Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Introspection, travel, and an overview

August 18, 2011
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I’m back in the US, safe and sound. I wrote this in the airport before I left Africa. It’s good to be home, but I am so glad I went.

I’m sitting on the floor of terminal 2 in the Addis Abba International Airport in easy sight of the monitor that I hope will be flashing my departing gate relatively soon. I have been assured it will indeed appear there, so I will wait. I mean, I do have like two hours before my flight leaves which gives me plenty of time to find out which one of the eight gates funnels people to Washington and then, for me, to home.
And….even as I wrote gate number 6 flashed beside my flight number, my personal version of Dorothy’s tornado. I am now sitting beside it having gotten the cool seat beside the window that was still open because my ever-early self was one of the first passengers to arrive. It pays to be early…usually.
We left Jinja around 9:30 this morning and arrived in Kampala in time for lunch at a Mexican restaurant the girls love. Today, our meal was simultaneously symbolic and celebratory. This was the restaurant Christina and Mandie went to after picking up Meems, the little girl who, now, months later, is officially Christina’s daughter and is going home to America for the first time tonight. We had chips, salsa, queso, guacamole, and isn’t-love-and-God-beautiful margaritas together; a lovely way to finish off my brief stay in Uganda.
So far, all my flights/check-ins have been smooth. Ethiopian Airlines feeds you about every 20 minutes, which I LOVE, so I’m feeling full and happy as I wait for the next 13- hour installment of flight attendant-care. I am enjoying traveling alone. Not that I mind having people with me (I am certainly missing my amazing travel buddy, Courtney), but the chance to retreat into myself and think or observe or just “be” by myself while hundreds of people and sounds surge around me is somehow soothing. Proof in the pudding that I am indeed an introvert.
I stood for a few minutes on the front porch this morning, feeling the cool air and trying to realize I was leaving. I felt like I had only been here for a short time, while simultaneously feeling like I’d always been here. I don’t know if that means that I adapt quickly to places or whether I just have a weirdly bad memory. Who can say…
I wrote on my way here that I had the nagging suspicion that God was taking me to Africa not for me to give something, but for him to give something to me, and I think that suspicion proved true. Yes, when the babies were sick or when I dropped developing solution (I completely forgot what it’s really called) onto a few malaria tests at Katie’s clinic, I “helped,” I “gave.” But in doing those things, in hanging out with the other 5 girls in the house, in snuggling and cleaning and diapering the precious babies, in seeing what I saw, and slipping into life in Uganda, I received SO much more. Of most note, perhaps, was the gift of realizing that I, that we as humans, were not meant to live life easily. Our hearts and souls and bodies were not made for tameness or for the vanilla lifestyle we seem to try to build for ourselves. In the comparative “hardships” of life in a third world country when compared to my life at home, my heart responded to the needs that were there and it not only rose to the occasion to provide what was needed, but I felt alive and connected to myself and to what was going on around me through that lack-of-ease. I am certainly not saying that a life that has seasons of comparative ease is not good. Nor am I not saying that living a life that is hard somehow better or “truer” than any other. I am saying, however, that we were created with the ability and the desire to respond to need, to fulfill a position that calls on the strength we did not need when our lives were easy. It can’t possibly be glamorous; I only have had brief glimpse of it, and it is really not always pretty. But it is enlivening.
I consider this trip to be the perfect cap to my summer. While a cruise or something like that would have been wonderful (and I won’t lie and say that I did not think about that rather longingly at 2 am with a vomiting baby beside me), this gave me something I could not have received from a cruise or a road trip with friends. I am honestly not sure exactly what it gave me. In addition to my realization above, perhaps I received a better depth of perspective as I view the world, or a renewed sense of the beauty, annoyance and fun that different personalities can create when thrown together in confined spaces for extended periods of time. But all in all, I think whatever Africa gave me will be much longer-lasting, much more deeply-seated, and much less obvious than I expected. It might be a subtle change, it might be a drastic one, or it might be right in the middle, affecting some parts of me strongly and others only slightly. But I don’t think there’s a way you can come to this country and not be affected somehow, even if it’s only by the mixture of its immense natural beauty with its poverty. I am happy to be coming home, but I am not at all disappointed by my choice to spend these last days of summer in Africa. It’s the best decision I could have made.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Short posts and open-air markets

August 17, 2011
Jinja, Uganda

Today was technically my last day in Uganda. We’ll be leaving Jinja by car tomorrow morning to head up the Kampala where I will then get to the airport. I’m bittersweet about it, leaving I mean. I’m planning to use my 24 hours of solo travel time to reflect and write a little, but tonight, I plan to be with the girls, talk, laugh, and eat on my last evening here. I don’t have the time to reflect that I need to really write what I want to so, sometime in the next 3 days, I will send out whatever I end up writing while on my way back to home. :)
Our big outing today consisted of going to the central market, which is basically a mall except its open-air, flea market-esque, and the floor is a little muddy, the air is a little smelly, and the isles are a little narrow. There was everything from baby clothes, to bathmats, potato sacks to popcorn in tiny little bags there. It was a cool experience. We spent awhile there, wending our way back and forth through the many, many rows of stalls. Other than that outing, our day was pretty quiet. The babies are both well on the way to being better, so much so that we are not planning to stay up with them around the clock tonight.
We’ll be leaving here in the morning to get to Kampala and have some lunch before I head off on my long trek back stateside.

I’m coming home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflection, grace, learning and beans

August 16, 2011
Jinja, Uganda

I’m feeling rather introspective and reflective tonight, so this post reflects that. Forewarned is forearmed, so they say. :)

After having finished my dinner of red beans and rice (which is delicious), I am on the girls’ front porch with my little Netbook in my lap. The sunset is beautiful tonight, its orange tint just barley touching the purple-gray rainclouds rolling in. The little flocks of birds that fly through appear starkly against that backdrop and their calls are easy to hear without the noise of cars or buses to drown them out. The breeze is cool and rustles through the long leaves of the palm trees that tower at least 30 feet above me. All in all, the stillness and beauty of this country is very apparent tonight and I could almost think I was in some kind of resort. That is, if I didn’t know there was a man outside who has just gone through our garbage, and clouds of fruit flies in the house, and little whimpers from tiny babies floating through the window beside me.

Last night with the babies was quieter for everyone. Mama Faith came and took care of AR so the rest of us took shifts by twos through the night with E. The babies have definitely improved, although the last few days have been difficult for everyone involved. Today we gave ourselves a break from dirty diapers and I.V.’s by going into town for lunch. Getting out of the house felt SO awesome.

This afternoon we went to a weekly clinic run about 5 minutes walk from Mandie’s run by Katie Davis in her home, a 23 year old amazing young woman living here in Jinja. It was quieter today than normal, apparently, with only around 12 people and their children coming through in the two hours the clinic ran. The extent to which my physical helping extended was to assist in giving two malaria tests and grabbing a few medicines from the closest that functions as dispensary. I did get to observe a lot though. I saw wounds being cleaned and evacuated, HIV testings, nursing babies, old burns, new sores, and a lot of other things…I saw a lot in that sun-filled front porch. I felt there a sense of vulnerability in those coming and compassion in those attending that was a beautiful picture of grace. They needed help, and when they came and asked for it and the waited for the time it could be given, the help was given graciously and with individualized focus. I think I saw a picture of the way God sees our needs today. Katie knew that there was need, so the clinic was open for anyone who would come. Those who chose to come were humble (or desperate) enough to ignore any pride and to ask for help. When they asked, help was freely given with no strings attached. It’s a unique combination of initiative, humility, vulnerability, action, and waiting all mixed together. Interestingly, though, all five aspects need to be practiced by both groups (the needers and the givers) in order for the exchange to function well…

I noticed another thing while sitting and listening to Katie, Mandie and Courtney attend to the people at the clinic. I became poignantly aware of how much there is to know in the world. It’s so obvious, but it hit me in a different way today than it had before. To realize that no matter how much I learn or how much I know that there will always be more that’s unknown, more that I can choose to discover (or not to discover) makes me exited. Call me a nerd; call me passionate; or just call me a twenty-one year old. Actually, now that I think of it, call me all three! I’m passionately nerdy twenty-one year old who is becoming acutely aware of the vastness that is life. :)

Mandie, my sister, wrote a powerful blog post today on the gift of the Now, appreciating and living in the current situation in which you are living. I have been realizing that, over the years, my love of efficiency and looking forward to the future has kept me from really experiencing my now. Not that efficiency and the future are bad things, quite the contrary, but I had my balances wrong with too little attention to the present. In the last seven to ten months or so, I have been more intentional in my attention to the present, trying to balance it with my natural tendency to focus mostly on planning and the future. That being said, in the last few days, I have been finding myself becoming restless and impatient with my present: the flies and the vomit and the power going out and the lack of sleep. It came in flashes, but it was still there. When I read Mandie’s post though, it was like a mental step-back for me. I simply decided to live in this present, in this now, acknowledging the good and the bad, the smelly and the sweet, the tired and the energy, the frustration and the fun. I don’t have to like it necessarily; sometimes I really don’t. But by not focusing my mind simply on what’s coming next, I’m more available, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, to the people and the situations that comprise my now. It’s so logical, and since I love logic so much, you think I’d have already figured this out. But, truly, I love the fact that I will never stop learning. Maybe it’s not so bad that this is just one of the things I’m getting to learn now. In my Now. I’m learning about my Now now. Ironic…

But that’s cool too, because in addition to logic, I dearly love irony. :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Humor, choices, flies and laundry (or the lack thereof)

August 15, 2011
Jinja, Uganda

It’s been a relatively quiet day today after last night’s adventure with the babies. I went to bed around 2:30 and got to sleep longer than anyone else (about 4 hours) and then got up around 7:00 and joined Courtney out in the living room so Mandie and Kate could sleep for a while. The babies are little fighters and are doing better.
FYI, a sense of humor is essential here (and maybe also in any house where there are small children, especially sick small children). Between the flies, and the vomiting, and the lady who didn’t wash, dry or iron the laundry (meaning we have very little clean things left), and other…“occurrences”…for lack of a better word, there is so much to cause stress and worry and irritation and anger. But I’ve been astounded at how much laughter there is in this house, even in the midst of the craziness. I was astounded because I found myself growing so frustrated and tired and angry and was starting to get annoyed by the seeming “ease” (even though it’s totally not easy) with which the girls were functioning. Then I realized that one’s reaction to any situation is really a choice. Certainly you have an initial reaction (maybe happiness, or anger, and fear, or irritation), but ultimately, one chooses what they will do with that emotion. You choose whether or not it’s a good emotion with which to deal with the current situation. In this case, perhaps irritation or anger is the initial reaction to a lot of the things that happen here, but it is not necessarily the best response. Even if it is simply to keep yourself from turning into a bitter grouch or discouraged pessimist, choosing to respond to what life throws at you through your sense of humor is not only smart, it’s internally healthy.
Note to self.
Lesson learned.
Or at least, lesson seen and trying to be absorbed, which is not quite the same...
Tomorrow is my last day here in Jinja. Since I’m flying out of Kampala Thursday afternoon, we’ll be making the trip up there Wednesday morning to stay the night and get all our baggage situated and me to the airport on time. I’m not sure what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Playing by ear…that’s the name of the game, folks. That used to be so hard for me, but it’s getting easier now. Just in time too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On not being dramtic; a PS to my previous post

August 14, 2011
Jinja, Uganda

Just a note: the babies are not as sick as they seemed to me; my inexperienced eye must see things bigger than they are. They are sick, but not so badly that the girls (the ones who know what they’re looking at) are really worried. I just didn’t want anyone to worry overmuch because of my dramatic re-telling of the day’s events. We’re planning on taking shifts with them tonight, so everything will be fine here. :)

Vomit, I.V.'s, Knowledge and Love

August 14, 2011
Jinja, Uganda

We went to church this morning. Whether it was because I had slept badly last night or was just a little uncertain in this new environment, I was not inclined to go, for whatever reason. But we bodaed up and went anyway, and I am so glad we did. There was an energy of real-ness among the people gathered that I sensed that was so refreshing. The worship time and the message were energetic and felt like it was based not on duty, but on desire. I loved it.

We are having a very Ugandan afternoon here. As I wrote before, baby E has been sick for the past few days. The girls had to test her multiple times for malaria, but every time she came back negative. Today, however, the fever and diarrhea she’s been having since yesterday have increased and been joined by vomiting up, within minutes, everything she’s been eating. Courtney has been an unbelievable trooper and a beautiful blessing as she’s been caring for E today; both she and E have been through 4 different changes of clothes in the last six hours. E. is severely dehydrated and can’t keep anything down, formula or water, so after the third projectile vomiting incident today, the girls decided she needed hydration more than anything and decided to IV her. We didn’t have any needles small enough for her tiny, tiny body here in the house, so they called one of the other girls who lives near here who happened to have a neo-nat needle. She came over and began the getting the supplies for the IV ready. At this point, A.R. who had just gotten up from her nap decided to begin projectile vomiting as well. We cleaned that up, hoping that it was just an isolated incident, perhaps a bid for attention. The outcome of that particular situation still remains to be seen…
Renee, the girl who came over with the neo-nat needle, did the actual IV beautifully on the first stick and baby E was such a trooper through it. Her tiny little arms and dark skin make finding a good vein difficult but we were blessed that it went smoothly this time. It was difficult to get the IV dripping at first, but with the girls’ continued efforts it began running. Hopefully she’ll be feeling better soon; the saline in the IV should stop the vicious cycle of dehydration that causes her to continue to lose fluids while simultaneously keeping her from being able to absorb them.
That’s all for now. My heart has been alive today, not for anything I have done, but for what I have seen. I have hardly even been needed (my knowledge does not extend to the medical realm at all; I do what I can behind the scenes), but I have been able to observe. Observe need. Observe giving. Observe knowledge and love in action. Observe tender hearts, willing minds and strong hands. Observe selflessness in the knowledge that one may not be in an ideal situation, but one is simply needed and will rise to the meeting of that need. It’s beautiful.

It’s not necessarily pretty, but it is unbelievably beautiful.