Saturday, June 30, 2012

Akiba


Quick side note: So sorry its been awhile since my last post. We had a huge storm the other night and the lightening fried our modem. Soo... until our new modem arrives, I am having to use various internet cafes in town. Gotta love third world problems :)
One of the things that I have really enjoyed about being here in Uganda has been having the opportunity to see and visit various organizations that are making a difference. In bible study this week, we were talking and sharing stories, verses and songs that have had an impact in our lives. One of the girls mentioned how she has been reminded that when it comes to mission trips, God has already laid down the groundwork for His divine plan. A lot of times, we go in thinking that we are going to change the world and make this huge impact/difference in the area we are visiting. We have this mentality that if it weren’t for us, maybe no one in that place will ever hear about the gospel. In reality, God has already had the ball in motion so to speak and we in turn have the privilege of being called and used as one of His puzzle pieces that eventually creates the big, overall picture. Just something to think about :)
Yesterday, we spent the day going to the Friday craft market in Kampala. At first it was overwhelming with everyone trying to sell you their crafts, but it was a ton of fun. I am getting pretty good at haggling! As great as it was spending the day shopping, my favorite part was when we visited an organization called the Akiba House through Bless a Child Foundation. Akiba provides a place for children undergoing treatment for cancer. Akiba means “treasure” in Swahili and that is exactly what each child was. I was amazed at how happy and playful these kids were, despite their illness. Not only does Akiba provided a haven for kids along with their families close by the hospital, but it also instills continued education during their time there.  They can hold up to about 17 children. At the moment, there are 14 kids. It broke my heart to know that for all of the kids, their little bodies were fighting for their lives. We spent some time playing and of course taking pictures with these precious little people. Being there really put things in perspective for me. Not only has God always provided for me, but I am blessed with a healthy body and sound mind. Even though I was only there for a short time, those kids can be added on to the many blessings I have encountered here in Africa.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ekisa



Earlier in the week, a small group of us went to visit a special needs orphanage called Ekisa. The young women that started this orphanage met while volunteering at Amani a few years ago. Both had a passion for special needed children and saw a need in Jinja for one. I am so happy I was able to spend some time with these kids! They were so happy and loved by the women and volunteers that worked there.  One of the things that I really loved about Ekisa was that they provided jobs for adults with disabilities as well. Finding employment and making a living in Uganda is difficult enough, let alone having a disability on top of that. Painted on the wall in Ekisa is the verse “ I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works” Psalms 139:14. This verse is the epitome of Ekisa and Amani. It reminded me that God makes no mistakes. Even though the outside world may see or think that there is something “wrong” with a special needed child, God made them exactly the way they are for a purpose. The children at Ekisa were so joyful and beautiful. It was nice being able to visit another organization :)
 













Friday, June 22, 2012

Second Week



So now I am almost finished with my second week here at Amani. I cannot believe how quickly I have fallen into a comfortable routine with the children and life here in Jinja. This has officially turned into my African home. I am starting to build closer relationships with the mamas. Yesterday for example, I was trying to make soup over the stove, which should be a very easy task, but in Africa this is not the case. The stove top at Amani has to be lit manually by a match. I am such a wuss when it comes to matches and fire. I had the mama laughing hysterically as I attempted to light the stove without getting burnt. The whole ordeal was very comical. In the end, the mama took the match from me and did it herself. I think she has made it her mission to teach me how to use African appliances properly. I love the fact that everything here in Africa is either an adventure or something just to laugh over.
We (volunteers) have become such a close family. I feel like I have known these girls my entire life. There isn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind that God placed us together right in this moment for a reason. We all go to a bible study at Helene’s house( who works at Amani) every week. This week we shared our stories and have bonded even deeper. After we finished talking about discernment and making Godly decisions in our life, we really felt led to just have some worship time. After about 30 min. of just singing and worshipping to praise music in the middle of Helene’s living room, I don’t think there was a single dry eye. I feel so privileged to know these Godly, young women. We have laughed, shared and cried with each other.
At Amani this week, there have been a bunch of teams that have gone through and helped out. I am not going to lie, we have felt very territorial of our kids and it was hard sharing them with others :) I have to literally remind myself that its not about me and the only thing that matters is these kids are getting loved on. On Wednesday we tagged along with one of the teams and took some of the kids on a boat ride alone the source of the Nile. Try picturing 20 adults with a kid on each lap fitting into one little boat. Halfway through the trip we were scooping out water from the bottom of the boat. As a goodbye to all the teams, we had a huge bonfire with all the teams, kids and mamas. The mamas sang songs and danced by the fire! It was a captivating moment watching and hearing them laugh and sing in their language. I am slowing beginning to learn more lugandan words and phrases each day :) I can almost count to ten!* Thank you Amani preschool every morning :)

In this trip, I have learned to be self sufficient and totally dependent on God for everything. I have come to understand that God knows exactly what is going to happen in my life and by trusting in Him, I am just along to enjoy the ride. Let me tell you, this has been the ride of a lifetime!









 

John 14:18- I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reflections


I just wanted to spend some time reflecting on this past week. It has been such a surreal transition from living in America to living in Uganda.  A lot of you know that I am a nursing student. One of the big reasons I chose nursing as a career was because I wanted to learn skills that would serve a purpose in helping others. That is my heart. I absolutely love traveling and seeing new places but about a year ago I felt this persistent feeling that I needed to start praying for God to show me where He wanted to use me in this time in my life. Six months later, I am reading Katie’s book and it all came into place. I had so many people write in letters or ask me “aren’t you scared” or “ you are so brave and courageous for doing this”. Yes, I know that spending my summer in Africa on my own is not what most 21 year old college students do. But truthfully, there wasn’t a single moment where I second-guessed my decision to come here. I knew 100% that this is what God was calling me to do. It is amazing what kind of blessings pour out from listening to the desires God places in your heart.
I am not going to lie. I had this whole picture in my mind of what it was going to be like here in Africa. I was going to see all these skinny children running around on the streets. I was going to see so much hurt and pain in the eyes of the people I ran into. I was going to be treating all these kids that needed me…who needed love. I was SO wrong. Yes, there is poverty. Yes, you do see the kids running around wearing dirty clothes that are two sizes too big. But there is this genuine love that surrounds these people. I have realized that in just this past week, these precious children whom each have their own heartbreaking story, have so much love to give. I thought I was going to be the one giving them love and attention but it is just the opposite. They understand what it means to love someone with absolutely no conditions. I feel it in the smiles and giggles the babies give me when I pick them up. I feel it in the good night hugs when Alima and Lydia leap into my arms as I have the privilege to say I love you and pray over them. I literally am crying as I write this. That is how much these kids have already taken over my heart.  It hit me the first time I put the girls to bed that this is where they sleep. They don’t have a permanent family. But I have learned that the kids at Amani have 50+ brothers and sisters. They have 30+ mamas and aunties and uncles that play and give them attention all day long. This is their family. It may not be a traditional family but it is a family nonetheless that teaches and encourages them to be their own little person. I realize that they are not the ones that lack. They might not have some of the luxuries such as air conditioning or huge shopping malls like we do. Instead, they are rich in their faith in each other and counting each day a blessing. I have just been in awe of how much I need to grow because of these children and mamas. Forget impacting these kids… they are impacting me in ways I never, ever anticipated




Friday, June 15, 2012

Safari!

Earlier this week, a group of six of us headed out to the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Kasese, Uganda for a three day safari! While being in Africa, there is just no way you can not go on a safari. We left Amani around 4am and arrived around 12 in the afternoon. Although it was a pretty long drive, we had an awesome tour guide that drove us through country villages and pointed out beautiful lakes. Before we arrived at Simba Safari Camp, we stopped and took pictures at the Equator line. I can now officially say that I have been in two hemispheres at the very same time!

Simba Safari Camp was interesting in itself. We discovered it wasn't one of those fancy safari lodges you dream about with the cool animal print decor, nice themed room. Nope, we opened our door and discovered it was 4 bunk beds with makeshift mosquito nets for all six of us. Poor Charles was going to have to listen to a bunch of girl talk for the next two nights. Once we got settled in, we drove to the park since we had an hour to kill before our boat ride tour. The van we were driving in had a huge sun roof so we all decided to stand on the chairs and stick our heads outside to get a better view. We were probably the funniest sight to the people that lived along the road there. We all were intent on finding as many animals as possible. We joked about how trying to spot elephants in the park was the African version of Where's Waldo. Within that hour, we spotted cows, elephants and wart hogs. Wart hogs are much smaller than Pumba in the Lion King!

As part of our Safari, we took a boat tour along the Kazinga Channel that joins Lake Gorge and Lake Edward. It was about an hour and a half ride where we saw water buffalo, elephants, crocodiles and hippos. It was amazing to think that here they were in their natural habitat, exactly where God had placed them. They were not behind glass at a zoo and I was not on a safari ride at Animal Kingdom in Disney. Our guide spotted two lionesses up in the hills which is very rare during the day. Lions usually only come out early morning or late at night to hunt. As we were driving back to the camp, our driver quickly stopped and pulled off the side of the road. About 25 feet from the road was a young adult male lion. After waiting about 15 minutes to see if any other lions would accompany him, our driver Wilson thought something might be wrong with the lion. So, we pulled up towards the lion. We were literally only 10 feet away from him! After saying goodbye to the lion, we realized that we had lost our spare tire. This meant that we had to go back...in the dark... to find the tire which happened to be 10 feet away from the lion. Our driver strategically positioned the van in case the lion decided to advance towards him, he could make a quick escape into the van. Wilson saved the day and saved his spare tire from the lion!

Our second day we woke up early in hopes of seeing more lions. Unfortunately we didn't but instead saw lots of water bucks, water buffalos and more warthogs. It is so hard to condense everything that happened because we did so much and saw so much! We also went on a nature walk where we hiked to see a bat cave. I have never seen so many bats in my entire life! They covered the walls, ceiling, ground...you name it. We also had a National Geographic moment and watched a giant python eat bats. To shorten things and not make this an incredibly long post, we also saw a large group of baboons on the side of the road. We stopped and they came right up to the car door which made for a perfect picture opportunity. My favorite part probably besides the lion was the chance to have our pictures taken with a family of elephants 15 feet away from us in the background. It was so cool! We ended our safari with walking around a field filled with zebras. It was an incredible experience and I am so happy I had the chance to go on it. The group of us that went on it became so much closer. I mean, when you are that close to a lion in the middle of the night, you share a special bond haha. Throughout the drive, I realized that Uganda is full of contrasts. Nature wise, it is absolutely beautiful. There are huge mountains everywhere, fields of banana groves, beautiful hidden lakes and deep, rich, red soil. Against this amazing backdrop, there are rows of rundown tiny shops with curtains as doors and cardboard or thatched roofs lining the road.


I have so many other pictures from this trip that I think I am just going to post a separate post full of just pictures later this weekend :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Things I have learned and experienced in Africa

Quick update- I just got back to Amani late this afternoon from a Safari!!! It was an incredible experience. I am going to write a separate post with all the details and pictures once I figure out how to condense such a crazy, adventurous 3 days into one post this weekend. Soo... in the mean time, I thought I would share with you some fun little experiences and lessons I have learned just in my first week in Uganda. Hope you enjoy :)

1.) Make sure to keep sketchy showers completely locked, even if you are finished. This prevents strange guys named Joseph from walking in, apologizing and then introducing themselves.
 (Thankfully I was fully dressed)

2.) Apparently, it is possible to retrieve your spare tire back from a lion that is 10 feet away without it attacking. Our tour guide Wilson is the bravest!

3.) It is difficult to hold a shower head while showering and attempt to kill mosquitoes at the same time.

4.) There are no traffic rules in Uganda. Just honking your horn will do just fine.

5.) Be very careful on how you dismount a Boda Boda.... mufflers hurt!

6.) Kids will come out of nowhere to wave and say hello if they see a bunch of white girls hanging out the top of a van. It sometimes feels like your in your own parade.

7.) Lions will not come out of the bushes no matter how many times you sing the theme song of Lion King.

8.) Pumba is so much bigger on tv than in real life.

9.) It takes almost an hour to two hours to make six grilled cheese sandwiches in Uganda.

10.) American currency is a lot easier to understand than Ugandan Shillings.

11.) My lap will never be big enough for all the kids that want to sit in it. To fix this, they decide to push you down so they can sit on your stomach too.

12.) There really is such a thing as African time. Expect everything to happen at least an hour later than its suppose to.

13.) You can really be in two places at once; just straddle the Equator in Uganda. Checking that one off my bucket list!

14.) Having your picture taken with elephants in their natural habitat 15 feet behind you is the coolest. thing. ever!

15.) Getting 16 girls fed, bathed and dressed for bed is no easy task.


16.) Instead of lizards, Africa has big geckos that climb the walls everywhere and keep you company in the bathroom and shower.

17.) Ugandans are the friendliest people. They will stop and talk to whomever, wherever.

18.) Ugandans do not sleep. I have never seen so many people walk around at all hours of the night in my life.

19.) It is a very good thing I do not get carsick. Driving in Africa is a roller coaster in itself.

20.) I am a master of the Queen Elizabeth National Park Safari board game!

21.) I have seen enough bats to last me a lifetime.

22.) Sleeping under mosquito nets is like camping indoors. Except when the net collapses on you in the middle of the night and you wake up tangled in it.

23.) Water buffalo are more dangerous than hippos. They kill just for fun. We had a staring contest with a few of them.

24.) Walking around in a field full of zebras might be as cool as the elephants.

25.) Africans must have very hard heads and excellent balance. They carry everything from bananas to water jugs on top of their heads while walking.

26.) Children will walk for miles to get to school every day. This could mean up to 2 hours or more just one way.

27.) I am an even bigger advocate for TOMS. My TOMS have endured all conditions imaginable and still remain comfy!

28.) One restaurant we went to had green toilet paper that dyed the water blue. We weren't sure if we should have been concerned or not...

29.) I introduced our tour guide to his very first Twizzler! He loved them and kept asking for more "red sticks".

30.) Africa's version of a drive thru is people swarming the car, shoving chicken on a stick through your window.



Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shopping Adventures, African Church and Smiles Galore



                                                   Calvary Chapel of Jinja, Uganda
                                                                    Sweet little girl
                                        Kids in Uganda are always wanting hugs and pictures!
                                       Say "Cheese!"- That baby was holding on for dear life!

There is so much that has happened in just this weekend alone. When I take pictures or describe it here in this blog, I feel like it just doesn't do Africa justice. The colors are so much more brighter than in the photos. The kids smiles turn into giggles after screaming "Cheese" and then they hop into your lap or peer over your shoulder to see themselves on your camera screen. I think that is becoming one of my favorite things about Africa. The easiest way to form a friendship with a child is to take their picture and enthusiastically ask if they would like to see their picture. The children here in Uganda find joy in the simplest of things. It is not just Amani children. Children on the street will stop walking and say hello, asking to take a picture. Being mobbed by a crowd of silly, happy kids is the best :)

On Saturday, a group of us decided to embark out on our own and go into town. This meant hailing down a Boda Boda. Now, I have never been on a motorcycle before. So the idea of hopping on behind a complete stranger on a motorcycle taxi in AFRICA both excited and freaked me out a little. Getting three Boda's for the six of us was no problem at all. It is nothing like trying to grab a taxi in NY or something. They zoomed right up towards us literally begging us to jump on. One thing we were taught is that you have to negotiate the price first before getting on. If not, they can tell you any price and you will have to pay. Some Ugandans believe they can overcharge "Muzungas" (white people). Shopping is also an adventure in itself. First off, you have to figure out the conversion between shillings and dollars to decide if you are getting ripped off or not. The market is full of hand made bead necklaces, drums, shoes and other trades. I have fallen in love with this local artist's work. I am planning on getting a canvas to bring home. We ended the day by playing and feeding the babies before they went to sleep.

I was really excited about going to an African church service this morning! The volunteers and a missionary family working with Amani went to Calvary Chapel of Jinja. I was actually really surprised how American it was. The worship was probably my favorite part. It was led by an American but they sung songs in both English and Lugandan. I find it amazing that even though worship was sung by two completely different languages, God still understands. The pastor was really good and spoke in English. After he would say a sentence, there was a translator that would translate it into Lugandan. After the service, we were of course surrounded by all the kids wanting to take pictures. It is definitely an African thing :) For the rest of the day, we took a tour of the new building Amani is building down the road. Tomorrow we will actually be working on it. We later played with all the kids in the front lawn. There is a little boy named Simon who became my constant shadow. If I attempted to put him down to play with the other kids, he would instantly start crying and trying to climb up on me. Of course, I am such a sucker and did not want to be a bad auntie. These kids already have me totally wrapped around their little fingers and I have only been here for three days!!!

Overall, I am just feeling so blessed to have the opportunity to be here. Already, I feel so fortunate to be a part of these children's lives and even the mama's. It is a great feeling to be needed and for them to be just grateful for the little things you do. Tonight, I was on my laptop trying to upload pictures and stopped to help a mama fold laundry. She was so kind and thankful for something as simple as that. Let me tell you, that is a ton of laundry! 

A couple pictures :) Wifi is working!!

My project before leaving for Africa was to make these headbands to give to the girls, volunteers and mamas at Amani. It was such a blessing in itself getting to watch the faces light up when I gave each one a headband.

This is Isaiah! He is such a cutie. Just a small background story on him... his father is deceased and his mother is unable to care for him. He has been at Amani since October and was 1 month old when he arrived.
This is Mercy! I am in love with this little one. Her smile and laugh is absolutely contagious :) Mercy was abandoned and found in Nawanyago Swamp. She came to Amani when she was only 3 days old.
                                                Megan and I on our first Boda Boda!

Thank you everyone for being so patient with me! All of the volunteers and I have discovered the African wifi is very unpredictable :) I am hoping the post some pictures on this post. For a small recap, it has been so nice having the weekend to adjust and get to know everyone before starting my schedule tomorrow. So far, I have been to African church, hugged and kissed a bunch of precious babies, laughed and been tackled by 40+ kids and become a pro Boda Boda rider! Boda Bodas are basically motorcycle taxis that take you into town. It costs 1000 shillings which is about 50 cents. They are so much fun! I am going to write a separate post to go more into detail of my first weekend
here. I wanted to take the time and attempt to upload some pictures :)

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