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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Pearl of Africa




”Hold on to the rope and lean back. Trust me.”Those words echo through my head as I lower myself over the edge. The first two steps I take before feeling the strength and security of the rope are the most mentally challenging moments of my life. I stepped down onto the bar that would make the transition from no sense of security to total trust in my rope slightly easier. One more step off that bar and I felt a tug. The rope tightened and my heart rate slowed down significantly.

“You’re doing a great job, Lexi. How do you feel,” asked Robert, my safety rope belayer.

I responded, “This is incredible.”

Robert smiled and replied, “Good, kee

p going, and remember to relax and lean back.”

Now the speed at which I descend is in my hands. Robert is just my back up singer. I pulled up 300 feet of rope just a few inches and started to belay myself down the side of this sheer cliff face. After gaining trust in the rope and descending about 50 feet I pulled the rope tight behind me and stopped to think about what I was doing. Because of the lack of momentum, I start to spin clockwise very slowly. Immediately to my right, about 8 feet away, I see the largest waterfall in Africa. It moves at lightning quick speed with power that mimics a stampede of a multitude of wildebeests.

I continued to rotate ever so slowly and when my back is facing the cliff, I can see the world. I quickly glance up to make sure I am not breaking any rules or doing anything wrong. Robert flashes a quick thumbs-up to let me know that I can take my time. Within an instant I realize that I can see several countries from my airborne perch 250 feet off the ground. In my mind, I am looking down from the heavens at the entire world. Oddly shaped lakes, snake-like rivers, competitive, majestic mountains, and vast, treeless expanses; I can see it all.

Before I can comprehend everything I’ve just witnessed, I’m facing the wall again. I decided I should continue on my way down. The rushing sound of the water pushing through countless walls of air acts as a soundtrack to my thoughts as my mind drifts to Uganda’s nickname: The Pearl of Africa.

I was told very early on that Uganda is called The Pearl of Africa because of its nice weather. Originally I believed that the weather was the only thing giving definition to Uganda’s nickname; it is beautiful weather. It does not get warm until after 10 in the morning and the nights are always comfortably cool. Humidity is not overpowering in Uganda, but it’s still moist enough for greenery to be within every range of sight. In the moment I was hanging next to Sipi Falls, looking at the world, I realized there is so much more meaning in that name.

Uganda is a Pearl not only because of its weather, but also because of the rich culture, incredible people, and humble society. The culture is one of love and welcome. Every wear I go I am greeted “You are most welcome”. It’s a sincere statement from loving people who are honestly welcoming me into their homes, businesses,schools, and even their lives. Those same loving people work hard to make just enough to support their families, but they also place a lot of value in taking their time in everything they do. They enjoy everything and never hurry. They place value on time spent building relationships with others and their families. The society is humble and prayerful. Ugandans know they don’t have much, but they offer what they can. I’ve never been turned away or felt unwelcome. Prayers have filled the my last two weeks as all of the people I’ve built relationships with have sent me off with the protection of God surrounding me.
Those most compelling reason for me to come to Africa was to learn about another culture. I’ve done that and learned so much more. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live or for a more welcoming, caring group of people.


Every characteristic I’ve mentioned is a pearl in any society. The combination of them makes Uganda a pearl to the world.



Sadly, this is the last post from Africa. One more post will follow after I get my feet back on US soil.
Over and out.
Lex

Picture 1: Sipi Falls
Picture 2: Sunset from the top of the mountain
Picture 3: Rachel Leavitt
Picture 4: LtoR Mary, Rishida, me, Victoria, and Lucy. Some of the Young Women from the Seeta Branch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What I've Learned from the People of Uganda

I feel like an appropriate “last week” blog post would be a discussion of what I’ve learned this summer. I’ve been taught so much from the many people I’ve come in contact with this summer and they deserve some recognition.

Freddie – My man Freddie is the greatest boda boda driver on the face of the earth. He’s no ordinary boda boda driver though. His honesty and devotion sets him apart from most of the people I’ve come in contact with during my short 19 years of life. Freddie has been the best friend I could ask for. He’s always willing to help, translate, and direct us where we need to go, and with that he never asks for more than he deserves. In fact, I’m pretty sure he always asks for less than what he deserves. Freddie is also a very devoted man. He sets his dear wife, Peace, on the highest pedestal he can find and is so proud of his family and the life he’s made for them. He taught me how important it is to be dedicated, devoted, and honest in all of my dealings with my fellow man. If Freddie wasn’t around, I would not have been able to accomplish anything this summer.

Edith – If you want excellent, homemade, Ugandan meals, Edith is the gal for you. If you want a lively, fun, loving young woman as a friend, Edith surpasses all descriptions and expectations. She is a gentle woman who simply loves to be around people. Whenever I need to talk to someone, Edith is always there. She is also an exceptionally honest person who has given me a real glimpse into how Uganda really works. Edith has taught me to always smile for pictures because I look prettier that way. She’s also taught me the meaning of patience and diligence as I’ve helped her prepare meals over charcoal stoves for 3 hours. I’m going to miss her dearly.

David – Best guard ever. David is a kind and caring man who is very devoted to our team here in Mukono. He is always concerned about how we are doing and if we are safe. But, my favorite thing about David is his personality. He’s very funny and a practical joker. Between lurking in the shadows to scare us and sitting around the fire telling stories, David has taught me how to enjoy life and to love everyone I meet.

Alex – Alex is a primary six student at Crane Preparatory School which is around the corner from our house. I knew we were destined to be friends because we have the same name (or at least the entire student population at Crane is under the impression that my name is also Alex). He is one of the sharpest ten year olds I’ve ever met. Children in Uganda don’t start learning English until primary four (4th grade) so when I first had a conversation with Alex, I was astonished at how articulate he is. He’s more eloquent than most fourth graders I’ve met in the United States. Within a few hours of meeting Alex it was easy to recognize that he is a leader, but sometimes he can be the trouble maker. For whatever reason, he is not mischievious at all with us. He always wants to help me and has acted as a translator more times than I can count. Everyone has different talents that can benefit every person that surrounds them. Without my bright, intriguing friend Alex, Crane Preperatory School would have been a disaster for the HELP International team. Because of Alex I have decided that I will always strive to assist others with whatever talents I have to offer.

Brian - Favorite person in all of Uganda. If I have a crush on anyone, it’s Brian. He is absolutely fantastic. Brian is a secondary school student who is at the level of a high school junior, but he’s 20 years old. Don’t let his age throw you off. He, like Alex, is incredibly sharp and really on top of things. He’s a little behind finishing secondary school because it’s so expensive, but he desperately wants to make a better life for himself and his future family. Brian is a talented artist, and a service-driven young man. I admire his passion for helping others, but more than that, I admire his positive attitude that penetrates everything he does. Whenever I am at his school (Mukono Town Academy), he never fails to make me smile. Every once in a while I’ll glance in his direction to see what he’s up to, and several times I’ve caught him dancing for a split second before getting back to work. There’s never any music on, but he dances any way. His smile is infectious and his optimistic attitude is enough to make anyone believe they can fly. Brian taught me how to lift others up through my own gifts and attitude. Helping others feel true happiness within their hearts is more fulfilling than anything else I’ve done this summer.

Diana-This faithful young woman is an inspiration to everyone she meets. Diana hasn’t been baptized as a member of my church, but tries her hardest to come to church every Sunday. The one problem is that she lives with her abusive uncle who beats her if he finds her at church. But, somehow she always makes an appearance, even if it’s at the very end. The most amazing part is how happy she is! If I was her, I’d be pretty miserable because I’d always be wondering when I would be beat next or how badly he would hurt me. Diana isn’t like that at all. She never worries about it; well, maybe she does, but she certainly doesn’t show it. She just loves to be at church and loves God with all of her heart. Diana has taught me how to be faithful and to fight for what I believe in no matter what the consequences.


I wish I had pictures of all of these people to show you, but I don’t right now. By the end of the week I will have pictures, and I will update this post so you all can put faces with names and descriptions of some truly incredible people.

Over and Out.

Lex.

PS. I'm safe and completely out of the way of Kampala where everything happened on Sunday.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Untitled





Two and a half weeks until I have to adjust to a totally foreign world. Uganda has become an integral part of me in the short 2 months I’ve been here. I will think of myself as part-Ugandan forevermore. After living in this other world, there is no way I will ever turn my back on Uganda. It would be like turning my back on an old friend who has shared every secret with me.



Last week, I spent 4 out 5 days on the back of a boda boda with a kind, gentle man named Freddie. I was out for 5-6 hours at a time in the beautiful Ugandan countryside looking for the neediest schools I could find. Because we were so far apart from urban communities, I often had long stretches of time to think as we drove between each school. Freddie expertly maneuvered the boda boda between potholes and ditches as we wound our way through the rolling hills of the Ugandan countryside. As we would climb the steep paths leading to the top of a hill, I felt as if I was on a rickety, wooden rollercoaster; at the top of my jungle coaster, I had a few fleeting seconds to take in the view before, suddenly, we would start flying down a hill feeling the invisible, but strong, pull of gravity. The first time it happened, I was so surprised I almost missed it. We rounded the top of the hill and all of a sudden there was a break in the bushes that gave way to a clear, endless view of Uganda. But, as quickly as the bushes broke, they sealed up again acting as black curtain between me and the endless view. The next time we started to climb up the mountain, I was ready for that wisp of a moment where I would literally be on top of the world. Slowly but surely we approached the top. Then it happened. Before I could blink the curtains closed on my picturesque view through a window to a world, but not before I committed every minute detail to memory.



I thought for sure I could see the entire world from my perch on a tasseled, faux snake skin motorcycle seat. It was impossible to see where the vast, green horizon stopped and the blue sky spotted with clouds comparable to marshmallows started. City smog did not distort my view in the slightest. The view from on top of Old Rag in Virginia can’t even compare to the sight I beheld today in Uganda. Next to the grandeur of this beautiful country, the Birds of Paradise created an impossibly brilliant frame of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens along the side of the road. Each intricate flower barely snuck into the window through which I viewed the world, but they weren’t so intrusive that they took away from something so breathtaking and so pure as a simple glimpse at the green hills that were before me. Within those few short seconds, my view was broken suddenly by a deep pothole that scrambled my brains like an egg beater. This momentary distraction allowed to me again take in the incredible sight that lay as far as I could see. This time, I noticed the beautiful, orange monarch butterfly as it flew through my window into the world. Everything else was a blur in my mind, except for that single butterfly. She was a simple manifestation that God himself exists and knows how to bring a simple wonder and beauty into an unsuspecting universe. She graced this picture perfect moment for an instant before she disappeared as quickly as she came. How could something so small, and seemingly insignificant, be the exact detail needed to make my once almost perfect painting complete?



I don’t know if my attempt at a description of those few short moments can even do the actuality of what I witnessed justice. This kind of beauty defies all description and imagination. A few precious moments in heaven might be a good comparison to how I felt, but even that does not seem satisfactory. I really was on top of the world for ten endless seconds. I noticed everything, smelled countless different scents, and witnessed innumerable miracles of Mother Nature’s doing. I would be denying the existence of a Greater Being if I ever forgot this moment.

Over and Out.
Lex

Picture 1: the team at the 4th of July party
Picture 2: me. photo creds - scott

Monday, June 28, 2010

Caught in the Rain and in the Dirt



In the early afternoon of June 17th, Gwen and I jumped on a boda boda with Freddie and experienced what Africa is really like. We spent all afternoon visiting extremely rural schools to do research for my TOMS project. I’ve been out to villages before, but the villages of Misindye and Bukere are so far away from mainstream Uganda that it’s as if you are entering a different world. In and around Mukono all the children get very excited when they see us, but out in those villages, everyone is happy to see us. I spent 75% of my boda ride waving at people. It was really quite exhilarating and beyond beautiful. So many people were eager to meet us and know us. And even the people who didn’t meet us had a welcoming air about them.

This next part might not be funny to you, but to Gwen and me, it was absolutely hilarious. The poorly formed, narrow, dirt roads in the thick of Uganda are incredibly hard to drive on, even with a boda boda. Anyways, at one point Freddie had to pull over to let an oncoming truck get past us. Gwen and I seeing the impending dust storm quickly buried our faces and waited for the truck to rumble past. After the dust settled Freddie kicked his boda back on and tried to get up the small slope we had gone down to get out of the way, but he couldn’t. Supposedly it’s because the dirt was so thick on the road, but I think that was Freddie’s polite way of saying, “You two Muzungu are too fat”. Anyways, Freddie had us hop off the boda so he could quickly get back onto the road. Gwen and I scrambled back onto the road and right as we were about to slowly and gracefully get back on the boda, I looked back to see another truck behind us. Getting stuck behind a truck was the last thing we wanted so Gwen jumped on the boda and tried to scoot as far forward as she could so I could get on, but because of the lack of seat and nothing stable to grab onto, I managed to swing my leg over before bouncing off of Gwens backpack and thus off the boda boda. I totally lost my balance and almost fell flat on my face. In my moment of stumbling, the truck had caught up with us and stopped so that I could get on the boda in a slower, safer manner. This time I was successful in mounting the boda boda. Freddie tried to drive fast but getting up to speed took us longer than it took the truck. All I hear is a truck revving its huge engine very close to us. Freddie waved at them to tell them to pass us thinking they were being impatient, but I turned around to see the truck cab occupied by 3 young men with big smiles. They were obviously laughing and thought it was the funniest thing ever to come up real close on our tail, honk, and then slow down. I’m also fairly certain that those truck drivers found it highly amusing that a Muzungu totally fell off of a boda boda that wasn’t moving at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire village of Misindye heard about the Muzungu falling off of a boda boda.

Next story: (Sorry this is such a long post).

In the early afternoon of June 18th, I got on a taxi to Najja. Najja is a small village between Lugazi and Jinja and is situated within spitting distance of Lake Victoria. As I mentioned before, I love venturing out to small villages because they offer a different perspective of what life in Uganda is really like. Anyways, we were out in Najja to build a square foot garden at a local school. The goal of the square foot garden was to teach the community about using their land more effectively and to provide another source of food to the school. We gave a short introduction to the teachers before heading outside to address the entire student body. I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t understand a word of what we said, but that’s okay because the following event totally prevented us from building the garden anyways. Right as we concluded talking to the kids, the sky grew dark very quickly and the rain started coming down in buckets. We took refuge in a classroom for about ten minutes before deciding that this rain storm looked incredibly fun. Within two minutes of Jenessa and Angie running out to the field to play in the rain, all of the Muzungu were outside. Jenessa, Kaile, Rachel, Nicole, Angie, Jessica, Blythe and I were running all over the field jumping through puddles and getting insanely dirty. We played an intense game of tag and enjoyed the gleeful laughs that came from our young onlookers who must have been thinking we were crazy.

In those few, precious moments in the rain I felt alive. And even more than that, I felt like a child again. It didn’t matter that I was soaking wet and that I was going to miserable for the 2 hour taxi ride back to Mukono and it didn’t matter that we didn’t get anything accomplished in Najja. What mattered was that I, we, had fun and experienced the joy of living and not taking life to seriously. Spontaneous moments like this one are what life is all about. I had a fantastic time and that was one of the happiest moments of my life and I will never forget how wonderful and happy I felt. Because we were so cold, Angie called someone at the house to turn on the water heaters. The hot shower I had that night definitely added to my joyful nature :)

Over and out
Lex

Picture 1: Family photo taken on saturday!
Picture 2: Beautiful child
Picture 3: Dang cute child
Picture 4: Jessica, Nicole, and me. They flew home yesterday :(

Monday, June 21, 2010

Top Ten of Uganda





10. Taxis These classy, broken, musty vans will get you anywhere in a new york, er I mean Ugandan minute. Designed to seat a mere 14 passengers, your expert conductor will often seat 20 people and 4 screaming chickens in your taxi. Impressive, right? Your personal bubble cannot exist in these wonderful vehicles. Also, beware of dirt roads and speed bumps. More often than not you will hit your head on the ceiling of the van.

9. Schweppes Novida Orange Soda. They don’t sell this in the United States and I already know I’m going to go through withdrawals. There’s also no description for it. It’s not like other orange sodas out there that have too much syrup. This delightful drink is lighter in flavor and has ten times the fizz of other sodas. An ice cold Novida is just what you need to cool off after a long day in the African sun.

8. The Nile I thought I had seen the river of all rivers when I lived in Richmond. I mean every one knows the James is the greatest river in all of the United States, and possibly the whole world. But, the Nile takes first place. It’s wide span and breathtaking waterfalls are quite possibly the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. (Sorry Niagara). After fetching water in a bucket from the Nile and then proceeding to carry it on my head, I feel incredibly connected to this 3,000 mile long river. And, after drinking half of the Nile while white water rafting, the Nile and I have become one.


7. Sunsets The sunsets here are incredible. Maybe I just notice them a little more here because I have more time, but regardless, they are breathtaking. As often as I can I climb up our water tower to take in the unique colors of the sunset each day. From the water tower your look out and see the countless, green, rolling hills of Uganda combined with a sunset behind large, fluffy clouds that act as a pallet for the reds, oranges, and purples of an African sunset. Pictures do not do these sunsets justice.


6. Rolex
This delightful treat is heaven on earth. We’ve all had delicious, vegetable-filled omeletes before, but a rolex takes it to a whole new level. Chapatti, the staple food of my diet, is similar to a tortilla but so much better. The simple flour dough is rolled into a circle and then cooked on an oil covered skillet on a charcoal stove. Yes, it is another fried food that I’m adding to my diet, and yes, I have gained weight in Uganda. So, imagine an tasty omelet rolled up inside of a delicious chapatti and then you have a rolex! It’s also a steal at 40 cents a piece


5. My HELP Team

I could write an entire blog post about my team. Well, I have written an entire blog post about them, I just haven’t posted it yet. Stay tuned for that post so you can understand what I love about each and every one of my teammates. They make life fun and teach me so much.


4. Boda Boda
Come one, come all! To the lovely land of Uganda to enjoy a once in a lifetime ride on a motorcycle. Boda Boda was originally derived from “Border to Border”. This handy dirt bikes were used in smuggling ventures between Uganda and its neighbors. Simply riding a motorcycle will not suffice. You must bump knees with neighboring cars, carry a pregnant goat, and almost get squished by a giant Mercedes semi truck that does not see you in order to get the full effect.

3. The handshake. I wish I could demonstrate but I will try to describe it. You shake hands like normal people and then you grab hands just like when two men get together and decide they want to do the one arm grunt hug. You know, the part where their two hands are clasped together between them when they hug? Yeah that’s how you grab someone hand after the regular hand shake. But, don’t actually do the man hug. Then return to the regular hand shake. So, its shake, clasp, shake, clasp. Repeat as often as the native Ugandan wants.


2. Rainstorms There is nothing like an African rainstorm. The only thing I’ve seen that comes close to a downpour here is the monsoon season in Arizona. But, even that doesn’t compare. A Ugandan rainstorm stops everything in its tracks. Classes stop and streets become deserted. The banging of quarter sized raindrops on tin roofs is as loud as a band tuning up, but as peaceful as the sounds of the ocean. It’s always a warm rain.

It’s a rain that can only be found in the beautiful jungles of Uganda.

1. The People These people may be living in a “third world” but they certainly don’t act like it. I’ve never met a more welcoming group of individuals. Everyone I interact with always asks “How are you?” and it’s always a sincere inquiry. Everyone holds hands. Everyone is connected. The meaning of love is something the people of Uganda have discovered and embraced. Their entire culture is based around how they interact with each other. They are dependent on one another in every way.


Over and Out

Lex


Picture 1 - Angie and I at some waterfalls in Jinja (where the source of the Nile is)

Picture 2 - Crane school student

Picture 3 - Farmer who lives next door

Picture 4 - Waterfalls where Angie and I are pictured

Picture 5 - Little girl in a village called Najja

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anthills

One thing that blows my mind every day are the sheer number and size of anthills here. I’m not talking about those puney little ants that invade the pantry. I’m talking about the beefed up, size of my pinky toe ants. They are so big that you can see their nasty pincers without a magnifying glass. In Uganda, the red anthills get to be the size of bears. And, thousands of giant ants inhabit them. Since I’ve arrived I’ve wondered exactly how ants build these things, more specifically how much time it takes and how many ants it takes.

This morning I got my answer.

I was reading in the front yard and bonding with Aberforth and Wendy when I looked at the ground and noticed a lone ant. I visually followed him for a few moments and discovered a small, quarter sized pile of red sand about a foot away from where I was sitting. The ant placed another grain of sand in the pile and then disappeared under the gate for several minutes before returning. His sand gathering process was immensely intriguing. There was plenty of sand and dirt nearby that would have suited his needs, but he chose to trek to who knows where for several minutes to get sand from a different location. Why? If he continues at that pace, with no help, it will be years before the ant hill is completed. For a reason unbeknownst to me, the sand nearby was not good enough to make a solid ant hill, so the ant was willing to take the time to find the best sand to construct his home. But that leaves another question unanswered. How will he convince other ants to help him build a home all of them can thrive in? I think that other ants will only come if the one ant can build a good, solid foundation.

Then my thoughts turned to development. And again to what makes development “successful”. Each step in the development process is a grain of sand. If I build my process with the closest sand I can find instead of the best sand I can find, my ant hill won’t last very long. But, if I do build my ant hill with the best sand, then others will want to join me in my quest. As time goes on and as my ant hill gets bigger, responsibilities will be delegated and sustainable skills will be learned. Ideally, everyone benefits because of the initial quality of my ant hill. In my mind, the grains of sand represent the relationships I can develop with those around me. The stronger the relationships, the stronger foundation. The stronger the foundation, the more sustainable it will be. The more sustainable it is, the more people will want to join me in my endeavor to build a strong, prominent ant hill. Everything moves in a cyclical process with results and consequences that become eternally intertwined.

I know I talked about development and relationships last week as well, but it is something which resonates in everything I do here in Uganda. My grains of sand are those relationships and if I don’t take the time to seek out the best grains, I will eventually fail. It is my duty to my fellow main to drink those three cups of tea and become family in their eyes. I will strive to listen and understand what the truly need. I want to fulfill those needs in whatever way I can.

Forgive me for being repetitive, but realize that the people and the relationships are often far more important than the task at hand. Without the relationship, the accomplishment means nothing.

Over and Out.
Lex

1. Kaile and Blythe at the source of the Nile
2. Ant hill
3. Fisherman on the Nile

Monday, June 7, 2010

Caught in the Rain



Thursday afternoon I played soccer with the kids at Crane School. They were running all over the place and had about 20 kids on each team. Somehow they were able to keep all of their own teammates straight, but I still have yet to figure out how. Their precious soccer pitch was an open dirt patch next to an abandoned building. Chunks of brick marked the goal posts and bare feet pounded the ground as a herd of boys chased after the soccer ball. In a matter of minutes the horizon changed from a picturesque blue sky with white, fluffy clouds to one with dark clouds foreshadowing a storm. I took refuge under the overhang of that abandoned building. The boys did not stop the game, even for an instant. Water continued to pour from an invisible spickett in the sky. Each quarter sized drop hit the ground with such determination that indentations remained in the rich, red soil. Before I had the chance to take in the power of the rain, I looked up to see fifty elementary school aged boys playing soccer in the hammering rainstorm. All had shed their shirts and embraced the warm, summer downpour. One particularly focused boy kicked the ball so hard that his yellow rosary spun all the way around his neck. With each intense stride his rosary bounced against his chest. It was almost as if God himself drove this boy’s passion to keep the ball in the possession of his team. After a successful round of passes resulting in a goal, the boys came together to congratulate each other. Genuine compliments were exchanged between everyone, even the littlest boy who was simply tagging along. The storm itself lasted only for a few short minutes, but the image of pure happiness and comradery between children has forever been committed to my memory.

This kind of happiness and success is attributed entirely to one’s priorities. The relationship one has with a fellow human being is far more important than the task at hand. It is my responsibility to the world to establish lasting relationships with everyone I interact with. They need to feel needed and important in order to achieve success. And, this mentality continues to the world of development. In my mind true development is about people and relationships, not necessarily how much is accomplished on a timetable of tasks.


This first month has been really interesting for me. All the revelations and insights I write about on this blog are not new discoveries. They are things I’ve been taught or understood since I was a child, but the situation I am in is enabling me to rediscover simple truths about life. So often we, as humans, fall into a recurring cycle of life and lose sight of the important things like establishing relationships or simply taking time to laugh. When that cycle is interrupted, whether it is by one’s own device or an unwanted change in habitat, it allows a person to reflect, readapt, and rediscover life and all of the beauties that come with it. Our lives are a never-ending process of learning, but at some point in one’s given lifetime, there is period where you learn the same simple truths that have been recognized since the beginning of time. That is the amazing thing about human life. The consistency that resides in ever changing nations is what makes the world keep going around.


Picture 1: boys at crane school

Picture 2: soccer in the rain (photo credit to scott)

Picture 3: nicole, me and angie with aberforth wilberforce!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Holding Hands with Strangers



“But here in our beautiful Uganda we have more smiles than tears.

We have more love than hate.”


That was a statement made yesterday at a soccer game for war victims. I have never truly believed a public statement like this before. Statements about national unity are made in every country, but how often is it a resounding truth throughout the entire nation?


What kind of lesson can I learn from the people of Uganda? Every day I am asked more times than I can count how I am doing. And every single time it is a genuine inquiry. Everyone is sincerely concerned about the well being of their fellow man. Each day I am blessed by the charity of these people. I slipped on the gravel and immediately three people stopped and kept asking if I was okay. Later that same day, we were walking along the side of the road way away from the city and someone stopped and offered us a ride. That someone happens to be the youngest elected member of Parliament in Uganda’s history. Every time I meet someone, they shake my hand throughout the conversation. It's as if they are trying to connect with me on a deeper level. And, my favorite part of this culture is hand holding. Everyone holds hands everywhere they go.

It makes me feel so special when a Ugandan holds my hand because I know that it their sincere way of saying they've accepted me into their society. And, it happens more often than I would have ever thought. Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of charitable people in the United States, but this is the first time where I’ve lived in a culture that totally and completely embodies charity. It drives everything they do.


Where does such love and humility come from? Does it come from the so called poverty that they live in? Does it

come from the lack of interaction with the technological world? Or is it simply a character trait that these people inherently possess? Whatever it is, I want it. I want everyone to feel as cared about as I do when I interact with Ugandans.


So, as my friend Brittany said, I will "Stay humble. Become enlightened. Hold stranger's hands whenever they'll let you."




Picture 1: Melissa Thompson and Lois

Picture 2: Right before I busted my chin on someone's helmet. I have a pink hat on under my helmet.

Picture 3: Our raft! LtoR: Brooke Ellis, Scott Richards, Me, Oscar Moreno, Chris Gong, Rachel Finleigh, Angie Fairchild

Picture 4: Right after a big rapid. Please note the blood on my chin.


Over and Out,

Lex

Monday, May 24, 2010

Building Bridges

Scene 1

Uganda is leading against Kenya by one point. The sun is beating down on Mandela National Stadium and tensions rise as the game progresses through the second half. Uganda kicks the ball out of bounds and Kenya is awarded a corner kick. This is a crucial moment in the game.

Victor: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! He crosses himself while yelling.

Kenya doesn’t make the goal. Victor raises his rosary beads.

Victor: AMEN!!!!!

Angie: Looks like your faith paid off. Trying to control her laughter as she speaks.

Victor: I know! I need to pray more often!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Scene 2

People are packed into a large open room at a Born-again Christian Church. Plastic chairs are crammed in every corner. The temperature continually rises as the Sunday sun beats down on the tin roof. People start yelling and raising their hands in the air.

Enter President Museveni. Before singing the Ugandan National Anthem, crowd control pushes people back towards the seats.

Preacher: Praises to the Lord for allowing Mussevani to visit us!

Crowd: Amen!

Preacher: Lift your hands to Lord and join me in prayer. As directed, the entire room raises their hands above their heads and bows their heads.

The prayer is in Luganda and people respond during the prayer with many “Mmms” in agreement.

Preacher: Amen!

Crowd: Amen!! Triumphantly.

Preacher: Please welcome the President to our church.

Yelling and whistling welcome the highest ranking official in Uganda. Museveni speaks for a few shorts minutes about how grateful he is to be here. He makes no comments about politics, but he does tell the story of Christ feeding the multitude. Mostly, Museveni just waves.


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Religions and their presence in the world have always intrigued me. After travelling all over the world with my father (England, France, Germany, Peru, Belize, El Salvador, and now Uganda), Catholicism has never ceased to make itself known. Christianity as a whole is always a predominant movement around the world. Unlike South America, Uganda has many Muslims. I’d even venture to say that the Islamic religion is second only to Catholicism when it comes to membership numbers here. There is even a Mosque about fifteen minutes from our house and countless women wearing veils. Being in an area with many Muslims as well as recently reading Greg Mortenson’s

Three Cups of Tea has made me realize how much I don’t know about this religion and what it really means to be a Muslim. Three Cups of Tea portrayed true Muslims as people who worship Allah and generally just want to do good in the world. Christians worship the Almighty God and also try to be charitable and good to the people of their world. Good works is also an integral part of the Jewish religion. From what I can tell, each and every religion worships a God of some sort and the teachings emphasize make your neighbor’s burden a little lighter. Yes, there are fundamental differences in all religions, even cultures and societies, but there are also many parallels.

But, if so many of the principles are the same, why are we always fighting with each other? If faith, hope, and charity form a solid foundation for a plethora of different beliefs, why can’t we just get along? Why are we as

human beings always pointing fingers saying “You’re wrong!”? Instead of building walls between people of different beliefs, we need to build bridges of trust and respect.


This past year at school I participated in a bi-monthly discussion group. Each week we would vote on the topic. One of our favorite topics happened to be entitled “How do you overcome the gap between Christians and Atheists?” Ultimately we decided there is no singular, correct process for triumphing over such vast differences. But, the group consensus was that trust needed to be established in order for both parties to feel respected and understood. Each party needs to come 70% of the way across so that we can overlap and catch ourselves if there is a weakness in our bridge.


But this brings me back to my initial point about the many similarities in principles between different beliefs, cultures, etc. What I just wrote is the way we, as human beings, should approach or differences, but it is often not the way we do approach them. And there is something very wrong with that.

How do we promote this kind of collaboration, understanding, trust, and mutual respect across cultures, religions, beliefs, races, or any other kind of dissimilarity in the world?


Over and Out

Lex


Picture 1 - Laundry day.

Picture 2 - Blythe opening her mission call. Temple Square!

Picture 3 - me eating a grasshopper!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Contrast

As I sit here watching rain fall from a seemingly cloudless sky, my mind drifts to thoughts of home, friends, family, and life in the United States. But, almost as quickly as my mind wanders, I’m brought back to my reality by children asking me to play through our fence and by a large mango tree that is always watching over me. The contrast between the two lifestyles is as distinct as the difference between black and white.

The phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side” keeps coming to my mind. People have asked me how I could ever want to give up my easy, technology filled lifestyle, even for a moment. I, in turn, wonder what in the world I have done to deserve the opportunity to live with almost nothing and fourteen roommates for three months. To me, true beauty and luxury are found in the simple things. And the real luxury I strive after in life is the ability to have the time to sit, think, read, and get to know other people without worldly distractions like the internet. To me, beauty is watching a rainbow pierce through the sky after a thunderstorm. It is the pure love of a child and the comradery and unity of a real community. Luxury is knowing that at the end of the day, you’ve worked hard and done everything you can to make a difference in the world. I’ve never expierenced all of those luxurious and beautiful things in such a short amount of time. Now, I have and I’ve never been happier.


Thursday evening, while walking along the rocky, dust-ridden road, a small child came bounding towards Angie and me with a smile filled with pure joy and happiness. He didn’t say a word to us but held my hand as we walked. That simple love and complete trust is something I’ve rarely witnessed. It is something I will strive to obtain for the rest of my life. As I sit here recalling that moment, I only wish I could look into those love, pure, unclouded, wise eyes again.



Our projects are gaining steam. We had meetings all last week, and we started writing proposals. This week we have some more meetings to solidify plans, but then it will be full steam ahead! Some of the projects I’m working on are:

Soccer League + Health Lessons – Scott and I are developing soccer leagues at a few schools. There will be 3-5 teams at each school. The students will select 2 captains and the captains with our help will run team practices and drills. At the beginning of each practice, we will have a short 15 minute lesson on AIDS awareness, hand washing, or other similar topics. We will finish each practice with group discussions about other issues the students have interest in learning more about.

Toms Shoes proposal – This is my main project. Once we visit a neighboring village where many refugees have been placed, I’ll be able to do needs assessment and start making reliable contacts so we can place these shoes next summer. It will involve a ton of research and economic analysis. Wish me luck!

Other projects I’m working on involve teaching piano lessons at church, helping at business trainings, and helping with counseling services at local schools.
Other than that, all is going well here in Africa! The weather is great and the people are wonderful :)

Over and Out
Lex



Picture 1: Market Day in Mukono = Madness
Picture 2: I climbed up our small, humble water tower to see the sunset
Picture 3: The soccer field for Mukono Town Academy is behind these lovely ladies. (LtoR Angie, Jessica, Brooke Zollinger, Nicole, Kaile, Brooke E, Blythe)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Truly the Minority

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be in the minority? I’m not talking about our minorities in the United States, where there are 100-150 people from varying races and ethnicities to every 300-500 Caucasians. I’m talking about being one of 10-15 people of a different ethnicity to thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people of another race or ethnicity. What would it be like? How would I feel? Can I handle it? How would I or how should I be treated?

This is all I’ve been thinking about since I walked off that airplane in Entebbe, Uganda.

You can never understand what it’s like until you have lived that way. There are people who don’t like us, who make fun of us and think we don’t understand what they are saying because of the language they speak. No, I may not understand exactly what they are saying, but one thing that translates across the world is how someone can make you feel. I can tell when someone is saying something behind my back or is making fun of me because I don’t know what I’m doing. I can tell when people lower their voices and snicker when I walk by. It is not a good feeling, at all. When it happens, I wonder if I will really be able to accomplish anything here or if people will just shut me out because I’m white. But, at the same time, there are people who are more than welcoming and accepting. Just this morning we met with the Headmaster of the Mukono Town Academy and he told us several times how much they loved having us here and how when we are here, we are considered Ugandan and part of the staff.

My thoughts on this topic have increased as I’ve been reading the novel by Kathryn Stockett entitled, “The Help”. It’s about the civil rights movement and what it was like to be a black maid in the Deep South. It shows the different perspectives between the maids and the high society, white women. It was truly dangerous for any black person to voice their opinion. Equality was not an option. But why? People were fearful of blacks because they didn’t take the time to understand them and their culture. This is where I will change. I’ve been taught since I was a child to not be judgmental, but when judgment is something that surrounds you, it’s hard to not be like that. I tried to not be that person, the one who refused to try to understand, or the one who just avoided situations where I’d be forced to understand and adapt. Sometimes I succeeded in my efforts, but other times I failed.

I will not act indifferent or avoid situations where I’m the minority. I will embrace them. I will be as strong as every other person that has to be the minority every day. I will be the one who is helpful and excited to meet new people. I will be the one who embraces diversity and other cultures with every chance I get. And finally, I will be the change I wish to see in the world just as the people of Uganda have changed my world.


Over and Out,
Lex




Platform 9 and 3/4! The highlight of our London excursion


told you it was pretty :)




mixing cement!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

First Impressions

-Beautiful

-Oh hey there's a monkey in that tree!

-Mzungu Mzungu! (White person! White person!)

-Our guard has a BIG gun.

-I've never seen windows on a plane fog up so fast from humidity.

-Please don't run me over Mr. Boda Boda driver.

-Eveything is cheap. REALLY cheap. We bought a sweet reed mat today for $2. And breakfast is usually 50 cents.

-Everyone is always smiling and happy to see you.

-Look! There are the missionaries! (We only waved to each other across the street, but I can already tell we're gonna be buddies)

-Time's up. I'll write more and hopefully post pictures from both London and Uganda in a few days!

1 day down, only 74 left.

Over and Out
Lex

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1 Week to Departure!

7 days until Uganda!!!!!!

I'm so excited. Angie and Ryan have arrived in Uganda. I think Ryan is tired and a little cranky...Anyways, I can't wait to hear from them about where we're living, etc etc.

So with 1 week left, I've actually kind of started packing. I bought my chacos (they are amazing) and I finished sewing one skirt yesterday...well...i still have to figure out how I can avoid button holes, but then it's finished! Also, I got my sweet Tom's in the mail yesterday, but they are too big :( So I think I'm gonna ship them back and buy a boring pair at Nordstrom's for Africa and then get the really really cool ones when I get home. Good plan? I think yes :)

Oh! Angie has already started a list of things for me to bring that they either forgot or couldn't fit in their bags. I would post the list for everyone to see, but there are a few things that the team (meaning everyone except angie, ryan, and now me) isn't supposed to know about.

Speaking of supplies, the team has a google spreadsheet with things that everyone is bringing to share. I bought Avatar the other day. I'm fairly certain I've won the hearts of my team with that one :)

Anyways, I've got errands to run and people to see!

Over and out.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Please Help

I'm not sure how many people read this yet since I'm not actually in Africa, but I need your help.

Please go to tippingbucket.org to help me with one of the projects we're doing this summer. Every dollar counts.


It's been 24 hours and we've already reached 25% of our goal. Help us reach 100%!


Also, if you want more information watch this short video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CG5MfDgbS4

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pre-Departure Post

6 weeks.

In 6 weeks I will be boarding a plane in Washington, DC to go to Uganda, Africa for 3 months. There is no way I am ready for this. I am very very excited, but I am a little nervous though. It's one thing to visit a country, but living somewhere is an entirely different story. It will definitely be an eye-opening experience and I'm very excited to discover what the people of Uganda can teach me. Truthfully, I think I will benefit more form this trip than the people I'm serving. Yes, I will help empower them and enable them to overcome poverty, but the life lessons I will learn are priceless.

On a side note - I am very excited that this is going to be a family affair. My cousin Angie and her husband Ryan, and my other cousin Margo will be with me in Uganda. I think that having them along will only enrich my experience.

One of the things I'm most excited about is the pictures I will be able to take! Lions and tigers and children, and another culture. I am a firm believer in the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words". It's so true. I can describe things in the most vivid language, but nothing can replace a picture that traps a moment forever.

Any suggestions on what I should bring? The Complete Works of Jane Austen and The Scarlet Pimpernel already have reserved space in my bag. Accompanying them will be a large container of powdered Gatorade and many granola bars. I'm trying to figure out what other books I want to take and what other snacks I will be craving. Ideas would be wonderful!

I don't have anything else to say for the time being, but I'm sure the next 6 weeks will fly by and I'll be in country before I can say Uganda!

Over and out.

Lex