Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where's the Beef? There's the Beef! Ewww...

I was reading over past blogs, and realized that I had promised to show you pictures of how you buy beef here.  So I will!

Let me set the stage for my first beef-shopping trip.  It's May 6, 2008, my first full day in Mbale, Uganda.  I've just spent several hours at Messiah Theological Institute.  Well, probably just one or two, but it feels like several hours.  I'm suffering from exhaustion, jet lag, missing-luggage worries, rumpled-clothing-and-no-makeup embarrassment, plus, of the two hundred or so people I've just met, only ten speak English in a way that this Mzungu girl from Fort Worth, Texas, can understand.  To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure I'm not shaking hands the right way and I'm wondering if that's like a fatal cultural faux pas here.  So when Heidi finally asks if I'd like to do some grocery shopping and then go back to Welldone Cottage, I gratefully head for the car.

Heidi shops at "Happy Supermarket,"  which is considered to be, if not the Cadillac, at least the Plymouth of grocery stores here.  It's about the size of a small 7-Eleven, only a lot dustier and no ATM machine.  It has exactly four aisles:  two are for food, and two are for everything else.  I must admit, though, I'm quite impressed with how much inventory they can squeeze onto the shelves in those four aisles.  Heidi picks out most of the groceries since I'm having trouble reading the labels (I discover that my French, Italian, Hindi, and Arabic are a bit rusty), but I do comment on the fact that there's hardly any perishables sold there.  Heidi smiles and says, "Oh, you buy most of your meat at the market."  This isn't the market?  Oh.

So now we head a couple blocks away to the market. As we walk down the sidewalk, we go past all these little stalls with goods laid out on their counter, pavement sellers with various foodstuffs spread out on a tarp, and even people wandering around holding wooden rods with hundreds of items attached somehow.  Now we're at the market?  But no.  Heidi suddenly turns in to this dark doorway that really makes me think Black Hole of Calcutta, and voila!, now we're at the market.  The market covers a large area of ground (and I do mean ground), but I feel a little claustrophobic because the market is so packed with stalls and people, there's not much room to maneuver, and there's some sort of tin roof just a foot or so overhead.  I walk up and down between rows of tables and stalls (being careful not to trip because it's rocky ground) filled with every possible kind of food: carrots and beans and cucumbers and tomatoes and onions and maize and eggs and huge bags of flour and huger bags of rice (who knew there were so many different kinds of rice?) and several unidentifiable root-type substances.  I think it all looks very interesting, and evidently the flies agree with me.  Heidi winds her way to the what is apparently the meat aisle.  She stops at a stall, behind which stands a local butcher surrounded by hanging sides of beef.  A turkey is proudly on display at the very front of the stall, where you have a great view of the flies munching down.  I make a mental note: tuna fish for Thanksgiving this year.  Heidi dickers with the man on the price of a kilo or two of beef, then he grabs a side of beef with one hand and a machete with the other, and whacks off a piece -- after first shaking off the flies, naturally.  I watch fascinatedly as he skillfully and securely wraps it in a banana leaf (probably suffocating the last fly or two), and hands us the beef in its eco-friendly packaging.  Heidi smiles and thanks the man, we turn to leave, and I wonder where I go to join the local vegetarian group.  

When we get home, Heidi opens the banana parcel, after first allowing me to take a photo:

Now really, could YOU do as good a job wrapping a squashy hunk of beef in a banana leaf?  I doubt it.

And here's the beef!

Note:  Heidi -- after washing the beef in everything but bleach -- made some scrumptious Chinese-style sesame beef, and, yes, I ate it.  Yes, I have continued to eat local beef and chicken ever since.  I'm trying to get up my courage to eat goat.  But no, don't expect to see a photo of a turkey being unwrapped in our kitchen sink on Thanksgiving Day.  I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Good-bye from Mbale, Uganda, where I'm blessed to be having the grandest of grand adventures!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reality Sets In

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Ps. 37:4) 

Being allowed to serve the Lord overseas has long been a desire of my heart, and I began rejoicing the moment I found out that I was going to have the privilege of going to Mbale, Uganda, to serve the Mbale Mission Team.  That sense of joy never really left me, even as I began packing up -- and even giving away -- my life back in the States.  I smiled as I gave my favorite dishes to a good friend.  I laughed when I handed over the guest room bed and some household stuff to a halfway house.  I laughed -- okay, and cried a little -- when I left the law firm I had worked at for eight and a half years.  

Yes, there were moments that I clutched a little, and wondered if I were doing the right thing.  Did I really want to wake up on Saturday morning and NOT go shopping with my best friend before I went to church and then babysat Noah?  Could I bear being away from my daughter for a year?  But the answer was always the same:  The joy of the Lord will be my strength.  God had given me a great gift.  I am going to rejoice in it.  I cried at the airport and held Jenni and Jonathan and Noah as close as I could as we said good-bye, but two hours later I was smiling through my tears and almost laughing for joy as I boarded the plane to head off to Uganda. 

That sense of wonder and joy stayed with me during my first few months in Uganda.  I knew I was in the "honeymoon stage," but to be honest, that was okay with me.  If I was in the honeymoon stage, great!  I fell in love with the country, which is easy to do, as eastern Uganda is incredibly beautiful.  I fell in love with people, who are so gracious and polite. (mostly).  I laughed every time we drove somewhere and had to stop for a herd of cows meandering along the road.  I chuckled as I carried buckets of water to our washing machine so that it would take less than an hour to fill.  I did my best to begin to get to know the local people I work with and worship with and was very excited when they would respond with overtures of friendship.  

Last Sunday, I was greeting people after church, and turned to greet Margaret, a new friend of mine whom I see only at church.  Sometimes I sit with her, and she helps translate the songs for me, which is wonderful indeed.  For the past couple weeks she had been asking me to pray for her daughter, but I wasn't sure why because, quite honestly, I can't always understand everything she says. This Sunday when she saw me, she immediately grabbed my arm and led me to the front of the church, saying, "My daughter is here today.  Please come pray for her."  Her daughter Catherine was sitting there, a young girl of about eight years old, very quiet, and obviously not in good health.  I was quite touched that Margaret wanted me to pray for Catherine.  I asked Phillip to come pray as well, mostly because he understands the local people much better than I do. He talked to Margaret for a minute or two, with me still not understanding more than every third word, and then both Phillip and I prayed for Catherine. Margaret and Catherine left, and it was then, as I talked to the other members of the team, that they explained to me that Catherine has sickle cell anemia.  She will probably not live to adulthood.  The little girl I had just so happily prayed over is almost certainly going to die in the next few years.  Reality Setting In Lesson No. 1:  Uganda is a real place with real people.  It is a third-world country. This is where I live and work and make friends, and people I care about are going to have very hard things happen to them that I can do nothing about.

Two days later I was still trying to come to terms with this reality, when I opened an e-mail from my best friend (Yes, the one I went shopping with every Saturday), whom I had not heard from in a while.  As I read the e-mail, I gradually realized that she was telling me that her husband had been rushed to the hospital with bacterial spinal meningitis about two weeks earlier, and he had almost died.  He had been put on life support, and his condition worsened to the point that they finally made the decision to take him off.  Praise God, when they took him off life support, he began to breathe on his own, and by the time my friend wrote me, her husband was definitely on the road to recovery.  But she had had to go through the experience of almost losing her husband, and I was not there for her. She needed me, and I wasn't there.  Reality Setting In Lesson No. 2:  The US is a real place with real people, and life is not holding still for a year while I am here.  Bad things are going to happen to people that I love and care about, and I can do nothing about it.

What is the answer?  Or perhaps, more properly, if these are "reality lessons," what did I learn?  Did I expect anything different?

The answer:  No, I didn't expect anything different.  And what I learned is a continuation of the lesson God has been teaching me since I was eleven years old, that He is sovereign, and I am not.  I am heartbroken that bad things are happening to people I love, whether here or in the US.  I pray fervently that God works his perfect will in their lives. I am glad, quite honestly, to be out of the honeymoon stage, so that I can get on with learning to love and rejoice in the reality in which God has placed me - the good parts and the bad parts.

As you read over this blog, you will notice the word "I" happens way too often.  You can see that I had way selfish reactions to what should have been just care and concern for other people.  Please pray that I become a better servant, that there will be less of me and more of what God wants in my life.  I want to care more about Margaret and Catherine.  And please pray for Margaret and Catherine, that God will work a miracle in their lives.  Thanks.