Back to Uganda

We just returned from a 10 day trip in Uganda. It was great to go back to Restoration Gateway (RG) and see all the great things that are going on. In many ways, this year was similar to last year. We lead a group of 12 people to Karuma, Uganda, where we had a schedule filled with a few projects around RG, played with the kids, and ran several medical clinics in some of the surrounding villages. This meant that I was able to practice “extreme pharmacy” working outside of huts and oftentimes, with farmyard animals (goats not pictured).

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But rather than re-tell stories about medical clinics and RG projects from last year, we’ll focus on the highlights from this trip.

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Our friends, Steve & Bridget, moved to RG in November with their 2 kids. We had a great time working alongside of them!

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Steve & Bridget’s house is almost finished! We were able to walk through their new home, and were excited to see luxuries such as outlets in the walls, tile on the floors, a solar hot water heater, and enough land for a huge garden in back.

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RG borders the Nile, and in the past, we’ve been able to see views of the river from RG, but this year we adventurously hiked down to the water.

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Being this close not only gave us great views of the mighty Nile, but also allowed us to see Ugandan fishermen at work. I have a whole new appreciation for local fish now that I see the hard work it takes.

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While at RG, we paired up and had lunch in some of the orphan homes. We all enjoyed getting to talk more with the house mamas as well as the kids. Our lunch times often started shelling G-nuts (peanuts) with some of the kids on the front porch.

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RG dedicated their Dental Center on April 20th. We weren’t around for the dedication, but many of our RG days involved helping with finishing touches & painting. Since it was “all hands on deck” to finish the Dental Center, we were able to work alongside many of the workers at RG, and had a great time with them.

What are we doing in this picture?! We worked with Immanuel & Norbert (not pictured) to make stencils to paint a sign for the Dental Center. This turned out to be quite difficult.

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We had an opportunity to go to dinner at the homes of one of the RG workers, Ronald. We traveled by boda (motorbike taxi) to his village. This is as much fun as it looks!

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Many people in rural northern Uganda still live in traditional mud thatch huts and farm the areas around their homes. Ronald was a great host, and even took us all on a walk through his village before the sunset.

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Bridget took us to the market in Karuma. I had been through Karuma before, but never knew this market even existed! This is where you can go to buy fabric, vegetables, fish, and deep-fried ants (Alex was brave enough to try a few of those!)

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Bridget took a group of us to go visit a local government hospital. On the way, our van broke down. We waited for Steve & Brian to come take a look at it. They diagnosed the problem: the drive shaft was sheared, preventing the van from move forward AT ALL. But it could reverse. So the amazing Steve Hurry, with the help of Brian as a front look out and myself as a back lookout reversed the van 4km back to Karuma (through 2 traffic stops). The rest of the group was able to go on to the hospital in a different vehicle.

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As always, it was an adventurous trip!

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Tijuana


When we told people we were going to Tijuana for a week with the training school, we often got one of two responses. It was either “why?” or “be safe”. Certainly, Tijuana’s had its rougher years. Just a few years ago, when the drug cartels were at war, crime was way up, but now things have settled down, and believe it or not, there were more homicides recorded in Chicago last year than in Tijuana. (To be fair, my mom tells me to be safe when I go to the windy city as well.)

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What was surprising about Tijuana was how close we could be to the US, and still be in a totally different world. Getting into Mexico was as simple as walking across the border. It was literally as easy as walking through a gate. No one even asked for ID. But now on the other side, I was in a place where the language was different, I couldn’t drink the water, and I had to pay to go to a public restroom.

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One of our first stops was to the border. The line is marked by a large metal fence, then a secondary fence behind it, cameras, heat sensors, guards, helicopter patrol, and some barbed wire for good measure. I wasn’t really shocked by all of this, because I’ve heard that the border is strongly guarded. But the view from the Mexico side showed how overwhelming and intimidating the border is.

This visit brought up many tough questions about immigration laws that I’m not really interested in.  I came away with really just one thought: What do the people living right next to the wall think of America?

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While in Tijuana we stayed at Tijuana Christian Mission (TCM), an orphanage for about 30 teenagers in the city. Here we tested our Spanish, as that was all the children could speak. Staying at the orphanage also put us in a great part of town, just walking distance from things like late night taco stands. The tacos were so good we went every night.P1110734

During one of the days, we went to a canyon that had been used as a city dump. It hasn’t been an active dump for seven years, and many families have now moved into the area.

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We walked through the streets, still littered with the sights & smells you’d expect in a dump.  Some houses were built with salvaged materials, some were built with concrete. Regardless of the seeming permanence of the homes, we heard that most people won’t leave the dump– they just live their life amongst the trash.

It’s hard enough to believe people live in these conditions. It’s even harder to think it’s only 20 miles from San Diego.

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Near the end of our walk, we came upon a small church in the canyon. While talking with the pastor, we learned that some of the people in the church make lunches and take them to other communities who don’t have food.  I couldn’t believe it. I had just walked through this community, amazed by the poverty they live in. Now, here this pastor is telling me that their faith calls them to reach out to help those who have greater need. It was beautiful, and truly humbling.

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We encountered some rain during the trip, which meant we couldn’t see the younger kids. TCM has their orphanage in Rosarito– a nearby town with dirt roads that become impassable when they get muddy. We were disappointed to miss that opportunity, but enjoyed an afternoon inside with the older kids, playing cards or music and rolling tortillas for dinner.

37109_10100283479916409_1918069074_n I was thankful for the slow pace, it allowed us to enjoy time together and with the kids. It was good to get away from the business of America and embrace the pace of Mexico.

Toronto

Just 15 hours after returning from Alaska, we left to go on our first trip with the training school. The drive to Toronto took about 12 hours, but the road trip provided great opportunities to get to know the 14 people we’d be spending the next 9 months journeying with.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus says these words at the beginning of his ministry. It seems almost like a mission statement, as he spends the next 3 years doing all of these things. Then in Acts 1 when Jesus gives his final commission, right before he ascends back to Heaven, he tells the apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea & Samaria, and to the end of the earth. The rest of the book of Acts then tells how the apostles carried on the ministry of Jesus.

As a people, we in the training school are posturing our lives so that we can be on mission with Jesus. But part of this journey requires that we first look to see who are the poor, captive, blind & oppressed among us. We have been trained in this world to ignore those who live on the margins– and so this first trip to Toronto allowed us to open our eyes, hear stories, and to begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus.

We spent 6 days walking the streets of Toronto, meeting many different people & understanding parts of their story. We also learned how to eat communally, often having only $1 or $2 each to buy an item to bring back to share with the group. Shockingly, we never went hungry. There was always enough.

This was a great first trip and opened our eyes, but also allowed us to get to know each other well. Since our trip to Toronto, we’ve begun our morning class time, where we continue to discuss and learn. We do have a few more trips lined up, including a return trip to Toronto later in the year.

Decisions, Decisions…

When Tony & I went to Uganda in May, one of the things we were really looking into was the possibility of us going back for a year or two. In the weeks since then, we’ve been praying and processing about whether or not the Lord is leading us there. The answer we got surprised us a bit… 

We kept asking about Uganda: How do we feel about the country? Do we love the people? Lord, are you calling us there? Are there roles for us at Restoration Gateway? Are we willing to sacrifice things in our life here to go and serve? How long would we go for?

We feel that we had some answers to these questions, but more than anything we heard an answer to a different question: Do we do our church’s training school? Let’s be honest, we were avoiding this one.  We knew that our church has a 9-month training class available each year, that and in order to go to Uganda and be sent by our church, we’d have to complete it. We just looked at it as something we’d do if we had to.  There are some big costs to it— the classes are held in the mornings, so I would change my work schedule and Tony would leave his job. That is a big change for us. Would we really enter into this if we didn’t know for certain that we were going to Uganda?

We were both shocked when we heard a “YES” and felt most certain that the training school is the next step for us….and most likely Uganda is the one after that. What!?!? This makes me laugh, because we feel so much that the Lord is leading Tony & I in our marriage just one step at a time (so much so we used it as the subtitle to this blog).

The journey ahead is not all that clear, and it may be bumpy at times, but we are really excited to see it unfold, and we hope you share in that with us!

Chuggin’ Along

This past weekend, Tony challenged me to a little game involving the car radio. The rules were simple: if I was able to sing the majority of the lyrics in the song playing, I gained control of the radio. If not, he had the chance to gain possession. Excuse me, does he know who he’s playing with? I was born to play this game….until one song came up, and I was finished. Tony knew every word, and proudly belted out “She thinks my tractor’s sexy, it really turns her on”. I couldn’t believe it, but really I could, because I had just witnessed how akin he was to the tractor at RG.

There is always a lot of work to do around RG– from tearing down sheds (and rebuilding them in another location) to digging holes. We as a team spent 2 days helping with some of these projects as well as seeing the kids at the orphan school, and meeting with some of the house moms.

However, there was a need for more specific mechanical help, and Tony & Chris were asked to stay and work at RG an extra day while the rest of us were at a medical clinic in Karuma. Chris is a trained mechanic and along with Tony they tackled some big repair jobs on a few of the trucks and farm equipment.

They had their share of challenges, most having to do with completing projects without the right tools. After working just that one day they had a pretty good understanding of how frustrating it is to be in a remote area like Uganda without a Lowes down the street. As Tony would say, there are some things that just cannot be ‘MacGyver-ed’.

 

One of the other challenges was the “we’re in Uganda” element. Try as you might, on a short trip like this, there are just so many unknowns. So when Tony got stung by a wasp, he didn’t know how bad it would be. He immediately took 50mg of Benadryl, but that didn’t stop his arm from swelling up to the point of looking like animation.

However, even after a few injuries and a dose of Benadryl, the lure of the tractor won out in the end and Tony out plowing a field that afternoon.

 

Medicine in Uganda

Our trip to Uganda wasn’t advertised as a medical trip, but when our team formed, we realized we had a doctor, 2 nurses, and 2 pharmacists in our group, and thought it would be great to incorporate medicine into our trip. Fortunately, a physician and his family moved to Restoration Gateway in January, and “Dr. Colby” was eager to set up 2 days of medical clinics for our team in the surrounding area.

The first clinic day was hosted by Bonne, a local government official. Bonne welcomed us to his home, and allowed us to take over each of his huts: one for each doctor and one for the pharmacy.

In order to stream-line our work, the pharmacy also included a “phlebotomy lab” where we did HIV & Malaria tests…once we figured out how to run them…

Though we didn’t see as many patients the first day, some of the people we saw were very ill, like this little boy who only recently started having multiple seizures a day.

There aren’t too many seizure meds available in Uganda, but we were able to send Tony & Alex out to get whatever we needed from the market pharmacies, like this one. No prescriptions needed.

Bridget was also able to do some surgery, working to remove a softball-size lipoma from a woman’s shoulder. Yes, that’s in a hut by lantern & headlamp.

In between patients, some of the non-medical staff were free to play soccer.

…or just play around…

             

Day 2 we set up our clinic in a church building in Karuma. Many more people showed up, so it was “all hands on deck” to triage, test, and treat everyone.

In the pharmacy/phlebotomy lab we did about 50 HIV and Malaria tests. At the risk of passing out, I stayed to the pharmacy side of things, but did come in to provide comfort when needed. Every time we had to test a child, they would start crying even before the finger prick – a sight that made us all want to cry.

One of the best parts of our day in Karuma was when school let out and all the kids immediately ran up the hill to check out our clinic. To those of us inside, we realized the school day was over when our windows filled with the curious children.

A World Away

Since we’ve been back, Tony & I have been getting quite a few questions about life in Uganda. One of the first impressions we had of Uganda was on our drive from the capital city of Kampala, up to the town of Karuma in the north.

We started our 5 hour drive north on a Monday morning, and saw the city streets of Kampala as they were starting to fill with boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) and the store fronts were opening.

As we headed out of the city, and into the Ugandan countryside, it became more and more apparent that life in Uganda is very different from anything we could imagine in the US. The country as a whole lacks the infrastructure we’re accustomed to, and as we got further away from the city, life became more and more simplistic.

People travel all along the roadside. A few of them ride bikes, but most simply walk.

         

The smaller towns along the road have market centers, however they are much smaller, usually just stalls or small buildings with shops that sell everything from charcoal (above) to cell phone minutes, and clinics & pharmacies.

The road leading to Restoration Gateway shows the beautiful simplicity of life here: people live with their whole family in a grouping of round huts. Because of their remote location, they grow their staple foods of maize, cassava & beans. Water is available usually at a centrally located well, but often requires a long walk down the road.

Even the first glimpse from the drive in allowed us to see that life in Uganda is quite different, and provides many more freedoms and frustrations than we’re used to in the United States.