Driving Miss. Nancy

I did not anticipate how much time I would spend in a car traveling to and from Kampala with the driver George.  George is the most patient and calm Ugandan man that I have ever met.  Which is ironic because Ugandan drivers are extremely aggressive and the vast majority of drivers whip around people and push their way into your lane.  Ugandans drive on the left side of the road.  The majority of the population does not drive because cars are too expensive and public transport is avaliable.  The UMC Conference has arranged for the interns to have a car.  4 people sharing 1 car and driver does not always work out… we’ll see what else can be arranged in the next few weeks.

It is very strange to be driven around everywhere… it reminds me of the play, “Driving Miss. Daisy.”  Not just in the fact that I am driven around… but the fact that there are stereotypes of musungus and Africans who drive musungus.

I have seen traffic lights in Uganda, but no one follows them so you have to have a police officer, dressed in all white and called “the white men,” direct traffic.  People turn off their cars and wait it gets so jammed in areas.  George allows other cars to get in the lane and is always cautious.

As I mentioned before, there is one main road and one “by-pass” road.  The main road is filled with jams and the by-pass is filled with police officers that will stop you for the smallest infraction.  We were pulled over once (which is more like a person in a white uniform waving waving his/her hand at you from the side of the road).  George had passes a truck going 5 miles per hour in a non-passing zone (ha ha… everywhere in Uganda is a passing zone!).  He told them that he didn’t have any money.  They said that the musungus could pay.  Culture note: In Uganda if you have white skin, it is assumed that you have lots of money.  He said that these musungus are students and that they don’t have any money.  And the police officer let us go!

George grew up in Western Uganda, so he speaks a different language than Luganda which is spoken in Kampala area.  He never went to formal school, but taught himself English.  Last Saturday night it was planned for me to go to Nabulagala UMC to worship on Sunday morning.  The car needed to be serviced, so they were trying to find another means of transport to church.  George received a phone call from Vincent saying, the group from Texas at the hotel in Seeta has room for Nancy.  So George told me that I would be staying at the hotel in Seeta and go to church with them.  I arrived at the hotel and went in to find the group leader, whom I had briefly met a few nights ago.  He said that he did not have a room for me to stay, but he could figure it out if he needed.  I went back out to George.  He had just ended a phone call with Vincent and realized that the “room” they had for me was on the bus in the morning!  They have room… not “a” room!  Ha ha ha… So he took me home, picked me up in the morning, and dropped me off at the hotel to go with them to church.

I have learned a lot asking George questions about things that I see.  He usually asks what things are like in the states after he explains.  Things you might see on the road:  People selling sugar cane and time cards for your cell phone.  Cattle frequently walk on the side of the road.  There are small mopeds called boda-bodas and they weave in and out of traffic like racecars.  Women ride “side saddle” on the back.  You will also see them carrying anything from pineapples, wounded people headed to the emergency room (it’s the fastest way to travel), wooden planks that sit horizontal on the back of the seat – and they still weave in and out of traffic!, jugs of oil or water, furniture, and pretty much anything that needs to be taken from point A to point B.  The stores are like open garages with about 4 feet of space to paint an advertisement – the name of the store is not relevant the advertisement is always bright, painted with detail and usually corresponds with what they might sell inside.

OK… My next blog will be about the AMAZING WOMEN I HAVE MET!!  I can not upload music or pictures because uploading and downloading information with my modem is difficult… but I will tell you all about it!!!

Eyes that can heal wounded hearts

During my time leading up to Uganda and while in Uganda I am reading the journal, Journey to Daybreak, of Henri Nouwen which gives an account of leaving a tenure at Harvard to work at L’Arche in Trosly, France.  L’Arche is a place where people with and without disabilities live and work in community.  If you want an honest and raw account of a person struggling with the pain of life and human desire for affection, while on a road to self-discovery and healing, this is a book for you.

Yesterday morning I read: “I gradually realize that I want to be seen by you, to dwell under your caring gaze, and to grow strong and gentle in your sight.  Lord, let me see what you see—the love of God and the suffering of people—so that my eyes may become more and more like yours, eyes that can heal wounded hearts.”

I cannot hide from people’s eyes anywhere I go in Uganda.  The moment many Ugandans see my white skin, their eyes follow me.  I usually smile and say hello or o su zo tia, which means good morning/how are you.  Usually their staring eyes turn into smiles when I try to speak Luganda.  Small children will say “Hello Muzugu!”  (muzugu is the name for white person) I will normally wave and say, “Hello.”

There is a common understanding that you can “feel” someone’s eyes on you.  In the states, when you catch someone staring, frequently the person staring will move their eyes… but that’s not the case here… your eyes seem to lock with the person staring—and it’s usually me who turns away first.

The meditation from this morning impacted me strongly, especially, “so that my eyes may become more and more like yours, eyes that can heal wounded hearts.”  What would Jesus’ eyes have felt like?  I can imagine that his eyes feel the way a proud mom looks at her daughter on graduation day, the way a bride looks at her new partner, the way a baby smiles and looks at their care taker, the way best friends look at each other after accomplishing something together, the way musicians look at each other in a groove, the way stars look down on humanity, and the way a Ugandan and musungu look at each other.

Three Lessons Learned on Day Two

Yesterday morning the plan was to be picked up at 9:00 and go to Kampala to exchange money, buy a phone, and buy a modem for my own internet use.  When 10:00 rolled around I decided to call my contact to find out the change of plans (Uganda time is much different than time in the states… it’s flexible!).  He told me that the plan changed for me to go into Kampala with Hannah at 12:30pm.  He told me to call her and arrange it.

Uganda Lesson 1: Phones in Uganda are pre-paid.  You pay for X number of minutes, load them on your phone, and when you call someone it uses up the minutes.  If someone calls you it’s free.

When I got off the phone, I realized… the minutes on Millie’s phone were gone. Uh oh.  No money, no phone, no one at the guest house….


I got on the internet and emailed my contacts.

Ugandan Lesson 2: Internet is strange here… Many people do not have access and it can be fickle when you do… SO… Internet is not a primary way of communication.  I was still not sure if they would get my message and I did not want to be stuck here all day.  When 30 minutes passed and I did not hear from him, I decided to get help.

It’s not usually a good idea to go places by yourself when you don’t know the area well… However, Eva, a Kenyan missionary who lives in the first part of the tri-plex, mentioned yesterday that it was safe… Plus, it was already 11:00.  So, I exited the big metal gate and stood on the side of the clay road leading to the paved road that leads to Kampala.  I watched a few people go by.  Most people in Uganda learn English in school… but they speak Luganda in conversation… I finally got the nerve to ask a woman with a small boy if she could help me.  I told her:  I have no money, no phone, I just got to Uganda yesterday, and I can not contact my people.  She spoke English (!!) and told me that she did not have her phone.  But she would go back to her house and get it.  She told her boy, who is about 5 or 6, to stay with me and went home to get her phone.  For about 5 minutes I stood on the side of the road with a shy, adorable, Ugandan boy and watched people stare at me as they walked, biked, and drove by.  I tried to sing a song with him… that was a bust.  I also tried to play ball with his bag rolled up… not interested.  So we just stood there looking at each other.  It was very strange.

I couldn’t help but think about all the times in which someone has given me a similar story and I was either too stubborn or too scared to help him or her.

When she got back, she dialed the number, I got hold of my contact, and he told me he would contact George and Hannah so they could take me to Kampala.

I thanked the woman profusely and asked her name.  Her name is Susan—please, stop reading this now and pray a blessing on Susan and her family— She really saved my day.  Susan and I talked for a few minutes and then she left.

Around 1:00 George, our driver, and Hannah picked me up.  George took me to the Bishop’s office and we ate a delicious Ugandan lunch.  After meeting the jovial and wonderful, Bishop Daniel Wandabula, Moses, the conference driver, took me to run errands.

First we exchanged money… I am now a millionaire!! … in Ugandan shillings.  $1 equals 2400 Ugandan shillings.

Next we bought a new mattress for my 3 by 6 bed.  We couldn’t find parking in Kampala so we literally we drove by the shop, he called for the woman at the store, asked for a good 3 by 6 bed, we drove back around the block, they put the rolled up mattress (which is really a hard piece of foam) in the back, I gave them the money, and we drove off.  It was 70,000 shillings, which is about $30.

Then we went to the Ugandan Wal-mart-type store, Nakumatt and I bought at cheap phone (about $40) and a 1gig modem to use the internet, also a little over 40.

Moses needed to take a woman visiting from the Arkansas Annual Conference to the airport, so the Bishop hired a personal taxi (public transit is also called “taking a taxi”) to take me home.  Rush hour traffic in Kampala is worse than the worst traffic in the States… even Atlanta!  They have one main road going east with single lanes of traffic and another “bypass” road that goes northeast with single lanes of traffic.  Either way you go, you are stopped for miles.

I finally made it home after dark.  I was excited to plug in my internet, but Hannah informed me of my 3rd lesson:  You need a 3 gig modem to Skype!


I was so tired, I couldn’t deal with it, and went straight to bed on my new, correct sized, firm, mattress!

Our tri-plex:

View from my house… the metal gate :)

Setting up shop

Yesterday I arrived safely in Uganda! The trip was lllooooonnnnggg…. but I am so glad to be here!  After I got my passport stamped and visa, I walked out of the airport to about 200 Ugandans holding 8.5 x 11 signs with people’s names on it.  It was clear that I was not the only one who had only communicated with their contacts via phone and email.  Quickly scanning the wide-eyed crowd, I saw a sign with the Methodist cross and flames and then noticed my name as well as an UMCOR missionary whom was also on my flight and was meeting with the United Methodist folks here in Kampala.

I am staying in a suburb of Kampala.  The guesthouse I am in is a tri-plex with a yard the size of 1/2 a football field surrounded by a square orange brick wall that is about 6 feet.  Where the left goal line would be is a tin overhang covering a concrete space with a chalk board.  It is used for the United Methodist African Children’s choir to rehearse.  I am hoping to see them in action!

There are 3 rooms in this house.  I am in a small back room about 6 x 10 space with a twin-sized bed covered in a mosquito net… cozy.  There are 3 other interns who have been here for about 5 weeks.  Hannah is a Duke Divinity student and we have mutual friends.  Mille and Daniel are seniors at University of Georgia.

The vast majority of today was spent sitting on my front steps and looking out on the yard filled with banana trees and tropical plants and reading a book.  The church here has some type of workshop going on that the Bishop is a part and things haven’t gotten going yet… Rose said that they also wanted to give me a day to rest from my travels.  I am used to jumping into things when I get to a location that I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.  This goes with a theme that God has been teaching me… Nancy, I’m not in a hurry… more on this later.

This evening Hannah and I walked down the left hand side of the clay street (Ugandans drive on the left side of the street b/c they were imperialized by England) that we live on, to purchase some bread and vegetables.  I did not feel unsafe, but everyone we passed stared at us.  There are about 4 small stands in a row selling the same items.  There were big bags of rice, beans, and flour that could be purchased by the pound.  There are about 5 kinds of bread to purchase and a choice of 6 different veggies and 3 different fruits.  My eye was drawn to these small green tear dropped shaped vegetables.  I asked the sales woman what they tasted like, she pointed to the eggplant.  I asked her how she prepares them and she told me to cook them in oil and add other vegetables.  I convinced Hannah to take a chance and we bought 8 of them, some onions, and tomatoes.  We made a stir-fry dish and added chicken.  The woman was right… they tasted exactly like eggplant.

Later I showed Rose, a friend who is helping to arrange my trip, a picture of the veggies and asked her the name of the fruit in English.  She said Garden Eggs… which makes since because they taste like Eggplant.  She also said that people eat them when they want to have an appetite and they help to make a person hungry.  Ha ha… my first Ugandan adventure in cooking and I pick a food that makes you hungry!!

Going to Uganda

I am not quite sure when I fell in love with Uganda.  I know that it was WAY before I ever heard the words, “Invisible Children” or “ONE Campaign.”  Although these are excellent organizations, they put Uganda on the map in a way that emphasizes the hurt and the pain of the region.  I fell in love with the hope and joy, specifically through the music of Uganda.  While at FSU I earned a World Music Certificate, which allowed me to take a course in African music, and to participate in an African music and dance ensemble at FSU.  Ugandan ethnomusicologist Damascus Kafumbe, who taught he how to play a Ugandan bowl-lyre called (e)ndongo, challenged me to dig deeper in my understanding of how Ugandan women relate with music in religious contexts.

Music possesses the ability to heal, empower, connect, and guide its performers and listeners.  Music frequently engages these abilities in religious practices.  I combined all of my deepest interests into a seven week project in Kampala, Uganda for this summer.  I wrote for an “Imagination Grant” with Vanderbilt Divinity School and they are funding part of my trip this summer.  You know, the money is amazing… but what really makes me excited is that the committee is willing to invest in a project of my combined passions!

The central purpose of this project is to explore women’s leadership and liberation in the Christian church through music and dance practice in Kampala, Uganda.  Much has been written about women’s empowerment in Uganda. [1] The power dynamics have been clearly defined as women suffering from forced polygamous relationships, verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, as well as a lack of power in political and family systems.[2] Many have blamed the church as enforcing powerlessness on women in the name of God. [3] Yet there are also examples of women through the church reforming political and cultural norms, in addition to gaining options for economic independence and wider access to education.[4]

Music is inherently powerful due to the importance it plays in Ugandan culture and is not narrowly defined as just song, but also frequently encompasses dance, drama, and proclamation. Recent studies on music and women in Uganda and east Africa describe music’s value as a tool to educate health practices, [5] cope with domestic labor,[6] testify to deliverance,[7] entertain, [8] build community,[9] and employ the power of cultural performance to encourage liberation.[10] In these settings and others, music communicates ideas and messages that are not always spoken but are culturally or intrinsically known.

This summer I hope to:

1.)   Build relationship with and hear the stories of women musicians in the church
2.)   Analyze the role music plays in the church and society
3.)   Observe the use of music in various religious contexts
4.)   Identify the historical, cultural, theological, and political implications of woman’s leadership in the church in Kampala, Uganda
5.)   Identify explicit and intrinsic women’s issues
6.)   Observe the global church

When I get home, I hope to create a curriculum for the church to discuss the theological implications of women’s performance practices in Uganda.  This curriculum could include themes of vocation, calling, ordination, lay leadership, gift, and blessing.

I am in contact with the President of the United Methodist Women, in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is arranging most of my trip, including the opportunity to meet with women’s groups, choirs, and economic partnerships in Kampala and Jinja.

I leave June 20th.  I covet your prayers as I take this trip of a lifetime.  I know that God is going to change and challenge me in powerful ways.  In the words Nouwen I see this journey as “a way in which I am saying, ‘yes’ to God’s call to, ‘Come follow me.'”.[11]  I am hoping to become more in rhythm and pitch with God’s tempo and melody.

I will be updating my blog with experiences, thoughts, and reflections!

[1] Aili Mari Tripp, Women and Politics in Uganda (Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2000).

[2] Tinyiko Sam Maluleke and Sarojini Nadar, “Overcoming Violence against Women and Children,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 114 (2002).

[3] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[4] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993).

[5] Gregory F. Barz, Singing for Life: Hiv/Aids and Music in Uganda (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[6] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993)..

[7] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[8] Lovemore Togarasei, “The Implications of the Dominance of Women in the Zimbabwean Music Industry for the Ordination of Women,” Scriptura 86 (2004).

[9] Karen Ralls and Graham Harvey, Indigenous Religious Musics (Aldershot; Burlington; Singapore; Sydney: Ashgate, 2000).

[10] Carol Ann Weaver, “Kenyan Women’s Music : An Agent of Social, Cultural Change?,” Conrad Grebel Review 12, no. (1994).

[11] Henri J. M. Nouwen, “The road to daybreak: a spiritual journey,” Darton, Longman & Todd, (1997).