A glimpse into life in Uganda.

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How’s Africa? – Turkey!

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Let me introduce you to our Thanksgiving turkey. No, he didn’t have a name. We didn’t know him long enough to give him one. 

James mentioned to one of our national pastors, Zizi, that we were interested in buying a turkey or two. Zizi knew of a man in the church who had two for sale for a price we were willing to pay.

The man brought the turkeys to church so we could see them before we bought them. This guy was huge! 

I’ll spare you the gory pictures but they killed the turkeys right there at church in a storage room behind Zizi’s house. They plucked them and gutted them and we brought home two turkeys ready to cook.

I popped the turkey right into the roaster and let it slow cook all night. It filled the whole roaster full — at least 22 pounds worth of bird, maybe more! The next morning, I carved it and froze the meat. Then I made bone broth for the dressing.

That’s one thing about living here in Uganda that you don’t get to experience in the US unless you hunt for or raise your meat. You get to be up close and personal with all your food from start to finish.

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How’s Africa? – Load Shedding

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You’re sitting in your living room on a Friday night watching a movie as a family. The power blinks. You realize town power has gone off and your house is now running on the back-up battery power. You look at the clock. It’s 7 PM. You know it’s probably load shedding and the power will be off all night.

What is load shedding? you might ask.

Load shedding = turning off power to part of the grid, or load, so the rest of the grid has has full power (instead of a brown out – dim lights, not enough power to run appliances, etc.). In other words, part of the power load has been shed. So load shedding.

Load shedding is a way of life in many parts of the world. With only about 30% of the population of Uganda connected to power in the first place, electricity is often not seen as a necessity of life.

Certain times of the year, we plan to have the power off at least 3 days a week. It’s not so much of a hassle during daylight hours. We have solar power to run our house. But at night it’s more of a challenge.

We hadn’t been here long when we invested in a battery back-up system – or batteries and an inverter strong enough to power most things in our house. We can run lights, some fans, and the fridge, and even do laundry during the day because we use a power efficient washer. The batteries won’t run our water heater or dryer. We can run the freezer on them during daylight hours when the sun is shining but we have to turn it off at night if the power is off. As long as you keep the freezer shut, everything stays frozen and it’s not a big deal.

We keep flashlights handy for those times when things don’t work like they should. Thankfully, those times are rare. 

One example of this happened when we’d only been here a couple years. The power company was load shedding three days a week for 18-24 hours at a time, but they started leaving it off longer. We didn’t even have enough time with the power on to fully charge our batteries for when it would go off again.

Another example is when we’ve had a cloudy day, so there was no solar power coming in. If the power is off that night, it’s really off for us. 

Next time you flip on a light or open your freezer or throw a load of laundry in the dryer, pray for missionaries in places without reliable power that God will give them grace to handle this aspect of culture stress.

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How’s Africa – What Immigration Looks Like On Our End

Every country has their own process for legally accepting (or rejecting) people who wish to live therein. I thought you might be interested to hear about Uganda’s. When we came into the country this time, we had 90 days to accomplish all these things. The paperwork was finished just under the wire.

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(Immigration Offices in Kampala)

Step 1: Entry Visa

When you arrive in the airport in Uganda, they usher you off the plane and into lines to go through customs. Most people will have to purchase an entry visa for $50 USD. It’s usually good for 90 days and can be renewed twice at $50 each time.

(If you have any other resident visa, listed below, those will qualify you for entry without paying the additional $50.)

Step 2: Work Permit

In reality there is a step before this. You can get a work permit through a business or a Non-Goverment Organization (NGO). We are here through an NGO. You have to apply for this first, get piles of letters of recommendation, list operational goals and budgets, and have an authorization letter from your sending organization. The first time to get it is a huge hassle – bureaucrats love their bureaucracy! It took almost 15 months to get the NGO certificate that was only good for a year. The renewal process is much easier and is good for 5 years.

Then, you get a work permit through your NGO. James is the only one in our family who has to get the work permit. His has to be processed and completed before any of the other visa paperwork can be submitted. The work permit lasts for 3 years.

Step 3: Dependent Passes and Student Visas

Once the primary work permit is finished, we apply for the needed visas for the rest of us. Spouses (that would be me) and children 5 and under can get a dependent pass good for 3 years. Children 6 and above require a student visa, good only for a year. The students are required to attend so many hours of class per week to qualify, but ours have no trouble fulfilling this requirement. We used to be able to renew the student visas here in our town, but they’ve changed how they do it. It now requires a trip to Kampala and a visit to Immigration there.

So there you have it! That’s what our immigration process looks like from this end. Listed out like this it looks simple. The reality is it takes hours of time and reams of paper to get it accomplished. In the end, it’s worth it because we get to live here!

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3 Easy Malaria Prevention Tips for Travelers

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Mosquitoes. One of the most annoying creatures known to man. They are also one of the most deadly.

Every year nearly 700 million people get sick from mosquito borne illness resulting in over 1 million deaths. Almost half of those deaths can be attributed to malaria.

Almost half of the world population is in danger of contracting malaria. Approximately 212 million cases of malaria are reported annually with almost 500,000 people dying of the illness. These are only the reported cases. Countless others suffer and die of the disease without ever seeking treatment, including thousands of children.

Malaria prevention has been first and foremost in our minds the entire time we’ve lived in Africa. So far, only two of our family have ever had it and that was in the first 6 months of us living here. We’d broken some of our prevention rules and people got sick.

I’ve had numbers of people ask me about malaria prevention and treatment. Let me give you a rundown of what I tell those who have asked.

1. Take the prophylaxis

Chances are, if you are planning a trip to a place in the world where malaria can be contracted, the CDC or your local board of health will recommend a preventative (or prophylaxis) for you to take in addition to any travel vaccines you will need.

Take it. There is no sense in you contracting malaria on your two week trip to Africa or Asia and then struggling with malaria the rest of your life. First world countries don’t know how to recognize or treat malaria.

You’ll need to get the medicine – usually either quinine or an antibiotic like doxycycline – and begin taking it at least a week before your departure date. This allows it to build up in your blood and form a hostile environment in which the malaria parasite can’t survive. You’ll also need to continue taking the preventative for at least a week after returning to the states.

2. Use a mosquito net at night.

Mosquitoes only hunt at night. That is when you will be most vulnerable to them. You should sleep under a mosquito net to prevent getting bit by them.

Most hotels will provide them. If they don’t have them in the rooms already, you can request them. Sometimes they will also provide bug spray that you can use just outside your door and windows in the evening.

3. Stay indoors in the evening and early morning.

We try to make sure we are inside with all our doors shut by sunset. Mosquitoes are most active at sunset and sunrise. They are desperate to feed at those times.

Try to be inside a well lit building with screens on the doors and windows. If this isn’t an option, request the doors and windows be shut or shut them yourself. You can use bug spray at the windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from even trying to get in.

Doing these three things will prevent most, if not all, malaria. It’s that easy.

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We live here long term and so have slightly different practices for prevention.

First of all, we don’t take a prophylaxis. Well, technically we do, but not in the conventional sense. The long term side effects of the prophylaxis are serious. We opted for a more natural approach that has been effective so far.

There is a tree that grows here and in most tropical climates called a Neem Tree. 1-2 leaves per week are sufficient to kill any malaria parasites in the blood stream. We have a tree growing in our yard and everyone gets a leaf every week. You can also make it into a tea and drink it. It’s nasty, don’t get me wrong, but there are no long term side effects that we’ve been able to find.

We don’t use mosquito nets but prefer sleeping with a fan blowing on us at night.

We also treat everyone with sweet wormwood (Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not sweet.) and black walnut extracts every 3-6 months for a general anti-parasitic. The sweet wormwood specifically targets blood borne parasites, including the malaria parasite.

So the next time you are traveling overseas to places you could potentially contract malaria, remember those three tips. Feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have about it as well.

Happy Traveling!

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How’s Africa? The Bedtime Hunting Expedition

Due to the blessings of genetics and those wonderful “hormonies,” I sometimes struggle with insomnia. Most nights, I can fall asleep right away. Staying asleep is the bigger issue.

All the experts say one key to falling asleep and staying asleep is establishing a good bedtime routine. I did this years ago. It looks something like this: 

Wind down by reading a book or watching a TV show. Most nights I do handwork like crochet or quilting, which also relaxes me.

Put my PJs on.

Brush my teeth and finish all my bathroom chores.

Hunt for mosquitoes hiding out in our room.

Turn off the lights

Climb in bed and read for a little longer before going to sleep.

Wait. What? Mosquito hunting?

How many of you have a nighttime mosquito hunt as part of your bedtime routine? 😉

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We use this lovely contraption to do it. The wire mesh has an electric charge running through it that zaps and kills the mosquitoes (and any other bugs that get caught in it). I always tap out the mosquito on the floor and step on it, just to be sure. We have to check under furniture because they love hiding under beds and dressers.

The worst thing is missing one and having it buzzing around your face and ears all night. It’s horrible when they get under the covers and bite you repeatedly, even through clothing. They even like the palms of your hands and bottoms of your feet. They are insidious. It must be a thorough hunt.

Mosquitoes carry many diseases, like malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. We’ve been blessed to not struggle with these diseases. At any point in time, 1/4-1/3 of the people in our churches have malaria. That’s why we’re so strict about looking for them and killing them off.

Every great once in a while we get them in the house bad enough that we have to use bug spray to get rid of them. We close all the windows and spray the rooms right before we leave for church. This gives the poison a good 8 hours to work before we get back. Thankfully, we only have to do this twice or three times a year.

The next time you are getting ready for bed, give thanks that you don’t have go hunting before you climb in bed and go to sleep.

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How’s Africa? — There Are No Tigers in Africa

African animals used to roam freely all over the savannas. People lived around them like they were a normal part of life. 

Today, most of the animals you typically associate with Africa are only found on game preserves. This is to not only protect the animals but also to protect the people. Hippos kill more people in Africa than lions. In fact, the only thing that kills more people is the mosquito. Cape buffalo can tip over vehicles, as can elephants.

I’m going to let the photos that we’ve taken over the course of our time here in Uganda speak for themselves. There are two things missing.

First of all, we sometimes see small monkeys on our way to church but we’ve never gotten a picture of them because they run away as soon as we slow down to take it. 

Second, I’m beginning to think the African lion is a myth. Oh, sure, other people see them, but we never have. That’s why there are no pictures of lions. They should put up signs like the dust storm warning signs in New Mexico — “Lions may exist.” 

And so, for your enjoyment, a few of the animals we’ve seen here in Uganda. How many of them can you name? How many have you seen in the zoo?

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(Interesting parenthetical: A few years ago, we were driving to Kampala and saw a zebra dead by the side of the road, killed by a semi. Where else but Africa do you find zebras as roadkill?)

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How’s Africa? Town Animals

A few weeks ago, someone on Facebook asked me about the animals we have here in Uganda. I thought I’d begin answering that question by sharing about the animals we have here in town.

Mbarara recently gained city status in the country of Uganda. There are only a couple other cities that have this status outside the capital of Kampala (and both of the other cities could be considered suburbs of Kampala).

In the US, most cities have ordinances banning certain kinds of animals inside city limits. Uganda doesn’t have those sort of ordinances so domesticated animals roam the roads freely. 

Most people keep animals in their yards. Our neighbor has dogs, chickens, turkeys, and occasionally, goats. Another man up the road from us keeps cows and lets them out to graze on the local golf course. Yes, you read that right. We have a small golf course here in town and the cows graze on it.

Today, on our morning jog, here are a few of the animals we saw:

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Chickens roam free all over the place, but somehow everyone just knows who they belong to. In other words, if you tried to take one, the owner would come and get you and you’d be sent to jail for stealing.

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This is one of the larger herds of cattle I’ve seen in our city. Most times the big herds are kept outside town and we dodge them as they walk up the road while we drive to church. It’s our own version of heavy traffic. 😉 

Stay tuned for the next installment of Animals in Africa! I’ll be sharing pictures that we took ourselves with our own camera.

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How’s Africa? – Bananas!

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A few years ago, my dear friend, Rachel, came to visit us here in Uganda. She spent a few weeks in Kenya first. The people she was with in Kenya warned her, “Uganda is banana country. You’ll eat so many bananas while you’re there!”

I’m not sure we fed her any bananas at all while she was here visiting, which is ironic because Uganda actually is known for their bananas.

Isingiro, the district immediately to our south, grows many of the bananas that are eaten throughout the country. Kabingo has even put up a statue commemorating this fact (pictured in the above photo). Whenever we drive to the refugee camp, piles of matoke stalks line the side of the road in readiness for the huge trucks that come to pick them up and bring them into the cities, particularly Kampala. Men push bikes laden with bananas along the side of the road. I’ve seen as many as 10 banana stalks on a bike at a time – or around 500 pounds of bananas.

We were told that there are 40 different varieties of bananas. I only know of 4 personally, and we have all of these growing in our yard. We have our own mini plantation in our yard with 20 banana plants. Each plant puts off 3-4 shoots at a time but usually only one of these is producing a stalk of bananas.

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Note the banana plant at the far left of the above picture. This is a red banana plant. Even the plant itself is red. They produce bananas with a red skin that are huge and sweeter than any of the other bananas. They are used by some to make beer and wine, though I’ve never been able to figure out how you’d do that with a banana. That said, there are vendors selling banana wine at every trade show.

Next in line is a sweet banana plant, called a kabalagala. The bananas they produce are smaller “snack pack” sized bananas, about half the size of the ones you buy in stores in the US. They are our personal favorites so most of the plants in our yard are kabalagala plants.

Next is the matoke (ebitookye here in Mbarara) or cooking banana. They are the most common variety here. Farmers cut and sell the stalks while they are still jade green and they are peeled and eaten soon after. They taste sort of like potatoes, but that really isn’t even close to the flavor. Even the plantains you get in the States don’t taste the same. We love the flavor and enjoy them every time we get the chance!

Another variety (not pictured above) is bogoya. These look and taste the most like American bananas of any of the varieties we’ve tried. 

How can you tell the difference between the sweet bananas and the cooking bananas, you might ask? Note the plant (you might call it a tree or a trunk, but it is really a plant) in the picture above. The sweet banana has a green plant. The cooking banana (or matoke) has a black plant.

Now, I leave you with a picture of the biggest stalk of matoke I’ve ever seen. The entire thing was almost as tall as me and it probably weighed as much as I do. It had at least five poles propping it up when usually one is sufficient. 

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And that, dear reader, is a quick introduction to the bananas of Uganda.

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How’s Africa? – The Rainy Season

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A few weeks ago I posted about the dry season here in Africa. This last dry season was long and very dry. Longer than normal, though not as long as they had last year when there was a severe drought and famine. 

Each season has its benefits. Dry season? The weather is predictable. It will be sunny and hot every day. It’s often windy. Sometimes it get cloudy in the afternoon because of the heating of the day, but it doesn’t rain. It gets very cool at night because there is no cloud cover to trap in the warm air.

Rainy season is not so predictable, though you do get to be pretty good at guessing the weather, even without a meteorologist. 

The weather gradually eases from one season to another. First, you get a surprise shower that pops up in the afternoon. It doesn’t rain long, barely enough to settle the dust or wet the ground. Sometimes it doesn’t even rain. The clouds will thicken and threaten it imminently, but it blows over.

Then, some evening as you sit relaxing before bed, you hear light sprinkles outside. It doesn’t rain long, but this is usually a lighter soaking rain that jump-starts the grass and plants. You start to notice that the grass needs to be cut, even though you don’t think you’ve gotten much rain.

Next, you get days when you wake in the morning to oppressive humidity — for here anyway. It’s not actually that high but after weeks of dry season low humidity, it feels like breathing under a wet blanket. Most days like this start out sunny, heat quickly, then a pressure system builds up and storms form. Some of these storms can be severe. 

Finally, the season settles in and you get rain, if not every day, the several days a week. Some days you wake to rain showers that last most of the day. Other times, the day starts off sunny but showers form in the afternoon. 

The rainy season tapers back into the dry season in the reverse of this pattern until the rain just stops for a couple months. 

I love the cool rainy days of the rainy season. I love how green everything gets.

I don’t love all the mud, but it’s a nice change from the dust of the dry season. It’s a pain to get clothes dry some days. Those cloudy cool days, even if it isn’t raining, clothes can hang out all day and still not get dry. We just have to follow our version of the adage “Hang laundry while the sun shines.”

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How’s Africa? Shopping at an Open Air Market

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Shopping in Africa is nothing like shopping in the US. It was one of the most frightening things about coming here. Where do people shop? What do they buy? Are the grocery stores anything like the ones in America?

With six kids, we look for ways to get food as inexpensively as possible. When we first got here, I shopped in the Central Market – an aptly named open air market right in the middle of town. However, quantity was hard to come by at a good price. James learned about Western Market, inaptly named as it is actually east of town. The prices were better, but it was more than 10km away so the added distance soon outweighed the savings of shopping there.

Then James discovered the market out at the refugee camp. We started buying from a beautiful woman named Angelique. 

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We bought our veggies from her for years. Then she moved to Mozambique and her brother took over the shop. After that we struggled with supply issues. Sometimes he would have things, sometimes he didn’t. He didn’t seem as keen on running the business as she had.

We needed another source of veggies and decided to try something closer to home.

Not long before we left on our first furlough, Carla Bassett introduced me to the Wednesday market, not far from our house. I went once. It was loud, crowded, and overwhelming. I had no idea even where to begin shopping there.

About that time, another missionary couple moved here. The Campbells were planning to go to Rwanda but spent a year in Uganda to adapt to living in Africa before moving to a place where they’d be basically on their own. We became good friends.

We needed veggies. I knew about the Wednesday market but didn’t want to attempt it on my own. Christine Campbell was game to try it with me.

We launched into the unknown… and I fell in love with the Wednesday market.

I’ve been shopping there ever since. 

I even got pretty good at clothing shopping there. I’ve found the cutest clothes for Brennah, jeans and workout clothes for the boys, coats — yes, winter coats — for all the kids (and they were only $1 each!), baby clothes for women at the refugee camp, shoes for all the kids, plastic goods, I could go on and on. 

Shopping there is an experience in and of itself. Most of the vendors are limited in their knowledge of English so it’s great language practice. I make the most embarrassing mistakes there. People laugh at me. I laugh at me. I’m usually the only white person there. But people have gotten to know me. If I look lost, they help me. A few times I’ve had people lead me around to help me find something I was looking for. 

Brennah asked me the other day, “Mom, why do they call the Wednesday market the Wednesday market?”

“Because they only have it on Wednesday,” I answered.

“OH!” she exclaimed. “That’s why you can’t go on Thursday if you need to!”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. If you miss the Wednesday market, you get to wait a week to go again. We don’t miss many Wednesdays at the market around here. 😉 

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