Okay, I promised! You’ve all been very patient, looking at pictures of yarn and flowers and things, and of waiting for this very late post while I get painfully close to finishing baby booties made out of leftovers from Baby Yoda, but if you know anything about what Jared & I have been doing in Uganda, then you don’t really care about all of that stuff, at least not nearly as much as what I’m going to show you today. (How’s that for a lead-up?)
On Friday, July 3rd, the day after we arrived at Bushenyi, we climbed back into our favorite land-rover and bounced along awful dirt roads for three quarters of an hour before arriving at Nyamabaare. In case I hadn’t explained this very clearly before, the mission of St. Tim’s church, who sent us, is to partner with the diocese of West Ankole in southwesten Uganda in their health program. Specifically (since we’re a very small church, it helps to not freak us out if we are specific), we’re looking at the little rural health clinics scattered about the particularly isolated bits of the diocese. They are all at various levels of service, but most are around the level of an advanced first-aid station. This is all right until you realize that they are the only option for medical care for thousands of people who either can’t afford or aren’t able to get to government health care. Anyway, we’re starting with one clinic, in the little town of Nyamabaare, trying to get it up a level, then using it as a model to do the same for the rest of the clinics. It’s a slow-but-sure approach for us Americans, who are so easily intimidated by the overwhelming problems of most of Africa.
All that to say, going to Nyamabaare for us was a Big Deal. This was why we were here. Heck, I originally wanted to bring sleeping bags and just sleep on the concrete in the clinic just to spend more time there. The leaders of this clinic are the people we wanted to develop relationships with, because we don’t want to be the sort of white people who come in, give stuff, and leave, and don’t really care about the fact that the people we feel so great for helping have far more to teach us than we could teach them if we would open ourselves up to real and lasting relationships. Sorry, . If I learned anything on this trip, it’s that I don’t have the right to go off on idealistic rants, but I guess it’s just a habit. I need to stop picking my nose, too.
There’s nothing like actually going to a place to reveal all of your preconceived notions and prejudices about it. I am rather ashamed to say it, but part of me really expected to go to the clinic and meet a bunch of people who had not met a lot of decent white people, who would be fearful and suspicious of us, and who we would have to spend days with in order to gain trust and become friends. Imagine what an idiot I found myself to be when we met this lovely group of people.
This is the “management committee” (that’s what they call it, they have committees for everything) of the clinic. They were all better dressed than we were (though we did make an effort), about half of them spoke perfectly good English, and they had all spent their lives investing in their community. One man was a retired engineer for Shell who had designed the church;
one was an old Ugandan army captain who had fought for Ugandan independence in the 60s, and before that, founded the school next-door to the clinic in the 50’s;
and the chairman was a fine man who, although he was quite up front about asking us for money and sharing with us the many struggles and needs they had, was just oozing graciousness and confidence. They overwhelmed us with their hospitality (I have NEVER had a meal with that many dishes in my life that wasn’t a potluck, and this wasn’t), impressed us with their investment and competence, and completely confirmed that the investment of Solar Light that we were making in their community was a worthwhile one.
That first day was meeting, getting toured around the town (which is basically a few houses, the clinic, the church, and a couple of schools; the people live pretty spread out on their homesteads), visiting one school (which means going into every class room and being welcomed in unison by a troupe of uniformed, barefoot kids), and eating (breakfast and lunch within a few hours of each other, when we’d already had breakfast… uf). The real fun began the next day, when we showed back up to this sleepy little village to find it crawling with two and a half of, hm, shall we say, out of town-ers?
The chap on the left is Bishop Hathoway, retired bishop of Pittsburgh, and the founder of Solar Light for Africa. SLA is the organization we basically contracted out to do the work of installing solar light in Nyamabaare, two panels on top of the clinic, and (because our pastor felt inspired to promise it last time he was there, and God provided the funds for it) one panel on top of the clinic, where a common practice is to have “overnights” (prayer vigils). To have those overnights, or to give care at the clinic at night, they would have to burn kerosene lamps, which are both expensive and create rather unhealthy fumes. Solar Light is perfect for this area because they get enough sun to make the system work almost every day of the year, and there are systems available now which are low-to-no maintenance and specially engineered (thus, affordable) for this type of location.
If you’re just here for the knitting, the sock thought it was all cool.
(as an aside, have you ever gotten First Sock Syndrome? I mean, I can understand Second Sock Syndrome, but this time I hated everything about knitting the first sock. The second sock was blasted through like lightning, but I slogged miserably through the first.)
I was among many who climbed up on the roof of the clinic to get pictures of the installation.
But just as much, if not more, of the hard work happened underneath, installing wiring and the actual lights:
Jared seen here installing one of the two outdoor lights. He got to do what he wanted – helping; I got to do what I wanted – run around, annoy people, take pictures, talk to important people, play with kids.
This is the crowd of boys with whom I played football (read: soccer), volleyball, ride-the-bike-in-circles, and do-you-remember-my-long-and-complicated-surname-first-name. They are sharp little buggers, and later we gathered a still bigger crowd of kids (and some adults) when we decided to play teach-the-white-woman-Lungyankole. It somehow tickled me pink when they started correcting my spelling – my ENGLISH spelling.
This is a bunch of that linguistically making very odd faces under the brand-new halogen bulb in the big room of the clinic.
A much bigger hoopla surrounded the turning on of lights at the church, which finished a few hours earlier. There was dancing, singing, and lots of obligatory (and occasionally confused) holding of babies for pictures.
Who looks more confused, the baby or the Bishop?
This was totally the highlight of my time there. I saw my dreams for this trip come true as friendships started to take form, and wise people took over the care of the gift of light that we had brought them. I learned how to sit myself down with a group of shy kids and share some love and respect across linguistic and cultural bounds. I got to be honest with my spiritual (and, well, physical) elders, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are in the same church, dealing with very different troubles. Some people talk about getting the Africa bug; I don’t know what that means. But I have friend there, now, to whom I am tied with bonds of love in Christ, and the way to see them is to go back again. So I guess I’m hooked.