Monday, February 20, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

It's time we had the talk. No, not that talk. The talk about the birds and the bees. Not those birds and bees. But the birds and bees I encountered in Uganda. Allow me to explain:
I gave you all a little teaser about a certain little bird.
It was my first full day at my house. It was late in the morning and I was sitting outside with my neighbor, Rachel. We were sitting on a bench on her veranda (or porch if you prefer), discussing education. We're both teachers so we had quite a lot to talk about. As I was sitting there, I saw a little red bird hopping up the stairs on my side of the house. Something startled the bird and it flew off, but it flew off toward the house. I was around the corner so I didn't actually see where it went. I just hoped that it was sitting on the bench on my veranda.
As I continued talking to Rachel I forgot all about the little red bird. Some time later I went back into my house to fix lunch. But as I neared the dining room and started turning left toward the kitchen I heard a strange fluttering noise. I was only slightly alarmed after learning the night before that sounds in that house aren't always what they seem. It can sometimes sound as if something is inside the house when in fact it is outside. But the fluttering persisted, so I started to investigate.
The sound was coming from the window in the kitchen. The curtain had fallen down, so I pulled it back and nearly JUMPED. OUT OF. MY. SKIN!
There was a bird in my kitchen, and it didn't know how to get out.
What's my first reaction you ask? Did I scream? Did I run and hide? No, despite my usually girly responses to such a predicament I rushed toward my bedroom to grab my camera.
"If I don't get a picture, the people at home will never believe me!"

There he is, sitting in my kitchen window, completely unaware that if he just moved about 7 inches to the right he'd be free like Willy. Nope, instead he turned around so I could get a good shot of him from the front.

I named him Lovey Dovey.

I tried my best to get him to leave. I shook at the curtains. That just made him fly into the window like when a fly gets trapped between the window and the blinds and just buzzes around aimlessly until it makes itself tired. I walked outside to try to scare it toward the open window. I walked back inside and made some cat noises.

Nothing seemed to work.

Finally I walked back outside, knowing if I didn't get him out of there I was not falling asleep that night. Apparently from the time it took me to walk out my front door and around to the back of the house where my kitchen window was, he found the open window. Or at least that's what I tried to convince myself of.

I was actually a little sad after he left. But the whole situation made me laugh. (If you watch this clip you'll understand why). I was proud of myself for taking care of things and not acting like a complete girl, something I cannot say for my bee story.

A few days after the bird flew the coop, I was out sitting on my veranda. I was taking some notes to prepare for giving the team their orientation once they arrived. As I sat there with my notebook on my lap and pen in hand, I smiled and said good morning to Maureen as she walked down toward the school. A few minutes later a bug flew right into my face. Unsure of what it was, I swatted it away. It didn't take long for me to learn that it was a bee.

A very angry bee. Fortunately it did not sting me on the face. Unfortunately it still stung me.


After I swatted it away that first time it attacked my right arm. It got me good once and started on the second sting before I smacked it away. In the meantime, the notebook on my lap and pen in my hand went flying causing all kinds of racket. I ran into my house looking for the benadryl spray trying not to cry or pass out.

I haven't been stung in over 10 years but I never remember it hurting so bad before. It started swelling up, and I knew if I didn't say something to someone I was going to faint. I found Rachel who put parafin (of all things) on it as I tried my hardest not to cry. The parafin worked. The swelling went down and the pain went away. I ended up with quite a welt on my arm for about a week after that. (You can still actually see the mark on my arm from the initial sting).

Later on, Maureen asked me what happened. She said she left me sitting there writing and next thing she knew she heard something fall to the ground. She looked back and I was jumping around (did I forget to mention that part?) and then disappeared into my house. We laughed about how crazy I looked, and were thankful that the sting was only minor.

Whew. I'm so glad we could finally have this talk about the birds and the bees!

- Aly

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor

I arrived in Uganda late on a Friday night at the end of December. I spent two nights and rang in the New Year staying with the director of AMG Uganda and his family before moving to my new home at Upendo (the orphanage).

The first night I was there, I will admit that I was pretty scared out of my mind. I had a hard time sleeping with all the new noises and the anti-malaria meds making my mind play tricks on me. As I lay wide awake in bed at 2am I thought to myself, "What am I doing here all alone in the middle of Africa?!"

The next day I sat up and escaped my mosquito net. I turned on my iPod to listen to Mandisa sing "Good Morning," exercised a little to get my blood pumping, and then got ready for a nice cold shower. After breakfast I unlocked the padlocks securing my metal door and walked out onto my veranda. My neighbors were out so I walked the three steps it took to get to their door and said hello.

The other half of my house was taken up by an AMG worker and his family. His wife, Rachel, is a teacher so we had lots to talk about. She had actually been in a teacher exchange program and had a chance to go to London and teach for a short time. So we talked about the different education systems as well as the differences in culture she noticed while away.

There were 3 teenage girls living with them at the time. One was a girl from Upendo who couldn't go back to her village during the break, another was a niece, and another was a girl who needed somewhere to stay. Throughout the week, due to the heat we would spend our time sitting under a mango tree chatting. I taught them how to make friendship bracelets, and sometimes the girls would challenge me to a game of volleyball (which, I might add is a lot harder to play in a skirt and flip flops).

Sitting on the veranda chatting with Maureen.
Rachel also has an adorable 3 year old daughter, Michal, who just so happened to be scared to death of me.

You see, some time back she had been sick. Her parents took her to a clinic where she saw a white nurse. This nurse gave her a shot, which Michal didn't enjoy, and since that time she has always connected white women with getting an injection. So she was very afraid of being around white women.

I was going to do whatever I could to let this child know that white women could be really nice. She loves coloring so I gave her coloring pages, made her bracelets. I even gave her stickers, which she loved by the way.

I was selling, but she was not buying it!

Actually that's not entirely true. See, when she was around me she acted like she was afraid of me. But when I went back into my house she would talk on and on about me. Whenever they invited me for dinner (which we ate around 9pm) she would refuse to go to sleep even though she was so tired all because she didn't want to miss a minute of me being around. Then the next day she would tell Michael, my driver, that she was afraid I was going to bite her.

What can I say? She's 3.

I lived next door to her for a week and a half before the team came, and she still wasn't quite used to me. So you can imagine her surprise when she saw a busload of Americans coming her way. She ran all the way from the mango tree to her bed and fell asleep until they left.

But one day during youth camp some of the older girls attending had been spending time with her. I was walking down the path, and they had just left her standing there by herself. So I went to her and said, "Michal, I will take you to Mommy." And then it happened.

She took my hand.

I don't know who was more surprised, me or her. I wanted to dance and hoot and holler but I didn't want to scare her. As we got closer to the house, Rachel was coming our way and was so happy to see Michal holding my hand. But she was on her way into town so she couldn't take her. So I took Michal to her daddy. When she saw him she called out, "Daddy!" and then pointed to the white hand she was holding. Her dad was very excited. He said, "Who are you with?"

With a big grin on her face she answered, "Auntie Alyson."

- Aly

Monday, February 6, 2012

Exhaustion with a Purpose

This trip was so different than any other I've been on. I had to make the transition from just being part of a team that ministers to the people of Uganda, to being the one who is in charge of taking care of the team that is ministering to the people of Uganda.
I couldn't have picked a better team for my first time as "Short Term Team Coordinator."
I had been in Uganda for a week before they arrived (more about that time later). I was already over the jet lag, adjusted to the time difference and different food and environent, and ready to do my very best to make the trip a success for them.
On Saturday morning Michael (our driver), Dennis (a former AMG child) and I made the one hour drive to Entebbe to pick up the team.
This is how I found them at the airport:

After traveling for 3 days on 4 different planes, sleeping on the floor, and losing 5 bags they didn't look too bad.

The team of 8 ranged in age from 20 to 75. Six of them had been to Uganda before while 2 were coming for the first time, and they all had a heart for serving God.

And as much as I loved working with them and seeing them interact with the kids and AMG workers, they completely exhausted me. I'm not complaining. It was a good exhausted.

It was exhaustion with a purpose.

And while typically my purpose on a trip is to minister to the people of Uganda to the best of my ability, this time my main purpose was to make sure that the team could minister to the people of Uganda to the best of theirs.

So while I spent time ministering to the people alongside them, I was also planning, paying bills, answering questions, and meeting with the workers. It was a new role that put a lot more responsibility on me to make sure things ran smoothly.

Most of the time it did.

I'm still learning and hope to continue to have opportunities to serve in this role. It's a role unlike any other I've taken before or even imagined taking. But I'm finding that God often uses us in ways we don't expect.

How else do you explain Him taking a girl who is afraid of the dark and loves the comfort of home surrounded by family and sending her halfway across the world to live in a house where it gets dark by 7pm, has no electricity, and still feel perfectly at home?

I don't know why God chose me, of all people, for this. But I do know that apart from Him I can do nothing.

- Aly

Sunday, February 5, 2012

It's Time

I've been a little MIA lately. I apologize for not updating sooner. I've been in a bit of a funk since I came home 2 weeks ago. There's just been so much to think about and process. Sometimes I think about things that happened and just start to cry. I think of the kids and all the things they're facing in their lives, all the things they shared with me and my teammates during youth camp. It breaks my heart. Sometimes I find myself crying and don't know exactly why. Sometimes I'm frustrated with life at home in the States. Other times I just don't know what to think. It's all part of coming home.
But it's time.
It's time for me to share. It's time for you to know. Because I know I can't keep it all to myself. I always say that the ministry doesn't end when I step on the plane to go home. The ministry continues even now. And it's my prayer that you will be touched by the stories, and that maybe you'll even be changed by them. I pray that you'll see that while one person can't save the world from poverty or suffering, that each of us can make a difference for a few.
Today I want to introduce you to one of the girls I met at youth camp.
Each morning at camp, the teens would enter the meeting hall and take a seat in a plastic chair. Most would choose a seat near friends. The front row was neglected by most of the kids not wanting to be quite that close. But one girl would choose a seat in the center of the front row. As I walked into the meeting hall that first morning, I saw one girl seating among the row of empty seats. I chose the seat next to her. Every morning after that I chose the empty seat next to her.

We didn't have much time to talk. Once we entered for the morning session we had praise and worship, then listened to the preacher, and then it was time to meet in our small Bible study groups. One day I asked her name. She replied, "Lailah."
On Friday morning, one of the team members from the US was the main preacher for the day. He asked everyone to stand up and take the hand of one person next to them. He challenged everyone to pray for that person over the next year.
Lailah and I became prayer partners.
That same day during a special meeting with only the girls, they opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to give a testimony of their time at camp. Lailah stood up and said, "I praise God for the youth camp because I come from a Muslim family, and when I am here I can worship and pray freely."

I later told Lailah that our team would be coming to her village a couple days after youth camp to do some painting at the center and visit some of the homes. She told me she really wished we could come visit her home because it was near the center.
As we traveled closer and closer to her village I felt a strong urging to visit Lailah's home. I talked to the director of her center to set it up (being the coordinator of team ministry has it's benefits). It was all set. Our team would visit Lailah's home and share the love of Christ with her Muslim family.
When we arrived, she had prepared tea for us. She set out boiled water, tea, hard boiled eggs, some meat, and bananas. As we sat there in her humble home enjoying the feast she laid before us, she was busily folding paper behind me. A few minutes later she plopped 9 letters in my lap, one for each of the team members.
Her mother, a beautiful woman named Grace, joined us along with Lailah's siblings. Grace was born into a Protestant family, but she married a Muslim man and was therefore joined into his religion. And although her husband died, she continues to practice Islam (possibly for fear of the consequences of leaving the Muslim community).
One of the team members, Alex (who was in Uganda for the first time), came forward, sat before this woman and shared the Gospel. She understood no English, so he needed a translator. Lailah stood before her mother, translating everything Alex shared.
And while this woman didn't accept Christ that day, God did an amazing thing. He took a young girl who wasn't even free to pray or worship at home and He used her to share the Gospel with her mother. Because although the words originally came from an American visitor, Grace understood them through the voice of her own daughter.
And I'm praying that one day, Lailah can pray and worship freely in her home along with her entire family.

- Aly