In the past two weeks we have been seen everywhere!
Last Monday was the graduation ceremony for students of the New Hope Vocational Institute. With the recent announcement regarding the closing of the vocational school, the importance of our gathering together and celebrating the impact of the training institute on the lives of numerous students through the years was paramount. Uncle Sam, the headmaster, as well as Geoff and Uncle Jay spoke at various times through the event. Though all in leadership see the immense value in vocational education, we prayerfully came to the decision to close the school due to, among other factors, a consistently decreasing student population in recent years. We don't believe the closing to be permanent, but hope we can reopen at some point in the future. The students were blessed as we honored them with cake and a huge lunch. (It was at 8 a.m. that same morning that Geoff and I came to the sudden realization that I had promised to make the cake, thus my morning was filled with flour, cocoa powder and icing up to the moment we left for the function.)
On Tuesday, Sam and his classmates at the secondary school continued preparing the gardens and compounds for the 2-month holiday in which the grounds are unattended. Primary school teachers prepared for their closing day by finishing up reports and planning for the arrival of students' family members. I gathered what ingredients I needed for yet another massive cake due for a birthday party on Wednesday. At least I was thinking ahead for this one!
Every December 3rd Sekago turns a year older. Having been one of Toby's classmates and friends for many years, and one that Toby usually invites to his birthday parties, I have been the designated "birthday cake supplier" for Sekago these past five years. Until this year, the cake and the boys have made their own way out to the village where Sekago lives. This year I drove the precious items out myself. What an adventure. My plan was to take Junju (of David Family), Emma (one of our Okoth neighbors), Sam (our Sam), Toby, Kevin and The Cake out at 1:15 for the 1:30 party. I would drop them off and return after 4 p.m. to pick everyone up. So much for things working out like I planned. At 2 p.m. no one but Toby, Kevin and The Cake were available for transport. Turns out that Junju forgot to ask Uncle Mulu beforehand if he could go to the party, so he couldn't go. Emma either forgot or decided to stay home. Sam was still at a Scripture Union function and wanted to stay and finish. So, Toby, Kevin, The Cake and I loaded up and headed down the dusty road. Kevin and I had never been to Sekago's before and Toby had never been there on the newly cut road. We stopped where Toby thought Sekago's house was located and confirmed it by asking about ten young children. They all answered together that we were indeed at the correct house, but Sekago was not there, having left for the town center! We were greeted by THE WHOLE FAMILY and some neighbors and various other onlookers, and ushered into seats of honor in the house far at the back of the compound. There was only one English speaker and between his minimal English and our minimal Luganda we enjoyed a fantastic conversation on Sekago's various relatives and our time in Uganda. Being that most of the family are drunkards, it was a lively conversation. I was seated next to the family muzeye (elder male) who was a brother to Sekago's deceased father. (He looked about 70 but is actually only three years older than me! Years of alcohol abuse surely ages a person!) I had decided that I would not leave my boys there among inebriated people whom I'd never before met, nor could predict the actions thereof! It was a good 45 minutes before Sekago appeared. Knowing I could trust Sekago with looking out for my kids, I announced that I would be leaving with plans to return at 4ish. With imploring eyes and arms laden with platters of food he begged me to stay and eat. Well, well, well, two hours later I had been filled with matooke, g-nut, sweet potatoes, rice, meat sauce, irish potatoes and greens while continuing to creatively visit with friendly drunks. I also became the official cake cutter. This is no small task. In fact, cutting a cake in the buganda culture is a learned skill. First you size up the cake and the makeshift implements you've been given for cutting. Then you size up the crowd. Then you do the math. What follows next is really a butchering of sorts, for the beauty of the cake only goes as far as their first view and an appreciation for the one who made it. There are no pretty plates on which to serve, no attention to decoration once cut and no aesthetic presentation. The hastily cut, various sized pieces are piled onto a huge platter which guests grab as the platter sweeps past them. Thus is the art of serving a birthday cake. After the cake has been eaten the party is officially over. Gifts are usually opened after guests leave. And so we made our way out of the house and toward the car. It was a short walk past other houses in the compound, but required a greeting of each and every person we passed. I kneeled onto a few of the mats as the ladies seated were most definitely older than me (or at least I assumed they were! Again, years of alcohol yields a SO MUCH OLDER appearance!!!) Upon finally reaching the van there arose a great persuasive argument so as to get me to take a "short cut" out of the village. No can do, said I, as I was sure said short cut would yield only more confusion as to which bush or tree to head toward! As least the newly cut road was a straight shot to the main road. Careening down the dusty road amidst a rehashing of our crazy afternoon was delightful for I was with my boys! That night we spent a couple of hours with David Family kids as we discussed their prayer requests for the upcoming holiday as many of them will be visiting extended family--many of which are not Christians, nor are the environments always the best.
Thursday we headed to Kampala. Our long time friends and fellow New Hope missionaries Steve and Kathryn Brown and their three children live there as Steve heads up New Hope's Investment Year program and the IY house in the city. Steve was directing and Joel and Anya, their two oldest had parts in the Kampala Amateur Dramatic Society's pantomime of "Treasure Island." After a lunch treat we went Christmas shopping at one of the local craft markets and then on to the theatre. The classic slapstick show ended after 10 p.m., so we visited briefly until a little past 11 and then also briefly in the morning at a 6:30 breakfast before Kathryn and the kids left for school. Geoff and Steve then took the opportunity to grab valuable meeting time discussing their Early Adulthood department, while our kids enjoyed the trampoline.
We made it back to New Hope around 11 a.m. and drove direct to the secondary school without passing by home. Friday morning was the Secondary 4 banquet in which those who successfully completed S4 were celebrated with song, dance, speeches, cake, awards and a special lunch. One of our dear David Family girls graduated and we were pleased to be a part of honoring her. After the banquet, the lower secondary classes were given their reports. As Geoff was looking ahead to a week of back-to-back meetings and numerous speaking engagements, I went to pick up Sam's report, an activity which, in the past, has taken up to two hours. This time, however, I saw the head teacher right away and had the report in hand in about 15 minutes! Sam did very well and we are quite pleased with his performance. But, as I was leaving I noticed some shenanigans being crafted by another student who was trying to dupe the teacher into believing an age-mate and neighbor had been sent by his family to pick the report. This was a ploy to keep the family from seeing the report which he suspected was riddled with failed marks and a possible directive to repeat. Being that Geoff is the mentor for this one I intercepted the report and received an understanding of the conditions which the young man must meet this holiday if he is to be promoted to the next class. Having his report in hand I invited him to accompany me home to visit with Geoff. However, wanting to keep all things from the appearance of wrong doing I needed other kids to be in the car with us. So, fifteen minutes later I'd found quite a few who welcomed a car ride back to the other side and once piled in, we left that part of our day. Our friend Allison was already at our house waiting for me. She was one of our kids' teachers early on in our time here and was back for another visit (she has returned multiple times over the years.) We thoroughly enjoyed laughing and sharing and she stayed for supper as well. To sit and enjoy the company of a long-time friend was a great ending to a very busy week.
This week has been just as full being that the EYO group is hosting a youth camp with more than 260 in attendance! Toby, Sam and Geoff have been quite busy with all of the activities which finish tomorrow. Geoff has had back-to-back meetings throughout the week as well as speaking three times for the camp. By early afternoon tomorrow the camp will be history and we'll be on to the next thing which just happens to be an "Introduction" ceremony (a cultural precursor to a wedding happening on Sunday.) Geoff will be in attendance at the Introduction as well as leading the service on Sunday and both of us will travel a few kilometers away Sunday afternoon for the wedding reception.
Somehow come Monday morning we need to be all packed and ready to go to Musana Camps one last time for 2014! We will disappear into a week of quiet. Peace and quiet. Hmmmmmm. Sounds marvelous after all the doings of these past weeks! There is limited phone and internet reception, so we usually don't even attempt such! Just thinking of the view of the lake, the breeze, the stillness . . . ahhhhhh.
But, until then, go...go...go...
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in case I don't get another opportunity to post before 2014 has ended!