Friday, August 12, 2011

Brother and Sister. Around the world...

I have thought a lot about my sister over the past few months. It's really because I feel like I am engaged in missionary work all over again. And Jordan is serving full-time in Tahiti as just such a missionary.

We have both had our challenges, but mine seem so small compared to hers. She has two languages to learn and speak! I'm lucky because most Africans know English. Sure I have to change my accent a bit and speak the local lingo, but it's nothing compared to what Jordan has to do.

I'm so thankful for her service. It has inspired me each and every day I've been here. I know she is working hard, and doing her best despite the challenges. It only makes me want to make the most of my time here. I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of her letters. I think she'll be okay with it. I hope you can get a sense of what an awesome person she is, and of what an awesome missionary she is as well:

"we are teaching so many people. and i still can't understand anything which is
frustrating, because i know that there are times when people are pouring out
their souls to us and i don't know what to say or how to meet their needs
because i have no idea what is going on. it is frustrating. and it is
frustrating when i can't express myself how i want to. everyday has been a
struggle. i am having a difficult time with having patinece...BUT i have
studied a TON about the atonement and the grace of the savior. i know that
i can do this. i have definitely been humbled here on so many different
levels. and i know without a doubt that he loves me and that he is sitting
right there beside me everyday. i have seen that through all the tender mercies that i have recieved each day. i am making progress...i hope! i am
teaching lessons now...not just bearing my testimony. i am teaching
lessons! yeah, they are super super simple and i struggle through the whole
thing, but the people here are so nice and help me through it when i
struggle to find the words."

I read this email and just wanted to respond, to let her know that I'm having some difficult times too. This is what I said...

"I am having a difficult time in Africa myself. Many of my friends from
the last wave have gone back home, and it's just hard without them.
Plus I've been pretty sick for a week and a half, and I am just
missing home so much! Many of my projects have finished up and I am
hesitant to start any new ones because I am only here for a few more
weeks. I am trying, though, and I'm working to keep my days busy each
and every day. I need a missionary planner I guess!

"I think about you so much while I'm here. I feel like we are both
halfway around the world from home just serving people. Your service
is a bit different, and you are probably feeling the Spirit a lot more
than I am, but I feel connected to you in some way. You are always in
my prayers, and I LOVE telling people about my little sister serving
as a full-time missionary in TAHITI! Everyone is so impressed. But no
one, I assure you, is more impressed than me! Your biggest fan is in

And it's true. I am Jordan's biggest fan. But I'm also her big brother. And no one feels luckier to have her than I do. I'm glad she's where she is right now. It's only helped to strengthen me in my times of need...

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Every MZUNGU comes to Africa wanting an African name. It's not just about having one to have one. The person who gives it to you turns out to be pretty special. So when I began my search for an African name, my friend Peter from the business seminar decided to bestow one upon me.


I asked Peter what this name meant, thinking it sounded pretty cool and therefore had some significant meaning. He said it meant, "soil."

Great. My African name is "dirt." Who in this world hates dirt more than I do? Seriously.

But, I admit, this name has really grown on me, and I'd like to tell you why. Here in Uganda, dirt tends to stick to you. You have to scrub and scrub to get it off because it coats your skin, gets in your hair, and stains your clothes. This may not sound like a good reason to like dirt, but keep reading...

As I've lived here, I realize there are some things I would like to immediately scrub away. Let me give some examples:

African Grammar. Here are some oft-repeated phrases: "You first come." Meaning, come over here first. Ending a sentence with a 'yes?' to make it a question. And finally, "Nice time!" at the end of a visit.

You see where I'm going with this. Yes? (There's my point.)

I was also annoyed by how many Africans kneeled on the ground when shaking my hand. I hate it when people bow down to me. It made me all sorts of uncomfortable.

Finally, it kind of bothered me how accepting people were of us. There was no skepticism when we presented a program for development. They just took it as we offered it, and there were no questions asked. We're MZUNGUS afterall. We have money and we do everything right. Yes?!

Well. I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to do away with this and many other things. Completely.

But now I am asking, "What dirt do I want to take home with me?" And not just the stuff that is caked on my shoes and clothes. What lessons and mannerisms would I bring home?

And as I've thought about this, I've remembered that soil is not just dirt. It is a life-giving resource, required especially by Ugandans who largely subsist on crops and agriculture. These little things are the life-giving soils that help Ugandans grow. And I think they can help me too.

Already, I find myself laughing and smiling and wondering at this people. But more than that, these little Africanisms are causing me to think, and believe, and bond with others. And I think they will continue to bless my life even as I return to America.

And the whole kneeling thing has offered me a different perspective, a new lesson in humility. It's not about dirt that stains the knees of my pants. It's about the fertile soils of love and respect that change minds and hearts. THAT is the soil, the dirt, that I want to take home with me.

And in the end, I guess there is only one more thing to say about my name and how much I love it, and how much I want to take these small tokens of Africa home with me.


TIA...This is Africa

Recently, I've been so fully aware of all the frustrating and negative things about living in Africa. Our team's general comments when such things occur:


Or in other words, "THIS IS AFRICA!"

Unfortunately, I'm not completely stoked about the idea of just passing everything off as "Oh well, this is Africa." But that's what everyone else seems to do.

Especially when the power goes out. I'd say it's off at our house about fifty percent of the time. I'm not exaggerating in the least bit.

Or when boda boda drivers try to overcharge us. They think that because we are MZUNGUS, we ooze money, therefore we can afford to pay more for a ride across town.

Or when it rains and rains and rains, and the dirt roads become a thick mud that cakes your shoes. It's a pain trying to clean the kitchen floor when you're on cleaning duty.

Or when Africans answer their phones right there in the middle of a class we are trying to teach. And they just stay in their seats and have a conversation. It's so distracting!

Or when we plan to go teach at a school, discuss all the important matters with a headmaster, then he decides not to mobilize or inform students at all. Tens of hours gone to waste when not a single student shows up to learn. It's certainly what happened at our high school this week...

BUT then I meet someone like Tyrel Matthews. Clearly a student leader at that failure of a school, he decided to round up as many students as he could find so that we could offer our lessons on leadership, goal-setting, decision-making, and overcoming conflict and stress.

Tyrel Matthew's dream is to become President of Uganda. He's without doubt one of the brightest kids I've met here in Africa. His favorite subects are history and literature. And politics. Basically, he caught my attention when he told me that! And after talking with him, becoming friends on facebook, and receiving a recommended list of African novels, I've come to love and respect and admire him.

And we had a class to teach as well. 30 students total. Not bad, considering he convinced them all to come to school when their exams were complete and they wanted a break from it all.

And I've been thinking. Maybe power outtages, African "time" (which is far worse than Mormon Standard Time), and difficult boda drivers are not the true Africa. Maybe it's people like Tyrel Matthews.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I've been asked, and I just thought I'd let you know...
What am I craving while I'm in Africa?

Red Robin bottomless fries
Chili's honey chipotle crisy chicken wings (or whatever they're called)
Cheesecake Factory Red Velvet Cheesecake
Something sour, like sour patch kids
DIET COKE!!!!! There's only Coke here
A Bajio chicken green chile chimichanga
Pizza (a Hot and Sweaty from Little Caesar's would even be okay)
and even Taco Bell.

A hot shower
A car
A piano and my violin
My other iPod--it's got everything on it
Clean fruits and vegetables

But hey, it's probably good to go without these things for a while! I appreciate them even more now. I'm so glad to be in Africa, and believe me, I focused on being here. Sometimes, though, I just like to think of my mouth-watering delights.

Business as Usual (or not so much...)

This weekend we accomplished something big! After weeks of planning, negotiating, practicing, and preparing, we finally taught our two-day Maluku Business Training Workshop.

Maluku is a suburb of Mbale, one which I used to feel very uncomfortable visiting. I felt open and exposed, and the poverty there was so apparent--so "in your face." Trash litters most streets here, but walking along the streets in Maluku, I became even more aware of it all.

We partnered with another NGO (non-goverment organization) called God's Mercy Youth Organization to plan and conduct the event. God's Mercy focuses on teaching impoverished youth skills of business, so that they can pull themselves out of poverty. For weeks, we visited God's Mercy headquarters, where youth have learned how to cut hair. My friend Devin was one of their customers! His hair looks great though. We all had fun watching, unsure of how the haircut would turn out...

We've also visited God's Mercy's woodworking shop, where young men are instructed in furniture construction. It was humbling to see them at work, but they still always have smiles on their faces, and their work looks great.

So Friday and Saturday we dressed up in our white shirts and ties and headed to a hotel conference center to teach about starting businesses, setting goals, managing time, and how to overcome the challenges of maintaining businesses.

African Standard Time is frustrating sometimes. But, after starting 45 minutes late the first day (only 30 minutes or so on Saturday), we tried our hand at teaching business. And with great success...

My friend Paul and I taught a fun workshop. To teach SMART goals (specific, meausureable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound), we let the kids "build" some structures with pot-sticker sticks and fruit chews. We gave them some guidelines and they loved every second of it! We realized that activities like that are never used in schools here. The education system is much less "student interactive" than in the United States. Knowing that, we set out to include these youth in activities, class discussions, and group work. At the end of the seminar, we let them create their own businesses in a competition. The winners seemed so happy.

After the workshop yesterday, I was talking with a "cool dude" (as he calls me, actually) named Peter. He was telling me how much he loves America and wants to come. I don't know what happened, but that's when my heart went out to him. I thought about how blessed I am back home, how many opportunities I have, and how helpful my education has been to me. And I began to feel something that President Eyring spoke about in General Conference a few months ago:

"The Lord regularly sends wake-up calls to all of us. Sometimes it may be a sudden feeling of sympathy for someone in need." [WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED AS I TALKED WITH THIS BOY PETER]

"When I am generous to Heavenly Father’s children in need, He is generous to me."
(April 2011 Conference, "Opportunities to do Good")

I feel that God has been more than generous to me for the past month or so. Mostly, that generosity has come in feelings, impressions, and lessons learned. It's come as I've suddenly felt love for complete strangers. It's come as I've held orphans in my arms, as I've looked into the eyes of cripples here, as I've shaken the hands of youth wanting to improve their circumstances. Most of all, it's come when I've considered my own blessings--how much He has given me. I have the best family on earth. I have the Gospel in my life. And I have opportunities--gifts and talents that I can use even here in Africa (though I'm still searching for a real piano!) I'm thankful I was able to be a part of this workshop.

In the upcoming weeks (they are flying by and I'm not here for too much longer), we are building on this workshop with more training meetings every Wednesday and Thursday. I love helping people, but mostly through motivating and inspiring them. I loved this weekend, and hope to be able to make more of a difference here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Class 5 Rapids on the Longest River in the World

So everyone has told me NOT to get in the Nile River. The water is full of bugs and parasites, including the ones that will swim up your urethra if you start to pee.

The first thing we "practiced" on our little rafting trip was flipping our boat over once it had tipped over. In other words, the first thing we did was jump in the water. Great. Here come the parasites.

Then we learned that the first rapid we'd be going over was a Class 5 rapid with a waterfall at the end of it. If we managed to paddle hard enough, we'd lead our raft right over the drop.

We missed it. So we went down the rest of the rapid backwards. At least we didn't go over a waterfall backwards.

Our next rapid was a class 4. Our guide, who realized we didn't paddle all that well decided not to give us any more instructions. He said we might flip over on this next one. I asked how likely that was. He said, "Fifty fifty."

We flipped.

And then we flipped on the next rapid.

And we flipped on five more.

On one rapid, we had to ride down on an upside-down boat because we flipped at the top.

And on another, we made it through alright, only to be "sucked" back in and flipped.

But what a fun experience! Our rafts would just slip into those rapids and plunge right into a massive wall of white water. Sometimes we made it through right-side-up. And then most of the time we ended up swimming in the longest river in the world. A river with brown water, but with life-giving water. Thousands of miles away it empties into the ocean, after passing through wildlife reserves and the sands of Egypt.

So would I raft the Nile again?


Would I want to take the "wild ride" option over the "mild" one?


Because tumbling through class 5 rapids is not something you do everyday. It's not even something many get to do period.

I will say that I left a message on Mum's cell phone before we left:

"Hi, Mum. I can't believe you're ignoring me right now. I'm rafting class 5 rapids on the Nile River tomorrow. And I just wanted to say, just in case, that I love you heaps! If I die, just know it's been a pleasure knowing you!"

Chances of death?

To be honest, I think I'd die of a parasite quicker.

In the end, however, it was one of the best days of my life. The rapids are not like anything I've seen before. So for all of you who want a thrill you won't get elsewhere...


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pictures Coming Soon!

I'm about out of time at the Internet shop. I promise pictures are coming soon!