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.