Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saying good bye…

A large portion of this week has been saying good-bye to the people we have met here in Uganda. Early this week I said fare well to many of the people at the diocesan offices. These good-byes were not easy since I have not spent much time in offices in the last four weeks. So it was a bit of a surprise to some when I was saying good-bye.

Thursday night we were blessed to have Bishop Katoneene and his wife to our home for dinner. It was good to meet in a more informal setting and to spend some time with the Bishop when we both weren’t being pulled in many directions at once. We are truly going to miss wisdom and his sense of humour.

The last few days have been busy and emotionally draining. Our schedule became increasingly busy and we have said most of good byes in the last 48 hours. We spent yesterday morning saying good-bye to our friends in town. We’ve spent a lot of time during our stay here with a couple of women in the market and the town’s veterinary officer. They all wanted us to stay and visit for a while, but we were also on a tight schedule. So all our visits seemed far too short.

Part of the reason we needed to rush home was we needed to greet our friends from All Saints Ishaka who were coming to visit. They have truly blessed us with their hospitality. The parishioners from Ishaka went out of their way to greet us when we arrived. They were the first to invite us to their parish and have tried to maintain contact the entire time we have been here. They also made sure to send some people to send us off as well. We tried to return some of the hospitality we have received by treating them to so Canadian baking (spice cookies, mango/banana cookies and orange/cinnamon bread).

Today we also said good-bye to the people at Greater Bushenyi. Again we have been moved by their hospitality while we have been here. They have certainly tried to involve us in the life of the parish. Some of the parishioners stopped by throughout the afternoon and one even brought us a nice gift that we will be sharing with you when we get home.

The hardest good byes though have really been are friends here at the Mother’s Union Centre. We know once we walk through the Mother’s Union gate that we are at home. Lillian, Kellen, Carolyn, and Ellen have particularly blessed us during our time here. They are the people we have spent the most time with by far and we spend a fair bit of time talking with them most days. They have treated us more like friends than guests, which has been truly special for us. Many Ugandans treat us like Mazungu (see the earlier post of being a Mazungu for what I mean), but these women have treated us like equals and invited us into their lives and their homes. We are also going to miss Earnest, Ellen’s Son. We have spent many an evening kicking around a football (soccer ball) with him, much to his delight. We are going to miss his smiles and laughter, although we still can’t understand a word he says…

We have been struck on all fronts by the number of times we have been asked, “when are you coming back?” The question is always asked as if our return is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. People in the diocese and in the individual parishes are very keen to continue corresponding with us and would even like to write to some of the parishes back home. The people here are eager to hear more from the brothers and sisters in Christ, who live in Canada. It will be interesting to see what God has in store in future of all of our lives.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A cooking success!

Today we tested our solar cookers by cooking beans. Although this smaller solar cooker seems flimsy, and flew over in the wind until I tied it down, it cooked much better than the larger, sturdier cooker. The dry beans took about 5 hours to cook. Everyone kept stopping by to check on the progress of the food. I think we need to put the pots inside glass or plastic to retain the heat better and cook the food faster. Before I leave we are going to make some cardboard templates. Then they will practice cooking with the solar cooker, and, if it works well, they will teach the mother's union workers in the parishes about how to use the solar cooker. Its been a fun project.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Solar Power

Other than the church services described by Jeff, Easter weekend was relatively quiet. As at home, Easter is a time to travel home to the villages and visit family, so most of our friends are out of town or spending a quiet weekend with family. Even the town has been quiet all weekend.

So I spent the weekend building solar cookers. Apparently they are easy to make from aluminum foil and cardboard. So, after getting a box from Mother's Union (from the wheelchairs donated by Rotary International this year) and finding aluminum foil in town, I pulled out my measuring tape, made a protractor, and started to try some designs. (More information at and The total cost per solar cooker was approximately $2 for foil (plus the cost of the glue and duct tape that I brought with me and the cardboard was free). I am still looking for heavy duty oven bags to help with heat retention, and you also need to have a black pot. The neat thing is that both solar cookers can fold up and can be easily stored when not in use.

Solar cookers can save on fuel costs (charcoal, wood, electric), prevent environmental degradation (wood), and decrease smoke inhalation. The down side is that it takes longer to cook (although you don't have to watch it closely because it won't burn). Also it doesn't work so well in the rain... (I am still trying to figure out how to waterproof the back of the cardboard to improve durability).

Unfortunately, I finished my solar cookers too late to try them out today. So Lillian, the Mother's Union worker, and I will have a cooking test tomorrow to see how they work! Here are the photos of the completed cookers. I am quite pleased with how they turned out.

Holy Week

Like Holy Week back home in Canada, Holy Week in Uganda is a busy time. We started at Greater Bushenyi Parish on Palm Sunday. The area’s Archdeacon is stationed at this parish and wanted to get us involved as much as possible. There certainly was a lot to do and experience this week. I appreciated all the opportunities that I had this week and I have learned a lot in the very short time I have been in the parish.

Things were very quiet at All Saints Bushenyi early on Palm Sunday. Although the service technically starts at 8am, it didn’t actually start until past 8:30. Time is a fluid thing here and many of the senior clergy find it difficult to convince people to “keep time” as they say. The quiet did not last long though. In a few minutes a large group of students arrived at the front door of the church with palm fronds in hand. I couldn’t resist taking the picture, which they all posed for. They cheered and waved their palms after the ‘snap’ was taken. Everyone is so enthusiastic about digital cameras here. Our camera has been a wonderful tool for crossing the language barrier. The music in the service was like all the other churches we’ve been to here—upbeat and lively, but the palms added a little extra umph. I wish we could take their enthusiasm and combine it with a procession through the community. That would be a sight to see.

I spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon with the vicar of the parish, Rev. Moses doing pastoral visits and handing out envelopes for Easter offerings. It was a unique experience. I’m used to prearranging a few pastoral visits in a day and taking a significant amount of time with each family I visit. In the course of these two afternoons, however, we managed to have unplanned visits with several families, sometimes for just a few minutes and at other times for half an hour or an hour. It was quite natural as we walked down the streets to greet people from the parish and talk about the parish news. Down the back roads people happily gathered their family together and invited us into their houses to chat for a few minutes. Some visits were longer and involved sodas. We even visited people in their shops. All the owners would take a break for a few minutes to talk and we’d pray for them right there inside the store.

Although many of the upper class Ugandans have complained to us about people here not keeping time, I think we have lost something back home in Canada when we focus on efficiency and packing our schedules full. There seems to be little space for these types of quick visits (pastoral or otherwise). When visits are unplanned they are more likely to be seen as intrusions rather than an opportunity to spend time with guests. I also wonder if we Canadians (not just clergy) need to spend more time just “checking in” with the people around us to see what is going on in our neighbours’ lives. Even if we don’t have time for long visits, a short visit at least maintains contact with those around us. It helps us build community because when we know what is going on in our neighbours’ lives we can rejoice with them in the good times and help them in the bad ones.

On Wednesday I attended a service at the Cathedral where all the priests in the diocese renewed their ordination vows. Unfortunately, it was all in Runyankole so I followed very little of it. From what I could understand it was an important time for the clergy of the diocese to rededicate themselves to the church and their work. I can only hope it was an encouragement to them all.

Thursday the churches here celebrated the last supper of Christ. The day began with a visit to another primary school, Pearl Academy, with the Archdeacon. The schools always make me smile - the children were very enthusiastic and worship was upbeat. We were treated to an excellent Easter play performed by the P3 class. I was amazed at how well they memorized their lines. I then preached on the last supper, which was another exercise in rapid sermon preparation. I am starting to get used to the impromptu public speaking here, but I still miss the sermon preparation time and commentaries I have back home.

After visiting the school, there was a church service at All Saints Church. Like Maundy Thursday services back home the service was not well attended, and we only filled the chancel (front part) of the church. It seemed like a normal Eucharist service with a preaching focus on the last supper. Despite the fact that the service followed a pattern that we are getting used to, this service was unsettling for me. The rhythm of Holy Week that had been ingrained in me from spending years in the church in Canada was disrupted. The upbeat music that is normal here felt out of place when we were talking about Christ preparing to die. The focus on Christ’s humility that we normally have at home was also absent, as there was no re-enacting of the washing of the disciples’ feet. There was also no sombre stripping of the altar nor the leaving in silence at the end of the service. I found it very hard to hold onto the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice, without the sombre tone of the liturgy back home. It reminded me how the Church both in Canada and in Uganda has forgotten the importance of observing times of lament. Such times are important training for Christians, so that we can still worship with our wounds. Well meaning Christians often try to cover our problems with praise when we really need someone to walk with us in our pain and also let God walk with us in our suffering.

Without the lament of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (The Archdeacon told us to go home and rest on Friday and Saturday), the Easter Sunday service also felt strange. Unlike at home, singing and shouting alleluias has been common throughout Lent here. At home ‘fasting’ from using alleluias is a way to prepare for Easter. It helps us focus our attention on the cross and builds expectation for Easter Sunday when we break the ‘fast’. Since we used alleluias all through Lent they didn’t have same special meaning for me on Easter Sunday. I wasn’t able to savour them like I normally can after having gone without them for 40 days. Other things that are traditional at home also felt strangely absent. I longed to sing Jesus Christ is Risen Today, but no one knew the tune. I also had to teach the congregation that the response to “Christ is Risen” is “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” It amazed me, yet again, how much culture influences our sense of worship. I have felt at home in Ugandan churches for some time now, but these past few days I was reminded that I am not in my home culture.

The Archdeacon gave me opportunity to preach for the English speaking service on Easter Sunday, which was a blessing. Michelle commented afterwards that it was a very “Canadian sermon” in that it was very reflective, exegetical (followed the text closely), and deeply theological instead of focusing on concrete moral issues. However it was also very Ugandan in that it was far more passionate and proclamatory than what I usually preach at home. I hope it is a balance that I can keep when I return home.

Our Holy Week ended with a dinner event at the Mother’s Union. It was all very good food. They served us matooke, karo, rice, beef and chicken soup, cabbage salad, ghee, watermelon and pineapple. I’m really going to miss the ghee, which has the consistency of a heavy cream and tastes like liquid cheese. However, it was a bit weird not having a Canadian Easter dinner. It was a reminder that we will be leaving in less than a week. We will miss our friends here, but we are also looking forward to seeing you all soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the road with Mother’s Union

We spent the day on Friday travelling to the rural areas outside of Kabwohe with the Mother’s Union workers. They recently set their program for the year and will visit many parishes over the next several months. Over the past several years they have been teaching in the rural areas about the eight millennium development goals:

End Poverty and Hunger
Universal Education
Gender Equality
Child Health
Maternal Health
Environmental Sustainability
Global Partnerships

In previous years, they have encouraged the women in rural communities to plant gardens to supplement their diets and have taught about the components of balanced meals to combat hunger. To improve child and maternal health, they have encouraged women to save money for childbirth and travel to the hospitals to reduce maternal and infant mortality. They have challenged each parish to plant small forests to help environmental sustainability. Each of these small changes adds up to make a difference in the lives of families.

This year, their focus was on human rights and marriage. The first order of business was to visit the local primary school and speak to the children and the teachers in the morning. The visit to the school was an eye opener. Uganda has universal primary education. In theory, the government gives 750 shillings per month (40 cents) per child to the school for resources and supplies. This is ‘in theory’, because the school we were visiting had not received funds since December 2008. The teachers are paid separately from this funding. So the schools have few funds and are struggling to find new ways to raise money. In the past, this funding was obtained through school fees. However, since the government does not allow school fee collection (children are not allowed to be sent home from school), the schools are not sure how to proceed. We encouraged the children to study and fulfil their goals of becoming doctors, teachers, priests, etc. I hope that the girls especially were motivated by my presence as a veterinary doctor.

In the afternoon we addressed a gathering of approximately 70 women. The Mother’s Union discussed two topics – marriage and raising children today. Just like in Canada, (and around the world, I’m sure!) we heard about ‘children today’ and that things aren’t like they used to be. Kellen, the Mother’s Union Worker reminded the women that things weren’t that much different in their generation. She encouraged them to remember their values of community and to support each other in raising children.

The seminar on marriages was also interesting, primarily because the focus was on the basic human rights in marriage – rights to shelter, food and clothing. This surprised me because I take these rights for granted, and to hear them taught reminds me that not everyone enjoys these basic human rights. Unfortunately, when women are dependent on the income of their husbands, it is often the women who lack some of these basic needs.

Mother’s Union was also strongly encouraging legalizing marriages in the church. It is common here for people to live together without being officially married. The most common reason for this seems to be that people want to give a big party when they are married and delay marriage until they can afford the party.

[As a side note, we attended a wedding reception last Saturday, at which there were at least 600 people, all of which were fed lunch. The weather was perfect, and it was outdoors under tents. Having planned a wedding for 100 people, I think it is quite a logistical feat to plan and cook and entertain that many people!]

Back to the Mother’s Union seminar: There are good theological behind Christians getting married by the church and before God. Interestingly, Mother’s Union was also emphasizing the practical reasons. Without a legal marriage, the spouse does not inherit the land if their husband or wife dies. So for Mother’s Union, marriage is not only a moral issue, but a human rights issue.

We did not discuss much about divorce because divorce is discouraged by the churches or society. Ugandan law also discourages divorce. In a civil or Christian marriage, a man may only divorce his wife on grounds of adultery. A woman may divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, adultery and bigamy, or adultery and abandonment (the husband having left for more than 2 years).

The women were very enthusiastic about the seminar and appreciated the time that the Mother’s Union spent with them. Jeff was able to share with the group and did an excellent job giving a short sermon which was translated into Runyankole. We hope to travel with Mother’s Union again next week. We look forward to either participating in more seminars, or sharing in the hospitals, depending on our schedules.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Videos from Kishanje

Ok so I spoke too soon... It's amazing how a 130Mb video can shrink to 3Mb by changing the resolution and cropping some of the content. :)

Mission to Kishanje

This past weekend we travelled with people from All Saints Church Ishaka and Juna Amagara Ministries ( for a mission to the Kishanje Parish near the city of Kabale. Getting there and back was half the adventure! We left in two minibuses - one from Ishaka and another from Mbarara. We joined the minibus from Ishaka. As we travelled to Kishanje, our minibus had its muffler repaired twice and then the engine overheated numerous times before finally stopping all together around 11pm on a small dirt road near Lake Bunyoni. As we sat in the dark in an unfamiliar place, we all were wondering what we had signed up for. But the choir with us sang beautiful songs of faith while we waited.

Thankfully, a family associated with Juna Amagara had already made it to Kishanje in their own car and travelled back to get Michelle, myself and few others. We arrived at Kishanje around 1:30am. The rest of our group wouldn’t arrive until 5am. The second van also had challenges, having received a flat tire and then having the tire fly off twice after being replaced. The damage to the wheel system also caused the rear brakes to fail. They didn’t arrive in Kishanje until the following day. Our trip home was almost as interesting after engine overheating several times we arrived back at the Mothers Union Centre around 1pm. We certainly were more than just a little tired when we got back.

Besides our travelling woes, the weekend was a great experience. I had never been on an evangelistic mission and I had very little idea on what to expect. I was simply told to be ready to preach and to give a testimony during the course of the weekend. Our day started with a service in the church, which consisted of lots of music, two preachers and two people (including myself) giving testimonies.

After this first service we were split into teams, each being sent to a different area of the village. Michelle and I were sent to a small, but very scenic, hill within the valley where the village is located. I have been to a few outdoor services in my life, but none with such an inspiring view. As I looked up into the hills I couldn’t help but feel that God’s love was far higher than them. I also had never been to a service in such a public location before. It was a unique experience for me to be able to preach in the open air, to a very receptive crowd. I doubt that the format would work well back home in Canada. For the people here, church is a large component of the majority of people’s lives. In some ways I felt like I was preaching to the converted. However there was a great deal of emphasis, throughout the weekend, placed on moving beyond just going to church and “dedicating yourself to Christ”. I’ve always felt just a bit uncomfortable with this type of evangelism, which most Canadians would find to be pushy. However, our hosts were pleased that nine children and two adults “dedicated themselves to Christ” that afternoon.

The finale for the weekend was the Sunday morning service. Again there were two preachers and two testimonies. The thing that struck me the most was the worship music. The place was full of people and the chancel (the raised area before the altar) was packed solid with children. When it came time to sing the church seemed more like the venue for the latest rock band than a rural parish. People young and old (some even in their 70s or 80s) were clapping, dancing and jumping. The best party that weekend was held at the church. When the music and dancing was done you could literally see the dust settling from all the excitement.

Two things really touched me during the weekend. First was the number of children involved. It was so encouraging to see so many children having fun in the church and the parents having fun along with them. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in doing the service liturgy right that we can only see children as a nuisance. We forget how important it is that children be allowed to worship with their parents in a way that they understand and in a way that they can see God. Michelle and I also had a wonderful moment Saturday afternoon swapping music with a small group of children. We played our instruments for them and they sang and danced for us. This was followed by some fun with the digital cameras. They love to see their pictures on the screen so much that it is actually hard to get them in front of the camera! They always want to see the screen. It was a wonderful gift to bring a smile to their faces.

The second thing that touched me this weekend was the level of partnership involved. Ishaka and Kishanje have a reciprocal relationship. They have helped each other run missions in each other’s parishes, by giving up the best talent they have for a weekend to make a special service for other parish. Instead of looking inward to their own issues and concerns these two parishes have tried to help each other, by offering events that neither could manage on their own. Even more than that, they have said that that their concern and love for their fellow Christians does not end in their parish or even their diocese. Several speakers emphasized the point that God loved the people of this parish so much that he sent them a team from all over the world—from Canada, Nigeria, Uganda and the U.S.A. It was quite the testimony to God’s love for this small parish in rural Uganda to have so many guests from outside their country and culture. I pray that as a church worldwide we can learn to have such partnerships more often, putting aside our different cultures, and customs to declare with a unified voice God’s love for the people of our world.

P.S. We have some fun videos of this event, but they are too big to post from here. We will share them with you all when we get home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Preaching Across Cultures Part 2/ Visiting Ishaka Primary School

Last Friday we were invited by one of the parishioners from All Saints Ishaka to come and visit the primary school he directs. We are never quite sure what to expect when we are invited to a new institution. Sometimes we are asked to talk about Canada or the Anglican Church in Canada, sometimes we spend time talking with staff and students, and other times we just get a tour and leave. When we got into the car to travel to Ishaka I was told that they wanted me to preach to an assembly of about 700 primary 4 to primary 7 students. I had been told by some of the professors at Wycliffe to have a couple of sermons ready for general use, so I thought I was ready for this experience. The unfortunate thing is they wanted me to preach on a specific passage and I had less than 15 minutes to prepare! Fortunately it was a passage that I was familiar with, but it was a nerve-racking experience none the less. I think it went relatively well although I find it difficult to work in sufficient repetition of my main points while concentrating on speaking with a Ugandan accent.

One of the joys of being here is seeing so many children and youth involved in church activities. The students in Primary 4 to Primary 7 at Ishaka Primary School led most of the assembly themselves. They also greeted us with several choruses in English and Rulankole. The songs were wonderful. The children here have a very keen sense of rhythm and harmony. It also reminded me how important that music is in our Christian formation particularly for children. We learn a lot of our theology more from the music we sing than the words we hear preached because music not only touches the mind, but the heart. Perhaps we need to re-learn some of the children’s songs in our churches back home as an important part of teaching our Sunday School children. Thinking of all this makes me want to extend a special thanks to Sarah Cardwell back home at St. Paul’s Fort Erie, for instilling a love of music in me when I was young.

There are many reasons why the youth are so involved in the life of the church in Uganda. In part it is because the church leadership here has been actively reaching out to them. A few days before we arrived in the West Ankole Diocese, they held their 2nd annual youth convention with an estimated 6 000 youth from this diocese alone. I can’t imagine getting such a crowd back home from one diocese. These youth gathered for 3 days of preaching, music and fellowship. We are sorry that we missed the experience! The church leaders here are also are actively adapting their liturgy, song and even dance to keep children and youth involved. At the same time they keep a form and theology that is distinctly Anglican. It is a testament to how flexible Anglican liturgy can be if we let it.

I think the biggest reason the youth are so involved in the life of the church is the church’s involvement in the schools. The religious institutions (particularly Anglican, Catholic and Muslim) that founded many of the schools here have fought long and hard with the government to maintain the right to teach their faith values in the schools they have founded even if they are government aided. In the schools that the Anglican Church owns here, the head teacher needs to be a member of the church and religious education is mandatory for all students. The schools all seem to have regular assemblies and morning prayers, which are often led by the students themselves. Each school also has a chaplain on staff to provide spiritual direction to the staff and students.

I doubt that the relationship that the churches here have with their schools would translate to a Canadian context. With so many faith traditions back home such an exclusive relationship between a school and a church would be inappropriate and even discriminatory. However, I wonder if the churches back home could do more for school children. Could and should the churches relationship with local schools be different? Seeing so many things run by youth here makes me wonder if secondary school students back home could be encouraged to start their own fellowship groups in their schools. I am looking forward to visiting to some more schools here and seeing what we can learn from them that might work back home.

Farm Visits #2

The students keep me busy during our practical field work, so I have not yet had a chance to take photographs of our activities, despite my best intentions. They have been learning basic clinical exam techniques, diagnostic rectal palpation, blood collection, mastitis testing, and various other diagnostic procedures. They greatly enjoy the hands on work. Occasionally we have the unfortunate event of a sick animal on the farm. The diagnosis of these animals has been helpful for the students and for me. Together we have diagnosed liver flukes and East Coast Fever (a tick borne disease) in some of the calves here.

Outside of class, I have been invited to a few farms to learn more about agriculture here in Uganda. The majority of farms are mixed. This allows plants that complement each other to grow together. For example, in the hot Ugandan sun, coffee, beans and other crops would quickly dry out if planted in the open. Instead, they plant these crops within their banana plantations to allow them to grow in partial shade. Most farms also have at least one papaya tree, avocado, mango, passion fruit vine, etc, providing a constant source of fresh fruit.

There are usually a variety of animals of the farm as well. Cattle may range from 1 to 30 head depending on the size of the land. Most farmers pasture their cattle and some supplement with protein and banana peels to increase milk production from 5 L per day to 20 L per day.

In addition to cows, a farm may have pigs, goats, sheep, guinea hens, bees and chickens. Some of our friends keep several hundred laying hens, although we have yet to visit their farms to see the set up for these hens. Bees are also a popular source of income, Although the hives look different than our hives in Canada, the honey is delicious. All of this may be found on less than 2 acres of land. One farmer we visited also has a small pond on his 2 acres of land where he raises tilapia.

The most interesting vegetable we have met here so far is called manetti. It is in the squash/cucumber family, but tastes more like a water chestnut. It is very prickly on the outside, but white and crispy on the inside. We were given two vegetables to try. We ate one. The other one decided to grow before we ate it, so we have planted it next to our fence. We will see how much it grows before we leave.

Lake Mburo National Park

Last weekend the diocese was gracious enough to let us borrow a diocesan car and driver to visit Lake Mburo National Park, near Mbarara. The tourist guides say that this park is often passed over by tourists, in favour of other National Parks like Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, or Bwinidi Impenetrable. We found this to be true, as there were very few other tourists visiting the park that day.

Despite being less popular, it is an excellent park to visit, especially if you are a small group. Our guide for the day explained that we would see very little on a game drive, since we arrived too late in the morning. However, for small groups you can go for a game walk in the forest with an armed guide. This was the option we chose and we weren’t disappointed. Although we didn’t get as close to the animals as we did in Queen Elizabeth, we saw them in a more natural environment. It was amazing to see how so many species of animals, Impala, Topi, Warthogs, Bufflo, and Zebra all lived so close to each other. They would take turns using the watering holes and the salt lick and none of them tried to horde or exclude other species from these precious resources. If only we humans could learn to do the same!

We also went for another boat trip. The boats at Lake Mburo are much smaller than the ones at Queen Elizabeth, which meant we could get a lot closer to some of the animals. We got some excellent views of some of the birds, which we could not get close enough to in Queen Elizabeth. The kingfishers are particularly interesting to watch. When they are fishing they can hover almost like a humming bird, then they arch their backs and dive straight down for their fish. Considering the size of our boat we were quite careful to stay away from the hippos though. Although Hippos are herbivores, hippos with little ones can be particular and have been known to kill humans and animals alike who get too close with their powerful jaws.

Again it was a good break for us and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Unfortunately I think it will be our last trip to one of the National Parks. All the rest are too far away for a one or two day trip. At the same time I am thoroughly looking forward to getting into our canoe in May when we don’t have to worry about getting eaten by crocodiles or hippos.

Funerals in Uganda

Last Monday (March 2), the Dean of the Cathedral invited us to attend the funeral of a prominent lay reader in his deanery. Being a seminary student, I thought it would be good to experience a Ugandan funeral. It was another interesting experience. When we arrived we were ushered to pews at the front. While we were waiting for the service to begin there was an MC (for lack of a better term) talking to the gathering crowd. His tone seemed upbeat, especially for a funeral, and the music playing in the background had a similar tone. We were already feeling a bit conspicuous as the only white people in the crowd, when the MC switched to English and requested someone to come translate for us because the service was now “an international service.” We appreciated the sentiment, but it is a bit odd having everyone’s attention drawn to you at a funeral where you do not even know the deceased.

Once the service started there was singing, followed by different groups of people—the deceased wife, his brothers, his sisters, his sons, his daughters, grandchildren etc.-- placing flowers on the casket. Most of the rest of the service seemed typical of any Anglican funeral service. There was a short eulogy, a sermon and some prayers. The whole service was about an hour and a half and finished around 11:30. We were surprised at how quick things had been, considering how long services can sometimes be here. The dean then told us that we were going to the graveside, so we figured that we would be home in a couple of hours.

The gravesite was not in a cemetery as is often the case back home. People here fear that the land for public gravesites may be taken over by someone else. Due to this fear many Ugandans are buried on their family’s property, which stays in the family. In this case there were several generations of houses on the property. The property was set up much differently than I expected for a funeral. There were several tents set up for this part of the service— one for the casket, two set up with seating for guests and one for the PA system.

We were quickly ushered into one of the houses on the property and served lunch. When we finished lunch and went outside we were surprised to see a crowd of over 2 000 people! This was far more people than who were at the church service earlier and they were all being served lunch. After everyone had finished eating, speeches were given by family members, neighbours, friends and prominent members of the community. In Uganda, speeches are an important part of every gathering. For important gatherings the speeches can take several hours. For small private gatherings (like being invited for dinner) a few minutes of speeches by the host and the guests is expected. Even knowing this I did not expect the several hours of speeches that occurred at the graveside.

After the speeches, the service moved into more familiar territory. The casket was moved up to its final resting place under some matooke trees. It was lowered into a small concrete vault and the family and guests threw flowers on top of the casket. There were some prayers and then the vault was covered with steel sheeting, which would later be covered in concrete. After this everyone headed home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ugandan Stoves

This post is primarily for Allison who is doing research on stoves in Kenya.

We are fortunate to have an oven and stove in our house at Mother's Union. So we have had the opportunity to share some of our cookie and bread recipes with people here. Our experiments have been well received, although people seem surprised that the cookies are quite sweet. My favourite recipe so far has been banana bread. We eat a lot of bananas here and some get overripe and ready for bread. I have also made carrot cookies, elevator lady spice cookies, and cinnamon bread.

However, the villages do not have electricity here. So the stoves are either charcoal burners or wood stoves. Even here at Mother's Union they use the wood stoves when cooking for a crowd of people. Wood is a managed resource here in Uganda. There is not a lot of wood, but they are actively planting some small plots. Allison tells me that stoves in Kenya are also sometimes a heat source for baby chickens. In Bushenyi, this does not appear to be the case, although we have not been to many village kitchens.

Here are some pictures of the wood burning stoves:

International Women’s Day

Last Sunday, March 8, was International Women’s day. Apparently there were many celebrations and ceremonies in various towns and cities to mark the occasion. The newspapers and speeches emphasized the importance of educating girls and encouraging them to attend universities. Women’s rights are one of the three primary development goals in Uganda (the other two being environmental concerns and HIV/AIDS). The government and church representatives actively promote issues of equality and equal schooling for boys and girls. Many Sundays in church we have listened to preachers encouraging men to help women with their work and to actively support them.

The next day as I was walking into town, I met two men (we had spoken before) who have asked me to find them a muzungu (white) wife. I have told they will be waiting a very, very long time! This time, when they greeted me, they asked me how I celebrated Women’s Day. (We had spent the whole day at a church fundraising event). Then they asked me when I could bring back a white friend as a bride. I have asked what they want from a white women - money? prestige? They have not had a ready answer, only that a white woman is ‘better’.

On Tuesday, we visited Masheruka Girls Secondary School. We had a chance to speak to some of the girls for a couple hours. They dream about going to university (and some will), and becoming doctors, lawyers, accountants and civil engineers. In Uganda, 33% of girls do not finish secondary school because they enter into early marriages. Some students we spoke to said that one challenge of attending school was that they were constantly told at home that they were useless and wasting time and money by going to school.

The students also told me that very few girls enter sciences because sciences are too difficult for girls, and girls are naturally better at arts, so most enter the arts. (I hope I encouraged them in this area). Interestingly, the government has come under criticism recently for focusing scholarships in the science disciplines. This is to encourage students to work in the fields that the government needs. But the side effect is that fewer girls are awarded scholarships for university.

School fees are a challenge for all students. Some of the girls we spoke to were confident that they were heading to university. Their parents have saved enough to allow them to attend. These girls also told me that it is common for the educated to get married after university (at 27-28 years of age). Other girls will not be able to afford these fees and will become primary teachers and nurses (regardless of their desire to do so – this results in many dissatisfied teachers and nurses!). Other girls are not sure they will continue after secondary. They struggle to pay school fees each semester. If their parents cannot afford school fees, an ‘uncle’ or friend may offer to pay fees for them. Unfortunately, this generosity often comes with a price. Many girls are ‘encouraged’ by these men to exchange sex for money. Cross-generational sex is a major issue in Uganda and a high risk factor for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The day we visited the school, they were having ‘pregnancy palpation’. The nurses come to the school once a semester and check all the girls for pregnancy. Anyone who is pregnant must leave school and is not allowed to return. This is to maintain the moral standards set by the school. I asked what consequences existed for the male counterpart – there are few or none. The girls who become pregnant are faced with another moral choice between marriage, or abortion.

Virginity is highly valued in girls for a number of reasons. Many are concerned about the morality of sex outside marriage. More practically, the groom still pays a bride price to the family of the girl when they get married (up to $5000, a significant amount of money here).

The students we spoke to shared the challenges and opportunities they face growing up in Uganda. They are aware that Uganda is changing. More and more girls are attending school at all levels. These bright and motivated students have many hopes and dreams for the future. I hope that their families and society allow them to achieve their potential.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

God Loves A Joyful Giver…

This past Sunday Michelle and I attended a service at one of the rural parishes attached to the Cathedral. The offertory at this service was a completely new experience for us. Many of the people belonging to this parish do not have extra money to give to the church. Instead they bring their crops and sometimes even their animals as an offering. It almost feels like we had gone back in time, to when the children of Israel would offer the first fruits of their livestock and their fields to God.

This Sunday was a special event and the offertory was extraordinary. During the offertory, various groups (sub-regions) within the church competed for who could bring forward the best offering. Points were awarded for presentation, processional, quantity and quality of the offering. The result was an amazing site! The amount of food brought forward was staggering. There must have been enough there to feed a small army twice over. What astounded me the most was the joy in which the offerings were given. It was a mini-festival as people sang and in some cases danced their offering to the front. It took forty-five minutes to process all of the items to the front of the church and the entire procession really was a celebration.

I wish the offertory time back home could have even a fraction of the joy these people expressed. They were not giving out of their abundance like we do at home, but out of the they could grow on their land. Yet all the while they were proud and happy with what they had brought before the Lord. I think the people here realize what they have is a gift from God and therefore are quite happy to give it back. For us in North America I think it is harder to think this was. What we have is what we have earned and therefore is ours by right. I think we have much to learn from this small group of people about our possessions.

After the service was finished, the auction began. The food offered is not the most useful offering for their church, so the auction is used to convert the food into money. The auction was a bit hard to follow as it was all in Runyankole, but they certainly have fun with it. The competition for some items was comical to watch even with the language barrier. Usually people in the congregation would compete against each other, buying the produce for themselves, or for others. In other cases the some people would contribute to a bid to help win an item. The whole process took at least three hours before everything was sold off.

We were humbled during the process to have one person buy us a basket containing 3 papaya, 13 avocados, 2 pineapples and two bunches of bananas and another buy us a head of cabbage and another pineapple. We also bid on a couple of items and brought home a bag of dried beans and some tomatoes. We got smiles and laughter at our attempts to bid in Runyankole. It was a good bit of fun for sure, but I am left with one question—what on earth do we do with 13 avocados???

Being a Mazungu

When our plane landed in Entebbe, it wasn’t immediately obvious that we were different than the local population. The mix of ethnicities on the plane didn’t seem that much different than Toronto. However once we left the airport we quickly realized that we had become visible minorities. Since then we have both struggled with being Bazungu (plural for Mazungu), which roughly translates to being ‘white Europeans’.

When you are one of maybe four Bazungu in Bushenyi, you get at lot more attention than any of the local Ugandans. Simply having different coloured skin is enough to set us apart from the local population. We are easily identified as newcomers and people are curious about who we are and where we are from. It seems like every day we have to explain where what country we are from and what has brought us to Uganda.

Being a Mazungu is more than just skin colour though, as a Mazungu you are immediately considered part of the upper class. This brings with it all the benefits and determents that come with it. In many cases there is a certain level of respect for Bazungu that is above that of the general population. This sometimes has the benefit of getting slightly nicer seating in taxi or slightly better service at a restaurant. School children sometimes will come and kneel or bow in front of us (they do the same for clergy, people in authority and people who are elders in the community). All this might sound like a good deal to some and some Bazungu we’ve seen seem to like it just fine, but for me its feels very strange to have this much attention. Like many Canadians, to be treated better just because people notice that I am white, grates against my sense of fairness and equality. At the same time it makes me wonder how much I get treated differently in Canada because am white and male. I have read several papers that talk about “white privilege” being an issue North America and nearly as often I have written them off as dated issues from many years ago. Now I am not as sure. It will certainly be something to think about when I get back to Canada.

There are also a negative side to being a Mazungu. As a newcomer people know that there is a pretty good chance that you don’t know the rules of the culture. The vast majority of the people we met have been really friendly and forgiving of any cultural faux pas we have made. There are however rare cases where people will take advantage of our ignorance. Usually this takes the form of being charged just little extra for goods or services that we are looking to purchase. The complicating factor is that everyone wants to be the one to make the sale to the Mazungu. For the first couple weeks we would get swarmed by boda boda and taxi drivers looking to give us a ride and we had no idea who to go with or how much was a fair price. Similar things happen in the market as well.

One final challenge that we often face is requests for money. There is a precedent that has been set by previous visitors, that Mazungu will give either money or gifts. It is a precedent that we struggle with all the time and we often wonder if it is a precedent we should reinforce. Sometimes the requests come from people who are fairly well off and we wonder at what point should help stop so they can support themselves. At other times people have the basic necessities, but lack school fees for primary and secondary education, which would give them a better life. With the warm climate and excellent agricultural base, it is very rare to meet someone who does not have enough food to eat or a place to stay. The challenge is we want to help, but we don’t want to give something short term that will breed dependence later. We also don’t have enough money to meet every need.

The perception that a Mazungu has a lot of money is not entirely unjustified. $0.60 can buy lunch and a few hundred dollars makes the difference between being in school for a term and having no education. It is hard realizing that what is often pocket change for us can mean a meal for someone here. For the most part, our gifts have been with people and institutions we have a relationship with. It seems to be the only way that we can know that our gifts are being used responsibly. Only the local people really know if our gifts will cause more harm than good.

This experience of being a Mazungu is going to be a challenge when we get back to Canada as well. As I am now experiencing life as a visible minority, I expect that I will be far more sensitive to the challenges visible minorities face back home. I don’t expect to be able to fully understand the issues that visible minorities face back home as being a Mazungu here rarely cares the negative issues that many face back home. However, the feeling of being stared at simply because I am different will stick with me and I hope it will make more sensitive to people who are centred out back home.

Preaching Across Cultures

Since we have arrived in Uganda we’ve been exposed to a full month worth of sermons and several speeches at the various events we’ve been invited to. Public speaking in Uganda comes in many styles some are similar to what we’d expect back home, but many Ugandans are very flamboyant speakers with a sense of humour.

We had the opportunity to attend an interfaith (Anglican, Catholic and Muslim) event emphasizing the unity of these faiths particularly against common social issues here in Uganda. The first lady, Janet Museveni was present so it was quite the event, with many local politicians present. Although we couldn’t understand many of the speeches, which were largely in Runyankole, we could still tell they were all engaging speakers. They were constantly getting the audience to laugh and to affirm what the speaker was saying. The vast majority seemed to have a personality more like Pierre Trudeau than any of the Prime Ministers (or Presidents for our friends from the U.S.A) that we’ve seen lately.

Preaching here in Uganda is often not much different than what we saw at the event with the First Lady. Many of the preachers here are energetic and charismatic. They are constantly trying to interact with the audience. Small phrases like ‘praise the Lord’, ‘god is good’, ‘alleluia’, ‘amen’ receive quick responses from the audience of ‘praise him’, ‘all the time’, ‘amen’ and ‘amen’ respectively. Using rhetorical questions is also a common way to get your audience to respond.

The content of sermons here is a bit different than I am used to. The lectionary readings for the day are seldom the topic of the sermon. It is not uncommon for the preacher to pick up another text or subject and preach on it instead. The preaching is often not exegetical (i.e. closely following the original meaning of text), but more allegorical. That said the Bishop is an excellent exegetical preacher, so it might just be a matter of style. The sermons we’ve heard so far tend to focus on moral issues, particularly sexuality, corruption and family life. The need to proclaim the gospel and live a Christian life without fear are also common subjects. Other sermons or talks during the service have taken the form of testimonials, which share God’s impact on the speaker’s life. In either case the speaker is not afraid to mince words or leave out details that we would generally leave out because they might offend.

On February 15th I was asked to preach at All Saints Ishaka. In general I think it went well, but it certainly was a different experience. While I was preparing I was really having a hard time coming up with illustrations and examples. Generally I try to find illustrations which illustrate the text and are meaningful to the listener. Since we’ve only been here for a month I wasn’t sure what would be meaningful to the listener! I was thankful that most of the audience the previous Sunday was university students from Kampala International University’s (KIU) Western Campus. Having visited the students at KIU before I had a bit of an idea what might be meaningful to them… However… the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door Sunday morning was that my audience changed drastically! Instead of a congregation mostly made up of university students from KIU and adults there was a mass of primary school students fresh back from winter vacation. I suddenly trying to figure out what to say that was meaningful to a bunch of primary students in Uganda and realizing I have no idea what is important to them. I began to wonder if they had a ‘children’s time’, as is common in many churches back home and if I had to say something for that time too. Fortunately, I just had to deal with the sermon.

Adapting my preaching style to Ugandan ears will take a bit of work. For those who have heard me preach I often have a more a quiet reflective style than I think Ugandans are used to. Inserting amen’s and alleluias into my sermon is really not me at all. However, they are quickly teaching me to project my voice better, which will be welcome news for those who like to sit at the back of churches that I’ve interned at. I also admire the passion with which they proclaim the gospel and I hope that some of that will rub off on me during my time here.

Note: Since we have no pictures of me preaching we decided to add pictures of the people at All Saints Ishaka where I was preaching instead.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Farms in Bushenyi - an introduction

Farming is a major source of employment and income in Bushenyi district. The weather is temperate, so farmers are able to grow crops year round. The landscape is filled with matooke (banana) plantations, tea plantations and grazing fields. Mixed in amongst the banana plants are coffee plants (shade grown coffee).

Of course, I have been most interested in the animal farming as well. There are many local honey producers here, although I have not yet seen the honey farms. I am told they are different than Canadian honey farmers. The dairy industry is quite extensive here. Most of the cattle are holstein Friesians crossed with the local Ankole cattle. The Ankole cattle are resistant to many tick borne diseases, whereas the 'exotic' Holsteins are not. Whereas the Holsteins here can give as much as 20L milk/day (still only about half of an excellent cow in Canada), the Ankole cattle give 2-4 L milk/day. So the Holsteins are popular, but the farmers must use a lot of tick sprays and expensive inputs to keep them alive.

Most farms have between 1 and 20 cattle, which they take to graze in nearby fields. All land is privately owned, but there seem to still be public access to some grazing areas. There are also many goats (in herd of 5 to 300) and goat meat is very popular here. There are also many 'zero grazing' (free-stall) herds of cattle, one of which we can see from our house. These require more labour in harvesting the grasses. The benefit for the Holsteins is decreased exposure to ticks and tick borne diseases and a higher level of nutrition, so more milk. Artificial insemination is available here through the government. I am told there is one person in Bushenyi district who performs this service, but that the timing is not always predictable, making pregnancy rates rather variable! So natural service is also common here. I am hoping to visit some of the zero-grazing facilities to see how they operate for myself.

With all the dairies, milk is a popular drink. The milk is sold raw from the dairies and tuberculosis and brucellosis are still prevalent here. Quality control is still lacking (adding water to milk is apparently common if sold straight from the farm) In the homes we visit, milk is always served boiled (hot). The creamy milk makes for excellent tea and cocoa!

I have been told that cattle are a measure of wealth here. An Ankole cow is worth about $300 and a good holstein cross is worth $400 - $600. On the way back from one of the practical sessions, one of my students informed me that a typical bride price was 5-10 cows (depending on the quality of the cows, I guess).

There are also pigs, and sheep here, although in smaller numbers and many chickens. One of our friends here has 300 layer chickens at her home (which we have not yet seen). We are enjoying the abundance of eggs. And occasionally we see fish (tilapia) from the small local lakes, although it is not a common source of food here. I will post more about farming as I hopefully see more farm operations in the area.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thinking Day

February 22 is Thinking Day for Girl Guides and Scouts around the world. It is the birthday of both Lady and Lord Baden Powell and is celebrated by thinking about important themes each year. This year's theme is "stop the spread of AIDS, malaria and other contagious diseases.

This theme is very relevant to our life here in Uganda. HIV/AIDS is a concern and a reality in all parts of Africa, and Uganda is no exception. Through concerted efforts, Uganda has managed to control the infection rate to about 6%, (1 in 20 people), which is a huge number, but small compared to countries like Swaziland and Zimbabwe with prevelance rates of 42% and 25% respectively. The most visible reminder of this are the numerous stores selling coffins along the sides of the road.

Malaria is another challenge for those who avoid the AIDS pandemic. We have a mosquito net over our bed. I repaired the hole in the net when we first arrived, and most nights we fall asleep to the gentle hum of the mosquito. At least she is on the outside of the net! Still, many Ugandans do not have bed nets. Since the mosquitoes only come out at night, a bed net prevents the majority of mosquito bites. I am sitting in our bed under the net in this picture.

At least two of our friends in the past month have had malaria. It is relatively simple to treat, but relatively expensive ($15). Now, $15 may not seem like a lot, but it is the equivalent of a month of secondary school fees for one child. With many people here living on $1/day, this is also 2 weeks salary. So, after HIV/AIDS, which kills about 44 000 Africans/week, malaria is the second biggest cause of death in Africa, killing about 19,000 Africans/week. That is a lot of people, and bed nets are a big contribution to the solution.

So, Happy Thinking Day! I am still trying to connect with the Guide troops in Bushenyi, and will hopefully visit them soon. I would like to know how they celebrate Thinking Day this year.