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Friday Funny — Can You See the Gorilla in the Tree?

Not long after we moved into our house here in Uganda, I came upon Elizabeth and Gaelin seated on the front porch steps staring off into the distance, not moving, not talking. Half an hour went by, then an hour. There they sat, not moving, not talking.

Curious, I sat down beside them and asked what they were watching. They shushed me the minute I opened my mouth.

“Don’t talk, Mom! We’re watching the gorilla in that tree over there to see if he’ll move. We think he’s sleeping.”

I stared into the distance and noticed the palm tree they were watching with such intensity. You can see it in the above photo, through the branches of the trees in our yard. A large piece of bark and leaves formed together to make it look like a silverback gorilla was hugging the tree, unmoving. At least it looked like that to 7 and 9 year old children with active imaginations.

It reminded us of this Farside comic we saw once:

So I ask — Can you see the gorilla in the tree? 😀

(Uganda does have silverback gorillas about 2 hours from where we live. It cost $500+ per person to go see them and they don’t allow anyone under 16 into the protected lands where they are. We’ve never gone, for obvious reasons. 😉 )

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How’s Africa? — The Trade Fair

One of our first experiences in African culture was at the Trade Fair. We hadn’t been in Uganda long when they held one in our town in the local football stadium. Vendors from all over East Africa came to sell their wares. They even had carnival rides — if you were brave enough to try them out!

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Ever since, we’ve eagerly anticipated the Trade Fair coming to town. We start seeing banners and posters for it about a month beforehand. A couple days before it arrives, you can see people out in the stadium setting up tents and stages.

The Trade Fair was in town last week. James and I got to go one afternoon.

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Some of the booths sell hair care products, others household goods, Still others sell bulk food items or specialty products you can’t get at other times. Still others are food vendors where you can get goat on a stick and chips for only a couple dollars.

My favorite part are the vendors selling African crafts. I love shopping in these tents, choosing things I think my family or friends in America would like, and then haggling over the price until we reach an agreement. I’ve gotten pretty good at haggling over the years, especially as I’ve learned the real cost of items and the “mzungu price”. We’ve been back to the Trade Fair often enough that we’ve started to recognize the vendors who come regularly and they recognize us. 

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A dream of mine is to get a booth at the Trade Fair where we can hand out tracts and share the gospel with people, but we haven’t ever been able to figure out how or where to sign up for it ahead of time. This remains a goal for the future.

Blow wind blow!

James is preaching through Romans in our churches. He started today with Paul’s greeting and introduction in chapter 1.

Today is also Eid and the end of Ramadan. Muslims don’t go to mosque on Sunday but this morning they were going in droves. It was strange to see so many Muslims walking to their meeting along with everyone else who attends Catholic or Protestant services. 

I taught Sunday School at Ngarama and Isanja today for the first time in over a year. Years ago, I started teaching through the Bible in Genesis. We’ve reached the life of David. 

I felt like I couldn’t quite get it together for the class this week. For one thing, I can’t remember where I put my quiet seat prizes. I know I have them. Somewhere. But I haven’t seen them in the stuff I’ve put away and cleaned so far. Gotta love it when you put something somewhere so you can remember where it is — and then you can’t find it. 😀 

It’s very windy today. I got through the whole lesson at Ngarama with only one or two of the flannel graph pieces blowing off. I tried to be cool about it, pick the piece up and put it back while not losing pace in my lesson. Theogen shut a window to help with the draft. 

Then the whole bottom panel with all the pieces fell off and landed on the ground. 

I picked it up but didn’t put it back because I was so close to the end and I couldn’t be cool about it and not get distracted.

Elizabeth stood next to the board at Isanja just in case. Next week I’m taking clothes pins to keep it on!

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(She wasn’t upset, she was just bored. All she had to do was stand there and block the wind and it didn’t fall off again. 😉 )

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Friday Funny – Who Wants Tingly Chips?

We used to be able to get these chips here (I haven’t seen them since we’ve been back).

Oh, the mental picture these illicit! That said, I’m not sure I really want chips that tingle or bang? Do you?

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How’s Africa? — The Dry Season

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Whenever anyone asks me “How’s Africa?” my first thought goes to the weather. This aspect is the easiest to explain and the most surprising. Most people imagine Africa as a land of intense heat and sun. While the latter is true — our sunshine is very intense — the former isn’t always.

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Located at the confluence of the Missouri, Meramec, and Mississippi Rivers, we had a lock on heat and humidity in the summer. Those dog days of summer where the daytime highs were in the 100s (and the nighttime lows only fell into the upper 80s) and the humidity hovered around 100% were miserable. You just hunkered down and waited for it to be over. Even swimming pool water offered little relief because it felt as warm as bath water.

I expected Uganda to be much the same. It only has two seasons, rainy and dry. I expected the rainy season to be like St. Louis summers and the dry season to be hot, without the humidity. I was wrong.

Right now we’re in the dry season. The days are usually sunny and warm. My weather app says the highs are in the mid 80s but when you factor in the sunshine, it feels more like the upper 80s to low 90s.

Naturally, it’s very dry. We don’t get any rain for over two months. We can hang a load of laundry and have it completely dry in less time than it takes to wash the next load. 

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(Isn’t that the cutest little laundress you’ve ever seen? 😀 She wanted to help hang the laundry so badly that she carried the stool out there and set to work hanging the load.)

Nighttime temps in the dry season drop into the low 60s or upper 50s. After the heat of the day, the cool nights feel almost cold. 

Little by little, everything dries up. The grass gets brown. The dirt from the roads forms a layer of dust on all the foliage lining the edges. It even forms a layer of dust on all the people walking on them. (Once, a friend and I walked to the market and we came back with a outline of dust around where our sunglasses had been on our faces. It gets pretty bad out there.) It’s usually windy during the dry season, which blows the dust around even further.

I’m always happy when the first rains of the rainy season fall because they wash the dust off everything and turn it all green again. But more on that later.

(As I write this, there is a 40% chance of rain for this afternoon. Hah! It would be nice, but I doubt it will happen!)

Welcome Back! Karibu Sana!

The road to church was good, today. The best it’s been in a long time. Gone were the potholes and washes that plagued us before we left for furlough. They must have graded the road recently, because they were still working on a section of it toward Kabazana and the rain hadn’t had a chance to damage it — so within the last month.

We rounded the bend to Ngarama and I could see Elizabet and several of the church children waiting outside the church. They were laughing and yelling in excitement as we pulled up.

Several of the other church ladies ran up just then. We all stood there laughing and crying and hugging and saying “You are very welcome!” (Karibu Sana) and “thank you!” (asante sana) over and over again. 

My heart felt like it would explode from the joy and excitement of it!

All the children had grown. Some of the boys we left are now young men some of the girls are young women.

Gloria’s baby boy, Trevor was shy and didn’t want me to hold him, but he flirted with me all the way through church at Isanja. She was still expecting him when we left last year and I’ll I’d seen so far was pictures. I think he’ll warm up to us. 😉

Both Kabazana and Sangano had prepared food for us. I understood Kinyarwanda today when the one of the ladies who’d cooked for us said “We’re happy you’ve returned.” I was so surprised to understand her that I couldn’t even reply in Runyankore which is the language I know best here.

I hope there will be African rice, stew, and beans at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had. Oh, can our church ladies cook!

A few weeks ago, in the throws of all the goodbyes we were saying I wrote about the sadness it caused. There is so much joy in saying hello! In seeing people you haven’t seen in a long time, on both sides of the ocean. Just think, one day we will say hello and never have to say goodbye again! That will be the day!

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Pizza! (Part 2.1)

Months ago, I posted about pizza crust. I promised I would follow up with how to make our homemade sauce. Afterward, it occurred to me that, in order to properly post about the sauce, I would need to be back in Africa so you, dear reader, could get the full effect of our process for getting sauce.

Pizza sauce for us is more than just a delicious recipe, though that is an important part of it. It’s also about the acquisition of the ingredients, the proper processing thereof, and then cooking it all until it tastes just right. 

Years ago, when my kids were small and I’d make homemade pizza, I’d just buy sauce at the grocery store. I wasn’t convinced that homemade sauce could taste as good as store-bought.

Then we moved to Uganda. An 8-oz. jar of pasta sauce cost almost $10 and I knew we’d need at least two of them to make pizza for our family if I skimped on sauce. At first I “cheated” and used tomato paste and herbs to make a sort of sauce that we used for pizza sauce. It was cheaper than using the ready made pasta sauce but it was easier than making sauce from scratch. The canned tomato paste here has a strong metallic flavor. The more I used that method for sauce, the less I liked the flavor of the sauce and the more I could taste the metal. 

So I pulled out my trusty family cookbook — a treasure that was given to me as a wedding present, with recipes from family and friends all over the world (It’s my go-to recipe book for almost everything). Inside, I found a pasta sauce recipe given to me by Sandy Panagos, a dear friend who’d been almost like a second mother when I was growing up. Years ago, I insisted that her sauce had come out of a bottle and she insisted it didn’t. One day, when we were doing school at her house (that tells you how long ago it was!), she made her signature sauce. I still could hardly believe that something that tasted that good didn’t come out of a bottle. (Oh! how naive I was!) She included the recipe for me in the family cookbook.

Yes, her recipe includes cans of processed tomatoes. I can get canned tomatoes here in Uganda, but one can costs as much as enough fresh tomatoes to make quadruple her recipe. So I use fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

It starts like this:

I go to the Wednesday market to buy produce and buy a large basin of tomatoes. They cost anywhere from $3-5 depending on the season. (The large basin holds around 20 pounds of tomatoes.)

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(You can see a large basin of tomatoes to the right in the above picture.)

I then bring them home and wash them. We sterilize all our produce in our drinking water and disinfectant. It’s a long, drawn-out process. Honestly, I don’t miss this step when we visit the US — where you can wash your produce in tap water and don’t have to worry about getting intestinal parasites or e-coli from it. The wash water from our produce here turns brown and has a layer of dirt in the bottom of the pan, so I’m happy to do this step in the process.

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Once that step is finished, I can refrigerate the produce until I’m ready to make the sauce. 

I know most books about preserving vegetables say you must peel and seed your tomatoes. The skin and seeds change the flavor, especially if you are canning them. I’m not canning them, so I skip this step. I’d make some flippant comment about being too lazy, but the whole process is already so time consuming that the peeling/seeding step would take it from being doable to being a tedious, miserable chore. There are a couple adjustments I make when I cook it, but more about that later.

When my sauce comes out and looks like this:

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thick, red, flavorful, I could just eat it out of the pan with a spoon. It’s so good. Sandy Panagos was right. A good homemade sauce is far better than anything you can get from the store!

(I promise to share the recipe when Part 2 continues!)

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How’s Africa?

“How’s Africa?”

“What’s it like in Africa?”

We’ve been asked these questions over and over again when we visit the US. While I don’t mind these questions and I understand where they are coming from (a desire to get to know and understand the place where we live) they are difficult to answer for several reasons.

First of all, most Americans view the continent of Africa like they do the United States — as a conglomeration of country/states. It is nothing like that. Africa contains 55-57 countries (depending on where you get your information 😉 ). Travel is difficult and restrictive at times as you navigate the various processes for obtaining visas in each country. We’ve traveled to several of these and each one has a different procedure. The procedures change on a regular basis as well.

Second, Africa is a huge continent. The continental United States would fit in Africa just over 3 times. The Sahara desert alone is the size of the continental US.

Third, the continent has many different biomes, spans two different hemispheres, and four time zones. Both the northernmost and southernmost extremes of the continent will get snow. If we ever got snow where we live, 80 miles south of the equator, the world as we know it would be coming to an end 😀 . That said, a couple hundred miles from here, in the Ruwenzori Mountains, you can climb on glaciers.

For these reasons, among other things, I can’t really speak to the entire continent of Africa.

I can, however, share about my little corner of it, the part that I call home.

So, over the next few weeks and months, I’d like to tell you about my little part of Africa. Whenever you see a “How’s Africa?” title, expect to learn a little more about where I live and the people that live here. It won’t be a travelogue. You can find that kind of information in the CIA fact book.

I’m hoping to make this more personal, the things I like, maybe a few things I don’t like, how things work here and why we do things the way we do. I hope you enjoy it!

“Welcome home!” said Mr. Spider

Upon our arrival back in Uganda, our home was a perfect example of Newton’s second law of thermodynamics: the entropy of an isolated system always increases.

Our house = isolated system

Our house = increased entropy

We discovered a forest growing in a part of our yard that no one could reach with trimmers. Trees and weeds had grown up through the cement, proving that it would not take long for plants to reclaim the earth if all the people were taken away. 

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Upon entering the house, we discovered a thick coat of dust all over everything. Honestly, it was not as bad as I’d anticipated. The worst part was the veil of spider webs draped across the halls and openings. You know how in the movies when people go into the crypt or the haunted house and they have to brush webs out of the way? Yeah, some places were like that. 

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Another disturbing detail was the pile of bird droppings just outside our back door. Pile is not an exaggeration. (Where is the barfy face emoji when you need it?)

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We found our dust masks and started working — sweeping, dusting, mopping, wiping down walls and counters and shelves, removing all the cobwebs, pulling weeds and trees, sweeping the cement to remove the dirt. In a few hours we pushed back the entropy, slowly restoring order to our living areas. We needed to sleep in our house by that evening so we had to get it livable as soon as possible.

I’m so thankful for my hardworking kids! They jumped into the work, like it was a competition to see who could get the most accomplished. I think they did more work than I did!

Toward evening, we noticed that the water pressure was dropping in certain sinks in the house. We checked to see if water was still on in town. It was, so we kept working. We cleared grit from pipes that hadn’t been used in a while. The pressure seemed to improve.

The pressure for the hot water heater to the kids bathrooms remained weak. They ended up taking cold showers. 🙁 It was late and we couldn’t get a plumber to check it until morning and they needed showers after all the cleaning!

Once the kids were in bed, James and I started to clean up so we could go to bed. James had no sooner gotten in the shower and started soaping up than the water stopped. Nothing would come out of the shower. He dried as best he could and checked our water tank. (This required climbing a rickety ladder in the dark, onto a platform held up by two metal poles where the water tanks sit.) It was empty. That meant there was no water available to our bathroom. Turns out, while town water was still on, the pressure was so weak it wouldn’t fill our tanks. We’d used up our water because we didn’t realize there was a problem.

We were filthy. There was no way we could put our nastiness into our freshly made bed. The kid’s bathrooms still had water, so we snuck in there while they slept and took cold showers, too.

What a welcome home! Nothing like this to get us reacclimated to life in Uganda!

(Oh, and it only took part of two days to unpack. I could have had it done in one day if I’d have applied myself. It’s almost depressing how easy that was after all the work to get it packed in the first place!)

The Packing Challenge – Part 3

Again, I thought I was done after Part 2. However, I know people were praying for us in our travels, and I need to brag on God and what He did on our behalf.

We’d repacked everything, readjusted, moved things, gotten everything to weight. In some cases, I knew I was pushing the weight limit allowed by the airline. (50 pounds or 23kg — BUT 23kg goes all the way up to almost 52 pounds because a kilo is 2.2 pounds.)

We’d used an industrial scale, the finding of which was a God thing. It just so happened that the son of the people who picked us up from the train had a scale he used to fill propane tanks and it just so happened that he was on vacation and wouldn’t be needing it until after we left and it just so happened he didn’t mind if we used it for our luggage.

We got everything repacked on Saturday afternoon so we didn’t even have to think about it on Sunday. But think about it I did, almost to the point of obsession. I knew I was worrying. There was little I could do to stop myself. All I could do was use the worry as a motivation to pray. So many people told me they were praying too, whether through text message, Facebook, or at church.

Sunday afternoon I called Debbie Guimon. I don’t know how many times she’s made this same trip, many times with large amounts of luggage for the orphanage in Soroti. She couldn’t offer any definite answers, but she did give suggestions for how to handle things if the airline turned out to be as particular as Amtrak had been.

We left for the airport at 7AM on Monday and arrived almost 4 hours before our first flight was scheduled to leave. There was no one in line before us and the good people at Delta/KLM focused on our luggage, as did the TSA people.

They only questioned the weight on one bag — a piece that was already overweight (70lb) but needed a couple pounds removed. Then, they allowed the overweight bags to count toward our luggage allotment and didn’t charge us extra — a savings of $300!

TSA was just as great! They didn’t let James handle any of the bags they searched, but they willingly zip tied the containers and put everything back the way they’d found it. Going through the luggage since then, I’ve not found anything out of place from where I put it!

Everything was still in good shape when we got to Uganda. All the luggage made it intact. Everything got through customs.

Today we head to our house and begin the unpacking process. I love unpacking. It takes so much less time than packing. 😛 Just take the items out and put them in their place. Ah! The relief of it! Order from chaos! It also means this challenge, for this trip, is finally at an end.