Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rafting and Jumping the Nile :)

This past weekend most of the USP clan all headed to Jinja to raft on the Nile rapids and bungee jump into the Nile waters.

It was great! The water was like bath water, so you weren't freezing everytime you jumped or got tossed in... The clouds against the bright blue sky were unreal, the sunburns on our faces and super white legs (due to wearing skirts all semester) are just now starting to blister :P... The rapids were extreme, I got caught under the boat a couple times, and there was even complementary beer at the end!! OH BOY WHAT A DAY!

The next morning was bungee jumping! I woke up, took a look at the 144 ft jump...and debated whether or not it was worth the 55 bucks...Long story short, I jumped! It was one of the most amazing feelings I have experienced in a long time :). I wasn't really that nervous. Standing on the edge..and not being able to touch the bar above me that kept you from falling too soon kind of worked my nerves up a bit though. I kept looking down at the Nile, and the guy kept saying, ok, you can stop looking down now. haha. It went as fast as a count to three from the worker guy, and a leap out into the air with out stretched arms. Free falling went by soo fast before I hit the water and was pulled back up. When you come back up you swing over the water for a bit before some rafters below pull you down and unhook you. It makes you feel as if you are a hostage being taken into custody :P. I would definately do it again.

Before jumping you sit in this seat at the tower where they wrap a towel around both of your feet, and binding them together through wraping the rope around the towel. I was thinking...sweet, a towel and rope is what will be keeping me from dying :P.

Wahoo for being short and not able to touch the bar :P

Oh...and we didnt drink the beer for those who were wondering. :P

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Walking in whose shoes?

She asked me for help with her school fees. $150,000 shillings…about 75 dollars… I can’t give her money. She was crying, overwhelmed, and afraid that she wouldn’t be able to get the finances to go to school. The very thing that she had been waiting in anticipation for, as it took weeks for her test results to come in letting her know if she was accepted and what level she was eligible for. Now hearing the news that she was accepted, finances were now an issue.

When was the last time that I lost it out of hopelessness of $75.00? When have I felt helpless in a similar situation? I don’t think I really have… If I became broke, I know that I will always be able to call upon my parents or a close friend for a little help or loan. I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be faced with such responsibility as her parents were broke and struggling leaving her with no one to lean upon.

Why, when I hear an African asking for money, I only hear a needy cry? How come I only hear? How come it doesn’t lead me to compassion, but to only walk faster away from the begging with an assumption that they are only asking me because I am a ‘mzungu’ (rich white person)? How come I can’t really see? Because of the scales on my eyes I don’t see the tears behind the eyes flowing from a real broken heart… I don’t see the real reason why she was fighting them back hard… trying to remain strong.

A couple years ago I was at the place you go to get your license renewed (don’t remember the name) and I didn’t have the right amount of money for the license renewing. Long story short, I didn’t have enough gas in my car to drive all the way home, grab a dollar that I was short, and all the way back to the license place. And for just a dollar seemed ridiculous. So because of this, I decided to ask some of the people around me if they could spare me some change. At first I thought people wouldn’t mind handing off their loose change…especially it only being a dollar that I needed. However, I was wrong. Walking around the parking lot asking a few people sitting in their cars if they had a little bit of loose change to spare instantly aroused different emotions within me. The way they looked at me, and the tone of their voices as they told me no made me instantly feel looked down upon. And it didn’t help to have the ones who overheard me asking quickly roll up their windows to save themselves from this “little begger”. At that moment I so badly wanted to just explain myself. I wanted to shout out, “Hey, look I am not poor and I am usually not one to ask people like this…but this is my situation…” I wanted them to see me as an equal to them, who was just in a sticky situation. But no. I was humiliated and brought to tears when I ended up having to walk to a nearby thrift shop and ask the lady at the front desk for the dollar. If you wanted to know, I did end up getting the dollar… it just took a few seconds of crying and then fumbling over the words, “Mam, …um…this is my situation..and…can I pleeaassee borrow a dollar?” She smiled at me, got me some tissues and then compassionately handed me over the dollar. (The best dollar received in my life :)).

Being reminded of how I felt that day, I am reminded of what my friend Nester must have felt. When I was treated as “one of those beggers”, and looked upon as an object rather than Megan Hall with a real story and a real sticky situation I felt the realness of it. How did Nester feel today? The humiliation in the need to ask for help, and to talk to a counselor about not having the finances. Could she have felt the same way and I missed it? Forgive me God for looking at her as an object like the people in the cars looked down upon me. Forgive me for not really seeing her tears, feeling her pain and actually putting myself in her shoes. I have tasted what that feels like. Probably only in the smallest amount…but I remember how not fun and uncomfortable it was. And if I really am not allowed to give her any money as a USP student…How can I adequately say, “How can I be praying for you?”


The above thoughts and events ties in pretty adequately with the material we have been reading out of our current book titled Compassion by Henri Nouwen. Although the first 3 chapters that we have read line up with the topic of having compassion and living in solidarity with others, specifically what happened reminds me of what Nouwen writes on page 29:

“When we begin to see God, the source of all our comfort and consolation, in the center of servanthood, compassion becomes much more than doing good for unfortunate people. Radical servanthood, as the encounter with the compassionate God, takes us beyond the distinctions between wealth and poverty, success and failure, fortune and bad luck.”

The label “Unfortunate people” reminded me how my first reaction to Nester asking me for money was viewing her as an object and as much as I wouldn’t want to be quick to admit it, another needy African asking a mzungu for money. In class today, I was reminded further of how white people are viewed in Africa and the reason behind Ugandans asking whites for money for school fees. Mark Bartels quoted:

“10% of school children are sponsored by some white in the states or even elsewhere, so why wouldn’t they be drawn to ask you for money? They are “magically” receiving funds from the west and only know that a stranger white person who has money is providing the funds.”

Hopefully I don’t just take what happened today, and the remembrance of how I actually felt in the same situation and leave it as an experience. Is it possible to allow it to change my perception of people not just in Uganda but with people back home as well? With this question on mind, I am also learning that compassion is living in solidarity with others, and constantly putting yourself in others shoes. Nouwen would say that you can’t have compassion without community as all of chapter 4 is dedicated to this convincing point. Through this experience, I am reminded that compassion isn’t solving ones problems, but treating others how I would want to be treated, living in solidarity with others, and being moved to hearing them out and simply being present on an equal level vs. some sort of hierarchy level of greater power than others.

Henri J. M. Nouwen. Compassion A Reflection on the Christian LIfe. (2008)

Mark Bartels in Faith and Action class. (3/15/10) Class discussion on Compassion book chapter 4.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finally a blog!

“Its Sunday and we are driving back from rural homestays. I loved this week. I wish it was longer. The people. The joy. The greetings in Kupsabin (their language)> Chikaste Yesu! (Praise God!)/ Takwenyo! (How are you?)/ Yeko (Im fine)/ Eee (yes)/Kei-tabon! (Thank you) Kai-tabon Keyoshi (thank you for cooking)J. Even the fresh cows milk tea…it bubbling over my host mom’s kitchen fire as she scoops it up with the cup and pours it back in to mix it.) It was good and soothing. The walks through the matoke trees. The long runs while dodging cows. My room. Journaling by a lantern. Laughing. Learning. My host mom and dad’s joy. Making funny faces with my host sister Karen while sitting at the table in our smoky, little kitchen while waiting for supper as she didn’t know any English as was our best way of communication. Karen falling asleep waiting for supper…Visiting the schools. The view. The round huts. The sound in the distance: Babies crying, people hoeing in the fields, birds chirping, roosters crowing, silence. No electricity. Brighter than bright stars…I pray that until God leads me back, it will all stay so vivid in my mind.”- Journal entry on the way back to Mukono.

About a couple of weeks ago, all USP students got on a bus and headed out on a 5 hour journey, up the hill of Mt. Elgon, for our week long rural home stay in Kapchorwa.

Ever since we have been back I have been wanting to write and share about my experience but every time I would go to start writing …I couldn’t. So much happened in a weeks amount of time, and so much thinking and processing on top of it has left me silent from blogging for a bit.

Where to start…

-I basically fell in love with Kapchorwa. I don’t know if it was Kapchorwa itself or the village part of it, but every aspect of Kapchorwa I loved. The people, the BEAUTIFUL view, the millions of banana trees and leaves, unrealistic trees that grew in artistically appeasing styles: Some had bright pink buds that stood out so distinctively amongst all the green that it was like food for the eyes J Other trees reminded me of the ones off of the Lion King (I miss that movie :P) and others made me want to climb as it appeared as if they grew forever as the branches disappeared into the sky as you followed them to their tops. Over looking Kapchorwa village you could see everything it felt like! Even our house at a distance :)

-The kids were even more camera hungry then the kids in Mukono, which I didn’t mind. Every time the many kids that gathered around our house saw that I had my camera out, they would grab whatever they could find at the moment, chairs, motors for grinding maize and coffee and started dancing. The videos are so hilarious.

-The eyes: Something about the eyes of the children caught my attention. They are so deep and bright and beautiful. And I will never forget their big, joyful smiles with their gap filled pearly white teeth :).

-My host dad is a headmaster of a secondary school and his name is Patrick. I will always remember our conversations each night while waiting for dinner and how his gap filling sentence always consisted of of, ”So…..In America… :P” I had a lot of fun explaining the different types of seafood that we eat, and clamming in particular. It is also believed by them that Americans are only allowed to have 2 children, so they were shocked as I went down my family line of seven :).

-My host mom is a teacher and a primary school and her name is Joy. She literally lives her name out in the way she lives: Joyful in everything she does. One night she offered me more beans, and being so full, I said no thank you...but jokenly she responded by saying, "Megan if you love me you will eat more." haha. We all laughed and agreed that she can't buy my love..and saved me from having to eat more beans :P.

-Can you guess how much my host parents make a DAY teaching?.2 dollars. How much do we make hour even off of minimal wage?

-But yet I discovered something that wasn’t hard to find during my visit. They are soo much richer than I am…Than most Americans. The way they view life, their hospitality, the way they welcome visitors so warmly, and always with tea or passion fruit juice. The joy that they have and the real laughter amongst their tight knit relations to each other in the village caused me to re-examine my life and my priorities... and I still don’t know if it’s even possible to fully unlearn my materialistic lifestyle by truly putting relationships first and live a life of simplicity.

-I really enjoyed being able to dip my feet into the village lifestyle and get a firsthand experience as to what living amongst the matoke leaves is really like. As of now I have a desire to raise my future kids in a lifestyle like this….but that’s a long long ways from now.

-Some of the cool things I got to partake in: Making coffee! (Roasting the beans and all J), Slaughtering a chicken, making a soccer ball out of banana leaves, eating chicken gizzards, standing underneath a huge waterfall, singing and yelling in a cave, being careful not to drown in all the rain at times, getting sunburned, bathing in an outdoor washroom, learning bits of their language (Kupsabin),drinking tea with visitors, drinking more tea, and then drinking some more :P, milking a cow for our tea, visiting Jonathan Beggs and his work place in Kapchorwa, eating the biggest banana I have ever seen or tasted in my life! Trying to carry a jerry can on my head, and playing with the many kids. :)

*This is long…but brief as there is soo much to share. Can’t wait to come back home and share more with stories and pictures!