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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Redefining "weird" in Africa

All right, it's been pretty intense the past few days.

In Uganda...
  • It WOULD be weird to use toothpaste.
    Here they use salt instead of Colgate and a finger instead of a toothbrush. And can somebody say, "Dentist"? Not here, because your mouth would probably hurt too much from all the cavities.

  • It WOULD NOT be weird to pierce your son's ear.
    I noticed some young boys have their ears pierced (just one ear) and I asked our translater, Anthony, for the reason. He said that parents have recently started piercing an ear to prevent their child from being sacrificed. You can imagine my confusion at trying to correlate earrings to child sacrifice. In this area, witch doctors have been abducting children and taking them to the jungles for child sacrifice. If an ear is pierced, those children are considered "unclean" for sacrifice and are subsequently left alone. Yeah, try to wrap your brain around THAT one. The witch doctors' practices have become so rampant that there is currently a bill on the table to make witchcraft illegal.

  • It WOULD be weird to ask a pregnant woman when her due date is.
    There is such a high mortality rate and a strong steeping in witchcraft nearby, that they believe that you might curse the baby by naming a birth date. If you are a guy and you ask that, be careful! The people listening might assume you are the father, as he is the only one privy to that information.

  • It WOULD NOT be weird to pass up a little girl sick on the side of the road.
    Jeami saw her, and the World Vision workers looked at her strange when she made the van stop. They gently told us they see stuff like this all the time. But Jeami, God bless her beautiful mix of bullying compassion, insisted that all plans stop until we took care of her. She said, "I know you see this every day, but I don't, and I can't in good conscience drive past her." Her name was Eunice, and she was eight with a horrible case of yellow fever. If you want to know the symptoms, check my old blog posting on the day I got my vaccinations (I think it's titled Africa Pre-Show). Poor little one was a big vomiting party. Her dad was walking (not carrying) her the five miles to the hospital. Anyway, she had malaria and a parasite the previous month, so it wasn't looking good, but we'll know more tomorrow.

  • It WOULD be weird to ask for a drink on the rocks.
    Why? Because there is no such thing. There is no ice. None. No ice for soda, no ice for coolers, no ice for I.T. Band Tendinitis. And a burn? Enjoy your inevitable blister. We took one of our World Vision children's grandmothers to the hospital today. Grandma's left knee was pretty gnarly, and yes, at some point I will post some pics. But it was filled with something that once drained, resembled original Gatorade. Gross with a capital "G". But talk about pain tolerance. That woman's a rock star. We asked her how long it had been that bad. She said "Seven". A week? No. Seven months? No. Seven YEARS. We'll get the test results tomorrow.

  • It WOULD NOT be weird to call somebody black.
    People are blunt, and they call it like they see it. You are the black one, the old one, the one with the wart, the big-lipped one, etc. But the bluntness is not rude. It is "plain". They see things "plain", and there is no political correct language. There is also no Lugandan word for "please". They just say "Give me this", but it is not rude. While I mentioned Lugandan, I must say that English is the national language, but there are over 50 tribal languages in Uganda. Here in Gulu they speak Ocholi (probably butchered the spelling of that).

  • It WOULD be weird if you put a whole bar of soap in your shower.
    Soap bars are two feet long. Pieces are sliced off as needed. Soap is a luxury item for these families. For the past two days, we have been meeting with the children and the families that our church sponsors through World Vision. The families are missing a lot of life's essentials: salt, flour, soap, sugar, clothing, shoes. And diapers, as Steven discovered while holding baby Eric. We provided the parents with all of the above, minus the diapers. A very soaked Steven just politely returned the baby to its mother.

  • It WOULD NOT be weird to see a classroom of 100 children.
    Most classes are that big. There is one textbook per class. They copy EVERYTHING, and make their own textbooks out of composition books stapled together.

  • It WOULD be weird to use utensils.
    One family made us food: po-show (don't ask me how it's spelled), chicken, and beans. Po-show is like solid water. It's flour and water and the consistency of a solid clump of cooked rice. It's like a clump of grits, but not very moist. I'm losing you, aren't I? It's tasteless, really, and it basically fills that malnourished belly. But you use pieces of it as a spoon, kind of like how you would use a tortilla to pick up beans.

  • It WOULD NOT be weird to see two heterosexual guys holding hands.
    Last year, a married man from World Vision held Paul's hand and asked Paul to come watch the sun set with him.

It's been amazing to hang out with these families. We have so many pictures of these children at home, but it's so cool when a 2-dimensional photo changes into a personality. We handed out all our packages, and played with the kids. Many of the children walked over two hours to visit with us, which was... I wish there was a word that could accurately depict what that feels like inside.

For those back home, if you've never met a Ugandan, stereotypically, they are a very well-mannered, respectful people. Kind. Not quick to smile. Total respect for authority. And Bredow family, your little girl breaks the stereotype that I just laid. She could NOT stop smiling and dancing.

In other news:
We took Jeami's World Vision child, Mercy, to the hospital today. She had yellow fever last week and she seems better now, but she is a little jaundiced and has a pretty gross cough. We'll get the results tomorrow. But let me just say, they had to draw blood, and it took the nurse, Jeami, AND Mercy's mother to hold that six-year-old down. What a fighter! It's like Jeami and Mercy were MEANT to be paired up! Her little brother Daniel was also looked at by the doctor, and they think Daniel might have sickle cell. Greaaaaat. Once again, if you try to think macro, you'll die of despair here. Gotta program yourself to be micro while you're here. One person at a time. It's enough.

Favorite moment:
We had lunch with a family in their mud hut, and Gibson, our Ugandan driver, moved his chair accidently into the firepit in the corner, and all 200 pounds of him went flying, food and all, through the hut. "Hey," he said in his thick accent while sprawled out across the hut floor. "There is a hole there." It was good to hear the natives laugh as if they were watching Justin Timberlake on SNL.


  1. oh heather! thank you for this post. i am so glad that you were able to be with Nancy. she is like a part of our family and we are so glad to hear how she is. i can't wait to hear more about your time with her. if you see her again, please give her extra hugs from us!

  2. Heather, that post just made my day. It was wonderful to read.

  3. Hey Heather

    I'm so glad you're in Uganda. I am eagerly following your journey and feeling all the tugs on our heartstrings. I can't wait to talk when you return. I am so missing Africa. It's been a year for me. It haunts you in many ways.

    Be safe, and change many lives.