A glimpse into life in Uganda.

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How’s Africa? – Valentine’s Day in Uganda

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentines Day isn’t celebrated the same in Uganda as it is in the US. In the US, as soon as Christmas is finished, stores put out their Valentine’s Day goods. The holiday is everywhere you look. The pressure is there for both those in relationships and those who don’t have a Valentine.

It’s easy to forget about Valentine’s Day in Uganda. When we first arrived, if stores got any gifts at all, they were difficult to find, hidden away on the corner of a shelf. The day would come and go and you’d find the items and wonder if they’d been intended for Valentine’s Day. Most of the time we couldn’t find any roses at all. In a fit of annoyance one year, James went to a nursery and bought a bunch of rose bushes for our yard. Now we get roses year round.

Today, a few years later, stores get the gifts sooner, but we still don’t see them on the shelves until a week or two before the holiday. They are small, often generic, type gifts.

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We plan ahead for Valentine’s Day. Last year we stocked up on chocolates and brought them back with us in our luggage.

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We had a special breakfast and a special supper and James and I went to town for lunch. There is a new-to-us restaurant in town called Curry in a Hurry.

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They really do bring that food out to you in a hurry! It’s almost as fast as ordering in an American restaurant! I love Indian food and have my meal already chosen for the next several visits. 😉

One of the local hotels is holding a Valentine’s Day concert. They’ve been advertising it for the last couple weeks with huge speaker trucks driving around blasting music and advertisements for the event. It’s not exactly the way you’d celebrate the day in the US, but I can’t blame the hotel for trying to capitalize on the holiday.

Worst of all? No discount chocolate after the holiday. Tomorrow, they’ll pack up the Valentine’s Day gifts and pack them away for next year.

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How’s Africa? — When the Water Comes Out Brown

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What would you do if the water looked like that when it came out of your tap?

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How about if it looked like this coming out of your shower?

The truth is, it doesn’t always look like this for us, either. (Our water had been off all day and this is what it looked like when they turned it back on.) Most of the time the water is murky or cloudy. Our whites don’t stay white very long. Showers, toilets, and sinks get a film of dirt over them between cleanings. We never use the tap water for cooking or drinking. 

But not everyone here has that option. Many people use the water here, straight from the tap without boiling. Water is a necessity of life. They can’t afford a fancy filter or to buy bottled water  so they drink what they can get. I’ve even seen children collecting water from ditches and puddles. I tell myself their mom is going to use it for laundry. Then I wonder how on earth she’ll get the clothes clean using muddy water to wash. But I know better than that. I know people drink and cook with that water.

So, what do you do if you visit a place where the water isn’t suitable for drinking? Here is what we do and it’s worked well for us the last several years:

1. Drink only bottled or filtered water.

We have a Berkey water filter at home and we use that for our drinking and cooking water. When we go places, they always serve us bottled water (you have to pay for it; water isn’t free here) and open the bottle for us while we watch. 

2. Make sure water for coffee or tea is boiled.

Sometimes we’ll order coffee or tea when we’re away from home. We always make sure the pot they bring us is to hot to drink immediately. This ensures that the water, even if it came from a tap, was heated hot enough to kill anything inside it.

3. Love the skin you’re in

Skin, your largest organ, will protect you from everything else. I try not to shower or wash in nasty water (what good does it do, anyway?) but soap still binds with dirt and oil and washes it away, even if the water is, well, dirty. I keep Epsom salts around to use for soaking if we get infections. 

We also treat the whole family for intestinal parasites a couple times a year, just to be on the safe side. 

Next time you turn on the tap in your house and clean, drinkable water comes out, give thanks! Most of the rest of the world doesn’t have that.

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How’s Africa – Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Africa is, in many ways, the same as Christmas in the US, but in some ways it’s different. The differences surprised us when we first came to Africa.

First, and most noticeable, is the temperature. Christmas where we live falls at the end of the rainy season, just as it is changing over to the dry season. Some years we get our last rain for three months during the week of Christmas. It’s cooler than normal for here when that happens. But most years it’s hot and dry. We make plans to go swimming that week because it feels so nice to go in this weather.

Another difference is that people don’t put up Christmas decorations until about 2 weeks before Christmas. No one puts lights on their houses. All the grocery stores put up decorations and play Christmas music. But outside everything moves on as normal.

Christmas here isn’t a huge merchandise driven holiday, though it has become more than way since we first arrived. People buy each other gifts of food, or clothing and shoes. The price of many food items increases in the middle of November. We’ve learned to stock up on essentials like flour, rice, and oil at least by the beginning of November so we can miss out on that price hike.

Cost of travel also increases in December. People like to travel to their village to celebrate the day with their family and the taxi and bus services take advantage of that desire. 

Thursday last week, James and I needed to go to town for a couple things. Town was crazy busy! We struggled to move around because of all the vehicle and foot traffic.

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We walked down to town today and got pictures of those same intersections on Christmas Day.

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You almost expect tumbleweed to roll across the road and a gun slinger to ride out of the dust. There were more people in town today than I expected, but still no where near what there are on a normal day.

All the protestant religions hold services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, sometimes both. We had our big service yesterday and it lasted until late afternoon. There were choir specials. Many visitors attended. It finished with a big meal and cake. (You can read about it in my blog post about the wedding.)

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We followed our Church people from Isanja and Ngarama home as they rode on the truck and sang hymns all the way.

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So, while Christmas here is different in many ways, we’ve all come to love and embrace those differences.

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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.