Monday, November 2, 2009

A Week in a Rural Village: Kapchorwa, Uganda.

Day 89. Hey guys, once again, sorry it’s been so long. This last week has been incredible. A friend of mine from the Uganda Studies Programme, Danielle, and I lived with a family in a rural village called Kapchorwa, which is on Mount Elgon, in Eastern Uganda. Knowing that it is impossible to truly relate to you all what I have learned and experienced here, I have decided to just give you a fairly detailed account of the week and let you take from it what you will, enjoy!

Friday: The drive to Kapchorwa was full of nervousness and excitement, awe and wonder, both corporate and personal. My excitement all of last week grew stronger and stronger as the realization of wheat was to come draw nearer. On that Friday, on the road through Jinja and Mbale, my desire for the week to begin was at its peak. It wasn’t until we reached the base of Mt. Elgon, however, that the butterflies entered and took flight in my stomach. Upon first sight of the majesty of the mountain, I was filled with awe, as we passed waterfall after waterfall, and fear, as we passed family after family, that I would not rise to the role of man on this Great Mountain. Its intimidation humbled me as I sat in my seat anxious for what was before me.

Danielle and I arrived at our new home in the midst of a torrential downpour. We were rushed inside without really much bearing of our surroundings. We were told that our mother did not speak much English and that our father was in town and should be back soon. Upon sitting down on the couch in the sitting room the motor roared and our tie to Mukono, the home we had grown to love, disappeared from sight. Shortly following, our new mother, Lydia, bringing us milk tea, she too disappeared and Danielle and I were left sitting in this dark sitting room lit only by the several eyes of school children peering through the door and window and the bits of sunlight that were able to seep through the gaps of the children’s heads. After what seemed like an hour of this, the initial excitement of the new presence of bazungu (plural of muzungu, which you all know what that means right?) faded and the children went back to school. Danielle and I were thus left in the darkness of the room laughing hesitantly at our strange predicament. It wasn’t until after what felt like eternity (there is no time keeping here other than the sun and the occasional mobile phone) that the rain stopped and we dared to go out and explore a bit of the estate. After another hour or so, our father, Yovan, arrived home greeting us and introducing us to the whole family. We were introduced to two older biological sisters, Stella (23), who we would spend much time with over the week, and Betty (27?). They are the only biological children of Yovan and Lydia home during this school term though we were told there are actually ten of them in all! Our father and mother are also ‘caretakers’ of children in their clan, including Faith (7), Hosea (4), Nomi (2?), Emmanuel (1), and Ruth (9 months). Betty then led me to my place of rest for this week and believe it or not I stayed in a traditional grass-thatched-roof hut made out of mud and cow dung! It was so awesome! After getting all my things arranged, we met back in the sitting room and had a feast of a dinner before going to bed. Walking to bed I was forced to stop halfway as Mars and thousands of stars, radiating their beauty, pierced the dark sky. Crawling into bed, I was renewed with excitement for the week (along with freezing my butt off!).

Saturday: Once again I am reminded of how glorious the LORD is and how beautiful is His Creation! Rising early at 5:45 (I brought my travel alarm clock due to the need to wake up early for beautiful sunrises) I exited my hut to find how incredible both the compound and the surrounding views are. First, let me describe the incredible battle in the sky, which I witnessed that morning. Upon first look into the horizon I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the fog that covered the savannah, which stretches out greatly to the North and West. Then I witnessed the incredible standing of a giant, the neighboring mountain in Karamojo, the land of the Kiramajong, which was faded lightly grey by the clouds that covered it. Vearing my eyes up, I found an incredible battle raging in the sky. Dark clouds covered the Southwestern Sky, fighting to maintain its control over the Great Mountain and its young brother, the Savannah. But from the East came a great storm of color: pink, gold, and bright blue, which fought with great courage and strength as it pushed back the darkness. At the heart of this army rose the Great Source. The Source of all light and color. With the coming of the Source, the enemy of Darkness was finally conquered and the neighboring mountain and savannah were restored to their glorious origins, full of color and majesty. At this time I heard the cracking and splitting of wood. I tuned away from the splendorous view to find Betty had awaken and with axe in hand was preparing wood for the fire. Following this, father came out and gave me a tour of the estate as well as introduced me to the morning routine of caring for the animals. The estate consists of the main building, which houses the sitting room, Yovan and Lydia’s bedroom, and a room for preparing the food to be served. Behind, there is another building which houses the kitchen, where all the food is cooked and prepared, and another room I think is for storage. To the right of that is the girls’ compound, where Danielle stayed, and the o the left is the cow unit as well as chicken coop/goat house. Behind the house is a massive, matooke (banana) farm, where coffee, avocado, and passion fruit are also grown. Lastly, they have a field to the Northeast of the house where the cows and goats graze, as well as, 3 other ‘gardens’ spread in different parts of Kapchorwa. That morning father took me to cut elephant grass and a matooke tree down to feed the cows and then we took a cow and the goats to graze the field. Following a tea break, Danielle and I went ‘digging’ with Stella, which is essentially weeding. Hard work. We ‘dug’ for a good while and then had tea, and after playing with the kids, which was a continuous event, ate dinner, said our evening prayer, enjoyed the beauty of the stars and slept deeply…well actually, I was told the next morning, Danielle was up a good part of the night with a queasy stomach, as she had had several cups of milk tea though she is lactose intolerant (woops).

Sunday: I got up a little bit later than the day before, and by that I mean 6:30, and found mother preparing to milk the cow. I watched her for a bit and then asked to help, but told me that Danielle could, but not me. We would find over the week that the roles of men and women in the rural setting are quite specific and followed closely. In fact, I often found myself worrying that Danielle was feeling degraded. Anyways, I watched the gorgeous sunrise over the mountain and savannah at my usual spot at the entrance of the estate, and then got ready for prayers (church). Church was fun, a lot of singing and dancing, more so than other Ugandan churches even. Afterwards it was good to talk to fellow USP friends. It is crazy how close we have become. Abigail and Hanna came home with us and we had a chance to have tea and talk and enjoy the views with them (which including our turkeys mating right in front of us!) as well as play with the kids. Near the end of the day (no working on Sundays), we went to Abby and Hanna’s house to enjoy their equally gorgeous view, which included the peak of Mt. Elgon as well as another incredible mountain in Karamojo. We had some soda and then Danielle, Stella, and I headed home to have tea, dinner, and end the day.

Monday: I woke up even later, aka, getting a little bit more comfortable around the family, and also just plain tired. After much playing with the kids in the morning and breakfast, Danielle and I went out and ‘dug’ some more with Stella. Then Seth, and intern at USP, and Vincent, our driver, came to visit. We took tea with them and hung out for a bit. Then Seth recorded Danielle giving a tour of the estate and I of my hut, as well as Danielle getting to milk a cow for the first time! Those videos will possibly be on the USP website someday. We had a lot of fun just goofing off with Seth and Vincent. Then we ate. Oh boy, we ate. Throughout Monday, we had five massive meals! Danielle and I thought we were going to explode. Father left with Seth and Vincent into town not to return until midnight. After their departure, Danielle and I played with the kids the whole rest of the day. It was a lot of fun, and definitely made it feel like we were a part of the family. Stella taught me how to make a football (soccerball) out of banana leaves, though I pretty much failed at it. Regardless, I played football with my brother Hosea and his friend for a good hour and then took pictures of some neighborhood kids and the sunset.

Tuesday: Once again I woke up later, around 7, and after breakfast, etc. we went to one of the gardens, which is like this place where they grow all of their maize, cabbage, beans, etc. It was a good two-mile hike towards the forest (national forest on Mt. Elgon) in the Southeast with beautiful views (where are there not beautiful views here?) We explored a little bit while Stalla, mother, and mother’s cousin, cleared and dug a huge plot of land with incredible speed. We didn’t help this process due to the lack of hoes, not the lack of willingness… While exploring, Danielle and I found a miniature waterfall as well as a great view of the forest. Anyhoo, upon coming back, Stella showed us how to dig holes for planting, and then we planted cabbage for a couple hours. We got back home and fetched water. Then as we were having tea, Brian and his neighbor friend, Andrew, showed up, and we got to talk to them about life so far that week, which was great. Following Brian’s departure we took baths and had lunch incredibly late in the day. Tea followed and dinner was not much later. Ooph. Between lunch and dinner, Stella and father were sitting with us in the sitting room, and we went around sharing stories. I began by turning a poem I had written in like 7th grade, “I Am 1 of 3” into a story, which worked out ok. Stella followed with an Africanized Cinderella, which she claimed was passed down from her grandmother. It was hilarious to hear all of the ways African culture infiltrated the story. I also don’t even think she knew it was not original. Danielle then shared a scary story about a murderer loose in Georgia, followed by father, who shared a traditional story about why the hyena is a friend of the hare, but not the goat. After dinner, Danielle and I finally escaped to our beds, exhausted.

Wednesday: Woke up very tired and exhausted from events thus far. Noone seemed to be really doing anything that required assistance, so after fetching water, I took a good couple hours writing in my journal and reading my missionary biography of Vincent Donavan, after having finished my African Lit book Upon This Mountain, which is actually about Mt. Elgon, the previous night. Anyways, following morning tea, Stella told us that she was going to the garden for just a short while, so she could prepare a few holes for mama to plant more cabbage and would be back soon. Danielle and I were pretty excited to hear this, because we were both very tired, so we sat in the sitting room reading and talking about the week so far, including how she felt about the degradation of women, especially herself. After awhile, we went outside to play with the kids. Around then, father went to town leaving us alone with the kids at home. Let me tell you, this was not a day of relaxing, which both of us envisioned. Shortly after father left, chaos broke loose and the kids went crazy! Hosea, the oldest there at age four, is often left home alone to care for the children, so he took control, and as father calls him, became ‘the prefect’ of the other children. Danielle and I were on our toes keeping Hosea from beating up his siblings and vice versa! Danielle said it best, “No rest for the weary.” It turned out that when Stella said, “a short while,” she was speaking in African time, which I definitely learned in Kapchorwa, so she didn’t get home till much later. When she did come back, we took a break from babysitting and we went into the sitting room journaling/reading/and talking some more. It was nice to just chat alone for a bit. We took tea and then had lunch amidst the daily rain. Directly following our late lunch, Stella, Danielle, and I walked quite a ways to a primary school where ther was a Primary 7 farewell party (P7 is like our 5th grade), and we were the guests of honor! We even had to speak some words of encouragement over them! The event was pretty cool, except for in the middle of one of the head examiner’s speech, he told the P7 candidates to ask Danielle and I (his words were “our friends the White Man and Woman!”) for money to sponsor them in Secondary school if they passed their PLE (Primary Level Exam)! Danielle and I just looked at each other stunned. No wonder that kids here are always asking for money, their teachers tell them to! Luckily, we got out of their before any awkward situations came up, but were pretty surprised. The walk home was some of the most fun we had had though. It was dark and kind of sprinkling and we just goofed off joking, skipping, and having fun the whole way home. At home we were super tired waiting for dinner and tea, and Danielle, Stella, and I just talked for awhile. After dinner, tea, and prayer, I rushed to my hut both tired and cold. As I arrived to my hut, I found the door was no longer latched and the lock was gone! I opened the door finding the lock on the floor as well as my clock, but the only thing that was taken was my Ziploc bag of toothbrush, sunscreen, and bug repellant. Strange. I crawled into bed and froze all night long, waking up at least three times to use the restroom. But I did have a sweet dream about parkour, heh.

Thursday: Last full day. Crazy. Waking up, I searched my heart for a desire to stay or a desire to leave, but was left only finding joy in the moment. If there is one thing I had learned this week, it was that time is found in the moment. Not in the future. Not in the past. In a place where the clock does not tick, where an event is not limited to a certain hour, but is done when needed to be done, Time exists solely in the moment. A friend of mine, Cameron, wrote an incredible poem about this very thought, which he shared with us on Sunday. Hopefully I can get it from him to let you all share in his insight. After breakfast, Stella asked Danielle and I to plant onions with her, so we spent a couple hours in the morning planting what? planting onions. (sorry, that’s kind of an inside joke…Ugandans LOVE to throw “what?” randomly into sentences) While we were planting Danielle lost her balance and started to fall into the dirt, so I reached out my hand and she grabbed arm, but by then it was too late to save her, she hit the dirt. It was kinda funny, not gonna lie, so yeah, I laughed. Then out of nowhere Stella started condemning me for pushing her in! Danielle of course took advantage and was like, “yeah! Why did you have to go and push me in?” It was clearly an opportunity to get back at me for having the superior role of man. Following this planting of onions, I was introduced to the art of picking coffee. Basically these trees grow what look like red berries, and you just pick them off and put them in the plastic basin we have all grown to love here in Uganda until you fill it and start all over. I recently had a conversation with Hannah Starke, and I think I summarized my reflections on coffee and those who grow it the best I have yet, so hopefully she won’t mind, but I’m going to put it here:

Hannah started by asking, “what is something you think of when you see somebody drinking a cup of coffee?” Thus here is my answer.

well...after last week (i picked kilos and kilos of coffee) i think of rural Africans toiling away under the hot sun with hands that can't open all the way because they have been picking all day everyday.

i think of my friend's dad [Drew] who has to work each day on his coffee plantation to pay for his 9 kids to go through school.

i think of the single pulper [don’t judge me for making up that word] that is shared with the community to pulp (peel the outer berry-like stuff off and release the actual beans) all of the coffee picked.

i think of roads covered with tarps which hold hundreds of kilos of coffee beans drying in the sun.

i think of the women who spend entire days roasting said dried coffee.

i think of the community that is formed by everyone in a clan pitching together to meet and fill orders.

i think of the joy that escapes their lips as songs are sang and stories are shared while performing that mindless task.

I have a very new perspective on coffee now, to say the least.

Of those, I would say that the last two are the most important. The community and joy that arises amidst the mindless work is incredible. And this is certainly not to make you all feel bad about what they do. But maybe you should feel bad about paying $4 for coffee…jk, well, not really. After picking for a little bit, Danielle and I went with Stella to another family garden we hadn’t been to yet, and was pretty far away, where we cut down (when I say we, I mean to say Stella) some matooke and Danielle made a little hat out of a banana leaf and carried some on her head. I got to carry the panga (machete). heh. When we got back, I went back to picking coffee intermittingly through the rain. It pretty much rained the rest of the day. Near the end of the day, our father told us that we were invited to Reverend Canon Kissa’s house for tea that evening. Rev. Kissa turned out to be the “grandfather” of the community. Apparently this is his 50th year of service, so his Golden Jubilee is in December, which is pretty awesome. It was a really funny tea session, because our little sister Faith came with us and Danielle kept shoving her tea and biscuits down her while Rev. Kissa wasn’t looking.

Friday: I woke up early to catch the sunrise at my house one last time. It was kind of a sad thought, not gonna lie. Then I slaughtered a chicken. No big deal. Ok, so Stella held it down while I cut half of its neck off, but it was still kind of fun. Then Danielle got to pluck out all the feathers, because that is a woman’s job. I failed to mention throughout this post just how much Danielle was told that she was a woman so she was lazy and was limited to what was considered “women’s work,” which honestly is a lot more than the work of men. But she’s pretty much awesome and took it way better than I would have…had I been a woman…which I’m not…so no worries. After we took care of the chicken business, Stella took Danielle and I on a Lord of the Rings adventure. It was awesome. Basically we hiked through cornfields and matooke trees amongst incredible rolling hills on this mountainside with our awesome staffs. If you could see us from above, we would definitely have looked like hobbits on an adventure. Anyways our mission: waterfall. Mission successful. The waterfall was beautiful. And pretty incredible. We came home with enough time to pulp the coffee we had picked and take some pictures with the family. Finally around mid-day the USP van returned to pick us up, we said our sad goodbyes and left family number 3. It was pretty sad for both Danielle and I to leave our family, but it was great to see our friends once again. Plus, our next destination was Sipi Falls. Sipi Falls is a location on one of the sides of Mt. Elgon where a series of three incredible waterfalls are created from a single source. We met up with our IMME friends as well as our USE friends, who had stayed in Soroti (more central Uganda), and stayed at this resortish type thing across from Sipi Falls, where we could see the beautiful waterfalls. We spent the rest of the day catching up with friends, debriefing, and just relaxing. We also stayed up super late playing Mafia and just having a great time with each other.

Saturday: Saturday was an excellent day. I went on what was called “The Epic Hike” through Sipi Falls. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on. Reminded me a lot of the Smoky Mountains actually. We took a coaster (bus) up as high as we could, and then hiked a good hour or so along the forest (which I was really excited about walking to and seeing) and then reached the top of the first waterfall. A group of 13 of us, including Mark Bartel, our program director and mountaineer, hiked from the top of that waterfall all the way down to the bottom of the third. At each waterfall, the glory and power of God was just overwhelming. We walked under a couple of them and were overpowered by their strength. At the last one we crawled into some sweet caves and then saw a beautiful rainbow at the last waterfall. The hike took about 5 hours, and was full of glorious views. When I got back, I took a long shower and just relaxed, talking with friends and playing cards. That evening, after dinner, I had the strangest emotional reaction though. Everyone was having a good time partying (it being Halloween and all) and just enjoying life, when I found myself incredibly lonely. Amidst the joy of those around me and the majestic mountain and waterfall before me, I felt the most lonely I had felt in a long while. I couldn’t understand it. I walked back to my cabin and just sat on the porch looking at the waterfall gleam in the starlight, and prayed to God, pleading for a reason for this loneliness. None was given. No answer came. I don’t know what happened. Everyone went to bed early that night since we were all tired from our separate hikes and the week as a whole.

Sunday: The next morning we woke up at 730 to climb to the top of this cliff and have praise & worship and simply honor Jesus on top of this incredible creation of His. It was a very cool corporate worship moment, as we all sat in a circle, but rather than looking inward symbolizing the community of believers worshipping the LORD, we were all looking outward symbolizing our call to worship Him outwardly as we spread His light throughout His Creation. It was beautifully poetic, and several students read verses from the Bible, His great poem, and a friend, Cameron, who I talked about earlier, shared his poem about time, and it was glorious. After packing and snagging some lunch, we headed home, to end a long, but incredible week of learning and soaking in that, which is the Ugandan rural culture.

I applaud all of you that finished that whole thing. Hopefully it makes up for not posting in forever. I love all of you guys, and wish that I truly could communicate my experiences here with you, but it seems so impossible.

Peace be with you,



  1. well written Josh :)
    I think I might just send all of my friends to your page.

  2. I loved this Josh! Made me feel a little what? homesick. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I'm so glad you had that this experience. It'll give a whole new perspective on Ugandan culture and life. Way to go!

  3. I had to read this in chunks. I was pleasantly surprised to find our conversation made it into this entry. I'm still working on that piece... but your input has helped significantly. Have a marvelous day.

  4. Hmm... I posted a long comment but I think it got put on your "halfway there" post by accident ... so go read that one :-)

  5. Thanks for your comments!

    Tim, your "what?" just made me smile. I hope things are going well with you and The Bridge.

    Hannah, you always deserve a shout-out.

    Uncle Kent, thank you so much for your encouragement and advice. And for taking the time to share, always a blessing. I'm really sad that I'm going to miss out on Thanksgiving with you all, but I talked to the parents and we are going to try to Skype the night before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, when it comes to Catan...the internet here is nowhere near reliable nor fast enough for Catan. I'll probably have to go to an internet cafe to skype.

    Peace and love all,

  6. It's always great to read your updates, Josh. Love the photos too!

  7. Josh, it sounds like you're having an exceptional time. Just wanted to let you know that I read through that whole blog post... and it was awesome. Miss you, bro.

  8. All I can say is it sounds like you're having an absolutely AMAZING time! It sounds like God is showing himself to you even more each day and that's absolutely wonderful. :) I'd have to say my favorite parts of your posts are always the pictures. They add so much more then the words ever could, thank you for putting them in :D