Sunday, December 9, 2012

The best of all is love.


“Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year:  The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.” -Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Saturday the 8th was the first birthday I have spent in flip flops and short sleeves. It was a little surreal to be turning twenty-four so far away from everything that I have been used to for nearly the last two and a half decades. Still, it was an amazingly beautiful day with the sun shining and a light breeze traipsing through the cloudless sky.
The evening was party time- most of my closest friends in Uganda came out to the lovely little Italian restaurant by my home and we pulled four tables together to seat everyone. It was a wonderful outpouring of love and friendship, and I am truly grateful to have such people in my life.
There were also many calls, Facebook messages, emails, and texts from friends and family back home wishing well- I can’t believe that when I return stateside for Christmas I’ll be another year older! I've been missing my family very much, and I’m looking forward to spending the holiday season with them.

I wish I had more to say- but that’s all for now!


Everyone together for dinner!

The beautiful pearl necklace my boyfriend Eric got me for my birthday.

Lots of Love,

Diane

Monday, November 26, 2012

Living day to day.


I have to say, it was a strange and new experience to be outside of the United States during the American election. I got to see how invested the rest of the world is in our politics (do you believe people outside the US actually color electoral maps?) and discuss political views with American children raised almost completely abroad. The last was probably the most unnerving. Though I probably acted much the same as a high school student, it’s hard to see kids choose a candidate based on one platform piece or religious affiliation alone. Now, I admit to being an Obama girl. But when I explained how the President’s healthcare reforms had allowed me to come teach them in Uganda and stay on my father’s healthcare (really the deciding reason that allowed me to come and teach,) they shrugged their shoulders. When I asked them if they knew any of the comments Mr. Romney had made about women or about his speech in Israel, they shrugged again. When I asked them to explain any of Romney’s political views aside from his stances on abortion and gay marriage, I got blank stares. They couldn’t articulate one of Obama’s policies. This isn’t a red vs blue thing. This is an information thing. I don’t know how my social studies teachers in high school could stand us.
Although I am pleased with the election results, I also firmly believe that we are one nation, and now need to rally behind the change that we seek as a people. The work isn’t done now. It has just begun. If people want their government to act, we have to use our voices. End rant.
It’s also strange- Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and I’m still changing clothes after school to get out of the heat each day, and this will be the first time ever that I go to work on this American holiday. Thanksgiving is neither a Ugandan holiday nor seen as a religious one, so no school holiday for me. And I’m going to miss dinner with my family! But it makes me all the more grateful that I am able to see them at Christmas. It’s a blessing that not everyone has- the closeness to family and the physical and financial ability to be with them at special times- and I’ll never pass up the chance to say that you for it.
~~~
School here is going well. I had my first round of parent conferences, and am now readying to prepare my first set of semester exams. My students make me think every day, and my diaries fast fill with notes, joyous discoveries, internal debates, and sometimes just plain fuming at what I experience. This week I had a student declare the firm belief that his internal beliefs are all that matters, not his actions or the way he treats the people around him. I got so frustrated, but it was amazing because the next day our head of school gave a talk at chapel about reputation, and why it should matter to our students. I’ve always been taught that our thoughts guide us, but our actions make us. Here in Uganda I am constantly reminded of the mindset of my father, who has always been one to be helpful in small ways. If it doesn’t hurt him or his family to put himself out there, he does. My mind fills with infinite examples of small generosities, from squishing extra students into his university courses who badly needed the credits, to helping people find connections for jobs and giving single parents extra time on university work, and even things as simple as offering a few dollars to a middle school student who clearly hasn’t eaten all day. I think it was Mother Teresa who said, “Do good in small things.” How do you prop that up to do battle against teenage arrogance? I don’t know, but I’m working on it!
~~~
So the above was written around the time of the election, and now the end of November is upon us. Thoughts of Christmas at home are invading my thoughts and giving me hope in times of frustration. Sometimes everything around me just gets difficult. Although my students are mostly wonderful (even the ones I rant about,) there are other little things that illicit an instant groan. This can be anything from looking at my stack of grading to realizing that all of my family was at home together for Thanksgiving without me, or the daily little dramas of teaching. I know a few people who sometimes seem like they don’t have a single nice thing to say. Their life is to be critical. Or so it feels to me. Me, the second-year teacher who doesn't have my father’s experience or patience, or the iron will of the women in my family to ignore those less-than-pleasant folks. Hm. That sounds like a goal. For the next three and a half weeks, I’m going to channel my mother and step-mom. They’re scary brave women, and they’ll shrug their shoulders and look you right in the eye if you don’t like it. And don’t even get me started on my grandmother. She was lecturing me on the strength of the women in my family even into her seventies.  

Happy holiday season from Simba and me!


Down the river and under the bridge the frustration goes, and I’ll have plenty of thrilling things to say at Christmas! (And I do admit, African craft Christmas shopping is a great pick-me-up! I can't wait to see how friends and family like their gifts!)

Lots of love,

Diane

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A pause in the whirlwind.



It’s amazing what four months can do.

One of many beautiful views of Kanungu

I was back in Kanungu for a few days as my school was on a week of holiday culminating the first term, and the village was quite the whirlwind of activity. New shops have been completed since I visited last (and the girl in me was so excited to explore them!) Really though, in terms of retail, my favorite part of Kanungu is the cobbler, who does the best shoe repair for a $1.25 that I have ever seen. My much-used Payless sandals were coming unglued from their soles, and he re-glued them and stitched all the way around the edges. The last time I had him repair sandals was before I left for the USA last year, and those leather flip flops lasted me a whole season of teaching middle school without his work coming undone. There are examples of amazing African craftsmanship all over the place; this one just happens to be my favorite.

As always, much time was spent in the village schools, and my beloved class from last year is preparing for their primary leaving exams. (Imagine a test around the end of eighth grade that tells you whether or not you can be accepted to high school.) The test is cumulative, and it doesn't seem easy for the level of education in the region. The test is a universal one for Uganda that comes straight from the capitol. I suppose it’s like an SAT for high school, but remember the literacy issues I've mentioned? It becomes more complicated than it sounds, and there is no such thing as special needs or adaptations. I’m praying for these kids, and especially my friend Wilson, who seems like a nephew to me. If he does well, I have to figure out the money to send him to secondary school. I was a little misinformed about the fees- but it still doesn't sound like it tops $200 per year. But secondary school here is six years long, so my life plan will include money and Africa for a while. Still, I think it’s the worthiest investment anyone could make. Not to be trite, but education is the future, and that’s true of every nation. And then I have six years to figure out how to get him to university in or out of this country (a project that I hope the Kanungu library will be able to take on for any village student someday!) Over Christmas I hope to talk to some stateside universities about their Third World scholarship options. There have to be some out there, right?



Muzungu hair never fails to amuse- and I love every second of it :)


Meanwhile, just before I left for Kanungu, my school here in Kampala had their high school retreat. We were at the beautiful Garuga Beach Resort in Entebbe.

Lake Victoria (unfortunately, not swimmer friendly, but there was a pool!)

Garuga Resort- our wonderful accomodations


Much fun was had, and I gave my first sermon! Ok, several of the best points were borrowed (with full credit given!) from the amazing team at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania (www.covfel.org). What got me though was the conversation afterward- the boys and girls were divided by gender and age, and set with a teacher to discuss questions relating to the message. One of my questions for them was who do you talk to when you struggle? The girls, by a vast majority, were silent on this, and it caused me great pain. Where would I be without my close girlfriends from high school, to whom I could tell anything? They all discussed fear of being judged. Some admitted to confiding in their parents- once in awhile. So I’ve become determined to set up an older girls’ fellowship/community/friendship/chill group that can trust each other and truly talk. When the kids discuss God, they express annoyance that praying is not like Facebook or a text message; there is no instant reply. That, I think, is why we need the supplemental human sounding boards: people to listen, and help us see beyond the clouds of our own emotions when drama kicks its way into our lives.

 
Like my Seuss-y pep talk picture?

My sermon prep, and some loving Twizzlers from home in the USA were definitely a hit!
But along with the seriousness, the kids had a great time on this trip, and many laughs were had as students and teachers flew their way down a homemade soapy waterslide.



Teachers and students- same expression!


PE teacher gets in on the action


Stuntmen!



There is always more to tell, but I admit that I’m still recovering from last night’s ten hour bus journey (less than four hours of it on paved roads…)

As always

Lots of Love,

Diane

PS- Did I mention the teachers had Canadian Thanksgiving the other week? Poor Canadians, trying to be just like us Americans- even copying our holidays ;)
It’s all right! The real Thanksgiving is still to come!

Miss Terri, master of ceremonies


Some of the Heritage gang!


Food time!


Noms


It isn't a party if someone isn't teasing Michael, our IT magician and a dear friend :)


Mom, how much dessert can I have?


(No, I’m not ethnocentric, it’s just a running American/Canadian joke at school. Still though, the food will be better at ours! :P) -D <3 nbsp="nbsp">

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A smattering of religious musing and falling in puddles.


This week is secondary Spiritual Emphasis Week here at my Christian international school. What that means: Every day this week the teachers and students of the middle and high school grades gather together to sing (or in the case of some students, cross their arms and look embarrassed,) and listen to a sermon that is focused on relevance to their lives. Today was pretty cool- the kids were given paper, markers, nails, and hammers, and were invited to literally nail their fears, imperfections, and sins to the wooden cross erected especially for this day. The point was that Christ has already died for all of these things; literally to save us from ourselves. To me it was an impressive painting of humanity. If you think about it, it can be a difficult thing to stand up, and by doing so readily admit that one has in fact screwed up somewhere along the line. As far as the kids were concerned, I think it was a powerful thing for each one to see that humility in their peers. The same can be said for the teachers, who almost all went up. Some took a great sign that it began to rain at the end of the service, seemingly offering everyone their own personal veil of white noise to contemplate the cross and what they might offer up to it.





It has been interesting here, being around others with similar and different views of faith, and of a general way of life. Some of my angsty high schoolers profess to be atheists, but still come to youth group on Fridays(?) Some were raised Christian but struggle with what seems to be a lack of personal relationship to their faith.

As for me, I’m always figuring. I think when you stop asking questions, faith stops. For the most part I fit in well enough here, with two exceptions (excluding completely semantic differences in rules. If we were speaking in terms of Judaism, I would say I have issues with Talmudic interpretation as opposed to theological Torah-based disagreements- some rules I still just don't get.) My Catholic upbringing let me pray to/through Mother Mary, which the ‘Born-Again’ sect (what is another word for that? I dislike that term immensely-) does not do. Also, probably because of my Catholicism, I am pretty hesitant to attribute every bad thing that happens to the devil. The way some talk, the dude walks around here tapping people on the shoulder (and of course if you believe that, it’s totally fine by me.) I’m more interested in recognizing that as human beings, we create a lot of our own problems, trespasses against faith and against other people. 

But, in true Muzungu Princess style, heading back to class after that impressive sermon, I promptly hydroplaned my sandal on a puddle and went flying to the cement. The students behind me (they were my own anyway,) instantly cracked up, and I skinned my knee (insert sympathy here, if between giggles you can muster any)! Still, at least I avoided the mud and saved my laptop any undue damage. So now all the boys laugh when they hear about it, and I have no problem admitting to my own mad skills at falling down in Uganda- and all the girls give me an apologetic ‘awww’ when they see I actually did rip some skin off my knee. Cool kids have battle scars. What can I say.   

I promise I have fun stories too, and will share them soon- I've just been a little swamped with accreditation work for the school and the usual teaching job stuff- grading, lesson plans, etc. Oh, and my formal observation today. Yes, even in Uganda. So teacher friends, there you go. And of course, my principal intentionally picks my most difficult class ;) But we wouldn't be in the profession if we couldn't get it done!

Lots of love,

Diane

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Presently putting off marking papers.


Has it been that long again? The middle of September!? When did this happen?

Really I have papers to grade, but I have so much to tell you!

School here is in full swing, and all of my classes are crazy busy. My seventh graders are exploring culture as part of human geography, my ninth graders are plotting their own revolutions and writing their own manifestoes after reading Animal Farm, my seniors are working on college applications, and my eleventh graders are just beginning The Great Gatsby. I’m very excited to read Fitzgerald in the context of a Christian school. You know it’s going to be a fabulous mash of opinions, and very different from the passive acceptance of immorality found in some schools back home. My students are (mostly) curious, and it can be a lot of fun to engage them and discuss whatever the lesson happens to be within the context of their myriad backgrounds. Needless to say, every day is an adventure.

Our girls' soccer team rockin' out at their first game!


Speaking of, teacher friends- if you have any lesson resources for the following (as I am teaching them in East Africa with- you might say- scant resources,) please be welcome to email/facebook/ teleport them!

  • ·         The Great Gatsby
  • ·         Romeo and Juliet
  • ·         9th Grade Poetry (Western Lit)
  • ·         Frankenstein (though I do have some cool ideas there already.)
  • ·         Middle school world geography- I’m using the Prentice Hall World Explorer: People, Places, and Cultures textbook… and have no access to online tools, though I have sent the company my begging email. My seventh graders can’t sit still! So any geography activity ideas are greatly appreciated.


Our puppy, Simba, has put on a little weight since we adopted him last Saturday. He can’t get close enough to his mommies when we’re home from school, and he is always hungry. Simba may be as young as four weeks though (the shelter found him abandoned without a mother,) so he only eats warm milk mixed with either porridge or cooked rice. He is a little goofball though. Not quite strong enough to keep from falling all over himself just yet, though he can climb steps now.

Simba!


I’ve also had the change to meet some new friends and hang out with some old ones- there always seems to be something to do (and if you know me, marking papers always finds its way to as near to the bottom of the list as possible!)

I had been worried about my beloved Kanungu for a little while, but was able to meet up with one of the directors, and over lunch he allayed my concerns and I’m more excited about the library than ever. I also managed to quote the Bible in that conversation in relation to my concerns. It was a little strange. Like having the ultimate citation/evidence to back up your point, but I’ve never been one to preach. Don’t worry all; I’m not going off the deep end. Kanungu just deserves the best, most pure, and most moral aid possible. There is so much need, and so much ability to give. It is a great challenge and a great source of hope for me and a community of children and young adults. As always, still working on getting proposal approvals and financial data, so when I can call on you, my dear friends, for support, I’ll have lots of lovely information to share.

Some of the students our library will serve someday!


That’s all for now, though the adventure continues! As does my pile of grading...

Lots of Love,

Diane




Monday, September 3, 2012

Life in the city.




Has it really been so long since I've posted? Sorry sorry!

The school year is well underway here as we enter our third week, and I have for four classes, a month's worth of unit plans prepared. I've joined two committees here at the school, so I expect there to be plenty of long days ahead. But they should be fun, and definitely enlightening. I've also be nudged about helping out with the Taekwondo club. We shall see. I nearly did pack a dobok, but I won't dare risk having my rank shipped to me. It is a too precious piece of a former life- my mentor, the late great Grandmaster Wilson who honored me with it, and the people I trained and trained alongside for a decade of my life. Like I said, we'll see what happens as it comes.

My 12th graders have handed in their first formal grade- a piece of personal travel writing. Though they've been through peer editing I haven't seen any of them yet, so I'm quite looking forward to seeing what my kids can think up. Also, one of my 11th graders asked me to read and give some feedback on his "scribblings"- a young man's work in poetry. I'm pleased that he asked me (the boy likes to be stubborn in class,) and I think the work has a lot of potential in it, too. I'll have to see what poets he has already read. I've been scouring the two major (and basically only) bookstores in town (each the size of a mall's  Waldenbooks, if you're old enough to remember those,) for local literature. I'm loving the books written by East African Authors, though there's are so few of them.  Those plus a few international books that were probably tucked away in the dustiest corners of US bookstores so we never saw them make me think that I need to compile a reading list for you all. More on that to come.


I've managed to add some liveliness to the walls of my classroom since this picture was taken...


Now that school is getting into a rhythm for me, I'll also be getting back in touch with my contacts for the Kanungu library project (aka Uganda CHEER). I'll be so excited when I can post more info for you all- and I hope it will be soon! I just need like- to get over the need for sleep. Those hours can be much better used.

Socially things have been busy too- if I'm not hanging out its my housemates I'm seeing friends from Kanungu, and still meeting all sorts of new people.  Kampala is a melting pot like I imagined New York City to have been at the turn of the 20th century. There are people everywhere, and almost everyone is in the process of entrepreneurial creation. From small shack shops to large development and commodities corporations- there's something happening in and under every footstep.

But I bet you want to know about the goat races. Yes, indeed. The Royal Ascot Goat Races. Basically people pay a lot of money to see and bet on these goats that are chased around a track by a wall of foam mattresses so that they don't stop to graze or turn around completely. But people made a lot of money. The smallest purse on any of the races was 2million Ugandan shillings- one thousand US dollars. On goats! No wonder they call it the most elite social event of the year. I feel really bad because a friend of mine had a goat in the second race that could've won- but just as it reached the corner I was watching from, it's tied on tarp racing colors came loose and tripped him completely. Poor fellow went all the way to his knees before getting up again.
But that's why I'm not a betting gal.


The VIP (much more important than me!) tents.


A practice round.


Yes, they are being chased by mattresses to make them move!


My friend's goat is in the lead here, but tragically his colors fell off and he tripped into a loss.


In other news, a care package from my mom came this past week, filled with goodies including enough Nutella for the Third Army and a brilliantly chosen box of Carnation instant breakfast powder. Healthy and sustaining chocolate milk in the morning. I win.




So that's me for the moment! I promise I'll get into more detail when I find out which rock my free time crawled under to hide. 

Much Love!

Diane


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A mushy post about family.


News from home has me shaken up. It seems like as soon as I have gone, there are little crises everywhere. And nothing that I can change from here. It’s so frustrating. I want to be with my family to support them through illness and heartbreak. As a write this, most everyone is on the mend, but this past week has been very hard as I balanced the start of school with my fears for my loved ones at home. I especially broke when I found my little brother was suffering (I call him my little brother, but truly he is twenty years old and about a foot taller than me.) I always though, prayed, or believed in my heart that after the death of our oldest brother, God (or whatever you believe in) would let me be the messed up child with depression and broken love entanglements, but that my little brother would be protected from all of it. That kid deserves the world. He is such a good boy. He is honest; he tries hard, does well in school, honors our parents, and shows kindness without having to be asked. Why does his heart have to be broken? Why does he deserve that? But I know to ask why when there are moments of pain means that you also have to ask why for every moment of happiness. Life comes as it does, and we cannot change it sometimes. I’ve sent messages to my army of family friends back home to support my folks and my brother, and bless them, everyone has stepped up. The showing of love from people who don’t owe us anything, but with whom we share bonds of familiar friendship is humbling and gives me great strength.

Dad, My Loved Step-mom, and I around my university graduation

My roommate calls these fears and worries a wicked earthworm (her term for the devil’s temptation, I think,) calling me away from my calling to teach here in Africa. It is safe to say that I’m firmly rooted here now, and committed to the work (though I haven’t learned my students’ names just yet!) But there is a lot of I would for a teleportation device, just to go home and give love and comfort as best I can. Somehow phone calls and text messages don’t seem like enough. I want to give hugs and bring orange Jell-o to my stepmom when her stomach hurts; I want to randomly drive my little brother to Hershey Park to distract him. But these a sister cannot do from Uganda. So I call our army of friends, and they have come, and I am humbled and amazed. My family is so loved, and not just by me. Though they would never admit it, I think it is a feather in the cap of my parents, who raised us right. My brothers and I are decent people (or so I like to think!) and I’ll never forget the sacrifices that my family made to form us that way. 

A particular shout-out to my step-mother, who was a comfortable mother of one before she married my father, then gladly welcomed his three (!) children into her home and has raised us as her own ever since. She was not obligated to do that. She did it selflessly and out of love. She supports me even now and gives me love and strength every time I talk to her. I didn’t understand it when I was young; I fought her and was a wicked child. But I understand now. Family isn’t easy. And we are all blessed to be loved. My mother too- she has struggled with her own pains and sufferings in life, but has always fought to be the mother that is in her to be. She has learned to be a good mother to adult children. And that’s not an easy thing! 

LIttle brother and Mom


So. All this just to say that I love my family and I am thinking of them as they go through rough times far away. If you know them, please shower them with love. My Facebook messages never feel like enough to show the squishy love of my heart.

Lots of Love,

Diane

PS- My friends, this all goes for you too! You are each and every one special and precious people to me. Thanks for being there, and being you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Outside and inside my own head.


It is definitely fair to say that the school year is officially underway! Teachers have been in preparation for the last two weeks, and the students arrive for their first day on Friday. I have to say, it’s exciting but also a little overwhelming! For those in teaching, you’ll understand what I mean when I say I have four classes, and four preps! I will be teaching seventh grade geography and all of the high school English classes except for tenth grade. Our first term- that is the academic year leading up to Christmas, has sixteen weeks, and I have so much material to squish into it! My world geography curriculum has a total of twenty-three chapters. Imagine trying to teach Europe and Russia in a week! Fortunately, I have great friends and resources all over the world, and I’m sure that I’ll figure something out. The English classes should be a blast. I’m beyond excited to teach Jane Eyre to an international group of students, especially in a Christian setting where we can examine Jane’s relationship with God, which if you think about it, drives a lot of the novel’s later action.

I have also been having meetings with the Hon. Reverend Can. Dr. Hamlet, who is not only a spiritual advisor to me and a dear friend to my family, but is also instrumental in the library project. I am so excited to see literacy in Kanungu (my village) move forward! I dream of the ones who are young now being able to apply to university anywhere they want in the world. These kids could go to Harvard or University of Pennsylvania- if they had the early education that they so deserve.
 Primary School Students in Kanungu District 

As surrounded as I have been with fellowship and community, I have also enjoyed the quiet time to examine my new life and the true miracle that it is. I have told my new friends the story of when I first came to Kanungu- in the summer of 2011 I stood on one of the hills overlooking the whole village and realized with a shock that went through my whole being, that two years ago nearly to the day, I physically could not walk. In 2009 I spent six weeks in hospital, and when I first arrived, the emergency room doctors told my mother to call a priest. No lie. And in the time I spent in those sterile rooms in such pain, I was completely accepting of death. The fact that I am here now, doing something that I love and that is so dear to my heart- teaching- I can’t even describe it to you in words. There have been a few instances in my life that have convinced me that I’m living on gifted/borrowed time- the death of my older brother in 2006 (he was the best of us, and in dark times I still struggle with why,) the death of my dearest friend, and my own illness- sometimes I just can’t believe that I am here. And my family loves me. And my loved ones believe in me. How can that be possible? Not to get overly religious for my non-religious friends and readers; but from this I can only see grace. How else is this possible? When I was ill I remember my mom taking a picture of my swollen and wretched body, and sending it to her friends because she was just so delighted that my broken frame was able to sit up in a chair. How did I get from that to this? It’s a mystery. And a miracle.

 My Village Family, plus our friend, Will

My students come on Monday, and I know they come from stories as vast and various as my own. I have been surrounded with such a fine community of people, and I hope to be the positive influence on my students that others have had on me. I read a proverb somewhere (and if anyone can cite it, please let me know,) that said, ‘When a man dies, it is not only him who dies, but the whole library within him.’ I look forward to being a part of the libraries of the people I encounter, as I have loved the attachment of their stories within me.

More next week, when the next adventure begins!

Much Love,

Diane

Monday, July 30, 2012

Making the house a home.


I cannot tell you how much my heart is gushing with love and happiness right now- and it’s not just because of the amazing Nutella and honey sandwich I just had. Though it was pretty epic (but my keyboard is now sticky!)

My first housemate has arrived to our home here in Kampala- and she is the most loving and open soul anyone could ever ask for. I thought she might be afraid of my for my tattoos, but it turns out we both have life stories and the lessons and pains that come with them. Plus, she’s as nervous as I am! I don’t mean that we’re afraid of the job or the lives we’ve taken on, only that we have a deep wish to find friendship and fellowship with those around us. She also has a mastermind plan for how to run a shared kitchen (really a new experience for me!) so I’m relieved and delighted. Being in a new place with new people- I don’t know about you, but I always worry that everyone will make me out as some kind of freak. … Wait for snarky comment from my brothers…. Continue. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m seen as a human being, too. We both went through our photos from home and introduced each other to the 2D versions of our families. It was also a blessing to see someone as attached to their family as I am! Out here I meet so many expats who have been traveling for years- and already I can’t even accept being away from my parents and siblings at Christmas! Although the others have a lot more ‘freedom,’ I think the close bonds of family are a blessing. For my crowd especially, they are somehow hard earned, and thus cherished. No one understands as family does (as my previous posts attest!)

Room for three in Kampala

I’ve also been making friends outside the immediate circle of my school, which has been amazing. I always like to run with many different crowds- I value many different viewpoints. Through a friend, I have met Shifa and her family- they are the sweetest people of Kampala! Shifa is Ugandan, and with her British husband they have built an amazing household with three beautiful little boys. I mean, it’s a house I’d love to live in. Sprawling, with plenty of room for the family to be together and yet each having their own space, Shifa has decorated it with a finesse I had previously only attributed to my stepmother. It’s gorgeous, with beautiful African art alongside leather couches and flowing curtains. Anyone would gladly own this home in Rittenhouse Square. Not that anyone could afford such square footage. But it’s not only a lush house- the mother makes it a home for her crawling baby and water balloon flinging boys. I attended church with them this weekend, and Shifa stood at the front and sang gloriously with the worship. She is so full of vivacious life, and she is the kind of mother that every woman aspires to be. She could, with a small smile, encourage her five year old son to chew and swallow between mouthfuls of grilled ham and cheese, while simultaneously feeding the baby in her lap bits of bread, and maintaining conversation with her guests and making them feel most welcome in her home and family. I can’t wait for my Ugandan Maama to meet them. They’ll take to each other like glue.

It is people that make a place home. I am so grateful for the people I’ve come to know lately, and will continue to meet in the weeks to come. I’m also especially blessed and grateful for the continued love and support of family and friends at home. You’re the best!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Always it's not enough.


I’ve made it back to Kampala with both happiness and sadness. I’m on the verge of change again- housemates will start to arrive at the end of the week, and I’m nervous and hopeful that everything will go smoothly. It was hard to leave Kanungu, even knowing that comparatively, I’m not so far away here in the capitol. I think it will always be hard to leave such places. It makes me think of the Cheers (corrected by @jenn_are, thanks ma'am!) theme song (yes, 1990s television. I just went there,) “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” Kanungu is such a place. It doesn’t hurt to be white, blonde, and covered in tattoos, either. Here in the capitol, it isn’t uncommon to see a white person, and it’s close to home in that people don’t stop each other just for a greeting.

A letter Wilson wrote to me while I was in America, including his photo.

When I leave the village, I go with the strangest feelings. For the most part, I like to think of myself as rather low-maintenance. (My parents, if they’re reading this, are probably laughing their butts off. But I digress.) If I have a blank journal, a task before me, my family, and the semi-regular Pepsi-Cola, I’m happy. But when I leave Kanungu, I find myself coveting a lot of things. Mostly, I wish I was rich. And not just Starbucks coffee every day rich. I want to be Bill Gates rich. I want to send a village of kids to university. That takes money. As times goes on I'll be telling you tons  about Wilson, the clever young man who I am lucky enough to be able to afford to send to secondary school. But I want more. I want to send this kid to college. I can so easily envision him touring West Chester University of Pennsylvania- alma mater shout out! - And falling in love with the atmosphere of learning. He could get his degree in teaching, and bring those skills back to Uganda. Students would be able to see what education can help them to achieve through direct example. Wilson inspires me, but he has the ability to inspire his whole community. He’s already a dreamer; when I went to visit his home, Wilson proudly showed me how he is experimenting with growing every kind of crop imaginable. If only the bananas and coffee beans were made of gold. Then we would get him to college. This library may help future generations of Kanungu children get to college. I want to have the resources to encourage students to apply for international scholarships. I want them to dream big and see their hopes achieved. But Wilson starts secondary school in the new year. I only have until he graduates to figure out university. I don’t even know if I’ll be working a steady job in the States by then. Even if I am, will it be enough to afford his schooling and mine? Needless to say, my international aid research begins now. 

As for the rest, I am readjusting to the city and enjoying a few days of sleeping in. The rainy season has officially started here, and I'm loving the sound of droplets on roofs and leaves. I wish all of you could see this place. I'll do my best to show you.

Lots of Love, 

Diane

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's all about perspective.

Life lesson: There's not a lot of space for self pity while climbing up a hill. You either go, or stand still and get run over by a hurtling truck of green bananas.


Didn't want to end your days in a vat of matoke (banana) pudding? Then on you climb.


Exercise and time spent with my Ugandan family has cured my depression as if it were an annoying case of the flu. Thank you for sticking with me through it. I owe my friends and family a lot for their support and patience.
As we say in Kanungu, webale munonga munonga!


Between my Ugandan family and the smiling faces of every village student in sight, things are getting busy. I have been observing the work of teachers throughout Kanungu to see what programs a library would want to provide to be of the most assistance. Literacy, with a focus on language comprehension and fluency, still seems to be the biggest issue. I can't tell you how badly I want to bring a regular story time into the lives of these children. I know that looking over my father's shoulder at the words of our bedtime stories as he guided me through the sounds was essential to my learning to read. I have since outgrown the bunk-bed that I shared with my brother back then, but have not yet left behind the imagination that grew as Dr. Seuss nightly met me at the bedside.


Imagine this if you will- think for a moment of your favorite novel. For many of my generation, that means Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or (ugh,) the Twilight saga. Reach back a little further, and think of the other tales that have influenced you. Were you moved by Catcher in the Rye in high school, or enthralled by The Babysitters' Club, Goosebumps, or The Hardy Boys as a kid? Now imagine having never read ANY of those. And by the way, you have no TV either, so the outside world comes from what you hear on the radio in town. Does your mind feel a little closed in? A little cramped? My students point to the tattoos on my arms, and ask me to explain to them what that creature is- but how do you explain a dragon? Now take away all of the other items that you associate with childhood- the Barbie from a favorite aunt, your brother's Lego bricks, and that box of one hundred and sixty four pristine Crayola Crayons. Instead, your mind learns to play and explore from stones and sticks, and sometimes a secondhand baby doll from the market. Coloring, at best, consists of a cracked ballpoint pen and the back of the day's schoolwork, if there are scraps. How does this change the way that you define your childhood? How would you have grown differently?


On Monday I'll return to Kampala, Uganda's capitol city, where my teaching position for the fall is situated. This means another change- but I'm feeling more ready. In the time to come I look forward to telling you more about Kanungu and it's people, and how through the library project, you can help us to change the lives of generations of children.


Thank you again for sticking with me. Welcome to Uganda!


Lots of love,


Diane

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remember how small the world is.

When it was time to leave the US, I was excited about my new adventure and all the things I would get to experience.
Now, two days into my new life, I can't stop crying. It happens to me every time I go somewhere new. A gut-wrenching, sobbing depression that makes me want to curl into a ball and vanish. My family is so precious to me, and at this moment, being so far from them fills my heart with dread. I can still feel the tear stains across my face when the weeping begins anew.
Fortunately, my family knows me, and my sickness, very well. They are supportive on the phone and keep me from making any rash decisions. My parents assure me that they are all right, and that if anything should happen, I am only a day's travel away. Aren't my parents perfect? They know exactly what to say, and they save me from myself.


***


I didn't want to end a post with miserable feelings, so it is the day after I wrote the above, and I'm doing a little bit better.
Today I made it to Kanungu, my beloved village (travel in this country deserves a post all it's own...) With a little help from my British friend, nicknamed Professor, I managed to truly surprise my Ugandan mom. I call her Maama Murungi, which means beautiful mother, because her heart is so big and has such a capacity for love. She calls me her American daughter. Professor is staying with Maama and her family these days, and together we took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to the house. It was already dark out, and as he was greeted at the door, Professor said he was sorry for being so late, but that he had a surprise. At that moment I came from around the dark corner and shouted, "Maama Murungi!" I am the only one who calls her that. The astonishment on her face quickly gave way to enthusiasm; imagine being young at Christmas and opening the last box to find the one gift that your parents had told you was too much to ask for this year. Mind, I don't mean to make myself seem big. I only want to share the feeling Maama showed as she jumped up and down with two feet, hands in fists by her ears with her eyes squeezed tight as she bounced around the room. My Ugandan family expresses joy the way everyone in the world should- effusively. I think such expression makes us stronger. My mom and stepmom back home are that kind of powerful in their love with hugs. I know that's part of what I'm missing right now.


***


These past two days have seen me surrounded by friends from last year who have reacted with surprise and joy at seeing me again. I have shared much laughter with them, and lots of stories from the time we have missed.
Still, I struggle.
I admit that I wanted this to be easy. I thought, 'I'll just bounce across the world and drop seamlessly into a new life.' How silly of me.
I've decided that I will come home to visit at Christmas. This is different from my original plan, but the shorter time away from my family seems much more bearable. Fortunately, I have the savings to make it happen.


Are you tired of this turmoil yet? Me too.
I can promise that it will get better as August comes and I begin the routine of my work and the experience of getting to know my students. I know that, and my parents know it. The interim is just lousy. But purpose changes everything.


Tonight is the last night one of my friends is staying in the village. I was with Volunteer Uganda a year ago when he came to join the organization's leadership team, and now I will see him depart. He has helped VU grow in many ways, and he will be missed by friends both muzungu and Ugandan. His going makes me think of the lines in the world, and how we define what is important. This year of life has been so many things to my friend. He has joined a community, and helped innumerable people through supporting volunteer teachers and works of his own. He has made new friends, visited new places, and surely seen things that few in the Western world ever will in their lifetimes. But to his supervisors at university in England, will this year be more than a check mark in the internship box on the checklist toward his degree? I was glad to hear that he will be writing many papers on his experience, but how many people will ask to read? How many will see what he has done and be driven to do the same? The world is a very big, and sometimes scary place. I am a testament to our irrational fears as people challenged to go away from home and do something that isn't easy. Could you do it? Could you give valuable time to change the lives of children?


Lots of love,


Diane


PS- If the answer may be yes for you, check out
www.volunteeruganda.org

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sometimes there is baggage.


I have to be honest. Not every part of moving to Africa has been sunshine and equatorial flowers. The other day I felt like a rotten mess. I was thinking about all the people at home who I will be missing- the last two weeks have been filled with an absurd amount of goodbyes- and how for the next two years I will no longer be a reliable resource for my friends and family. I won't be there to pick my girlfriends up at the airport when they get stuck, or pick up a hoagie to surprise my always hungry and lactose intolerant younger brother who is in college and always short on cash. I won't be able to keep my stepmom company as she runs errands, and I'm the only person in my family patient enough to follow my wandering father around the house in order to hold a conversation. I've been acutely aware of the moments I'll miss.

Besides what I'm leaving, I'm not even sure what I'm returning to in Uganda. It has been nine months since I've seen my friends and adopted family, and just like me, their lives have changed. There are new relationships- some of the boys have steady girlfriends now, and I'm sure they're wonderful because the boys who chose them are pretty great. I've been teasing a few of them that I should be packing a dress suitable for a wedding! One of my dearest friends and his wife have welcomed a new baby girl into their family. I'm sure she is beautiful, and I hope to spend lots of time getting to know her.
All of these things are truly wonderful, though it makes me sad to think that I have missed so much of their lives. But I will do the same thing to my family at home when I leave them.

Someone please tell me that NASA and Willy Wonka are still working on teleportation devices.

Really there's only one solution that I can come up with: feel awful about it for a moment, and then let it go. I have learned the hard way that crying and stamping my feet over things I don't like does not in fact accomplish anything. Shocking, right? So I put pen to paper and dump out all of the worry, offer up a rambling serenity prayer that Kerouac would be proud of, and put the thoughts away.

Now is the time for focusing on what I will be a part of. For this upcoming academic year I will be prepping four different courses. Three of them are high school English. The fourth is world geography. It's a good thing I love teaching, as my first few months will find me knee deep in course materials. I'll also be helping my Ugandan brother with his new project- partnering university students with Kampalan orphans in a mentorship program (more on that in a future post.) And lest we forget, my heart still beats with the children of Kanungu, my little village in Southwest Uganda. Once I'm settled, dear friends, I will be figuring out how to raise the funds for the region's first library and literacy center, and asking you for support.

Wow. Just Telling you about all of that has me excited again.

Last year, when I told my friends in the village that I would do something or that something was sure to happen, their response invariably was, "We will pray for it." At the time I thought it was their polite way of saying, 'yea, right.' But now I see the wisdom in it.  If you can't control it, don't pretend that you can. As a Westerner, it's a hard concession to make.
Consider me working on it.

Lots of Love,

Diane

P.S.- I got another sign of wonderfulness this morning. The church that I've done a theology refresher class with has just had two mission groups return from abroad. They had members of the congregation serving in Haiti and Uganda (their chosen Ugandan village is just a few hours north of my own Kanungu.) Today's service was the first Sunday that everyone had been back for. Since my plane flies tomorrow, I had been looking forward to catching up with my study group of friends (some who had been away on these trips,) and saying my last goodbyes. When I walked into the sanctuary, I was greeted by this sight: more than a dozen men and women adorned in bright Uganda Cranes jerseys. A small thing, but it felt like I was one step closer to home already. And I felt pure joy. I know I'm going exactly where I'm meant to be.