Modern Day Flappers

A few weeks ago I shared late night nachos at Sunset Grill in Hillsboro Village with two of my dearest friends, Ben and Elizabeth.  We had just watched the movie Boyhood across the street at the Belcourt.  Boyhood is the kind of movie that would show at the Belcourt –a non-profit movie theatre specializing in documentaries, artstic, and innovative films.  The director, Richard Linklater, filmed the same cast over twelve years and, like the title suggests, it’s about childhood and growing up.  Literally the boy actor grows into a man before your eyes.  So, we were discussing the movie over nachos and Ben says, “I can’t help but think about what the movie would have been like if it were about girlhood.”

I laughingly said, “You would say that!”  (Ben might be more of a feminist than I am because of his deep appreciation for Marylynne Robinson’s poetry, fiction, and prose…) and replied, “What would the movie womanhood look like?”  I rambled on, “What if I filmed my best friends over the next ten years and see what happens?”

“I think I’d watch that,” Ben responded, “What would you call it?”

And without really thinking I replied, “Modern Day Flappers.”

We kept eating nachos and discussing various parts of the movie that we liked — but the idea didn’t leave my mind and the next day I typed in the domain name:  It was available.  Then I Googled “Modern Day Flappers” and found two interesting articles: Five Signs Your a Modern Day Flapper in the Huff Post and Modern-Day Flappers: Lena Dunham and Girls from Biographile.  Both reference the same book published in January of this year Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell.  I immediately searched for the book at Nashville public library and sent it to the branch near my house.

I love the parallel between Lena Dunham and Girls and flappers.  I have seen every episode of Girls and I am intoxicated by the woman’s locker room conversation put on national television from a realistic perspective in an authentic and unapologetic tone.  Yet, there is more than one conversation going on in a women’s locker room!  Many of my friends have talked about how we resonate with Dunham’s characters, yet they do not allow for their spiritual domains to influence their life choices and their context of NYC is very different than Nashville!

A few days later, I picked up the book from our branch and read in the introduction, “The young women of this era weren’t the first generation in history to seek a life beyond marriage and motherhood; they were, however, the first significant group to claim it as a right (pg. 5).”  “Yes. This.” The voice in my gut said when I read those words…

A few pages later Mackrell’s words resonated again with this statement about the six women whom she presents to represent flappers, “Often they feel closest to us when they were struggling and uncertain.  None of them had role models to follow as they grappled with the implications of their independence.  Their mothers and grandmothers could not advise them how to combine sexual freedom with love, or how to combine their public image with personal happiness (pg. 10).”

I feel a lot of uncertainty when I try to articulate how to be a woman, in the south, in public and private settings, seeking my right to an identity outside of wife or mother, navigating singleness, love, sex, and independence, while also discovering and being found by God, and desperately trying to “be human in the most inhumane of ages (Thomas Merton).”  All of this coupled with the fact that I am clergy and “should” know these things!

I, for sure, do not have all the answers — but I do have a ton of questions.  Therefore, over the next year of my life — “30, flirty, and thriving” — I am going to ask as many questions as possible and ask them of those who are on the journey with me — my modern day flappers — my late 20something and 30something friends who are also seeking their identities, wholeness, and love.  I hope to discover parts of myself in the stories I unearth in them.

I will record my interviews in a podcast called — you guessed it — Modern Day Flappers!

Modern Day Flappers


Guatemala and Camu

When I think of that smell of wood and plastic trash going up in flames, my heart fills with love and that love wells up as water in the corners of my eyes. These are tears of truth, not of sadness or joy.

As I write this, it takes everything not to pick up my backpack and breath in the smell of burning that still lingers on the cloth. Yet, last night when I got home from Guatemala I washed and showered and washed again and lathered to get the smell off my skin. This morning I put lots of mouse in my hair to cover up the smell that lingered.

My backpack had almost the same exact smell when I came home from Uganda.

For me, it is a smell of truth and one that connects me deeply to the entire world. Yet, last night on my plane flight home from Atlanta to Nashville I wanted to apologize to the person next to me for the way I smelled. “I promise I don’t always smell like this,” I wanted to say — while deep inside I wished it would never go away.

Smell has a way of bringing you back to a time and place, I know there is a lot of academic research about it — but I’m not as interested in quantitative studies about smell and memory, as I am about the stories. I was talking about smell with a friend recently and he spoke of walking past a woman and the simple fumes of her perfume brought him to the time when he was first falling in love. The smell of Irish Spring soap has a similar effect on me.

Do I quickly wash off the smell of open wood fires because I am afraid to go back to the times and places where I saw women suffering from poverty and patriarchy?

Today in a class — I am auditing a class at Vanderbilt Divinity School on Albert Camu from Prof. Victor Judge — we discussed “The Fall.” Spoiler alert — The story is about a man who is on a bridge and watches a woman about to jump to her death — he says nothing. She jumps — he does nothing. As she screams for help, he neither says or does anything. There is a lot more to the monologue — but the man forever avoids bridges.

I’ve seen the plight of women in poverty and heard about the effects of patriarchy. I know enough to say something. I know enough to do something. I know enough to use my words and actions to say something before, during, or after she jumps off the bridge.

Today in class Prof. Judge said, “Every moment is important and has consequence. Every waking moment has a promise of change.” With my recent experience in the foothills of the volcanoes in Guatemala in the forefront of my mind — my heart erupted and tears streamed down my face. During the intermission I explained to Prof. Judge they were tears of truth. He lovingly replied, “I hoped they were not tears of unhappiness.”

I wrote in my notes:
So what am I to do? There is so much… I am willing. I can continue to organize Sunday morning class spaces (ha ha not fair — I am currently working with imagination and creativity) But (or maybe I should say AND) I am called to be on the ground, smelling of fire, eyes not only welling with the waters of truth, but also the dust from the roads blown by trucks filled with travelers and produce, the sun bringing color to my face instead of using concealer, brushing my teeth with purified water — sometimes afraid, sometimes overjoyed, sometimes at peace, but always present.

Directly after I wrote that, Prof. Judge said, “Those who remain vigilant to combat the plague are the least likely to contract it.”

If I combat poverty and patriarchy, then I am less likely to participate with it.

Hiking a mountain in San Juan, Guatemala.

The Blessed Mother Mary photographed while hiking a mountain in San Juan, Guatemala.

Thou Shall Connect with Your Inner Artist

Inspired by my best friend Jaime and her blog entry Thou Shall Not Snooze During Lent, I will write about my plans for the season of Lent.  This year I plan to “give up” my constant critique and intellectualizing in my personal devotion.  I was inspired by a book I have yet to read–but it’s on the top of the list–”Against Interpretation” Susan Sontag and my own need to rejuvenate the artist in my Biblical interpretation.  So my lenten goals are as follows:

Read “Reaching Toward Easter” this year’s Lenten Devotional published by the United Methodist Upper Room not with critical eyes but connecting with the Holy Spirit.  I also sent the book to my mom for us to read it together.

Read the book of Romans at least twice as I would poetry and not as a hermeneutical approach.  I might even break up the words in poetry format so that I am forced to read them differently.

We’ll see how well this goes… what are your plans?!

Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations in NYC

A few months ago I received an email from the Divinity school list-serve that was soliciting Presbyterian women to be delegates for the 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in NYC.  I clicked the link to find out more about this year’s commission and discovered the Priority theme is “The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

My first thought, “I HAVE TO GO!”

and my second, “I’m not Presbyterian.”

So, I decided to email my contact at United Methodist Women (UMW) who helped me arrange my travels this summer in Uganda to find out if I could be a UMW delegate.  She replied back with a kind email informing me that the UMW delegates would be rural women from around the world to speak to the CSW about their personal stories and ideas for advancement.  I could not be prouder or more excited about their choice of delegates… However, that leaves me out.  Yet, she forward me to the people arranging the UMW events and delegation at the CSW to see if they would have a need for me.

After a few more emails we decided that I could help with publicity, worship, and logistics!  They also agreed to play for my housing during the dates of the CSW!!

On Wednesday, Feb. 23rd I will be flying to NYC to stay with the delegates, help navigate NYC, assist with preparation for their presentations, attend portions of the commission, plan for worship, and — give daily updates, blogs, pages, and video on the United Methodist Women’s network about the happenings of the CSW.

I will defiantly keep you posted as well.

5 seconds of fame!

On Monday I received an email from ABC producer Brian Hartman who wanted my permission to use a few seconds of my YouTube Video from 2008 about a cruise ship lifeboat drill for a story about cruise ship safety on World News with Diane Sawyer.

I hadn’t watched this family vacation YouTube video in years and it made me laugh out loud that he wanted to use a piece of it!  They only used the clips of the lifeboat drill on World news… but I still feel like a little piece of my YouTube brilliance was discovered :) .

I’m sure it’s only time before Food Network discovers my videos on the best cupcakes, gelato, mac-n-cheese, and meat-n-threes!!

African H2O Adventures

Canoeing on Lake Victoria to Kenya
A few weeks ago I traveled to Bussia, a town on the border of Uganda and Kenya.  I only have a single entry visa to Uganda so I wasn’t planning on crossing the border BUT when my friend told me that it was a 30 minute, 10,000 shilling ($4), canoe ride across Lake Victoria to the Kenyan border and that I wouldn’t pass a border checkpoint, I decided that I would take a quick trip to Kenya!

Capturing the Sun in the boat

The canoe was made of thick, hard wood and weighed so much that 3 men had to push the boat into the water. I took my friend and escort Moses, who cannot swim and has never been in a boat for more than 5 minutes, with me on my journey to Kenya. Two men got into the boat with a very long stick and an arms length paddle. I thought — this will be interesting. I watched as one man stands in the back of the canoe with the long stick in the water. He pushes, with all of his body weight against the stick wedged in the bottom of the lake and propels the boat forward. The other man sits in the front of the boat.

After about 10 minutes analyzing the distance traveled and time taken, I realized that my 30 minute boat ride would be on African time about an hour later we reached the Kenyan border. It was obvious that this was not a typical muzungu way to travel to Kenya because I got exceptional stares when we entered the small canoe-port. I got out of the boat, walked up the road, took a photo IN KENYA, and then got back in the boat. I sat and watched a woman wash her son in the lake and then the men and women wash their jerry cans and then fill them with the brown, murky water. When our drivers came back the one in the front was now propelling the boat in the back.

Small waves lapped on the side of our boat and there was a decent wind on the water. Moses kept talking about how the disciples felt right before Jesus calmed the storm. I chucked a bit at the comparison, but for someone who is deathly afraid of water and to be in a canoe traveling to Kenya — maybe it’s a good analogy. I used my lifeguard training to tell Moses that if something happened and we fell in the water that he should simply STAND UP.

All in all, the journey was extremely refreshing for me. I am energized being on the water and enjoy the beauty of Lake Victoria, which is comes in second to Lake Superior as the largest lake in the world. There was not another boat in sight and I enjoyed watching the sun fall in the sky as we reached the Ugandan shore.

The River Nile
Last Monday I decided to be a tourist. It is common for people to white water raft the Nile for $125, but when I found out I could tandem kayak the Nile I knew that for $140 I needed this extreme experience! Plus they transport you to and from the Nile and feed you a BBQ dinner :) .

Swimming in the Nile

I have kayaked in the ocean and on rivers before, but never in white water. After loading in my kayak the first thing my guide taught me was to roll the kayak. When one kayaks you wear a “skirt” that keeps water from entering the Kayak so it is possible to roll upside down and back around without too much trouble. (I have done this by myself where I am in charge of how long I stay in the water and use my own strength to flip it back upright but I have never waited for someone else to flip me.)  Basically, when the boat flips upside down he directed me to throw my paddle and hug the boat as close as possible and wait for him to flip it back over.  We practiced a few times in the still water and it was easy to wait for him to flip us back upright.  He told me that the Nile is deep water and that hitting your head on rocks would not be a problem.  But just in case, we were all given helmets.

Being in a kayak for the rapids felt like I was literally sitting on top of the water for all of the action. I had a front row seat for each wave to catapult me out of the water or hit me square in the face!  It was intense, invigorating and exhilarating.Uganda Kayaking Photos

The first time we flipped in the rapid — please try to imagine my fear!  I am upside down in a boat your legs trapped inside the kayak and your body submerged in water which is tossing you different directions.  I grabbed the boat with my arms but decided that waiting for the flip would mean my death and I panicked, released my skirt, and swam to the surface.

While I was bobbing down the white water I realized that the whole thing probably happened in about 6 seconds 2 seconds for the wave to take us over, 2 seconds for me to hold, and 2 seconds for me to swim to the top. BUT IT FELT LIKE A LIFETIME!splash!

The second time we flipped I knew it was coming when I saw the wave!!  I remember counting 1 wait Nancy, 2 wait Nancy, 3 wait Nancy, 4 wait Nancy, 5 wait. PANIC!  I swam to the surface road out the rest of the rapids and a rafting boat quickly came and pulled me aboard.

oh no!All in all it was one of the best water experiences of my life!  My guide was hilarious and there were 2 other tandem kayakers that I could share stories with as we traveled down the river Nile between the seven rapids.

The experience also made me realize that there are plenty of people who travel to Africa and never talk to an African beyond the ones that are serving them on their tourist adventure.  They eat BBQ and travel in hot air balloons over villages for the same price that one of the women and her children in the village could live for a year.a break by the rapidsme and my guide

That said, I also met a man on the rafting trip who was a missionary in Uganda for 6 years with his family and he started the Source Cafe in Jinja town.  Over the next few days I visited the cafe and met the women in charge of women’s development.  Ida is native to Busoga (the tribe covering Jinja) and is doing INCREDIBLE work with women—specifically theological development.  It is a week later and I’m back in Jinja talking with her about her women’s theological curriculum and her development work.  As we shared our similar interests we realized that we would continue to resource one another and I know that she will be a wonderful connection with women’s work in Uganda. I am forever amazed that much of my relationship with God looks like my tandem kayak adventure on the River Nile.  Sometimes it is intense, invigorating and exhilarating Sometimes I get out of the boat and go for a swim or just sit in the boat and look around most of the time I have trouble waiting and panic before God can flip the boat back upright but all the time God puts people, beauty, and fun along my path to love and direct God’s plan — plans to give hope and a future.

Somehow these tangents connect in my head…

It’s been 4 weeks in Uganda and I still wake up in the morning under my mosquito net and think: Whoa, I’m in Africa.

Sometimes it’s not the mosquito net that reminds me it’s the blaring radio music as early as 7:30am.  There is a constant backdrop of pop music played from house windows, restaurants, stores, churches pretty much anywhere there could be a radio playing it is on and usually at full volume.  There is a song I hear literally 5 times a day (I heard it 6 times yesterday).  Actually pretty much anytime I hear it I say to whomever I’m with, I have never heard this song!  (My sarcasm is usually lost on them but I get a kick out of it.) The song is called, Takatiki.  Takatiki is the sound a clock makes like our tick tock.  The song is about a woman who is waiting for her lover to come home, to call, and to be with her.

Last night I went out to listen to live music.  Much of our pop music trickles over to Uganda, but there are many pop Ugandan and African songs.  Another popular song is sung by a man and says, I would rather be with an ugly woman who can produce children and welcome others than just a beautiful woman.  Another one is called Mwami which is the word for husband in Lusoga (it sounds a lot like “mommy” and I originally thought she was calling for her mommy).  A woman is singing to her husband who fulfills her.

Before I left the states, my best friend recommended that I read the book: He’s Just Not That Into You.  (This is the kind of book that only your best friend who loves you and knows your past relationships recommends) I didn’t get a chance to read it, so I brought it with me to Uganda. Basically the book is about the excuses women make for men who may treat them poorly in various situations anything from not calling to fear of commitment to dating other girls it tells the reader to get rid of the guy who is just not into them.  I laughed a lot at myself then I thought about these Ugandan pop songs and the many American pop songs about fulfillment in being intimate with another person.  I am realizing that a lot of empowering women is helping us realize that our worth is not dependent on the men in our lives.

Polygamy has touched so much of this society.  You can see the pain it causes the women and children and the church, for the most part, is silent.  The church does not want to split families and is struggling to address the even deeper issue of poverty.  I want to know what goes through the heart and mind of the third wife and what about the lives of her children?

Friday I went to a culture day with Mukwaya (my teacher/introduction leader friend).  It’s the African version of solo and ensemble where every school choir in a district sings for judges.  Each culture day has a theme to educate the community and has numerous performances.  First each choir must sing the East African Anthem then they compete with speeches, traditional songs, original compositions, and traditional instruments.  This culture day was about the East African Community. I learned that Uganda, Rwanda, Brundi, Kenya, and Tanzania are in a partnership and will soon have one currency.  The speeches and some of the original compositions were advocating for open trade between the countries and have a single language, Swahili.  One of the original compositions talked about poverty and how the east African community is helping to end poverty and children suffering. (I kept thinking I hope this is more like the European union and not NAFTA.)

The traditional songs and instruments were my favorite!  There were no endongos, but there were many children playing the endingidi (thumb piano) and endungu (bow harp).  It was sometimes hard to hear.  I had a really good seat for the anthems, but it got REALLY long and REALLY hot inside the hall space, so I gave up my seat to get some air outside.  When we came back we stood in the back but Mukwaya made sure to translate the songs.  One of the songs was about being a barren woman.  She went to the witch doctor and he blessed her and then she had twins!  The kids energetically acted out the whole thing ha ha!

Ugandan School Song and Dance 100_0271 100_0272

Almost every day this week I have visited with a woman’s group or choir.  I love the time I get to spend with the women because each group is different and I never know what to expect and I always learn something new!  Thursday I met with a group of women who have a development project where they teach women to sew for 5000 shillings a month (that’s $2).  I met some of the women sewing, some with their babies at their feet.  They learn on paper bags, but eventually they are able to make cloths to sell or find a job in town.  It was originally made for the women in the church, but now they have opened it to the community.  This church has a fantastic choir they taught me three songs.

I love choir rehearsals without the instruments present or when the power is out.  Almost every church, in which I have been, has an electric keyboard. I have yet to meet a woman piano player. It was explained to me that men play the instruments because a woman does not have time to learn. The instrumentalist uses one of the 10 drum loops on the keyboard and plays it behind every choir song. Many piano players do a great job of playing by ear and they transpose each of the songs using the black keys.  Yet, it is always TOO LOUD.  It is impossible for me to teach a song with a drum loop and someone trying to figure out chords in the background.  So, I usually ask them to learn the song with me, then I helped them learn the accompaniment.

Kawala UMC DancingSAM_1937

I have to constantly tell myself to slow my speech, especially when teaching.  Today I was in a group and no one was willing to translate, so I spend 1.5 hours speaking slowly to a room full of blank stares by the grace of God we learned the song, “Draw Me Close to You.”

Saturday I went to a beauty parlor, mostly because I wanted the experience to see how and where women get their hair done, but I also wanted to get my toes painted.  I waited for about an hour and watched a weave put into a woman’s head and some other women get up-dos and then put on a gomsei.  My pedicure took about an hour I don’t think my feet have ever been cleaner!  The boy scrubbed my feet!!  I had to ask him to stop because I was worried I would not have any skin left! The basin for my feet was filled with burning hot water, so I knew that it was clean and the water for the clippers was steaming too, so I felt pretty good about the whole thing It cost 15,000 shillings, which is about $6 and my toes look great.  However, my feet became dusty again the moment I walked outside!

Thank you if you are still reading — I realize this is just a random assortment of thoughts and experiences… but I have to share these experiences of a lifetime and find a way to process the privileged that I own in order to have them!

Traditional Ugandan Introduction

Saturday I was able to attend a traditional Uganda introduction ceremony.  This is traditionally the even that occurs for a couple to be married.  Today, many Ugandans do an introduction first and then get married in a church like the west.  At the traditional ceremony everyone wears the traditional attire of a man, a Kanzu, and woman, a Gomez.

Rose arrived in the morning to help me dress in my Gomez.  Last week I picked out the fabric and had a tailor make the dress.  She helped me tie the stiff fabric that is wrapped around your waist and folded over to make a “crinoline” under the dress and add bulk to the back.  You put the dress on like a jacket and button it on the top left.  There is a long piece of fabric, which you fold on the left side and drape over the large sash you tie around your waist.

When I came out of my guesthouse room and an older Ugandan woman sitting in the front saw me, her eyes went wide and she said to me, “You look smart!”  I discovered after that moment that ‘smart’ is a very positive affirmation for women and I have to admit… I heard it a few more times that day!  She helped to adjust my sash and when she was finished there were about five women standing around talking in Busoga… but I didn’t need a translator… I knew they were all admiring the musungu in a fancy Gomez :) !

We road a boda boda (motorcycle) to the meeting place where Rose’s friend would take me to the wedding.  I had to ride like a woman – side saddle – because it is impossible to spread your legs in all the fabric!

When I got there I met Steven Mukwaya.  He is a high school economics teacher in a local Catholic school and spends his weekends doing introductions for extra money.  At a traditional introduction you have two “spokesmen.”  One speaks for the bride’s family and the other for the grooms family.  Spokesmen are Uganda comedians who help make the event both entertaining and a celebration.  Steven has the perfect personality for the job and I had the honor of being his date!

We waited at this restaurant for the groom and the groom’s family to arrive.  A taxi of women arrived, each dressed in a beautiful Gomez.  I slowly walked out with Steven and when they saw me they immediately had smiles on their faces.  I walked over and they all stared at me as if they had never seen a Gomez in their life!  They were a chatter of Busoga—commenting on the fact that I look ‘smart’ and that my designer did a wonderful job.  I was overwhelmed at the welcome I received from everyone and honored that they were glad to have me as part of the celebration!

We stopped in two other locations before we reached the wedding.  We kept waiting for more family members to join our caravan.  We drove through a very rural village and I was able to see many village homes.  Most homes in the various towns are square and look like American ranch homes.  Homes in a village are round with a thatched roof.

The celebration was supposed to begin at 1:00pm.  It was 4:00pm when the bride’s family was ready to receive the groom’s family.  We lined up women on one side and men on the left.  Steven had to be in front with a microphone leading the conversation between the two families.  So, I joined Lynn and Dino a very sweet couple who were able to explain what was happening.

As the guests of the groom, we sat in the most decorated tent.  There were three other tents.  Two with the bride’s family and the other for people from the village who wanted to join the celebration.

Once we were seated the groom’s speaker (Steven) asks for people to come out of the bride’s house.  There is a series of young girls, aunties, young women, grandmothers, young men, and women with food for the groom’s guests who come out of the house by the request of the speakers to modern, Ugandan music.  Basically each time people come out we are looking for the bride. There is a lot of talking between the speakers, clapping, and women are asked to kneel at various points in the ceremony.  The bride finally came out dressed in an elaborate orange and gold Gomez – she was beautiful aka ‘smart.’  She and her attendants walked around the middle space and the kneeled before the groom’s family.

Now it’s time for the bride’s auntie to find the groom, who is hidden in our tent.  She found him and penned on a corsage.  There is more talking – basically introducing the groom to the bride’s family.  Once he is ‘accepted’ the bride walks over and greets the groom.

Now it’s time for the groom’s gifts.  Traditionally, this is the ‘dowery’ for the payment of the woman and the parents stipulate how many cows, chickens, and goats are needed in payment for their daughter.  Today, the groom gives ‘gifts.’  Our groom was an engineer and brought MANY, MANY gifts.  Some of them come in baskets – gifts of fruit, oil, flower, beans etc. and the women carry them in on their heads.  The first time we went through we had to kneel when we gave the gift on our head.  The bride went back in the house and changed into a pink and gold Gomez and now that she was out of view, I realized that the musungu carrying gifts was now the center of attention.  I had to focus so hard not to trip on my Gomez!  When I kneeled correctly, I could hear affirmation from the guests :) .

There were many gifts including – cows, chickens, food, sodas, beer, a cistern, and solar panels.  The last gift is a ring given from the groom to the bride.

I was mesmerized by the cake!  It looked exactly like the traditionally way they cook motoke – in banana leaves in a pot!  Even the bricks, which the cake rested, were made of cake.  The cake was very dense and the icing was like a dry fondant.  I have never tasted anything like it – it was sweet, kinda grainy, and everyone had only a small piece (which is the first time I was OK with only a small piece of wedding cake!!).

The bride changed again into a modern looking Gomez, without the high shoulders and brought a basket of gifts to the groom’s family.

The last event of the night is to eat dinner – by now it was about 9:00pm.  The bride changed once more into a blue Gomez for dinner (I can not imagine how much all her beautiful Gomez cost!!).  The groom’s family had a special buffet line and were served first.  (I was thankful to be the guest of the groom!)  It is tradition to eat with your hands – rice, peas, chicken, beaf, motoke, chipati all with gravy and sauce.  I tried to wrap the rice and sauce with my chipati… but I still made a mess!!

Things quickly wrapped up after the meal.  Everyone was up and moving around.  I was surprised there was not dancing, but it seemed like everyone wanted to drive home from the village before it got too late.  Steven and I found a car in which to ride back to Jinja.

On the way home… Steven charmingly asked me, “What gifts do I need to bring to your parents to marry you?” I replied, “You would need to bring them the stars and the moon!”

Food, taxis, and dancing!

I am sitting in my living room eating a pineapple.  It is a treat for me in the States, but I have pineapple almost every day here.  You can pick a good pineapple for about 2000 shillings, about 80 cents.  That is a treat for Ugandan families, but I am able to indulge in the best pineapple I have ever had daily.

My favorite Ugandan food is peas over rice.  I do not like peas in the states, but here they cook them in a salty, orange colored sauce that is delicious.  Sometimes I will eat chicken with the same kind of sauce.  Diet here consists mostly of of posho, which is like a corn porridge (I’m not fond of the consistency), red beans, and rice.  They also have motoke, which is plantains cooked into a soft “mashed potato-like” substance.  For bread they eat a lot of chipati, which is like a thick flower-tortilla (they are delicious when they are hot off the pan).  Ugandans eat one main meal sometime around 1:00 in the afternoon.  Sometimes they will eat something light in the morning and around 9:00pm.

I mostly take a peanut-butter sandwich with me to eat during the day.  They make delicious peanut butter roasted fresh from peanuts!!  The other interns and I usually eat dinner at the house and we do our best to cook with what we have.  I try to buy vegetables (mostly egg plant and onions) and then put it over rice.

As you know from my last post, I spent last weekend in Jinja with Rose.  I met Rose through email before I came to Uganda.  She is the President of the United Methodist Women in Uganda and my primary contact.  She works as a supervisor in building construction, is earning her masters in building development, has two beautiful daughters named Rita (8) and Patience (6), is a pastor’s wife, and spends the majority of her “free” time working on women’s development projects.  Rose and a few other UM women are currently training a group of 30 women to create their own chicken farms as well as grow and sell mushrooms.  Rita and Patience are in boarding school because many middle class families do not have the ability to raise enough money for their children to go to good schools while being able to transport them to and from school.  I met the girls last week at a “visitation” day.  Having a musungu visitor on that day was quite the event.  I gave them one of my “Fancy Nancy” books from the states and read it to them – by the end of the book I had over 15 children straining to see the pages.  I explained, “Fancy Nancy likes to speak French like the people in Rwanda!”  It was hilarious reading Fancy Nancy through the eyes of Rita and Patience.  They looked at the pictures and asked, “Is it Christmas?!”  “No,” I explained, “She just likes everything to be fancy all the time.”

Moses, Rose’s husband, is a recent Masters of Divinity graduate from Africa University, a United Methodist graduate institution to train church leaders in Africa.  Africa University’s state’s offices are in the same building as GBHEM, so I have heard a lot about AU and it was great to meet an alum.  I talked with him a lot about the theological teachings and understandings of the African church and UMC.  His MDiv project was about the way a specific United Methodist Church in Africa address and cares for people who are HIV/AIDS positive.  We had some very interesting conversations!  He invited me to preach at his church on Sunday and we were able to talk a lot about the congregation and the message, so I felt very comfortable.

On Monday morning before I journeyed back to Mokono, Rose and I went to the fabric store to buy fabric, buttons, and sash to make me a traditional dress of Ugandan women called Gomez.  I am invited to a traditional wedding initiation this Saturday!

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were filled with appointments with women’s groups in Kampala area.  I was informed last week that it would no longer be best for George to drive me in the intern’s car, so I found other means of transportation.  I learned how to use public transport with Rose in Jinja.  It is cheap, hot, dusty, time consuming, and fascinating!  Public transport consists of old VW-looking vans that are hand-me-downs from Japan and called “taxis.”  The joke in Uganda is, “How many people can you fit in a public taxi?” — “One more!”  There are 4 rows of 3 seats usually filled with four people and two people ride in the front seat.  There is a driver and a man who rides in the first set of 3 seats and collects the money.  He hangs out the window and tries to gather more people in his taxi.  To hail a taxi you basically stand or walk along the side of the road until one picks you up.  There is one road that goes to Kampala, so you basically get in and then you tell them when you want to stop by saying, “Stage.”  You have to watch your bag because sometimes professional pick-pockets ride the taxis.  I only ride taxis by myself during the day, when it is safe.  At night I have an escort and on Thursday evening Jackie and Tony invited me to stay in their guest room in Kampala!

Each day was a special arrangement where I meet someone in Kampala.  Thursday we met at the post office then someone escorts me to the taxi park where we got on another taxi to the church.  If I ever have a question there are plenty of people who I can ask and will help me – praise God!  However, I have yet to go to the taxi park by myself – who knows where I would end up! They have a new one and an old one and are both as large as two city blocks… it is even more confusing than it looks!

A highlight of my time this week was at Kawala UMC where they taught me a song and how to do the traditional dance.  Mostly they laughed with me as I tried to shake my bottom!  Jackie gave me a lesson when I stayed at her house.  You basically step with your toe and land with your heal, as you try to move your hips up and down — which pretty much giggles all the fat on the lower half of your body.  Ha ha ha… I think I’m ready for the wedding tomorrow :) !

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 :)