Sunday, September 30, 2007

gotta be speedy

I'm in a rush and just finished an update for you that has just been erased. Grrr... I don't think I have the energy to try to recreate it. We'll see how far I get.

The visit to the islands went well. It was an honor to slip into life there for a couple days. Several people became Christians. Please pray for them and for the island churches that will be helping them step into their new life. I continue to enjoy the way people break stereotypes and to be confronted by the beautiful truth that, though we all look different on the outside, on the inside we look and feel the same. On the inside we all need Jesus.

It's been a treat to land on the kinds of dirt and grass airstrips I've read about in missionary letters for so many years. It's been really neat to get to see the finished product of and the reason for the 30 years my dad spent training missionary pilots. One of the island airstrips had cows on it when we landed, but the strip was long enough that the pilot landed well short of the cows spilling onto the airstrip.

Since returning from that visit last week, I've been in a mad dash to try to write up the experience for MAF. I hope to get photos and a fuller account of the visit posted here, but I'm not sure when that'll happen. Tomorrow begins a crazy, crazy work schedule:

Mon-Wed: Kalongo and Patongo in northern Uganda
Wed night: back in Kampala
Thurs-Fri: Bundibugyo in western Uganda in the Rwenzori Mountains area
Fri night: back in Kampala
Sat: day trip to Gulu in northern Uganda
Sat night-Sun: back in Kampala
Mon-Tues: Ikotos, Sudan
Tues night-Sat: back in Kampala to write up as much as possible before leaving for Zimbabwe early morning on Sun, Oct. 14

The amount of work to be done is a little overwhelming. It's very challenging to go into places and collect as much information as possible and then have to pull out of the place enough to go hibernate and write. And to pump it all out so quickly. But, these are good challenges that are helping me grow as a writer, and I'm immensely thankful to be able to visit the places I'm visiting and talk with people in them. Please pray for the info collecting and the writing processes.

I was able to snag a few fun moments away from work this weekend. Two highlights: getting to play sand volleyball with some of the MAF staff yesterday and going to see Miss Potter at the American Club tonight.

Here's the link to the website for the photographer I'm working with here on the MAF assignments: He's been great to work with.

When I have moments for reading, I've been enjoying a book I picked up at a bookstore here in Kampala: The Shackled Continent: Africa's Past, Present and Future by Robert Guest. What I've read so far has jived well with what I've heard and experienced here.

Thanks to those who've emailed, facebooked or commented here! (and sent birthday cards! a completely unexpected treat here!) Your messages and prayers are appreciated! I'll reply when I can!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

island day

We're heading off for the islands in just a few minutes. Please pray for the time there. Also, please pray that I'll get better. I've still got this nagging cold/allergy thing. I've had it since last week. And it would just make things much better to be fully healthy. Thanks!

Monday, September 24, 2007

all in a day's work

While in Nairobi, I received a ride back to the Kellers' house in a government car after meeting with a couple Africa University alumni working in government jobs. On the way we saw the Kenyan president's motorcade go by.

Today may have beat that.

Today I met one of Uganda's former presidents. It was all so lowkey, and I really didn't know much about him until I just googled him. He's quite an interesting cat. According to this article, he's "the only surviving ex-president of Uganda being looked after by the state under provisions of the 1995 Uganda Constitution." It did appear that he's being looked after by the state, as his visit to the office I was in had to do with financial matters. I never would have guessed that he's nearly 90 (87 years old).

This morning I was at the Ministry of Public Service here in Kampala, interviewing another of Africa University's alumni. The very jovial-faced Benon greeted me kindly. He was sharing an office with another alum, Andrew. The air about Kampala feels less tense and nervous than the Nairobi scene. Security problems aren't as severe here, and you can feel it. People here just feel more laid-back and friendly, more at ease than they do around Nairobi. And everyone in Kenya and elsewhere seems to know that downtown Nairobi is the territory of thugs, as everyone calls them. That at-ease personality carried over to the differences between my entrance to the government buildings in Nairobi and those in Kampala.

While Benon and I chatted--after he'd shown me pictures on his computer of Africa University and beautiful views I'll get to take in when I arrive there--Andrew eventually left the room. The office door was open to the open "hallway" above a courtyard that you can have in places where the climate is usually warm.

A woman stopped by at one point. Benon asked her to come back in a little while. Then I could see Benon acknowledge someone in the doorway behind me. A man. Eventually, the man stepped into the doorway and asked for Andrew. Benon explained that Andrew had stepped out. Eventually, it was decided that the man could wait inside the office. Then Benon introduced me, "Kami Rice this is His Excellency [or some word like that] the former president of the Republic of Uganda." Oh! I sure wasn't expecting that! I can't remember if we shook hands then or not. By then the former president, Godfrey Binaisa, was across the room from me.

He ended up explaining his business to Benon. Benon was going to take care of the problem. Somewhere in there we all chatted a bit. Then the former president left, shaking hands with me along the way. I debated whether it was appropriate to ask to have a picture taken with him or whether that would blow my "I'm cool" cover. Besides, I had no idea what kind of president he had been or what kind of man he was now, though in my few minutes with him he seemed nice and pleasant enough.

A little while later Andrew returned and Binaisa came back. Benon was looking for something for me about that time, so we all kind of chatted. I think it was Binaisa who asked who I thought would win the next presidency, Obama or Hillary. People in Africa are following our elections, by the way....a whole year before they happen. The pastors I talked with in Kenya asked me about Obama, too. Binaisa seems to think he doesn't quite have enough experience to be elected. He met Bill Clinton once and liked him.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

island adventure

This week I’m scheduled to spend a couple nights on Kome Island in Lake Victoria (Tues-Thurs, I think). Layton, the photographer, and I will be accompanying Sam there. Sam is a Ugandan who used to work for MAF-UK. Within the past couple years or so, he took a leap of faith and went full time with Jesus Film Ministries, instead of just doing it on the side of his full-time job. His wife still works for MAF.

Just a brief conversation with Sam shows him to be one of those people who’s working in many different directions at once, an entrepreneur who’s connected to so many opportunities and needs, and a man who listens and prays and is quietly but solidly passionate about going to the people God’s burdened for. I understand why Simon and Pam like him so much and do all they can to support his work.

Sam particularly senses God’s burden for the people of the islands in Lake Victoria. People on these islands are quite isolated. Witchcraft is the dominant religion of the region. Transportation challenges have kept Ugandan Christians and missionaries from doing much to reach the islanders. People are afraid to cross the water in boats to reach the islands. Sometimes boats are overloaded and sink, reinforcing the fear of traveling that way. We’ll be flying in, another example of the importance of missionary aviation.

This weekend Sam took a team of doctors from Kampala to Kome for medical clinics…and to help pave the way for the evangelistic focus of our days there next week. Of all my stops on this trip, I think the conditions on the island will be the most basic. I’ll be sleeping in a tent and will need to take some water and food with me.

Sam’s nearing the final stages of purchasing some land on one of the Lake Victoria Islands. He explained that it’s very important to have a physical presence and investment on the islands. He also noted that he’s been told that Muslims, Middle Eastern Muslims rather than African Muslims, have been going on boats around to the islands.

Please pray as the medical team’s time wraps up this weekend. Pray for the Christians and pastors who are already on the island. Pray for God’s power to go in front and prepare the way for the messages that will be delivered on Kome this coming week. Pray for it to be clear that God is more powerful than witchcraft and demons. Pray for new members of God’s family.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

nairobi recap - photostyle

A picture of the Great Rift Valley as seen from Rift Valley Academy. This picture doesn't do the Valley justice, but I didn't have a chance to take any really good photos of the view. It's quite spectacular in person.

Drew Keller, Daniel Psalters, Kevin Keller - whipping up some delicious milkshakes to follow our tasty authentic Ethiopian restaurant dinner

The team of pastors who help Philip (third from left) distribute the Upper Room devotional around East Africa. It was an honor to spend a couple hours asking these men questions and listening to their answers.

What a funny giraffe! You should have heard the joke she told me when she introduced herself. :-)

It's called multi-tasking. :-) Notice how big their heads alone are, as big as or bigger than my torso. Amazing animals!

Trick or treat! (People spend big bucks to stay overnight in this cool-looking but amenities-challenged house on the Giraffe Center grounds. Maybe it's worth the big bucks to feed the giraffes right from your bed.)

Taking tea with Ronald in his office in the government reforms department.

Downtown Nairobi. The view from Ronald's office suite. Nice, huh?

The Capitol Hill area of Nairobi. The brown building on the lower left is the judiciary building/high courts building.

James, the Kellers' compound's daytime guard, escorted me downtown and gave me my first matatu lesson. (Matatus are vans that fall between taxis and buses in the transportation food chain.)

My good-bye (for now) Kenya dinner at Java House with Andy and Jodi and the Psalters. (Andy's taking the photo.)

Hannah and Daniel, the two oldest Psalters kids, who I babysat when they were babies in Elizabethton, TN, and their dad was learning how to fly from my dad.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the writer's medium and god's medium

I'm celebrating a day of quite speedy AND unlimited internet access (it's been about two months since I last had such a treat) by staying up WAY later than I should (considering the mucus running down my throat...ahhhh, it's always such fun to use that beautiful word "mucus"). I've not had much time for on-line article reading these past couple months, so tonight the pull of "just one more article and then I'll shut down my computer" is winning.

And then I read THIS article. And it was too relevant to just read it, shut down my computer and hope to dream about it. Which means I had to do just one MORE thing: log into blogger again and share this article with you.

I've been reading Phillip Yancey's work since I was a junior higher reading his columns in Campus Life magazine (which, alas, no longer bears that name; now it's called the more exciting-sounding Ignite), so I feel like I've grown up with him. He was doing his entry-level writing gigs then. By the time I graduated from college and was in the Fellows in Leadership program in DC, he'd grown up as a writer and had some well-received books published. When the Fellows program and its church partner hosted Yancey, I was glad to "reconnect" with this author of my youth. I chatted with him a bit after he spoke to us, had him sign a book, and went on my way. I haven't really read many of his books yet, though I own a couple of them. But, he's one of those authors whose articles I read and inevitably appreciate whenever I run across them.

This trip to Africa has come at a time that my sense of calling to be a writer is quite firmly cemented while the specifics of that calling remain less clear. And somehow this article of Yancey's hits into that place while pointing back to what's really the point of it all. Anyway, here's the beginning and the end of the article ("God's Writing Life"):

"Does writing get easier the more you do it?" someone asked me recently.
After three decades of making a living by putting words on paper, I have to
answer no. The more I write, the more aware I am of problems—clichés, dull
spots, weak images, repetitions. Whenever I attempt some other difficult
activity, like climbing a steep and scary mountain, I remind myself, "Yes, but
it's easier than writing!"


I found a mere handful of scenes portraying God as a writer. Taken
together, they provide a progression toward grace, and, significantly, they
involve each member of the Trinity. Three of the media—stone tablets, a plaster
wall, and sand in the temple courts—did not survive the ravages of history.
Instead, God's literature gets passed down generation by generation in
transformed lives. "For we are God's [work of art]," Paul told the Ephesians
(2:10), using the Greek word poiema, from which we get "poem."

After surveying scenes of God writing, I no longer felt so burdened.
Composing words on paper is one thing; creating sacred works of art out of human
beings is quite another.

I recommend reading the middle of the article, too. :-) Tomorrow I'm scheduled to ride along on a flight to a missionary base in eastern Congo. Four years ago the missionary pilots working there had to leave because things were so unstable. Since then the eastern Congo folks have been serving that region from Uganda. Now they've begun to move back in. One of the planes is based there now. The other one is still based in Uganda. I think I'll also have a chance to talk with some folks working with Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) while I'm there tomorrow and the first part of Wednesday.

It's so interesting being in this region that's been in the news over the past decade (and longer) and trying to understand what all has gone on here. My from-the-news knowledge is so cursory, and it's always been challenging to keep straight who's on who's side and what the conflicts are over anyway. I'm hoping to understand the history and the forces and players at work here better after my time on the ground.

Monday, September 17, 2007

the photos to go with the words: visiting a slummy place

It's called improvising: use a tire as a trampoline, use wood shavings and other things to make a soft landing place and then show off your stellar acrobatic skills.

The orphanage's barn.

Flower vines are no respector of dwellings; they'll climb on up whether it's a stately mansion or a tin-walled shack. They're pretty wherever they are.

View from the Good Samaritan Children's Home gate.

Dawn (on the left) was part of the day's team of visitors. Mama Mercy (on the right) rests for a minute. The kids just play.

These kids know what to do when a camera comes around. And then they know what to do after they've posed: check out their image on the digital camera's screen. (The wall they're leaning through is the one that was supposed to become a new building for them to sleep in.)

This photo is just for Nathan and Cydil who told me their friend Mark was going to be arriving in Kenya around the time I'd be there. Maybe you'll meet him, they said. I didn't pay too much attention because I already had so many people I was meeting with and too many details to keep track of. Well, as our Mathere team headed to lunch, I finally got to ask Mark what college he'd just graduated from. Asbury College?! That's where I went! Hey, do you know Nathan and Cy...wait a minute, You're Mark! They said we might meet! (Don't you feel like you were there now? ;-) )

Friday, September 7, 2007

the mathere slum

Ever since my visit two days ago to the Mathere slum (muh-THAR-ay) here in Nairobi, I’ve been sorting through what to tell you about the visit. If you see the pictures without any explanation, I fear the result will be the usual caricature of poor places, the caricature that focuses on what people don’t have, the caricature that paints people as desperate victims, the caricature that points to the ground covered with trash and disease-causing agents and says, “See!! Look how terrible this is!” As with any caricature, those things would be true but would become less true when exaggerated out of proportion with the other things that are also true.

Jodi and I talked last night about my visit and about my sense that on this trip I still haven’t really witnessed complete desperation. She described a friend’s visit to another slum where the friend said there was a sense of hopelessness. In that slum, there were no businesses, no ways for people to earn money; and the place was filled with thugs and criminals and prostitutes, with people who, mostly out of desperation, have turned to dishonest ways to earn money.

That helped me begin to put words to what I observed: there were obvious needs in Mathere, yet there was also life and hope there. Children were laughing and playing. People were working. There might even be the possibility for people to change their situation if they choose to. Businesses dotted the road/lane/alley we travelled on to the orphanage we visited. Even in the midst of all the refuse, the air was not heavy with despair. So, it wouldn’t be fair to you for me to talk about visiting a place whose name—slum—carries such stereotyped impressions. It also wouldn’t be fair to the people who live there to reduce them to a category—the people who live in the slums—and all the assumptions and dehumanizing that accompanies that categorization.

It’s easy to get so sidetracked by the conditions in such places that you ignore the people who live there. They become just another prop that showcases the conditions, the conditions that are decried out of supposed sympathy for the people that live in them, the people who end up being overshadowed by and overlooked because of the attention their conditions claim.

On Wednesday, I accompanied Robyn Moore, a WGM pediatric nurse practitioner I know from Nashville and roundabout connections, and five other people to the Good Samaritan Children’s Home run by Mama Mercy in Mathere.

The story I was told is that 15-20 years ago when Mama Mercy’s own children were in high school, their friends’ parents started dying from AIDS. She started letting these kids sleep at her house. Word got around Mathere about this, and one middle of the night someone brought a baby to her that had been abandoned. Her orphanage grew from there. She eventually created an official non-profit org/NGO (non-governmental organization) so folks would know she wasn’t raising money for herself and to keep everything more obviously on the up and up.
Now she has over 100 kids at her orphanage. Volunteers help her sometimes, and there’s a social worker and a teacher who are part of the staff, but it doesn’t appear that any other adults live there full-time.

Robyn makes regular visits to the orphanage to try to help with care for sick kids and with preventative care. On this visit, Mama Mercy herself was sick. Various churches and organizations and missionaries help Mama Mercy. Someone has helped provide cows and pigs and goats and a few chickens for the orphanage. The animals are housed across the street.

Once upon a time, Mama had been told by the government that she had to improve the orphanage’s buildings. She hired someone to build a multi-story structure, but the person started the first level, didn’t build it with the correct support system to support more stories, and then skedaddled with the money. As one of the women visiting with us on Wednesday has said, “Cheating the orphans: that’s a ticket straight to hell!” :-) Unfortunately, that’s the type of thing I am hearing stories about often here: people who are just out to serve themselves. That’s why government corruption is so bad. Putting others’ needs above or even equal to your own is not a cultural value here, by and large. It’s sobering to see what it leads to when that’s not ingrained in either people or their culture. And when such qualities as selfishness are so deeply ingrained, change will only come slowly.

When I was in Ghana, we distributed reading glasses in two of the villages we visited my last week there. At the first village I was a little surprised to see all the pushing and jockeying for position when people lined up for the glasses. I had assumed that since these folks lived all together in this relatively small village, they would have concern and care for each other and would, for example, make sure the older people or people known to have bad eyes would get the first spots in line. But, that wasn’t the way it worked. That makes more sense now that I’ve heard more stories about the serving-myself attitude of many people in Kenya, at least, and often across this continent (that is a bigger generalization than I’m fully comfortable with making but is the generalization that’s been described by folks I’m crossing paths with here).

So, the needs in Mathere and specifically at Good Samaritan Children’s Home are great. For the orphanage, funds are needed to complete the new buildings. Several of the children and babies weren’t wearing underwear or diapers. Children are crowded pretty tightly into the sleeping quarters. One of the babies needs to be moved to a facility where he can get more one-on-one care for his condition. Mama could use more help with the kids, especially while she’s sick.

In Mathere there are problems with the presence of the mungiki, the organized crime/mob in Kenya, and the government’s attempts to reign them in. There are unsanitary conditions. There are slum lords charging ridiculous rent rates for sub-par housing.

Please pray for God’s presence in the midst of these needs. But, as you pray also thank God for the beauty that is there speaking of His presence and hope, from children’s smiles and giggles to flowers growing on the side of a building to Mama Mercy’s compassionate work to the made-in-His-imageness of the people who live in Mathere.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

photo session

While I'm at the internet cafe (where Juliet and Gladys are getting to know me pretty well), I'll go ahead and add a few more photos. Also, please keep an eye on the prayer request section on the right. I update that periodically and just added a couple new things today.

Wycliff reading the profile I wrote about him for a story on the Baby Center - a nerve-wracking moment for any writer!

View from the road outside the Baby Center.

Isn't Kenya beautiful?! This is the view from....! ONE of the balconies on Lord Egerton's "castle." He sounds like an weird old English dude, but he did have good taste in views.

Inside Lord E's castle, which is just down the road from Staci's and was free to tour.

The back of the castle. We visited on a Saturday. The beautiful grounds are owned by Edgerton University. What a pretty spot for this wedding!
You don't mind one more picture of the kids do you? Davy (top), Mary and Lucy (middle), Moses and Benson (Mary's twin; they both have the same beautiful eyes)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

out on the streets

Happy Post-Labor Day to all the Americans reading this blog! Hope you enjoyed your day off (if you got the day off)!

Today I got to walk the streets! That’s probably really worthy of about 5 exclamation marks rather than one, but I’ll let one suffice because I know there are people out there who get really annoyed by over exclamated writing. ;-)

While you can observe a lot about a place by driving through it, nothing really beats walking (even when you have to look the wrong direction before crossing the street). In fact, I think I have an old post or two over on my
Coffeehouse Journals blog about this same phenomenon in Nashville. Unfortunately, for various reasons, these past 5.5 weeks have included quite a small amount of walking, at least any lengthy walking along streets with time to soak in surroundings as I walked.

I’m back in Nairobi and am still backlogged on blog posts from the other stops on my trip. Maybe I’ll get those written eventually. Or maybe you’ll just be stuck wondering what nuggets of experience never made their way out of my head.

The friends I’m staying with here—Andy and Jodi Keller (he’s one of my dad’s former students at Moody Aviation) are people who knew me when I was a junior higher (quite a bit younger than their oldest kids are now)—live in the city, unlike the other folks who’ve hosted me in Kenya. Just a short walk from their house is a nice little shopping center containing such fine establishments as a couple internet cafes, a couple chemists (pharmacies), a bank or something like it, some clothing shops, a leather/shoe shop, a Kenya Lamps store, a produce shop, a bookshop and a nice, American-style coffeehouse complete with free wireless internet except I’m not able to get connected (one of those times where the internet signal is strong, laughing at your inability to access it). Most of the other laptop users have just left, but when I walked in it looked just like any coffeehouse in Nashville with laptops decorating about half the tabletops.

I walked over earlier today for an internet run and then came back this afternoon to finish writing up some of my Kenya assignments. It was nice to take myself somewhere this morning, to go somewhere of my own volition and under my own physical output. It was also nice to walk along the street, to taste life here outside a house.

I’m discovering that no matter where you are, life is life. I mean, in general, people everywhere eat, sleep and work every day. They travel, whether by foot or car or matatu or taxi or boda boda or donkey, to and fro. They smile or don’t smile at the people they pass as they travel. They say “hi” or “jambo” or not. We get so caught up in how different we all are from each other. And, well, things are different, I guess. The details and specifics are different. The big stuff is less different than we imagine it to be. And even if we approach the big stuff differently, we’re still all pretty much doing the same big stuff.

For me so far on this trip, because I’m here to work, my days in Africa aren’t so very different from my days at home in Nashville. The main difference comes because I’m trying to work and travel at the same time. Otherwise, just as at home, I have a love-hate relationship with formal interviews. I still hate the moment of having to commit to telling the story a certain way. I still want to talk to everyone around me instead of writing. And then I still want to write down everything I hear, everything I see and everything I learn.

This shopping center seems to attract a fairly cosmopolitan crowd. I’m mostly hearing English being spoken, but folks appear to have parents who’ve come from a variety of places outside of Kenya. My single mocha and blueberry (or some similar kind of berry) scone were tasty. I’m sitting inside near the door, but if it were sunnier the courtyard outside would have lured me over. At lunchtime the courtyard was packed.

When I arrived at the shopping center, I moseyed around for a bit. Checking out my surroundings. Seeing what wares the shops sold. I had a small victory when I discovered a post office all on my own before I’d asked the Kellers to take me to one. (There’s nothing quite like feeling a moment of self-sufficiency in a foreign country. ;-) ) I even opened an account today at the internet café. The same girl was there—Juliet, I found out is her name—today as last night. She suggested I open an account because it’s cheaper. I figure I probably won’t have any trouble using up 1000 shillings before the 14th. Plus, that’s something you do when you really live in a place, right? Another moment of self-sufficiency perhaps?

Anyway, this entry goes down as my first writing in a non-American coffeehouse. The first of many? My computer’s out of juice, and I don’t feel like looking for an outlet, so I’ll sign off for now.