Saturday, July 13, 2013

Brittany's Bowling Birthday Bash

Bowling with Emily & Sam
I had an awesome birthday yesterday.  It started with opening a package of treats that a friend had sent over all the way from the US.  I also got email and phone greetings from family.  For breakfast, I ate some pumpkin cake made by a friend (dessert #1).  By the time I went to work, I already felt very loved.

After morning worship and prayer at the office, we had some excellent cake made by our Ugandan cook (dessert #2).  And Seattle sent me a birthday present of a nice cool drizzle.  Then I got to go to the US Embassy for a security meeting!  I’ve actually been wanting to see inside the US Embassy ever since I got here, but I never had a reason before.  It definitely felt and looked like we were in the US.  We even noticed that employees were keeping to the right as they walked down the stairs (as opposed to the left, per Ugandan/British convention).  And they served wonderful chocolate croissants (dessert #3)!

For lunch, I got the “special plate” (a ceramic plate with a bison on it) and a free soda (both are an EMI tradition), and Rose had made a fantastic birthday cake with chocolate frosting and pecans for all the July birthdays (dessert #4)!  In the afternoon, I got a card from my office, and Sarah passed around some yummy lemon bars she had made (dessert #5 … and #6).  And I found out that Uganda gave me a birthday present of approving my work permit for another 3 years!!

Enjoying Pizza at New York Kitchen
Immediately after work, I took off with 12 friends for my birthday party.  We had great pizza at New York Kitchen, then went to AlleyGators for bowling!  I’d certainly never been bowling in Africa before, so it was quite the experiment, but we all had a great time and were actually pretty impressed with their official-looking 6 lanes.  No shoes, but socks worked just fine.  And they even interrupted the adjacent dance floor music to play Happy Birthday and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow!  Haha!

Having fun at the AlleyGators bowling alley!
For the finale, we went to “Uganda’s only revolving restaurant” for dessert!  I’d also never been there before and always wondered what it was like.  Well, (I just looked it up) it actually revolves at half the rate of the restaurant in the Space Needle, but since the whole thing was pretty small (you know, smaller radius and all), it felt like we were “bookin’ it” around the circle; plus add to that the back-and-forth motion of uneven movement, and we all thought we might be a little sick at first, like we were on an airplane or boat.  But I think we either got used to it or forgot about it after a while, and we enjoyed the view of the city lights (we were a whopping 13 stories high!).  We even got to confirm our suspicions that a drive-in movie theater is being installed on the roof of the parking garage next door.  They had a live piano player, which was actually pretty nice, and he even played Happy Birthday with everyone singing along, once we rotated to his section.  I think everyone was a little under-whelmed by the desserts, but it was fun nonetheless.  (I couldn’t really complain, since it WAS dessert #7.)  I also received several presents throughout the day, plus many Facebook greetings waiting for me online.

It was such a great birthday!  (I didn’t even feel too frustrated when I got home and found that I had no running water.)  I feel so blessed to have great friends here, a job I love, a city I can explore, plus loving friends and family “back home.”  Thanks to all who participated in my fabulous day or sent birthday wishes!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parties, Friends, and a Cat named Chloe

Baby Chloe Trying Kitty Grass

[Warning: This entry is long and sappy, but I needed to write it.]

Chloe is the feisty, but sweet and friendly, calico cat that my mom rescued from the streets of Kampala over a year ago and then came to live with me in my apartment.  Two weeks ago – coinciding with my mom’s visit so that she could help with any follow-up care – we took Chloe to a vet to be spayed.

Interns Enjoying the Kid-Free Slide during the Downpour
Cold Kids Trying to Stay Warm
Later that day, we had a memorable EMI Family Fun Day.  It was like an office summer picnic, complete with a potluck, burgers & dogs on the grill, a volleyball court, and a giant inflatable water slide for the kids (and some adults).  We thought we were located safely under the roof of a large porch at the nearby international school, but just as we were getting ready to eat, it started pouring…and I mean pouring!  The 10-foot-wide porch proved inadequate, so we all ran further inside to an open-air dining room.  Everyone was bundled up, wrapping any and all towels we could find around the cold, wet kids.  The rain was so heavy on the metal roof that you had to yell to someone one foot away in order for them to hear you.  It was definitely the largest downpour we’ve had here all year.  It was quite impressive!  After the rain stopped, the kids ran out to the soccer fields and played around in what was now one giant wading pool.  While the adults may have been somewhat miserable, some said it was the best day of their kids’ lives! 

Happy Kids in the Flooded Field

Chloe stayed at the vets for 4 days because they said she was recovering somewhat slowly.  We brought her home on Wednesday morning, and she was miserable, filthy, weak, and in pain.  She just sat in her little bed and didn’t move much for several days.  My mom helped me clean her up and force-feed her milk, and finally she started drinking water voluntarily after a couple days.  I was definitely glad my mom was there to help.

Chatting around the Grill with Friends
Meanwhile, the 4th of July came and went (we don’t get it off work), but the Americans were determined to celebrate on the weekend.  The following Saturday, my friend Rose held a cook-out at her place (which we’ve deemed the “party house” since she actually has a yard).  Once again we had burgers & dogs on the grill, and this time we added homemade French fries, ice cream sandwiches (from homemade cookies) and a red, white, and blue cake!  Around dark, we headed over to the American Recreation Association where the US Embassy was putting on a 4th of July celebration.  We didn’t want to pay to go inside, so we just sat outside across the street and watched the fireworks.  The fireworks show was short but included some impressive bursts – and hey, the point is: we got to see fireworks!  We headed back to Rose’s place to make S’mores and watch Harry and the Hendersons projected on her wall, outside by the campfire.  It was a really fun evening!  And I was so thankful for a community of friends to celebrate with.

That night, Chloe ate some food voluntarily for the first time, and after that she seemed to start getting a little better.  She even started greeting us at the door again when we came home.  Unfortunately, my mom left for the US the following Tuesday morning, and I left Chloe home by herself all day long, so she started bothering her wound.  I found the Elizabethan collar (those plastic cone-shaped things for animals) that I had brought over from the US and put it on her.  Well, the next couple of days were a series of visits from another vet and shots and treatments, and Chloe taking off her collar again and making the wound worse, and I began to get more and more anxious about her and how to make the best decisions about her wellbeing.  (It’s not really like in the US where I would just take her to our animal clinic and trust that they would do what was best for her.) 

Chloe and Pooh, April 2011
Chloe and Pooh Reunite, July 2011
By the time my birthday rolled around on Thursday, she was still in a lot of pain and seemed to be getting worse.  I was anxious and stressed most of the day, but tried to trust that God would help us get through this.  And I felt blessed by a delicious Mississippi Mud birthday cake and an amazing handmade pop-up birthday card from my office.  I was supposed to go to Bible Study that night, where we were going to have a birthday party for me.  Unfortunately I got home to discover that Chloe had removed her collar again and taken out all of her stitches, completely undoing all previous healing.  I finally broke down crying because I was so overwhelmed with worry and not knowing what to do.  Sarah & Carey, who had arrived to pick me up, kindly came in to support me and help me figure out what to do.  Finally the vet was able to come, and Sarah & Carey helped me hold Chloe down while he re-tied one of her stitches.  He said that the outer stitches would have to wait.  I was very grateful to have Sarah & Carey there, and Rose, who came to join us later.  We chatted and ate ice cream and cake.  While it was not exactly the ideal birthday, I very blessed by the gift of my 3 supportive friends.

Chloe was miserable that night, and I stayed home from work on Friday to make sure she didn’t remove her collar again.  Again, I was anxious all day as I continued to worry about what would happen to my cat and how to make the best decisions for her welfare.  That afternoon (yes, Friday the 13th), I called her original vet and told her what had happened.  She decided to come over, and when she saw the wound, she said she needed stitches immediately.  We once again went to work turning my kitchen counter into a surgery table.  (Fortunately, Sarah & Carey were there again to help, because we were doing a pizza and movie night at my house.)  The vet gave Chloe anesthesia, which I think was good because we definitely could not have held her down while she sewed her up.  By the end of all the stitching, I was about to pass out, but I felt hopeful that perhaps Chloe could start healing again and eventually recover.

Chloe Appreciating my Mom's Craft Purchases
Chloe was still under the effects of the anesthesia when the vet left, so I put her on the floor on a towel with another towel on top of her to keep her warm, as the vet had instructed.  About halfway through Sixteen Candles, I checked on her and she seemed non-responsive and I couldn’t really tell if she was breathing or had a heart beat.  We decided to just wait, since there was nothing else to do, and see if she eventually woke up.  By the end of the movie, I could tell that she definitely wasn’t breathing and was completely unresponsive.  I really couldn’t believe it, but I eventually accepted that she was gone.  I think her weak body just couldn’t handle the anesthesia and the trauma, but whatever it was, it was at least a somewhat peaceful way to go.  I was once again very thankful that my 3 friends were there with me.  We chatted for a little while longer, and they left with my assurances that I would be okay.

Chloe Became a Wiz at Climbing my Doors
I’m definitely sad about it, but I’m not as devastated as I could be.  I think the whole time I’ve had her, I’ve known that if I lost her, I would be okay, that I could move on.  My life here is not about her – she was just an added bonus.  I just hated seeing her suffer.  Spaying a cat is supposed to be a fairly routine procedure that they will heal from, but this one went terribly wrong.  As soon as I realized she was gone, I actually felt a weight lifted.  I no longer had to worry about how much pain she was in or how long it would take her to recover.  I knew that she was a last at peace.  And I just have to trust that God decided to take her at the right time – for her and for me.

I’ll miss her, but I’ll be okay.  I am thankful for the 15 months that I had with her.  Although she could be a pest, she was also affectionate and a good companion.  I’ll miss having her greet me at the door.  I’ll miss having her crawl onto my lap while I’m reading a book or working on my laptop.  I’ll miss seeing her chase flies around the room or scale the grates on my doors to try to get to the geckos on the ceiling.  I’ll miss having her greet all of my visitors at the door and rub against their legs.  I’ll miss seeing her curled up and content on the couch.  I may even miss her stealing my food while I’m trying to cook or wrapping herself around my ankles and then biting them while I’m washing dishes.

Contented Kitty, May 2012
I am thankful that she was released from her pain and suffering.  And the more I think about it, I think perhaps God was releasing me as well – from the responsibility of caring for her, to be free to make more flexible decisions with my life here.  I never intended to have a cat in Uganda.  I think perhaps she was a little angel who God sent down to comfort me and provide companionship at a time when I was living on my own for the first time and still trying to build community, as I was for a while the only single (non-intern) in our office.  But now I have been blessed with a supportive community and many wonderful friends here.  So perhaps her work here was done, and God took her home.  Now she can help keep Heaven free from bats and cockroaches.  =)

Wonderful Friends to Celebrate my Birthday with Me!
Yesterday I collected all her things to throw away or give away, which felt cleansing.  Today I start a new life here – one without a cat.  Last night I went out to dinner with EMI friends for a truly wonderful birthday celebration – yet another reminder of how God has blessed me with community here.  And I don’t have to worry about my sweet little Chloe anymore.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm Famous!

We interrupt this regularly-scheduled DRC blog post to update you on other aspects of my life, like the fact that … I’m famous!  =)

The colorful hallway (the sign is in the background)
No, not the cute Batman kid. I'm the one in blue.
A couple weeks ago, I was in the midst of fabric shopping with some friends in downtown Kampala, standing in a hallway/breezeway between a bunch of small shops where I have probably done most of my fabric shopping over the last 2 years.  As I’m standing there, waiting for Katherine & Lise to finish at a nearby shop, Carey glances up and makes a casual comment about the irony of a sign over a nearby fabric shop that is depicting only mzungus (White people).  I look up at the sign, and for a split second one of the pictures strikes me as oddly familiar.  I suddenly suck in a huge breath of air, and incoherently start exclaiming “That’s us!  That’s us!”  I’m so excited that I can’t even stop to explain to confused Carey what I’m talking about.  “Oh my gosh, that’s me!  I can’t believe it!  I need your camera!  Get out your camera!”  She slowly realizes that I’m blabbering about the fact that _I_ am on the sign that she was referring to!  I couldn’t believe it.  A very familiar picture of me, Rachel, and Megan (two fellow EMI interns from 2010) wearing traditional Ugandan dresses is manufactured proudly into the sign above the “Jesus J & J” shop, which sells fabric for that type of dress.  (And no, of course that is not the shop where we bought the fabric for the dresses, but I’ve long since realized that there’s no expectation of “truth in advertising” here.)  We wore these dresses for a Ugandan co-worker’s wedding (see my old blog post).  I can only assume they got this photo from one of our blogs.  I bet they never thought I’d actually still live in Kampala and eventually see that sign.  It kind of makes me wonder about all the photos of people I see on various signs.  How many of them actually know how their photos are being used?  The funny thing is that it’s a fabric isle I’ve been to many times before, and I still wouldn’t have noticed if Carey hadn’t said something about it.  I wonder how long it’s been up there….

Pointing out the sign that made me famous
We ended up standing in that hallway for quite a while because first I had to explain it to Carey, then I had to explain it again to Katherine & Lise, and finally I came back again to show it to a friend we ran into (actually one of the staff from The Congo Initiative who happened to be in town).  The longer we were there exclaiming and pointing at the sign, the more people around us caught on to what the commotion was about.  Most of the ladies in the surrounding shops were pretty amused by it.  I tried to explain it to the ladies working in the “Jesus J & J” shop, but they seemed very UN-amused and keep avoiding eye contact.  I’m guessing they were worried that I would get mad at them for using my picture.  But I was so shocked and excited that I wasn’t mad at all!

Whenever people from out of town visit me in Seattle, or whenever I’m back home and want to do something Seattle-y, I go to Pike Place Market.  Yep, that famous outdoor/indoor food and craft market where they throw fish and the first ever Starbucks Coffee shop is located.  It’s possibly my favorite place in Seattle.  Mouth-watering produce, fun crafts, curious shops, specialty food items (like chocolate linguine), seasonal flowers, almost every ethnic food imaginable, live musicians and balloon animal makers, great people-watching, and only a few steps away from the waterfront!  Anyways, whenever I visit, I MUST go find my tile on the floor.  Yep, it’s MY tile.  It even has my name on it!  [Grr, I KNOW I have a picture of it somewhere, but I can’t find it!  You know, it's one of those things where you help support the Market by paying for your name to be put on a tile.]  I’ve seen it dozens of times, but it’s my tradition to go and find it every time I’m at Pike Place Market.  (Yes, sadly, I still have to FIND it every time, although I am getting faster at it.)  Well, the “I can’t believe I’m on a sign in downtown Kampala” episode made me think of that, because I now have a place where I MUST take anyone who visits me in Uganda.  Anyone want to come see it?  =D

Saturday, April 7, 2012

DRC #2: The Congo Initiative

Well, I didn’t mean it to take this long, but here is installment #2 about my DRC trip in February:

On Tuesday, February 14, we got started on our work with the Congo Initiative (CI).  We started out with a big meeting between our team and many of the leadership of CI/UCBC.  The overarching NGO is The Congo Initiative, but their main emphasis right now is UCBC, which stands for a French version of Christian Bilingual University of Congo (so I’ll probably use UCBC and CI somewhat interchangeably).  

Dr. David Kasali
The Congo Initiative is really like this BRIGHT LIGHT OF HOPE in Eastern Congo.  Dr. David Kasali and his wife Kaswera, have an amazing heart for their country, and the vision to match.  Dr. Kasali is from Beni (where CI is located), but was educated in Kenya and the US (including a PhD).  He held prominent positions at universities and church organizations for many years and led a relatively privileged life.  (Looking back, he says he realizes that he was letting God have every part of him except his wallet).  After two of his siblings were killed in the war in Eastern DRC, he says he finally let God have all of him, and he and his family decided to move back to Beni in 2001, even though the war continued around them.

To back up a bit, the DRC has been in turmoil since the 1800s.  King Leopold II of Belgium started the colonization of the DRC when he acquired the land has his private property in 1885.  (In the past it has been known as the Belgian Congo and later Zaire).  According to my more-scholarly friends who have read a book about it (“Leopold’s Ghost”), he raised funds from around the world for humanitarian initiatives in the region.  Unfortunately, he misused the funds and basically raped the land of its resources while ignoring, or simply using/oppressing, its people.  When the Belgian Congo received independence in 1960 (about the same time as all the other East African nations), Belgium pulled out and left the new country with very few educated or trained leaders, resulting in what is still considered a “failed state.”  Mobutu, the Congolese leader who ruled Zaire in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, continued Leopold’s waste and selfish personal use of the country’s resources.  It’s all especially sad, since the DRC actually is one of the most resource-rich countries in Africa.  The Congo River alone, which flows through much of the country, has more hydro-electric power potential than all the rivers and lakes in the US combined!  And yet, the DRC is currently the lowest (187th out of 187 countries) on the United Nations’ Human Development Index and listed last (81st out of 81) according to the Global Hunger Index on the list of countries considered to have a serious, alarming, or extremely alarming hunger situation.  (According to the GHI, almost 70% of DRC’s population is undernourished, compared to 10% of China’s and 20% of India’s.)

The Kasalis returned to Beni understanding the need to rebuild the nation after decades of corrupt governance and in the midst of a civil war that has sometimes been referred to as “Africa’s World War.”  They desired to give the Congolese people hope and a determination to invest in and change their nation.  In 2002, the Kasalis decided to gather about a dozen Congolese church leaders for a weekend “retreat” to ask three questions: 1) What is happening in the DRC?  (What is the problem ... and how can people be so evil?)  2) Where is the church?  What impact has it made?  3) What should we do about it?  
These leaders prayed and talked and brainstormed and categorized their ideas and in the end came up with six areas of focus – six ways that Christians should “be the church” in a hurting nation.  The Congo Initiative was formed to address these six areas, or “centers:”
1-UCBC (the need for a university)
2-The Center for CI-UCBC Development and Partnership
3-The Center for Church Renewal and Global Mission (training church leaders)
4-The Center for Community and Family Renewal (women’s rehab, child development, health, family counseling, etc.)
5-The Center for Professional Development and Vocational Training
6-The Center for Creative Arts

The Congo Initiative has a unique relationship with its US board.  After coming up with the six areas of focus, Dr. Kasali went back to his contacts in the US and asked them to help flesh out the Congolese’s ideas.  He then took those plans back to the Congolese to make sure they were headed in the right direction.  The plan went back and forth between the US and Congolese teams until it was further developed.  CI now has a US board (in addition to a Congolese Board), which helps to raise funds and acts as consultants to the Congolese CI leaders.  Unlike many organizations where are birthed in the West and then look for local leaders to help lead them, CI was started and initiated by Congolese, and US partners were brought in at the request of the Congolese as consultants.  A pretty exciting model!
EMI checking out the property with Dr. Kasali

Dr. Kasali shared that the Congolese are often wary of NGOs, as they are seen as outsiders and not a part of the people.  CI decided to focus its initial efforts on the university in order to gain credibility with the local community.  They have a vision for the CI campus to feel like a village, where people are welcomed into it and feel like they’re a part of it.  In 2006, CI was given 85 acres at a very low price, and in 2007, UCBC was opened. 
A UCBC class in session

The new Community Center under construction
It will contain an auditorium that seats 3,000!
Using every possible space - even unfinished ones!
UCBC currently has several hundred students enrolled and is utilizing one existing building plus parts of a very large community center, which is still under construction.  UCBC currently has four degree programs: Applied Sciences, Communications, Economics, and Theology.  Dr. Kasali shared that the Congolese culture is very community-oriented except in the area of education, which has become very competitive and individualistic.  UCBC has a strong focus in community learning and believes in raising up leaders who do not consider themselves better than or separate from the less-educated members of their communities.  One way they address this is by requiring every student to participate in two hours of manual labor (grounds keeping, construction, etc.) per week.  They also hold service days in the community, where even the professors and university president (Dr. Kasali) are out on the streets picking up trash, etc.   As part of the communications program, students are already running a radio station on campus.  [An interesting side note: Ben Affleck (yes, that Ben Affleck) has a heart for the eastern DRC, so he formed a foundation to help.  He actually wanted to name it the Congo Initiative, but he couldn’t because this one already existed, so his organization is called the Eastern Congo Initiative.  But they have friendly relations, as Ben, his mom, and some others have visited CI, and his foundation has helped to fund the radio station and other parts of the communications program.]

The UCBC Radio Station
CI’s vision for their 85-acre campus is to accommodate 3,000 university students, dormitory housing for half of them, some staff & faculty housing, a childcare center to allow mothers in particular to be able to attend classes, a primary & secondary school to demonstrate quality education techniques, vocational training spaces, and the necessary spaces to run the other five centers of CI.  It was such a great experience to get to work on this project and get to know the people at UCBC.  They are all such wonderful people, and I was especially struck by all of the educated, capable, intelligent Congolese who were giving of their talents and time to be part of this vision for an improved DRC.  It is very exciting that this whole thing was started and is still run by local Congolese.  

One of the US Board members, Mary, was there while we were there – she was our wonderful, helpful, and gracious host.  I also really appreciated meeting the two American women who live there full-time, Bethany and Chelsie.  There are such beautiful, humble people, who I look forward to seeing again, since they occasionally come in to Kampala (their nearest major city).  It really made me appreciate all the conveniences we have here in Kampala when I realized these women have to drive for 10 hours just to get here so they can get some chocolate.  =)  There are NO grocery stores in Beni, which pretty much means nothing imported.  The only place to shop for food is at the outdoor local market.  Now, I’m happy to shop in the local market for produce, but I still go to the grocery store weekly for things like yogurt, milk, butter, cheese, bread, apples, pasta, powdered sugar, cat litter, meat, olive oil, flour, toilet paper, etc.  Since there is NO electrical grid in Beni, everyone runs off of generators.  Petrol (gasoline) is extremely expensive, so these ladies get three hours of power per night at their house (fortunately they can use their computers and internet during the day at the university).  Three hours of power per day = no way you can have a fridge.  Yikes!  And they don’t have an oven at their house.  No baking?  That’s when I realized I have NO cause to complain about the few conveniences we’re missing in Kampala!  Major props to these ladies for their willingness to give up Western conveniences to help support this awesome university!

The ladies of our trip: Chelsie (CI), Eileen (eMi Volunteer), Mary (CI-USA), me, Lise (eMi Intern), Bethany (CI)