Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Adaptability is One of My Strengths...Somehow

Sometimes I have severe doubts that adaptability is solely a strength. Sure, it's nice to be able to assimilate into different situations easily, and I do enjoy the lack of homesickness that others so intensely experience. But sometimes, especially lately, I have wondered if I would be closer to God if I had a bit more difficulty transitioning. Take my time in Uganda. I figured I would have to rely more on the presence of God to get me through those six weeks. I'll admit, I was looking forward to forced intimacy. Unfortunately, I was left with much to be desired. I tried to rely on God, take more from him, but there always seemed to be so much other things to do and see...and not enough time to channel my nonexistent suffering to the only thing that never falters.

During an infamous Wednesay night Bible study, one of the women shared how she would really appreciate a scenario where God showed her that he was there. That night I thought, yes God, why is it me always doing the talking and trying to find that ever escaping 'personal relationship'? Then, of course, the guilt of what I had just dared to think overcame me. However, me and my strong personality continued to question God. "Sure God, you sent your son to die...and that was great, but what about now? I don't do one extravagant thing for my friends and then expect them to continue to foster the relationship on their own."
Blasphemous, right?
I feel that I am constantly praying for God to put a hardship in my life so I can learn and grow with him. I live my life attempting to put myself in situations that will be difficult for me so I will be stripped down to just me...and God.


I have been home for 1 week and...
1. I cannot find my malaria pills...they're supposed to be taken today.
2. I have literally spent a majority of my time either cooking, painting, or running.
3. I don't feel any closer to processing my thoughts.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I have strong sensory recollections. Whenever the smell of coconut lime hits my nostrils my brain is flooded by flashbacks of scenes from all-state chorus junior year. I remember scrubbing so hard to get rid of the disgusting smell of a spray-tan went bad, the funny red shirt from wal-mart, sitting in bleachers all day with people I hardly knew, and the goosebumps that come from being a part of hundreds of students singing in perfect harmony.

This is true with music too. Just today I was listening to ‘Mosquito’ by Ingrid Michelson, and I was overwhelmed by the images that flashed through my mind. They were ones of this past year in my apartment. The strongest one was of RA training when I was living there by myself and attempting to organize the mass chaos that surrounded me. This of course made me sad—and apprehensive. I was again hit by a bulldozer full of uncertainty as I look forward to the next year. I am still in mourning over leaving Northwestern and all that this place held for me. I know that all will be fine but fine is not the last four years. I will never again be able to live with my closest friends and have so many others in near proximity. I am afraid. I am scared that all the friendships I worked so hard for and cared about so deeply will change and fade. I am angry. I am frustrated that life works this way and people don’t spend their lives traveling in packs.
But most of all, I am grateful. I have been so completely and utterly blessed by the students and professors that I learned to call friends. I will hold the memories of these times dearly and when I listen to certain music, smell a select scent, or see a once shared sight I will be reminded. Whatever the circumstance, I will remember and be thankful for the laughter, the pain, the sadness, and the excitement, but most of all for the people I experienced those moments with.


True friendship is a sacred, important thing, and it happens when we drop down into that deeper level of who we are, when we cross over into the broken, fragile parts of ourselves. We have to give something up in order to get friendship like that. We have to give up our need to be perceived as perfect. We have to give up our ability to control what people think of us. We have to overcome the fear that when they see the depths of who we are, they’ll leave. But what we give up is nothing in comparison to what this kind of friendship gives to us. Friendship is about risk. Love is about risk. If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, then it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges.
-Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines
I really have been appreciating this book. The author appeals for a life of celebration and in doing so, has challenged me and provoked thought about friendship, God, and life in general. The above excerpt resonates with me in a special way…and I will tell you why.
In high school I was a listener and observer, and only that; I didn’t often speak my mind or share my innermost thoughts. I refrained because I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear. Sure, they would ask questions and listen for the first 30 seconds, but it was clear to me that what I was truly thinking didn’t really matter to them.
I carried this attitude with me into college, but it was here that I was challenged to think differently. Many people and conversations contributed to this, but I remember one in particular. Last fall I was talking to someone about how I don’t often share everything because I can sense when people stop listening, or when they are judging me, and I don’t want to be a burden to them. His rebuttal was that through this, I am really hurting myself—and that maybe whomever I was speaking to really might want to hear…he or she just didn’t know it yet. So henceforth I have been challenged to really speak my heart, regardless of the other person. This endeavor has not been an easy one; it has been a journey filled with frustration, sadness, and joy. Though there have been times that I have been asked a question, been in the midst of pouring my heart out, and then been interrupted and forever halted, there have also been strengthened friendships—and that, I think, is worth it.
Additionally, I was told that I owe it to myself to share. I struggled with this thought all year and until recently was still unsure what it meant. Now I know. Not only have my friendships grown, but I have also been able to process my thoughts through sharing. I would posit that it’s important to talk about…whatever, if only to figure out what you are trying to say in the first place.

It's Kind of Like Christmas in July in September

The day started out as a typical Ugandan Sunday. We attended a church service that flew threw, and 45 minutes past, the 2 hour allotted time slot. The pastor talked about how we are human-beings but we are often fooled into acting like human-doings; I couldn’t agree more.
After Stephanie and I biked home we prepared a goulash-type meal using the leftover taco mean from the night before and, or course, the Gouda [we are currently on a strictly food with cheese diet because once the cheese is opened, it doesn’t last long]. Then we started cutting up vegetables for our contribution to the 4th of July meal. The vegetables here are cheap. For $3.50 we bought 3 kilos of tomatoes (~20), 3 kilos of potatoes (~20), and 7 onions. After I had cut a mere 3 gashes in my hands, we were ready to put it all together.
Our task was simple and one that I had done countless times at home…on a grill. I figured since it took 20-30 minutes with a grill, an oven couldn’t take more than an hour.
Two hours and three episodes of Lost later we were still sitting at home with crunchy potatoes. Luckily our friends love us more than well-done vegetables, and they told us they would love to have us regardless of the state of our dish. Because the sky had a foreboding air to it, and it had already poured rain earlier in the day, Jennifer came to pick us up in her jeep type vehicle.
We arrived adorned in red, white, and blue, in time for me to successfully aim every serve at the tiny-blonde girl in the middle of the volley-ball court…poor Lydia. Luckily for her, the food was soon ready. As we gathered ourselves and began to dish the amazingly scrumptious food onto our plates, we began to feel raindrops.
It rained for the next hour or so, but we were happily cozy in the house and even played patriotic charades. Also, Becky and I were forced to tell Lydia and Grace stories—which I loved. If you haven’t been subject to one of my odd poems, you probably have little idea just how creative I can be with words. My favorite was when Becky and I collaborated for a story. It involved Siamese cats who loved grape jelly, had a home gym (which enabled them to hang upside down from the ceiling), and an allotment of exciting circumstances. Soon it was dark (meaning it was sometime after 7 pm) and we were ready for our s’mores…made out of graham crackers, nutella, and the obviously necessary marshmallows. Also included were fireworks—called candles here (they were a good combination of the two and looked like a proportionally correct giant candle with sparkler abilities).
Overall, a successful Independence Day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Love Jesus

This last Wednesday we had our usual women's bible study. We started off by reading Genesis 3:1-6, which talks about Eve being tempted by serpent Satan. Following this we were asked the question, "what is your apple" (or something of the sorts). Basically, what in your life seems like it is a good thing, but really is not. Because I can usually think of something to say, and nobody else was volunteering to talk, I stepped up to the plate.
"Open-mindedness" is the word that escaped my lips.
I was met with blank stares and a some obviously questioning looks.
"Well, what I mean is that sometimes I think I am too non-judgemental"
This statement was met with a few more looks of confusion with a hint of criticism.
"I mean...critical. I think I often am ok with everything/everyone and sometimes I wonder how much I should really be fine with accepting".
I'm sure most of you can imagine what took place when I tried to explain how I am a bit more liberal than some Christians. While some of the women were empathetic, others came at me with rebuttal strait from scriptures, which is of course the best kind. As I was definitely at the disadvantage I sat there, listened, and tried to embrace the diversity that Christianity holds.
A couple of thoughts [try not to read into this too deeply, it's the middle of the night].
-I really don't think the Bible is all that obvious. If it were, would there really be so many different religious affiliations in the world? Unless there is a select group of super-interpreters and the rest of the groups are innately ignorant, the Bible can be read through many different lenses according to many different interpreters.
-Some parts of the Bible are forgotten by those who seem to remember other passages well. It's not so simple to say "Jesus said it" I was reading my Bible the other day I came upon a verse that surprised me greatly. I remember a specific conversation from high school that some of my classmates were having about this law. I won't go into the details because that is not the point I am making. I would just like to say some passages are far more emphasized than others that are more 'old fashioned'/'illogical'.

A Typical Week

Sunday: Church (approximately three hours), random activities (this week Rachel and I learned how to make Samosas from one of the teachers at Harmony), and team worship (filled with off-key singing and 30 minute mini-Ugandan sermons).

Monday: ‘A Shift’ at Amacet (babies home) from 7-3. Bible study with girls from Light (a boarding school) from 8-9.

Tuesday: Harmony in the morning. This week’s afternoon featured painting at the Shaardas. Game night: Dutch Blitz…I don’t excel at fast-paced games.

Wednesday: Same as Tuesday but instead of game night we had women’s bible study. Interesting. This was an experience my require its own blog post.
Thursday: Today we went to work with children affected by armed forces (caaf). The team put me in charge of the painting station, meaning I was able to paint with teens for a couple hours…work? Nope. Thursday is also the night I work from 6pm to 7:30 am at Amecet. Which is where I am now. Did I mention I’m not so good with babies? It’s really quite sad—I don’t even know how to feed. And the diaper changing? I remember once when I was an early teenager I was holding a baby at our supper table. Well, whoever put the diaper on the baby (probably me) didn’t put it on correctly and the baby diarrhea-ed all over me. I think I set the baby on the (cement) floor and ran directly to the shower. Why do I tell you this? Because it’s pretty accurate of the baby-brittany extravaganza. Don't get me wrong though, the babies and children that come through here are precious...but this is not my forte.

Friday: Sleep for a couple of hours. Bible study with another group of girls from Light Secondary; the main goal of this time is to foster critical thinking skills.

Saturday: Assisting with reading at Amecet Namun (older kids) in the morning, visiting James and Nora’s house in the afternoon, choir practice after that, and then movie night with the girls (all 90 of them) from Light.

A Northwestern Education in Action

If any of you took Cultural Anthropology at NW, you may remember the article we read about flashing. No…not that kind. Flashing here is calling someone but only letting it ring once. The point is that they see your number and call you back so you have to pay for the bulk of the call. It’s a bit of an economic thing—whoever has the most money is expected to pay for the call. It’s real. It’s funny. It’s somehow frustrating.

Don't Worry Mom, I'm Ok.

On Monday (June 21) the Sliedrechts, Bobbie, Rachel, Jennifer, Becky, Lisa, Sarah, Stephanie, and I, went on a little vacations. Sarah and Lisa were leaving the next day, so we ended their time with us by going to Sipi and Sissi Falls. We left early in the morning and arrived in Mbale a little past 10. We started off by hiking one of Sipi’s Falls. It was gorgeous. The hike wasn’t too difficult, though quite slippery. We ended at Sipi Lodge and ate lunch.
At the beginning of the trip Tim and Angie asked if I was a vegetarian. I said no, though I admitted I don’t enjoy meat all that much. Because of this I have been classified as a vegetarian when we go out to eat—which is nice because the meat here is a bit sketch anyways.
From there we went to another waterfall—I think it was still part of Sipi falls. We were able to hike to behind this one. Again, the hike wasn’t too bad, but the clay was slimy.
Around 4 we left for Sisi Falls, where we would be camping for the night. When our stuff was settled in, a couple of us when to explore the falls; we were able to get close to the bottom, but really desired to go to the top…which seemed near impossible as it was the mountain was cliff-like.
For supper we had roasted pig (I ate it…it was awesome). After this we went up to our campsite, which was surrounded by beautiful vegetation, and talked around the campfire. After praying for Sarah and Lisa’s trip, we went to bed.
In the morning we got up for breakfast—which was great. It was here that I was told we could hike the mountain. The catch was this, it was a really difficult hike (remember the cliff) and some parts of it involved climbing up a vertical rock. If you know me, you know that I have always wanted to climb a mountain…but I also have little leg muscle in one of my legs. So the decision was mine.
I went (of course)…and I loved it. It was without a doubt a hard hike, but not by any means impossible. I used my arms a lot and held on to a lot of plants/rock walls, but it was completely worth it. When the five of us who decided to do it arrived at the top, we were not disappointed. From the top of the mountain we were able to see the whole valley, sit on the edge of the cliff (no rules in Uganda), and see our tiny camping site. On the way down we stopped by the edge of the waterfall, where I held onto Sarah’s pants as she leaned over to take pictures.
On the way home we stopped at an Indo-Chinese restaurant in Mbale…that was quite the ordeal but I will have to tell anyone who has inquiries about Ugandan restaurants about this special experience later.

Plumbing, Cat-Care, and Teaching

Since I wrote this title, it has been quite some time—so I will try to remember what exactly happened.
I remember that I was too stubborn to ask for help to unclog the sink, so I unscrewed the pipe below the sink and had quite the nasty surprise…but it worked.
I also know that I was the only one who said yes to watching Jennifer’s cat while she was in Kampala. I’m not a fan of having to feed a kitten every 3 hours, especially one that cries incessantly. Oh yes, also involved in this job description was helping it to pee by rubbing it’s woman (or man) parts. Who knew, eh?
When I was trying to pick a major for college I thought about my favorite subjects in school: math & English. Unfortunately, I figured the reality of being anything other than a teacher was small…so I declined those majors. Recently I have been affirmed in that decision. Harmony Primary School is a private elementary school a short bike ride from our compound. Rachel and Stephanie both help out children who need extra attention, so naturally they asked me to help too. The first day I went I observed. It really didn’t look too bad, after all, I have tutored a variety of subjects to a diverse amount of ages. But let me tell you, even my most frustrating writing conferences cannot hold a candle to what this is like. I went in with Rachel this week and she told me I could have the most advanced group…also the group that she gave up on (because she didn’t know what to do). That day I wanted to get an idea of where they were at, so we read a book together. It went well—they really are excellent readers. We stopped after each paragraph and discussed the story. Then I had them write about what they learned. The information they wrote down was inaccurate and even directly opposite of what we talked about and read. For example, we read about Noah and the Ark, and one of the children wrote that Noah and his family all died in the flood.
Day 2. I wanted them to be able to write a (very) short story on their own, but I figured they would need some guidelines. So I gave them a list of things to include in the story (i.e. a family of 4 monkeys, bugs, a river, a bird named Peter, etc.). For one of them this worked alright…but for the others it was a struggle. They wrote about each in bullet-like lines and did each in separate ‘stories’ (each being 2-3 lines long). I think I’ll talk about how to write a cohesive story and use their first writings as drafts…or something. It is difficult because even if I can teach them how to write a paper I have much doubt that they will even use this skill; paper writing and creative thinking seem to come in slight quantities.

Cast List

Tim & Angie Sliedecht [Avalien (Detroit), 4; Moses (Amacet), 3; Zulea (Amacet), 3 mo.] -Leaders of Team Beyond
-Have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, all three of their children.
-Tim is originally from Canada, Angie from Michigan
Josh & Mandy Sharda [Lydia, 6; Grace, 4; Lukka, 2]
-Long term missionaries.
-Both Josh and Mandy are from Michigan; Mandy and Angie are sisters.
-They just returned from the states, which they had to go to because Lukka had some very serious health problems.
Bobbie & Rachel
-On a one year vision trip…seriously considering long-term.
-Bobbie is from Michigan and Rachel is from Omaha (we appreciate each other because we are the only ones not from MI).
-Rachel is a teacher and Bobbie has a heart for street children.
-They have been married for 4 years
Becky & Jennifer
-Both on 2 year vision trips and roommates
-Becky is a social worker and wants to work with children affected by armed forces (CAAF)
-Jennifer is a nurse…so basically a doctor.
-Recently she has been focusing on children with disabilities
-Both from Michigan
Stephanie [Alibina (Amacet), 5; Julias (Amacet), 1]
-Stephanie is a nurse from Berlin, Germany
-She is here because she is fostering Julias
-Not part of ITEAMS, but rents the guesthouse (and therefore lives with me)
-Going to be a senior at Calvin in Grand Rapids, MI
-Second time here
-Going to be a math and science high school teacher