Tuesday, August 12, 2014

So Many Experiences, So Much to Process

As an expat in Uganda, it is imperative that I enter each day remembering that I live not only in Uganda, I live in the land of "Things are not as they seem."

Cultural differences.
Language differences.
Worldview differences.
Each one is a variable contributing to the fluid definition of "seem."

It's a forum ripe for fumbling and faux pas-ing if I may say so myself.

I was in Kampala on Monday.

Let's get one thing clear, I DO NOT drive in Kampala. Not because I don't know how to drive, but because all those OTHER people don't know how to drive! Banange.

Of course, not all of the chaos is their fault. What is one to do with no lines on the road?Still, when the biggest vehicle or boldest driver gets the go, I feel vulnerable amidst the discombobulated mess and frequent close calls to our bumper. Of course, it seems necessary that there should be four lines of traffic where the width only allows SAFELY for two, because everyone wants to go first and fast. Scary Monsters. Some days I can manage to sit in the passenger seat in a calm fashion, most days are not that way.

I believe I heard a statistic, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, but I completely assume it is true--most missionary deaths are not caused by violence, persecution, illness, snake or other vermin bites, but by road accidents. Keeping that statistic firm in my memory probably doesn't help my peace level while moving about in Kampala. Nevertheless, I survived Kampala on Monday, both physically and emotionally.

Our driver that day is a wonderful young man whom Geoff chose to drive the kids and I in to do some errands and visit with dear friends, the Brown's. This young man finished our mechanics course a few years ago, successfully secured his driving license and has been diligently looking to find work to fine tune his driving experience. To say that I was happy to give him an opportunity would be a true statement. To also say that I had some reservations about how the day would go would also be true.

He comes from the village and doesn't know Kampala well. I typically don't move around as much in Kampala as Geoff does, but I suddenly realized this young man was leaning on me for directions. I studied the maps, talked him through the movements and with only a few slip ups we got everywhere we planned to go.

We just didn't make it there in the order we had planned.

Herein lies the language difference and the cultural difference. What I said wasn't always heard. Why I wanted to do what I wanted to do wasn't always comprehended. So, when I said "we want to go to that big orange building up there," he replied, "Yes, Aunt." When I said, "turn beyond the building," chaos ensued. He only heard "orange building," no other directions. I'm guessing he tried to turn at the first road because. . . it was there. When I directed him to the next road, he first tried to turn into a small parking lot. Finally, at the correct road he simply drove right on past. Not sure why, but in the land of "things are not as they seem," "turn here" must mean "go forward." So, we scrapped that errand and "went forward" to another mall with similar shops to what we needed.

At the next junction, same problem, different details. Not sure if this one is a cultural, worldview or "roadview" difference, but "turn left here" apparently meant "get in the right lane to make a left hand turn." To be fair, he simply doesn't know Kampala or which direction in town the places were located, so having looked at the map didn't translate to real road position for him. However, not to let him completely off the hook, it is common for Ugandan drivers to make a left hand turn from the right lane. It is also common for people to make their own lane in order to do this. Frequently as common is for oncoming traffic to make their own lane due to impatience with the blockage created. Hence, the 2-lane, unlined road becomes 4+ and no one can move.

There is a saying in Africa that can be frequently seen on T-shirts in the souvenir and craft shops, "No Hurry In Africa." Don't let them fool you, it does not apply to driving. In Uganda, there is considerable virtue in the ability to move slowly, as well as to not confront, EXCEPT when driving. Put a Ugandan in a car and suddenly a rapid pace ensues, complete with impatience, selfishness, and a strong show of confrontation to  whomever blocks the way of the car.

This is what happened on the way home. We attempted to cut some time off of our journey home (which started later than I wanted because time is irrelevant here and "I'm coming soon, Aunt" doesn't mean what you think it means.)

"Soon," to a Ugandan is a completely different animal than "soon" to someone in the west. "I'm coming," is also usually said as the person is walking AWAY from you. I've observed countless times that Ugandans cut out that smoothing over tactic we use in our language, for instance, "I'll be right back," what a westerner would say, softens the fact that someone is leaving your presence. Ugandans skip directly to "I'm coming" to maintain harmony, but in actual fact the opposite is happening.

Just for informational purposes at this point, "I'm coming" may not even mean that same day. I have literally been standing IN KAMPALA next to a person on the cell phone telling the listener, "I've just reached the nearby village, I'm coming," as he stands in a line that has a clear wait of more than an hour, in the city that is hours away from said village. He is not even in a vehicle moving, yet! Why the person on the other line believes what they've just been told, I'll never understand. I just had a thought--they probably don't believe what the person is saying, but are accustomed to waiting for the visitor for lengthy amounts of time. In eight years of living here, I have to admit I now rarely take it as word, either. To be honest, when someone shows up at the time they indicated, I'm surprised. I also no longer break out in a sweat when quite some time past the designated appointment rolls by without a knock on the door.

ANYWAY, back to our day in Kampala, trying to enter the short cut took us almost 30 minutes. Then trying to navigate the short cut was impossible when 4 un-signaled roads converged and drivers in all 4 directions saw their need to go first as a priority--creating a frustrating 40 minute stalemate. After about 30 minutes some random guy began walking through the jam giving his own directions to each vehicle, but no one listened to him. So much for the "short" cut.

Once on the straight away, we made it to Luweero, 18 km from our home, in about one hour. As we finished driving through their weekly market, complete with produce and other items strewn all about the roadway, dodging motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, chickens, cows, goats, large lorries and small pick ups, our driver announced that he had wanted to buy some passion. (He meant "passion fruit.") I simply said, "Oh, I'm sorry," indicating that there was no way I was going to make another foray into that mess. Why he waited to say something until after we'd passed all the fruit vendors, I'll never know. We made it home, but not as early as we had hoped!

Another interesting cultural observation is time keeping or the lack thereof. Because New Hope is a culture blend of many different tribes in Uganda as well as many different westerners, we tend to have better success with starting things closer to the time it was slated to start. In the village? Not so much.

When someone arranges a time to meet with you, realize first that an actual time choice is unusual. BUT, if they do indicate a time realize also that they have a range of 59 minutes to fulfill their commitment to meet you. "I'm coming at 5," doesn't mean what you think it means. Why? because 5:00 is anywhere from 5:00 to 5:59.

Most often you will not be given a time, but will only be told, "I'm coming on Saturday," with no indication as to what time of day that might be. And truthfully, out here in the village there doesn't need to be one. Everyone knows that everyone goes to work in their garden in the early morning until sometimes even 1 or 2 p.m. Upon reaching home they start a fire, cook lunch and rest. Visiting usually happens after that. Being that lunch has been consumed around 3 or 4 p.m. visiting hours are ripe between 5 and 7 p.m. as no one usually eats supper before 8 or 9 p.m. anyway. I can't remember how many times new staff have landed on us during our supper time at the 6 o'clock hour and have laughed. "You're eating NOW? Don't you get hungry at midnight?" to which I answer, "No, we're sleeping at midnight. I don't wake up wondering if I'm hungry or not."

Two Saturday's ago I received a visitor. I wasn't sure she was coming that day because her words had been, "I'm coming this Saturday, or. . . maybe the next Saturday, but I'm coming!"

I had just invited my family to the table and we'd all taken a few bites when she arrived. It was only 1:30! I moved my lunch out of sight and into the kitchen and greeted her warmly. Just as no visit has a definite expected start time, neither is the ending defined. But, as she got off of the boda (motorcycle) that had carried her to us, she spoke in Luganda for the driver to return at 4 p.m. to pick her up. I now knew how long she planned to stay, a rare insight afforded a host. However, we planned to go to Kiwoko for another visit at 4 p.m., so I spoke to the driver that he need not return as we would drive her into Kiwoko.

My visitor and her husband have a ministry, including a school and church in a nearby village. They are very poor, yet she showed up to my house bearing a huge sack of food for us! Few clothes, little furniture, extremely limited resources for running their ministry, but rich in food. It's common here. It was embarrassing for me to receive a huge sack of sweet potatoes from her, a large basket full of bananas, and about 4 kilograms of beans--all fresh from their garden. My American eyes saw capital sitting on the porch, as I thought she could have sold the items and brought in money for her family and ministry! But, she knew that what was sitting on our porch was her gratitude for our support of her family's work within their community. Things not being as I expect them to be never cease to catch me off guard!

In other news . . .there is a very important gauge of my own personal health in place in our little community. In Uganda, bigger is better. Ahem . . . I speak of the plumpness of the physique. What I want is to remain healthfully slim. What Ugandans value is "largeness" for it indicates the wealth available to eat a LOT. We do not have weight loss advertisements posted around town. We have weight gain advertisements as follows, "Gain hips and bums! Call xxxx-xxx-xxx" So, when I receive a "compliment" that I'm looking good, I say "Thank you" and mentally make a note to cut back on my portions. In fact, I thought I was doing pretty good when we first returned to Uganda last year after our time in America, until one of my dear older friends greeted me warmly, and with a big smile proclaimed, "Aunt, you're looking nice and big!" "Thank you," I replied, and realized supper portions that night would have to be small.

I relish watching my children growing up here. But, even with my own kids things are not always as they seem.

On another trip to Kampala, we spent little time anywhere else but walking around clean grocery stores, sitting at the hospital waiting for Aunt Ketty's oncologist appointment, and sitting in our nice air conditioned van.  We returned home around 11 p.m. because traffic was again out of control--jam here, jam there, jam everywhere! After emptying out our grocery sacks, I walked into my bathroom and found Kevin showering. Kevin--my ten year old whom I cannot get to bathe, but once or twice a week even though everyday he runs through the bush, the mud, climbs the trees, skids expertly in mud puddles on his bike, and plays football every afternoon until he is overheated and sweaty. I asked amazed, "You're bathing???? WHY?" He was obviously amazed that I was amazed and retorted, "Mom! I'm dirty!"
"You mean to tell me that the dirt you sleep in most days is cleaner than what we found in Kampala today?"
 "Yup, dirt isn't bad. It's dirt. But, Kampala is full of germs. We need dirt, it doesn't hurt, but I sat at the hospital all afternoon and THAT IS NASTY DIRTY!"
"I'm sure you're going to be a doctor some day with that interesting take on the environmental effect on the immune system!"
"Maybe, but it's true!"

With Toby, I have to ask not, "Did you wash your hands?" but, "Did you wash your hands just now?" The second question always asked is, "WITH SOAP?" to which he usually replies, "Uh, no." The standard answer I get when I ask, "Why is there still dirt on your hands?"
"That's not dirt, Mom! They're stained!"
Funny how when they take a proper bath the stains become removable. hmmmm, tricky.

And speaking of dirt, currently, we have been without a helper for the washing of our laundry for almost two weeks. She and I had a "conversation" one day regarding her eldest daughter about whom she had received a phone call. Apparently, the young girl was behaving badly and needed to be picked up and brought to the mom's home from a distant village where she lived with a relative. An aside: MANY children do not live with their parents here in Uganda. The reasons are varied. A non-exhaustive list would include: boarding school, a distant aunt who has the "right" above the mom, because she is the elder sister to the father of the child, or an older brother or sister who can give the child "more opportunity" because they have a good paying job.

So, back to our story for today. Our "conversation," which I put in quotes because we barely got our points across with my limited Luganda and her limited English, she told me she was going on Friday to pick up her daughter from Bweyogerere village. I encouraged her to do so, adding that her daughter needed her mom. The following Monday, (more than a week ago) she did not show for work. Nor did she on Tuesday. By Wednesday I asked my other house helper if she knew anything. She looked confused that I was asking, "She went to Masindi, didn't she tell you?" Masindi, in the western part of Uganda, is at the very least a four hour journey, and is in the opposite direction of Bweyogerere. Long story short, I am looking for another laundry helper. The kids and I have spent much of our days washing clothes and we still haven't caught up. Tomorrow I will receive a new helper and we'll see how long that business relationship lasts. My helper said the new helper is a friend of hers. But, when I asked her name she said she didn't know it. Apparently, "friend" means something different that I expected. We'll see how things work out.

Yesterday, Kambo, our good friend arrived. (I know his name, so he is a "good" friend) I greeted him warmly and directed him to where he could find Geoff. A young lady walked up immediately after Kambo arrived and I also greeted her warmly. I think I spoke too fast for her because we seemed to miss each other in communication with almost everything we said. I asked if she was here to see Uncle Geoff.
I explained where he was and asked if she wanted to wait at the house or go to where he was.
"Yes. I'll sit here."
I asked her name and asked if she went to the secondary school.
"Peninah. Yes."
 I thought she was one of our young people who are preparing to go on our outreach next week to the Yumbe district.

When Geoff arrived he greeted her, but she did not speak to him about any particular issue, so he finished the greeting and moved on to a young man from David Family who was also waiting for him. I quietly asked Geoff what she wanted and he said he didn't know. I told him she said she was there for him, but he said she only greeted and left it at that.

So, I went to investigate more. She managed to give me enough information that I realized I had met her once before. She was Kambo's niece! Yes, she was here to see Geoff, but not just him, she was here to visit with the entire family. And she didn't attend our secondary school, but one in Kiwoko. I apparently hadn't asked the right questions. And she answered my questions with an extreme succinct nature. I suddenly realized I had two more stomachs to fill for dinner.

She seemed content to sit on the porch and watch the people pass by, so I got in the kitchen and created food where there previously was none.

All in all the evening turned out fine. The beans I seemed to have so little of managed to fill the bowls of the majority. I thought of the five loaves and two fish. Only my miracle was beans and rice. Those of us who didn't want beans ate bread and tea. The visitors thought my fare was wonderful and left very satisfied. I felt that I had not been a great hostess. Things are not always as they seem.

Language is one of my biggest challenges. I know just enough to be either adequately confused or laughable. At the market one Saturday I successfully bought a fresh beet, if you measure success by only the ability to actually get home with a beet. However, the way I went about it was not very successful. When the man gave me a price twice as much as what I had paid the previous week, I enlightened him that I would only pay what I had paid the week before. I was so proud of myself and assumed his perplexed look was that I'd "won" the bargaining round. When I arrived home with the beet
and told Geoff about it, he laughed and said, "you didn't tell him you would pay the price from last week, you told him you would pay the same price as next week." My language acquisition is not as good as it sometimes seems to me!

Many of you have asked how I am doing since the "border incident." (if you don't know what that means, read   http://www.brittonsinuganda.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-other-side-of-peachy-keen_4382.html )

Honestly, for the most part, I have not been doing very well. I don't understand how one giant episode of "things are not as they seem" playing out before me could derail me in such an extensive way. There has been a lot of depression, darkness, impatience, sadness and wondering if I was in irreversible burnout. Though I've tried to humor you with some of what we experience of cultural and language differences, many of those differences have served as the catalyst for frustration, impatience and anger on my part. I haven't talked about some things because at this point I can not find anything of humor in them at all.

However, I am doing better thanks to friends all over the world who pray. Thank you for letting me know you are praying for me, I have been encouraged by your emails and notes.

Here on the ground, first and foremost are Geoff's prayers and gentle kindness when he could have displayed frustration. Then, I have a number of close friends here who have prayed with me many times and have spoken words of life and encouragement. One told me she "is good at praying, it's what I love to do, so I will pray for you. You asking me to pray for you is not a burden." Another reminded me of the power of God's word being spoken in my words. I have gained strength with, "I am engraved on Your palms, Lord." Isaiah 49:16; "I will be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry," James 1:19; "I will cease from anger and turn from wrath for they only cause harm," Psalm 37:8; and "I will ask and receive from You Lord, that You may fill me with joy," John 16:24. There are many more I have leaned on throughout the past couple of months. I continue to sit in the mornings with God, His word, and I talk with him. Each morning I am singing a song of praise or worship and I am rediscovering that singing to Him out loud cultivates peace. One friend spoke of being hopeful and my heart jumped when she said it. "I want some of that, Lord."

All these things, prayers, words, songs are helping, but I still am a bit tenuous in the grand scheme of things. The cultural, language and worldview differences I shared in this blog post are also present each day. Some days feel overwhelming and I am sure I am burned out. Other days I feel the hope for which I ask.

It is a lifelong journey, so I ask God to continually strengthen me that I may not be merely surviving, but thriving.

I want to end on a lighter note, so considering all I've shared of my struggle I will let you in on a secret I ask myself often at the end of the day. This pertinent, examining question was first posed to me years ago by dear friend and neighbor, Uncle Tony. At the end of one day he asked me, "well, did you survive? or would it be more accurate to say they survived you."

Honestly, along this path I tread, somedays my family and the people I interact with barely manage to survive me with all my faults and failures.

Yup, things are not always as they seem. On the days I can produce a smile, there still is a bit of turbulence brewing underneath, but praise God that His promise to never leave me or turn His back on me has always proven true. (Hebrews 13:5)

Now, that is a God's miracle of grace and love, folks!


Beto and Laura Perez Speaks said...

I shall buy you a Prius upon your return and it shall be called "Namaste"

Britton Family said...

What the?