Monday, June 16, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The night before I was supposed to leave Sudan, we still had a few people at our house in Torit from our retreat weekend. At one point during the evening, Matt, Tara (short-termer in Yei), Megan Nelson (short-term coordinator from Kampala), and Verena (pre-AIM candidate) were all sitting on my bed while I was packing. This was reminiscent of my last night in the States with my sister, her boyfriend, and my parents in and out of my room while I was packing. The day I left Sudan was an emotional day for me. Beatrice came to say goodbye and told me that her girls already missed me. Peace, her 3-year-old, told her mother that she was going to sneak into my luggage and go with me! My flight was late (not unusual) so I was able to spend a little bit more time with the Bylers and Matthew. As I boarded the plane, I said my tearful goodbyes and left Torit. As I was flying over the town, I couldn’t believe that I was leaving. Six months flew past and it felt like only a couple of weeks.
I flew out of Sudan with Megan Nelson and we were able to spend the afternoon and evening in Kampala shopping and just hanging out. I spent the evening at Matoke Inn with the new innkeepers, Nigel and Rowena, and another couple (Susan and Mike Boyett, whom I met during the LAMP course). I got very little sleep that night and before I knew it, I was in a van driving back to Entebbe airport. God blessed me with one last glimpse of the African sunrise that will be forever engraved in my mind.
As I was traveling I began to realize how much I was going to miss Africa and the friends I had made there. In fact it was really hard to leave. At one point while I was sitting on the plane in London, I looked out the window and saw that the gate over was boarding a Kenyan Airways plane. I seriously contemplated getting off my flight and going to that gate. As I was flying over NYC, I felt like it was almost surreal. It was actually a bit over-whelming. How could I already be back in the States?
I arrived safely in New York late Wednesday evening (April 23) and my flight from London to Newark was actually an hour early (when does that ever happen?). My friends, Mark and Jess, were there greeting me in Hokie style (they literally had a sign with turkey tracks on it). After I met Jess and Mark, Jess bought me a Starbucks latte, and even though I woke up the next morning with bad stomach cramps (too much milk too fast) it was still amazing. That night, I only got about five hours of sleep. So between the little sleep my first night back in the States and practically no sleep in Kampala or on the plane, I was exhausted.
After my debrief session with Miriam (which was great!), my parents and Jo picked me up from Pearl River. I was so excited to see them, especially Jo! As soon as I got in the car and we started traveling, I couldn’t stop starring at my surroundings. It was so strange to look around me and see green…let along properly paved highways! My first reintroduction back into American culture was going to Panera Bread right outside of NYC at noon. Oh my! It was a bit overwhelming. And to top it off Jo and I got this woman that took our order and she treated us like we were five-years-old! I never wanted to get out of a place so bad! After lunch we traveled into Manhattan, where we would spend the next two days.
We had an excellent time in the city. That Thursday turned out to be a beautiful day. We met up with Jess and Mark and just walked around Central Park. It was beautiful! Everything was in full bloom. Jo got some amazing pictures (you should check out her blogspot when you get a chance...it's linked to the right). We toured the Met on Friday and it was great but I was exhausted. I still wasn't sleeping all that well and I wasn’t really feeling too great (I don't think I realized how rich American food was). Friday night we got to see a play (Wicked is amazing). And Saturday we headed home. New York was nice but I was happy to finally get home.
Since I’ve been back I’ve had the chance settle back into the “American” life. One of the first things I did when I got home was just stand in front of the refrigerator! It’s actually kind of weird. I was able to go six months without refrigeration, a reliable internet connection, television and cable, hot water, air-conditioned vehicles, a variety of clothes, stores with a wide selection of food, washing machines and dryers and, oh goodness, so much more! It’s amazing that I didn’t even realize that I had missed those things until I was around them again. I was able to get by without a lot of the conveniences of this lifestyle.
So, what have I been doing? Mostly, I’ve been trying to visit people and catch up. So far, I’ve been able to see many of my close friends, family members, and people from church. I’ve also been preparing for upcoming talks through my church…my first one is this Sunday. (I'm the guest speaker at the women's annual meeting; one of the member's wants me to speak at his covenant Sunday school class; I have to make a presentation to the board of deacons; and I will be making my own presentation for the rest to the church.) I have also been going through nearly 2000 pictures (ok that number may be a bit exaggerated…but there are at least 1700!). Jo and I have slowly been going through all of my pictures so that I can start working on presentations. We've been deleting and Jo's been editing in Photoshop. Jo and I have also spent quite a bit of time “de-cluttering” our house. We had a yard sale a couple weekends ago and as I was getting rid of some of that stuff I couldn't help but think "someone in Africa could really use this!" The other big thing for me will be weddings. This year will also be my third round of weddings. I had my first of many wedding events the first weekend of May. I had a bridal shower in northern Virginia, which was great since I got to see my best friend. I’ve also had the first wedding of the year a little over a week ago. I’m going to have a rather busy year and my weekends during the next two months are already filling up.
So, what’s next? That’s something I’m still trying to work out with God. I’m in a discernment period right now. I know that I need to find a job and soon. Between the raising gas prices and the many weddings I will attend or be in, I’ll have to find a job! I’ve been rather lax in this area since I’m still not really sure what I want to do and the job market is not the greatest right now. Many people have asked about Africa. I actually do want to go back. I may look into going back to Kenya but I don’t know when. I’ve got a lot to discuss with God in the coming months. Until then, I will continue to tie up the loose ends of my first trip (presentations and what not).
I do want to thank you all, once again, for all of your support. I would never have gotten to experience Africa if it weren’t for each one of you. Your prayers and financial support have been greatly appreciated. I will hopefully be able to post a slide-show on this blog once Jo and I finish going through pictures. Also, I will be giving a presentation on June 22 at my church. I would like to extend an invitation to you all. I will send out an evite closer to the date with more details. Again, thank you for everything!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
My time at the school was spent reviewing the midterms which I had given the previous week. There are many students in both of my classes that are really struggling through school. I’ll give you an example. I have spent the entire term teaching the alphabet to my P3 students (basically 3rd-graders). After I graded their midterms, I found out that ¾ of the class are failing…by Western standards. The reasons for this vary: the language barrier between me and the students; students showing up for the first time half way through the term; lack of discipline in attending school daily; not being able to understand English which is what all lessons are taught in; and class size (when I showed up for my P3 midterm I had 80 students!). Against all these barriers, the school continues to push forward.
Torit Civil Hospital
I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the VCT last week. All the counselors, except Richard, had gone to help with the census and the office was pretty much dead. Most of the time I spent working with the VCT was finishing up the sign. The sign turned out to be more difficult to make than I had anticipated. The paint was not the best quality and I didn’t have the proper paintbrushes or stenciling for doing a sign. But in the end the sign turned out ok. It was functional and that was good enough for me. Phil and I hung the sign Friday morning even though no one was even at the clinic. I was also able to make a flier that would be printed after the census and passed out through the town. I hope that now the sign is hung people would be aware that there is a VCT in Torit and not have to travel to other counties to be tested.
Richard and I
That same week we had an eye surgeon and his team that came up from Uganda to perform cataract surgeries. By the end of the week, they performed over 60 surgeries and saw many other patients for check-ups and issued prescriptions. Wednesday, after I finished at the VCT, I joined Phil, Linda, Matt and the rest of the team. I didn’t really help but it was just amazing to see the number of people that came out. I had the opportunity to talk to one girl who was suffering from severe blindness. She was in her early 20s and was attending school in Juba. She was a bright girl. Her English was perfect. She had done well for herself in spite of her condition. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctor could do for her, but he did encourage her to keep up with her education and doing what she’s been doing. There was another woman who, I am told, was led by a cane by her daughter to the clinic on Monday. Her cataracts were so bad that she was unable to see to walk. Luckily, the doctor was able to remove her cataracts and restore her sight. I saw her on Wednesday and she was still smiling. She even raised her cane (in the form of a cross) and gave praise to Jesus in her mother tongue. This touched me so much! So many people came and accepted their diagnosis. Others came, heard their diagnosis, and decided that it wasn’t helpful. All in all, it was a very successful week and many people received their sight again.
Saturday was my last day to spend some time with Amama, Peace, Winny, and a new-comer, Okecha Tonny (actually Beatrice’s youngest brother – he’s probably about 9 or 10). I’m not even sure that I’ve mentioned this, but I have had the girls, and lately Okecha, over to the house once a week to play games, color, look at books, and do other craft things. They have even helped me with my Arabic a bit. This last day we did the same things but they sang a few songs for me (which I recorded). I will take some of my craft things over to the kids before I leave so that they can continue their creativity. They have been such a joy to be around and I will miss spending time with them.
AIC Church of Torit
Sunday was the last time for me to worship at the AIC Church. During the service they have a time when the visitors stand up and introduce themselves and tell the congregation where they come from. I too stood up and was able to greet the church. I told them that I would return to the US soon. When I said this many of the Women of Good News started murmuring or saying “oh”. Many of the church members (who I knew) did not realize that I was leaving so soon. At the end of the service I was able to greet everyone in the church in the greeting line. Many people told me to greet my “people of the US” and others told me not to go. After church was completely over, greeting line and all, Amama (Pastor Peter’s eldest daughter) grabbed my hands and refused to let them go. I know that she knows I will leave soon. I would so love to take her home with me. Her and her sisters! I was able to take some pictures of many of the kids once again along with Pastor Peter and his family. I’m really going to miss that family! I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the people in the church and I know that I will be quite sad to leave them.
It’s still strange to me that my time in Africa is coming to a close. I feel as though I’ve been here for years and, at the same time, that I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. I’ve been asked about how I’m feeling about leaving. Part of me is excited to see my family and friends but the other part of me is sad to leave new friends and, well, Africa. God placed the desire for Africa in my heart a while ago. Even though God gave me the opportunity to serve in Africa, the desire only grows more. I pray that another opportunity will be given to me in the future, but we will see where God will lead me. I want to thank each one of you for supporting me in this mission. From your prayers and encouragement to your financial support and gifts, I appreciate it all. I would not be here today if I did not have your support. For that, I thank you.
This will not be my last entry. I may post a brief entry about the retreat and leaving Sudan once I’m back in the States. I will also post an entry reflecting on my time in Africa. So I guess the next time you will hear from me, I will be in America. I will see you soon! Salaam Taaki!
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Lydia and I
Andrew, Gifty, and Doreen
Saturday, I was awakened to “Another One Bites the Dust”. It was 4 am and Meghan’s cell phone was going off. Doreen was calling to let us know that they would be leaving at 5 am for Kampala and that Matt could accompany them. I fell back to sleep before Matt even left. Later that morning, Meghan, Lydia, and I walked into the heart of Gulu. Our first stop was a Ugandan bank where we were able to exchange some US dollars for Ugandan shillings. It wasn’t much but it was enough to get by with until the banks reopened on Monday. We had breakfast at this little coffee shop named Kopé Café. It was a quaint little café with Mzungu food. We spent the entire morning at this café eating, sipping coffee, and reading. I almost felt like I was back in the States.
Inside the Kopé Café
While we were at Kopé, Meghan discovered an older lady that lived behind the café who made jewelry. This woman, Janet, made paper beads and then strung them together into necklaces. I was so excited because I’ve wanted to purchase this kind of jewelry. I went back and talked to Janet for some time and she showed me how to make the beads. Before I left I purchased several necklaces and thanked her profusely. She in turn thanked me so much because she knew that she would now have a good Easter meal. (Now, don’t think I spent a lot of money because I really didn’t. It was only a couple of dollars but to her that was quite a bit more.) Later in the afternoon we walked all around Gulu and did a little souvenir shopping. Towards the end of the day it began to rain, so we headed back to Kopé Café for dinner and then to the guest house for some sleep.
Easter Sunday brought the rains. We went to Christ Church, an Anglican church, which is where Andrew goes to church. We just weren’t really sure where to go. It was a large church but when we arrived at 8 am the church wasn’t really full. I believe we were the only Mzungus in the church. I had high hopes for this service, especially when they sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and read from John about Christ’s resurrection. (The AIC churches, at least in Sudan, don’t really make a big deal about Easter so I was excited to attend an Easter service.) The bishop gave the sermon and he didn’t quite hit the nail. I won’t go into detail but I’ll give you an example: he claimed that the “one whom Jesus loved” was Judas. He was quoting the scripture from John! The bishop spoke for about 45 minutes or so. I started noticing that the church was getting fuller and fuller. People were still arriving AFTER the sermon. I don’t quite remember what happened in the second half of the service other than the serving of communion and the choir singing the Hallelujah chorus (the choir did a decent job, but I’m not too sure what the guy on the piano was playing). By the end of the 2 ½ hour service the bishop once again got up and addressed the people living in the IDP camps. He told them: “Go home! Go home! The war is over! Go home!” It was quite an interesting Easter service.
Lydia and I
Lydia, Meghan, and I inside Kopé Café
Tuesday was a travel day…and a waiting day. Meghan and I went to Kopé Café for breakfast while Lydia was running. We made a few quick stops before we returned to the Franklin House to finish packing. By 10 am our stuff was in the vehicle and the driver was taking us to visit the Invisible Children office. Meghan has worked with Invisible Children in the States promoting their efforts and participating in local events. She was really excited to finally see the organization in person. We were given a tour by the PR person, another Mzungu named Kelly. Kelly took us through all the departments and told us what IC is currently doing and what the future looks like as well. I would love to tell you more about what they are doing by I fear that this entry is already too long. You can check out their website on the link to the right of the page.
Our Gulu trip made for a nice holiday weekend and a nice break from Sudan, despite the few frustrations of travel. As my time in Africa comes to a close in the next few weeks, I will spend it in Torit. I am looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring. Well, until next time…Salaam Taaki!!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Baby Linda and Linda Byler
As I thought about this verse, Revelation 1:3a, I realize that I’ve never heard this verse before. Well, I’ve never heard this translation (Good News Bible). I would like to break this verse down a bit. The NIV Bible uses the word “blessed” which means much more than “happy”. This word describes the favorable circumstances God has put a person in. The NIV Bible uses the word “prophecy” instead of “book”. Now some would argue that this verse is only implied for the book of Revelation since it is based off the prophecy given by John. But for the sake of this simple verse, the word “prophecy” and “book” means “any word from God – whether command, instruction, history, or prediction” (NIV Commentary). I’m going to go back to using the word “happy”. When I heard this verse, I thought to myself, “am I happy when I read the Bible?” Honestly, I would have to say no, not all the time. When I was honest with myself in answering this question it saddened me. I have to ability to read and write, in English none-the-less! (I’m learning very quickly that English really is a hard language to learn. If you don’t believe me, try teaching 50 Sudanese children different techniques of English!) And yet, there are days when I feel like it’s more of a chore to pick up the Bible and read. I have witnessed the different people groups here in
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…”
~1 Peter 1:3,4a~
Monday, March 3, 2008
Work at the hospital has been pretty sluggish. My first week and a half saw no patients. I learned from Richard, the counselor I work with, that many people in the area just don’t know that the VCT clinic (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) is at the hospital. Now I knew this was a problem prior to the World AIDS Day event in December but I thought for sure more people would be aware of it by now. But the reality is, that there are people in Torit that are traveling to Nimule and Magwai (other counties within
That is just a taste of what life in Torit has been like since I’ve been back. There is much more that I have not shared, but I’m sure I will share those experiences in due time. Well until next time…Salaam Taaki!
Friday, February 15, 2008
Alex Juggling Chicks
At the end of the last full week at ABO we had a fun night and a celebration dinner. The fun night was just a bunch of skits, jokes, dances, songs, and trivia games. The kids sang some songs they had learned and a few of the girls put on a puppet show. There was a challenge between the kids and the parents about who knew more about Africa. The kids won. The Scot taught us a Scottish dance. One of the Brits juggled baby chicks (not even kidding!). One of the parents made up a song about coming to Africa to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas. Our skit, though, was hilarious. Meghan, Rachel (one of the 12-year-olds), and I were the six-legged elephant named Gertrude. We covered ourselves with this blanket; my arm as the trunk and Meghan as the rear. Carolyn narrated as we did two tricks. The first trick was to walk over the middle of a person. We got one of the kids to lie down on the floor and we walked over his middle. Then we got Mr. Fast, who is one of the ABO leaders and also incredibly tall, to lie on the floor and we would walk over him from feet to head. When we had walked over half of him we stopped. Carolyn started saying “Gertrude, what are you doing? No, don’t do that!” And about that time Meghan (being in the rear) lifted her leg and dumped a bottle of water onto Mr. Fast’s stomach. The audience and Gertrude were laughing hysterically. The night ended with ice cream, cookies, and brownies. (Yes, I am in Africa, but I don’t get to eat these things all the time!) Now, onto the celebration dinner and, oh my, what a dinner it was! I’ve never seen so much meat in my life! I think the men were getting pretty desperate for iron and protein and, as a result, dinner was a meat fest. I’m not kidding. It was meat for the main course with a side of more meat! We had steak (fillet mignon w/bacon wrapped around it), chicken, pork tenderloin, hot dogs (that tasted like American hot dogs), and all in a large abundance! We also had some sautéed onions, grilled pineapple, fried potatoes, cheese, fruit salad, and, to top it off, ice cream. I don’t think I’ve eaten so much meat in my life! Everything was grilled outside and it was amazing. Poor Meghan, though. She doesn’t eat meat so it was more potatoes for her! After the dinner, a group of young Kenyan women came in and danced for us. They also had us join in for one of the dances. Only a few of us (me included) got up to dance but it was so much fun.
Kids at Fun Night
Becca, Amanda, and Lorien
On February 5, we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed up to Nairobi with Carolyn. As soon as we were settled in Nairobi, we grabbed some pizza for lunch and then headed to Junction to shop a bit. Carolyn had to debrief with the ABO leaders, so Meghan and I wandered around this book/music/movie store. After a while, we met Carolyn at Java House to do some emailing, drink coffee, and eat dinner. The next day was the big shopping day. After breakfast at Java House, we bought a few African crafts then head back to Junction to shop at Naukumatt. After shopping a bit we saw a movie…this was our third movie in Africa! Once the movie was over, Meghan had to finish up a little shopping so Carolyn and I went to Java House (again) to do some emailing. That evening Carolyn made dinner for us and we watched a movie. Thursday morning we flew from Nairobi to Loki. We were only in Loki for the day so as soon as we dropped our stuff we went into town to run some errands. We met up with Phil and Linda who were bringing a team out of the Didinga Mountains and also Russ and Lyn, who were out for their resupply. We literally spent the entire day running around and getting things organized for our flight out to Sudan the next day. (Meghan had to do her resupply in Nairobi and Loki so she had A LOT of stuff and weight was becoming an issue since we were taking the small plane into Sudan. Luckily Phil and Linda were able to take all of my stuff and just a few things of Meghan’s with them in their vehicle.)
Me and Rachel
I finally arrived back in Torit early Friday morning (February 8) and, after a little recuperation, spent some time in town and at the AIC church. My, how much has changed! The little town I left in December has grown quite a bit in my absence. Although the town itself has changed, the people themselves have not. I was greeted by the same friendly faces I left two months prior. The greetings this time were “Happy New Year” and “You have been lost!”; appropriate greetings for the beginning of a new year and for one returning after some time. As I continue to reacquaint myself with the town and my ministries, I will share with you more. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kenya. It is such a beautiful country and I would love to explore it more in the future. But for now, I am excited to be back in Torit. Welcome back to Sudan!