To quote what my brother said many times to the Ugandans I met during my visit, I am the sister who follows him. Meaning I was born next after him. But I guess it also could mean that I followed him and traveled to Uganda this May-June :)
I was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Uganda for 11 days to visit Anthony and Sara, catch up in person, and witness their life across the globe. I was thankful for my husband who encouraged me to do so, stayed at home with our son, and knew how important this experience would be for me. It sometimes dawns on me that as a little girl who shared a room and bunk bed with this little boy, I would have never known how different our lives would turn out to be, or how far away we would eventually live from each other. So while it is normally 3 years we have to wait to see Anthony and Sara, I was grateful to cut that time in half. It was a wonderful experience to witness their work and see them in their home.
At Murchison Falls National Park together:
By the time you get to Uganda, it feels as though you’ve been traveling for a full week. It takes 2 days of flying, first a stop in Europe, then a layover in Rwanda, and then once you arrive in Uganda, another full day of driving just to their home in Soroti. Add in a 7 hour time change, and you start off the trip already feeling exhausted. This gave me a greater appreciation for how tiring it is for Anthony and Sara to travel back to the states.
I have done some traveling in other countries, but Africa was a new experience for me. It had many similarities to other countries I have been, but also some things that were unique and new for me. The smells and sounds brought me back to living in India. Familiar smells of gasoline, animals, and sweat. Familiar sounds of cars honking, intense traffic, and music blasting in the distance. I was used to the squatty potties, carrying toilet paper in my purse, taking malaria pills, and filtered water bottles. Many times I had déjà vu moments of India, and had to remind myself that I was on a completely different continent. Uganda smelled of burning wood and fruit trees. It had evangelists preaching on the street, and companies promoting their products through loud speakers on the backs of trucks driving through town. The roads are a deep red that contrasts dramatically with the bluest skies I’ve ever seen. Many people walk along the sides of all the roads with that familiar view of women carrying water jugs on their heads. Electricity and water outings are frequent. I often heard Anthony laugh and say “Welcome to Uganda!” when things like this happened. They seem to be very used everything by now.
At the market:
Anthony buying dog food (little fish that they mix with corn flour):
I was amazed at how natural Anthony and Sara seemed in their environment. They truly seemed at home. They can drive in even the craziest traffic (Kampala city roads are just a time to try to stay alive!) and seem to have many friends from all over.
I noticed that both Anthony and Sara speak with an accent now when talking to other Ugandans in English. Their voices completely change, and they speak in a way that is similar to how other Ugandans talk, with words more pronounced. Ugandans don’t slur their words as much as Americans do. They talk in a way that is very melodic and I found soothing to listen to. Anthony and Sara have even started to make some gestures and vocal sounds that they do not make in the states, such as a long “mmmmm” when listening to others, meaning “I understand”. They are then able to switch back in a matter of seconds when speaking to me and have their American accents again.
They are able to converse in Swahili, but I did not get to witness them speak in this language, as it isn’t used as much in Uganda as it was in Kenya. But I did get to hear them practice their Ateso. I’m proud of them for how well they seem to maneuver traffic, dodge pot holes the size of small cars, barter at markets, and make strong relationships with others. Still, there is the constant calling out of “Mzungu!” (which means white person or foreigner) and even “Mzungu, teach my child!” Kids were eager to follow us on our walks around the neighborhood, giggling at our sight. Even so, it was interesting to see how well Anthony and Sara are able to blend in to their new culture.
One of my favorite days of the trip was a Sunday, when I was able to travel with Anthony and Sara to a church in the village. Anthony preached and delivered a message about false teachers proclaiming the prosperity gospel. This message was especially valuable for people to hear who are suffering and financially poor. It was comforting for them to know that their suffering is not from anything they have done wrong, and that they are rich in other ways. The music was beautiful, energetic, and filled with clapping. It felt like a little piece of what heaven must sound like.
I was asked to stand up in front of church and do multiple speeches during the long service and give the closing prayer. This is something that is very different about visiting churches in Uganda than in the states! A guest is extremely welcomed and given multiple chances to speak. I don’t particularly love being the center of attention, so this wasn’t my favorite thing. And I felt like I wasn’t anything special to be honored or given this much attention. But it was a chance to tell the church how people in the states are praying for them, and that there are people who care about them and their lives overseas. It is important that they know they are supported. Many times the pastor of the church said, “You must really love us” or “We really really love you.” They might use that phrase a little differently than Americans do :)
I then was able to follow Sara to another part of the village to help her with a baking training. In this training, she taught men and women (as many children watched) how to bake cakes without using an oven. She used a pot of boiling water, put the cake with a lid on it in this pot, and the steam then bakes the cake. The people loved this training and the end results were pretty tasty cakes! These women are then able to replicate this baking method and hopefully sell future cakes for a profit.
Anthony was also doing a training during this time, and after both were finished, we went with the pastor of the church to his home. This family’s home was a collection of about 5 huts. The floor of the huts were smeared with cow manure to keep the floors from being dusty. A huge family shared these 5 huts, one being a bedroom, one a kitchen, one a family room, etc. This was where I had my first authentic Ugandan meal and ate my first batch of termites. There were more greetings and speeches to be made in this home as well. By now I was getting used to the fact that I probably should think of something to say when I enter or leave someone’s home :) I tried to think of new things to express, but I felt as if I was getting a little repetitive by this point in the day! This family was so hospitable to us and made me feel so welcomed. I gave them some little devotionals and they were very appreciative of this gift. It made me feel a little bad that I didn’t think to bring more, or like I was a fraud because I got them for free in the states. But to this family, this was a great gift, so it was important to just receive their thankfulness and not brush it off. The devotionals also came in handy when Anthony and Sara wanted to appreciate some police officers who helped them when they got lost.
Speaking of police! I usually felt quite safe in Uganda, but as contrasted to the states, encounters with the police there were some of the times I felt the most unsafe. Ugandan police carry huge guns on their bodies and are not always honest. Uganda has multiple check points along the side of the road. These check points are supposed to be for good reasons… to make sure a driver has insurance, has their proper license, etc. But police in Uganda use these check points to collect bribes from drivers and get money for themselves. It is a little unnerving when they stop your car, because you don’t know what they are going to say or what they are going to want from you. They have the ability to make your life not so fun, so it’s necessary to go along with what they say. Once we even had a police officer ask us about Donald Trump at one of these check points, as if we have some kind of personal relationship with him. Not quite sure how to respond to that one! Our scariest encounter with police happened on my first night there, on our drive home from the airport. We accidentally took a wrong turn down a road, and pretty quickly encountered some police guarding a toll-road not yet completely open to the public. In another country, a person may feel safe to assume that these guards would be helpful, but in Uganda you never know how they will react. But the guards were able to help us turn on to a different road. Thankfully, even though we had to drive on the wrong side of the road against traffic to get there (which was an experience in itself!) we were able to turn around and get back on a safer road. An interesting introduction during my first hour at midnight in Uganda.
My favorite days of the trip was a drive to the northwestern part of the country. Uganda is different in landscape depending on where you go, just like most countries. The northwestern part of the country is more untouched and some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen in my life. It was vast, open, and you could see for miles and miles. The air was fresh and clean, and the sky was a vibrant blue. Anthony led us on a safari in a National Park, and we saw more variety of animals in the wild than I have ever seen in my life. We saw baboons, giraffes, more elephants than I can count, warthogs, crocodiles sunbathing on the Nile River, hippos running and swimming, and even a leopard jump out of a tree. I felt pretty lucky to witness that last one.
That night we stayed in a campground, very similar looking to a campground in the states, except slightly more exciting. At this campground I slept in a cabin by myself. There were many lizards in my cabin, scampering around at night, and I fell asleep to the sound of warthogs grunting nearby. Never in my life have I seen so many warthogs! I also read a sign in my room that said “At night we often have hippos in the camp. For this reason, it’s essential you keep a torch with you”. Needless to say, I didn’t try to make any midnight bathroom visits :)
One interesting encounter I had was with a baboon who was following me and making slightly unsettling eye contact. I tried walking away but he only kept coming closer, obviously following only me. Eventually a Ugandan girl told me to put my purse in the car and then he would leave me alone. He just wanted to steal my belongings. She said, “The big baboons… bad!” Thank you sweet Ugandan girl, for helping the out-of-place Mzungu not get her purse stolen by a baboon :) I don’t think my husband would be very happy with me if I was stuck in Uganda because a monkey had stolen my passport.
One thing I noticed during my time was how often Anthony and Sara are contacted by friends to preach or do a teaching. Their phone is constantly ringing with someone asking when they can come, even if they don’t have a specific topic in mind. I also observed during my time how much Anthony and Sara are loved in Uganda by their friends there. I’m not just saying this because I’m their sister and I’m proud of them, but I heard this from multiple people I met in Uganda. I had many people come up to me to tell me how much they appreciate Anthony and Sara. Not only for their work, but for their friendship. Many people told me that they were their best friends and they even viewed them as parents at times. Many of them told me how sad they were when they moved away from Uganda the first time. They also told me how “at home” they felt at their house. I was told how much their friendship meant to them. It makes family feel good to know that Anthony and Sara also have people in Uganda who love them and value them, just as much as their own family does. They are taken care of in this way too, just as much as they take care of others all the time. It was very nice to see how much the community values their work.
With one of their friends, Jane:
I’m very thankful for my time in Uganda, and it was an incredibly special trip that I will always cherish. I loved getting one-on-one time with the siblings I never get to see, and I also loved just witnessing their daily life in a way that cannot be experienced just through reading their blog and emails. It was a joy to see God using them in so many ways, and to see them fully embrace their lives there.
More photos from the National Park:
Can you find the giraffe in this photo?
A church band entertaining the tourists: