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, 


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,


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,


PS- If the answer may be yes for you, check out

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,


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.