Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Pretty sure" is the answer


Now what was the question?

Before I tell you, please take a look at some photos taken a few Sundays ago.

Phillip and James praying for a new brother and sister in Christ

Gathering at the river

First the brother... the sister are buried in baptism

A final prayer of thanksgiving and blessing
(Not given by me; I was just privileged to be standing near the sister.)
(But I did get to hug her right after the prayer!)

Yesterday I was trading e-mails with a friend back home.  I happened to mention that I was feeling kind of homesick.  Her loving, subtle, understated, and entirely valid response was exactly as follows: "So, if you are homesick, why are you staying another year???? Are you sure that you are up for it???"

With God's help, yeah, pretty sure.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Whilst I work on Chapter Two, Part Two...


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Group Hug Time!

Yes, opening a team account with Barclays Bank was a hard-won victory.  By the way, in the interests of honesty -- and because he might read this blog someday -- I must admit that said victory was due almost entirely to Phillip Shero's valiant efforts, not mine.  In any case, like most victories, there was a price to pay. The price of this particular victory?  Oh, right around $4,200.  

You see, the team money now lives in a beautiful blue and white building several kilometers away from my office. This is a much safer situation than when it resided in a small gray safe two meters away from my desk; however, since Uganda still remains a cash-only society, I will need to visit the money every now and then, partly to make deposits and withdrawals, and partly to make sure Barclays hasn't given the money away to some random stranger.  (See postscript on previous post.)  Unfortunately, as a white female in Uganda, walking to and from a bank on a regular basis will almost certainly begin to invite attention of a sort that I would rather do without, as in attracting would-be African Robin Hoods trying to equalize the wealth at my expense.  

On a happier note, in addition to needing to make frequent bank visits, my job here has grown in other ways to include additional responsibilities besides merely "keeping books." It will hopefully continue to grow over the next year, especially as the team goes forward with work on LivingStone International University. 

Frequent bank visits + added responsibilities = need to be able to travel around Mbale without hitching rides everywhere.  The answer?  

Meet the Mzungumamamobile!

Yes, thank you very much, God has blessed me with a car!  And I do mean THANK YOU!  So many of you have supported me over the past year with your encouragement, prayers, and with your hard-earned dollars.  I cannot say this strongly enough:  I would not be here if not for you.  And now that support has allowed me to buy a car.  When the exact car I needed came up for sale, the funds were already available, thanks to you all.  So everyone gather around.  Are you ready?  Good.  Group hug time! [Insert big group hug here.]  When I come home for a visit, I'll do my best to give each one of you an individual hug.

And now, if you'll excuse me, brave and adventurous Mzungu Mama is going to take the Mzungumamamobile out for a spin!  

Okay, what side of the road am I supposed to drive on?  
And why is the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car????

(Yes, I promise to get back to work on Safari Chapter Two now.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

A random post whilst I work on Chapter Two

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And you thought being a number-cruncher was easy!

As mentioned in a previous post, I don't often write about what I actually do for the team, not so much because I am a diffident, self-effacing, modest person -- although, of course, I am proud to say that I am all that -- but because I have not yet figured out a way to make the trials and tribulations of being the team bookkeeper even mildly interesting.  Because of this literary failing, you have been spared the six blogs I would have loved to write chronicling Phillip Shero's and Mzungu Mama's determined efforts to open a bank account for the team.  Six blogs:  One blog for each visit to Barclays Bank wherein we heroically fought to convince the less-than-enthusiastic manager that he should allow the Mbale Mission Team to deposit thirty-five million shillings with his bank. Oh, it was an epic struggle.  Somewhere around the fourth visit, exhausted and weary from completing yet another set of forms, and compiling yet another list of documents, I was ready to admit defeat and agree with Barclays that certainly the last thing they would want to do is actually allow people to give them money.  But Phillip, who is made of sterner stuff, refused to contemplate surrender.  And so we battled on. Finally, on visit number six, Barclays grudgingly allowed us to deposit the first ten million shillings.  (Yes, we have since deposited the other twenty-five million.)  

I now know what Winston Churchill must have felt like on VE Day...well, no, not really. But I do have that "I'm ready for anything now!" feeling. Mzungu Mama has tracked rhinos in the bush, AND she has successfully opened a bank account at Barclays Bank in Mbale, Uganda.  What brave adventurous thing should she attempt next?

Postscript: I know what you're thinking: Man, I hope she never has to make a withdrawal. If Barclays made her jump through all those hoops before they allowed her put the money in the bank, what in the world will she have to do to get the money back out again?  Blood test?  DNA sample?  (Don't be silly. This is a third-world country.)  Complete another six-inch stack of Ugandan-style paperwork? (Please, please, anything but that!)  Well, strangely enough, two weeks after we opened the account, a wire transfer came through from the States and I needed to withdraw eight million shillings.  When I walked up to the window, I had neither cheque book nor proper identification.  To make matters worse, the teller did not show me as an authorized signatory.   And Barclays still allowed me withdraw the 8,000,000 shillings.  

Another lesson in learning how things work in Africa.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Safari Adventure: Chapter One

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I believe I can see that rhino just fine from inside the bus, thank you.

I had been here for eight months, and whenever Noah (otherwise known as the cutest grandson on the face of the planet) asked me what animals I had seen so far, he heard the same tired litany:  cows, goats, and chickens.  I don't think that was the list he was hoping to hear from a grandmother living in Uganda.  In fact, I was beginning to suspect that he was perhaps a tad unimpressed, so I was overjoyed when Julie Reagan, a teacher at the MK mission school, invited me to go with her parents and her on a three-day safari at Murchison Falls Game Park.  Safari!  That means animals, right? Specifically, African animals that wouldn't look anything like cows, goats, and chickens, right?  I was so overjoyed, in fact, that I didn't bother to get the less important details, such as exactly what we would be doing for three days.  I just packed my bags and hopped in the car.  Murchison Falls and all you gorgeous animals that AREN'T cows, goats, or chickens, here comes Mzungu Mama!

Day one of the safari began as most adventures do in Africa:  with a long drive that starts way too early.  So early, in fact, that Abus, our driver and travel guide for the safari, arrived at exactly 5:55 am, just as Julie and I, the seasoned Ugandan residents, were in the middle of explaining to her parents that nothing ever starts on time in Africa so there was no need to rush to get ready by 6:00 am.  (By the way, Abus evidently did not know any of the rules involving punctuality in Africa, because he not only arrived five minutes early that first day, he spent the next three days trying to make us Mzungu hurry up.) 

It was only after we'd gotten everything loaded and were well on our way -- as in, past the point of no return -- that it occurred to me to request a safari itinerary. Julie happily laid out all the fun and exciting things in store over the next three days: Rhino tracking in the wild, game park tours in a pop-top van, riverboat excursions on the Nile, a visit to Murchison Falls, visiting chimps at the Jane Goodall Institute, a beautiful rainforest lodge to retire to -- it all sounded enchantingly exotic...unfortunately, I didn't quite take it all in.  My mind kept getting stuck on the first enchantingly exotic item on the list: rhino tracking in the wild. Rhino tracking?  In the wild?  I mean, wasn't there some way to do it in the tame?  ("Yes, there is.  It's called the zoo.")  

I spent the next two hours mentally composing brief, but intensely moving, final words to say as they carried me out of the bush on a stretcher. I had just come up with something guaranteed to make me posthumously famous for a week at least -- perhaps more if Reader's Digest picked it up -- when I realized Abus was slowing down the bus.  (Yes, we had a lot of fun with his name.)  There by the side of the road were several monkeys.  Really cute, photogenic monkeys, and they didn't look anything like cows, goats or chickens!  I forgot my impending doom long enough to snap a photo or two for Noah. 

(As always, click on the image to get a high-res version.)  

Is it just me, or do monkeys tend to look faintly disdainful?

Of course, this meant that we were getting close to the game park.  Sure enough, soon we were pulling into Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Abus introduced us to Ogencan and Richard, our guides for the rhino tracking, then he solemnly shook everyone's hands and climbed back in the van, declining an invitation to go along.  Hmm.  The guides requested that we sign a "guest book."  Right.  If this is a guest book, why is there a space to write down "next of kin"? 

Before we began the actual trek, the guides explained that rhinos had been hunted to near-extinction in Uganda, not just by mzungu but, sadly, by Africans as well, especially during the Idi Amin era.  Rhinos are still a severely endangered species, so much so that countries such as the US are sending rhinos back here to help with repopulation, which currently stands at a mere six rhinos.  I discovered that Disney has contributed two rhinos to the re-introduction program, a bit of information that seemed vaguely comforting.  I mean, it's rather difficult to imagine being attacked by a Disney rhino.  I decided to try to relax and enjoy the experience.

Disney's everywhere!

After making sure their walkie-talkies were in working order, the exciting moment had arrived:  Richard and Ogencan led us out into the African bush to track rhinos.  Of course, Richard and Ogencan did all the tracking.  We mzungu mostly just tried to keep up while avoiding natural hazards.  

In case you've always wondered, here is what the African bush looks like.

I know.  Bit of a letdown, isn't it?

After about a twenty-minute hike, our tracking efforts led us into a wooded area.  Richard slowed his pace and began softly calling, "Nande, Hasani...Nande, Hasani."   He explained that rhinos don't like to be surprised, so it's best to announce your presence by calling their names.  We were tracking white rhinos, which are relatively good-natured (unlike the decidedly cranky black rhino), but they can get provoked enough to charge.  Some of my original trepidation returning, I asked what should we do on the, ahem, off chance that a rhino charged.  Richard replied, "Don't worry.  You can call their name to try to calm them down, or you can climb a tree.  Rhinos don't climb trees."  I did not find this information particularly reassuring.  One, I hadn't yet been formally introduced to any of the rhinos; two, I couldn't climb a tree unless my life depended on it -- oh, wait.  Counting on the fact that terror would give me hitherto undeveloped skills, I spent the rest of the jaunt loitering around whatever tree was closest, trying to look nonchalant.

By now we were definitely in rhino territory.  After warning us to stay quiet (a totally unnecessary admonition), Richard and Ogencan led us to first one rhinoceros, then another, until finally we were within a few feet of all six rhinos -- excuse me, I mean a few hundred feet.  But take my word for it, it seemed like a few feet.  

I was casually leaning against a tree, trying to decide if these rhinos really looked white, when suddenly it hit me:  I, Mary Beth Bodiford, a grandmother from Fort Worth, Texas, was standing in the middle of Ugandan bush country, staring at a rhinoceros.  Was this cool or what?  Why was I wasting one minute being scared?  I would have burst into tears of joy, but since I didn't know where crying fell on the "Rhino Provocation Scale," I decided that perhaps I should content myself with taking a few photographs.

Click to get high-res, then try to count the rhinos.

A closeup -- at least, as close as I'm going to get.

Hello from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary!
(Please note the rhino directly behind me.)

After we had had adequate time to bond with the rhinos and had taken about a zillion photos, Richard and Ogencan shepherded us back to Abus, patiently waiting for us in the van. Was it just me, or did he seem faintly surprised to have the same number of people return as had left?  In any case, we gave our heartfelt (in more ways than one) thanks to Richard and Ogencan, climbed in the van, and set off on the next stage of our safari adventure!

Richard and Ogencan

Chapter Two: "Watch out for those rocks, Mzungu Mama! They're very slipp -- never mind."