned in my first blog that…
This blog’s length became so long that I decided to share it in several installments.  It is written in the way that I have lived life in Africa thus far:  Free falling, blown by the breeze.  Moving in and out of each experience touched by an incredible moment laced with extreme joy or intense pain.  Sometimes hit by something comical when all one can do is laugh.  But at the end of the day, there is little time for process and there is no way to wrap your mind around Africa, or tie it all up in a pretty pink bow…  

The travel here is super nutty and I estimate that 90% (maybe more) of all people of Fort Portal are without personal transportation.  So EVERYONE is walking…everywhere.  Including cows–unattended–down the middle of the road.   We walked 3 kilometers on Wednesday to the market but Roland told me that many people walk all the way from Fort Portal (in town) to the market–which is about 8-10 miles each way!   Continue reading

Reflections From My First 20 Days in Africa: This Little Jenni Went to Market…

I remember as a child being told to eat all of my food on my plate because there were starving children in Africa…I had no idea what that really meant.  I had heard of the animals on safari and had seen some of the natural beauty of Africa’s landscape in books.  As an adult I saw pictures of Darfur and read about the walk of the invisible children.    But what of the people, the day to day, what does it look like for an American to visit this place? Africa is very big and Uganda is relatively small.  The glimpses I am seeing are a tiny microcosm of the grander experience of Africa.  I do not pretend to represent all of Africa (or Uganda) in my minute experiences or ramblings.  I find there are so many differences in life here…but also the human heart and common themes and threads remain the same.  My story is personal and I am not traveling deep in to the villages or walking the streets of Kampala (yet).  My journey has been 25 days of life in Fort Portal…but I will never be the same.  
This blog’s length became so long that I decided to share it in several installments.  It is written in the way that I have lived life in Africa thus far:  Free falling, blown by the breeze.  Moving in and out of each experience touched by an incredible moment laced with extreme joy or intense pain.  Wondering why things are the way they are, and not being able to do much more than observe.  I might experience an insanely powerful “moment” or connection with Africa or a Ugandan and then am ripped from that moment in to a car that takes me to lunch or to church or to the court house or my guest house.  I might have a heart-wrenching conversation listening to something that someone experienced, and then a child skins a knee and I must run off to kiss the boo boo and wipe the tears of my child.  There is little time for process and there is no way to wrap your mind around it, or tie it in up with a pretty pink bow…

I will ebb and flow in and out of stories that mirror our interactions with life in Africa…nothing will fully make sense as it doesn’t fully to me…and heads up…nothing will end neatly!

I miss proper lighting.  The first time we arrived in the guest house and we were shown our room the manager flipped on the light and I instinctively flipped it off assuming that he had not actually turned on the light.  To my embarrassment–the lighting was just so poor and dim that the light was in fact ON.  I miss bright lights especially at night.  
I really wonder how many mzungus (white people) frequent the  particular village market we visited, and specifically how many young Caucasian children?  Tiny children in rags approached and stood inches away from Joshua and Kylee.  A woman in her 90s with no teeth came up and began speaking a mile a minute in Ruturoo gesturing to the heavens and then back at me.   Many people crowded around us to stare, even touch us.  We were the central focus for many people and every movement we made was weighed and measured.  This experience gave me a great appreciation for being different, for looking different, sounding different.  By some, we were misunderstood, pre-judged, possibly even disliked–simply for who we were.  I was grateful and will be grateful for all of these moments in Africa as they will give me an appreciation for all of those who are misunderstood, judged, and discriminated against.  That was not all that was going on in the market.   For the most part, our on lookers made us a spectacle out of genuine curiosity.  People both old and young desired to connect with our family–which is quite humbling.  

The actual “grocery store” that we frequent to pick up water and other fruits and veggies is not much bigger than the Starbucks section at Target.  But “Andrew’s market” has everything from boxed cereal to 5lb bags of garlic.  It has a few trinkets–it is where I found birthday candles, but it also sells flip flops as well as hair products, sippie cups and 1/2 gallons of raw milk.  There is very little rhyme and reason for what is on the shelf or where it is housed.  It is really a tiny tiny version of the grocery store experience in the states…but at the same time, I am betting most of us would never frequent a store of this type or quality in the states.  Yet here we consider it–the best stop–and we are grateful for what we find there each week!

Today we traveled down to the bottom of the hill where we were on a mission to find orange fanta and popcorn.  (It is Joshua’s official 5th birthday and since Chris didn’t fly out we watched a movie and ate popcorn and drank orange fanta.)   The wooden structures which appear from the outside to be poorly constructed tool sheds have dirt floors and a few “specialty” items on the inside.  The first shop had fanta.   After some significant language barriers and much waving and pointing we received five 20oz drinks for $4.00.   We then wandered in to a shop that looked like it had baked goods.  Inside were little bags of popcorn hanging on rusty pole.  We motioned for those and held out 5 fingers and then asked how much it would cost?  With no answer she started to make change…several minutes later she came back with loads of change.  We asked for 5 more bags and she ended up charging us 600 shillings for 10 bags of popcorn.  She did not inflate the price for the mzungus but sold us the popcorn for a whopping 3-4 cents per bag.   I love interacting with the people who live here in Fort Portal and wish I could better know them, their hearts and their lives.  Today we shared a moment, a few shillings, and very broken communication.   Polite gestures and smiles.  I hope they knew how much I appreciated their service and though our lives and livelihood look vastly different–I deeply believe that the common threads of life are not woven from a different loom. 

Blessings from Uganda,