Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sounds Sticky!

For the squeamish around bees (ahem, my best friend), it’s probably best if you skip this post.

The Women of Hope Bible study has a hive in their possession that is an absolute train wreck. Abandoned for who knows how long, the bees are aggressive and unaccustomed to people. The hive is full of holes and is unsanitary with leaves and dead bugs inside. And on top of it all, the last time Dad and I went, the stand underneath had completely toppled and a corner of the hive was in the dirt and the whole hive was askew. No wonder I got five stings all over my body and Dad’s hand is swelled up like a balloon.

My book knowledge of beekeeping is substantial but my experience is a grand total of three visits to the hive. My ultimate plan of action? Keep going down through the banana trees to the hive until the bees aren’t so testy. To pacify the bees, my father and I have to literally start a fire in a bucket and waft the smoke to the hive. So far, the smoke doesn’t even seem to be helping. We cut off a honeycomb and run, bees often chasing us, shrouding our shelves in smoke that does not subdue our tiny oppressors. This last time, we were there longer than usual moving the hive to a proper stand of cinderblocks, and things started to get scary even for me.

You could hear the hum go up an octave every time we took off a layer, this only added intensity to the situation. The bees went crazy around our netted faces and you could feel them buzzing in the palms of your gloves. Not an easy way to work and it makes me nervous. We try to work fast. We step back every now and then to see if the bees will settle down, they don’t. The bees are landing on us as we cut off a comb, their buzz up three octaves since we arrived. It’s really hard to keep a cool head, we’re programmed to not want to be around angry bees. Why do you think almost every superhero show has a villain with bees? Because it’s very unsettling! We place the comb in the bucket and decided we want to leave before we get stung. So Dad put the hive back together and I gather our supplies and the honey and then something very scary happens. I feel a bee crawl into my rubber boot. I freeze, trying not to freak out. Another one crawls in the other boot and even though I’m not afraid of stinging things, I’m not too thrilled with my situation as another bee joins its trapped sisters. My heart and mind are both racing, if I move too much I could get stung. So my body decides that the best thing to do is stand as still as a stone as I feel the bees buzz around on my bare feet. I knew I should’ve worn socks. Dad asks if I’m okay and I slowly explain my current problem, he suggests we walk slowly to the clearing away from the hives and then take off my shoes. Thankfully, my feet weren’t stung but I did get one on the knee and another on my shoulder and three of my fingers look like fat hot dogs.

My overall ultimate plan of action? Get these current hives cleaned, these bees happy, and then start two more hives that we have already bought. Once I feel confident (otherwise known as, “When my experience roughly equals my book knowledge”) I’ll teach the Women of Hope. From there on, we start the “Bee Hopeful” business by selling honey and beeswax products in their communities and markets. The grand scheme is to raise enough money to get the ladies who are interested their own hives. Bee keeping doesn’t require a lot of strength or time and if you start it right, it’s also pretty easy. At least that’s what I’ve read, so far these bees are proving me wrong... 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Walter E. Kitty

Meet Walt, the cat formerly known as Squeaker, the newest addition to the Clark family! We got him the day after Liesel's birthday. He's named after Walt Disney because he has a spot that looks just like a Mickey Mouse head. He playful, adorably awkward and exactly what we needed. We've been surrounded by animals our whole lives so even though there are monkeys in the trees outside, it's not quite the same as having a pet. I’m so sorry for taking so long to write this. We’ve been waiting to write this post to see if I could get over my allergies, we didn’t want to announce getting a cat if we had to find a new home after a month. It was rough at first, but the asthma has finally subsided without a hitch so Walt gets to stay!

When you uproot your entire home and shift it across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s a bit disorienting. Because of this, we often look for things that are familiar, sort of like when you move into a new house and start filing it up with sentimental things. When there are things that remind us of the world we left behind, like letters from friends, Cheeze-Its and a kitten, it makes our house seem more like home.

In our family, we have a strong belief of what HOME is.  We are quite skilled in “making it work” and can do so for long periods of time. But frankly, I’m tired of saying, “Back home…” As much as I don’t want to believe it, Africa is home now. It doesn’t feel like it yet, but we’ve only been here six months. You know the things you do when you’re in a sad mood? Maybe watch your favorite movie or eat something yummy or talk to your friends or whatever? For me, it’s creating. I get out my big suitcase, which I filled to overflowing with craft supplies, and just make something. But sometimes, I find myself longing for HOME. And glitter glue can’t fix everything (I know, I find it shocking as well).

HOME, my fleshly desire has decided is where things are always fine. It’s where you have things always right, you get to do what you want and you have your space where you can do your thing by yourself anytime you want. Notice the problem? Apparently, life is not a wish-granting factory. HOME is not about you doing what you want to do. HOME is about family doing what they’re supposed to do. And we are supposed to be here because God put us here. So yeah, I miss America and the convenience of America. We traded Wal-Mart for the African market and starlings for ibis. But until God says otherwise, this is HOME and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Safari Chistmas

I didn't know I would actually turn sixteen. It was one of those things you just thought about, like if you were a gazillionare or a mermaid or a superhero. In books and movies, teens only get adventures if they're sixteen or eighteen. Do fifteen year old kids ever get life-changing news and use it to save the world? Nope. Sleeping Beauty, Katniss Everdeen, Ariel, Beatrice Prior, Jasmine, Candace Flynn-Fletcher, Hazel Grace, Lisel Von Trap, sixteen year olds get all the best parts. So true to tradition, it was only fitting I'd get my African adventure on December 25th, 2014.

The ride to the safari lodge was challenging. The staff at Simba lodge were angels, they stayed up till eleven to serve us dinner. I think I could've eaten my weight in onion soup. After sixteen hours of bumps and swerves, when we got to bed at one in the morning, I felt like I was sleeping on a boat. My bed seemed to be moving up and down as I promptly fell asleep. 

I have never been so surprised to receive presents on Christmas morning! I had no idea a package came in but clearly Santa didn't forget about us. It was wonderful getting some new stuff, we were all very thankful. Absent minded, I found myself looking around for the rest of my family. I must have counted my siblings a dozen times before I remembered that we were all there. The only people I didn't count were our family still in America. It felt depressing for the moment but the excitement was still there. My only option was to keep myself busy, which was going to be pretty easy.

We left for Queen Elizabeth park at dawn, when the animals started coming out. We couldn't have asked for a better sunrise, it was like "The Lion King". We all started singing, "BAAAAAA SABENA, BABABEESEEBABA!!!!"
There was a large group so our guide would be going in between our van and another during the safari. As soon as we entered the park, we started seeing animals right off the bat! Herds of water buffalo and gazelle and antelope, close enough to hit with a thrown rock. It was almost surreal. This is where they really live, no fences, no specialized diets, no one cleaning up poo. Completely free and wild, the only sign of humans was the dirt road we drove down, deeper into nature itself. We opened the sun roof of the van and stood on the seats to get a better view as we flew like the wind with the dust in our face. We were all completely filthy by the end but it was worth it. Then the car stopped and our guide came back into our van, telling our driver where to go. They had found lions! We drove through the dirt, off the path, parting through the grass and there they were. SIX lioness's were laying in the Sun. Truly an amazing sight! They wore tracking collars because they're endangered but other than that, they were living the life they were born to live. We had to end the tour early to be in time for the boat ride but what more was there to see? I got my birthday present from God.

 We got on the boat just in time. I made my way to the top deck to get better pictures. Immediately we saw more water buffalo and hippopotamus! They looked so cuddly and peaceful, rarely surfacing so all you could see were their big, black eyes and their pudgy snouts. We even saw little babies but it was impossible to get pictures because they only peeked out of the water for seconds. Then, in the distance, we saw them. A whole herd of majestic elephants. They were difficult to see through the brush but they were definitely there. If you looked close, a little baby elephant would shake it's ears at a passing water buffalo, as if it was warning it to stay away from such a big, tough (baby) elephant. What seemed to be the head elephant, came down to the water to get a drink and to check out the scene to make sure it was safe. He looked so happy, strutting around. Then he saw the crocodile basking in the Sun. He took two steps towards it and the croc fled to the water, faster then you could blink. I'm pretty sure the elephant was even more proud after that. It was so beautiful I could have watched it for hours.

We have been so blessed to have people that donated to make my sweet sixteen especially extraordinary. I will remember it my whole life and would gladly take anyone with me through bush to see nature as God created it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Midwife Clinic, Malagita

The Mini midwife writes,

Hi it’s me. I’m here to talk about my trip to Malagita. Mommy and I left super early to go to a prenatal day, there we would meet a lady named Christina, who runs the birth center called Good Samaritan. It is located deep in the back roads in the jungle. We took boda-bodas and I couldn’t help looking at the beautiful sunrise and the wind in my face as we zoomed past cars and trucks where we came to a crowded taxi park. The taxis were in the back of an outside market center. It was super crowded there, with the holidays and all. We practically had to squeeze through while people tried to sell us all kinds of things including shirts, live grasshoppers, and matoke. This was their home their work. I felt like I had stepped into another world. We finally reached our way back to where the taxi was parked. We sat down and it was another hour until we finally left for Malagita. While we waited, we bought hot chapatis from a vendor and ate them in the back of the taxi. We chatted with the local women waiting for the taxi to leave.

When we got there I got to meet Ms Christina. She is wonderful and does everything, takes care of her children,runs the birth center, practically stays up all night for 10 births at least, and doesn’t have a husband to take care of the children so she can rest. There wasn’t any body there yet so we waited around and I signed her guest book. When I signed it I felt important like I was finally a part of this place and now I can stay up with her and help woman give birth. She told me her story about how a midwife was needed, and she started school. Then on a trip to see the Nile River, she came across this small village where a laboring woman was struggling to get onto the crowded taxi she was riding on. She got off right there and has stayed there ever since. The birth center was crowded and her desk was unorganized, she has an ugly blue tablecloth over the desk because people used to write on the desk. The walls were dirty. Trash was piling over the makeshift "trashcan"-- a small box. While we waited for the village mothers to arrive I played with a couple of little girls, as anyone knows me, thought I would. The women began to arrive, they didn’t have appointments, just came whenever they could. My mom started prenatals. I was super excited. The mothers had small booklets instead of files, and you wrote the date at the top and then write how many weeks they were, then wrote their baby’s position, the baby’s heart rate. Easy. We did this over and over again. Each time a mother came in to the room with a smile excited. Then one mother came who’s book said she was around 24 weeks. My mom tried to feel for the baby’s position but couldn’t feel anything. Christina uses a device called a pinard to hear the baby’s heart rate. It is pretty old fashioned, more like a stethoscope than the modern Doppler my Mom is accustomed to using. She uses the pinard at Christina’s because it is best to use what the local birth attendants are using. So we looked for the baby’s heart rate using a pinard, but you really can’t hear a heart beat before 28 weeks with it. So Mom brought out her Doppler which is more accurate Unfortunately she still couldn’t find anything. So we called in Ms Christina for a second opinion and she couldn’t find anything. We told the gal to come back in a few weeks. Once she left we guessed that maybe she actually wasn’t pregnant after all. Can you imagine thinking you were pregnant for 24 weeks and in actuality you were not pregnant? We did more mothers, all the while a mother laid on the floor in very early labour. I felt super bad for her. The labour was too early for us to do anything though, so she just rested on the mat. Lots of young mother’s came,one mother was only fifteen. Some were eighteen, some were sixteen, the same age as my older sister. Just thinking of her lying there us checking up on her makes me feel bad for those young mothers. One young woman’s belly was super warm. We looked at her baby’s heart rate, and it was super high. I got worried, was the baby okay? We later figured out that she had a fever. We gave her medicine for the fever then sent her home. Then it started rain.

It got dark in the rooms, and drumming on the roof from the pouring rain outside made me a little anxious to go home. Hunger was creeping up on me since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now 3:00. I was worried we couldn’t get home in time for dinner, since no taxis would be running in the rain. It was crowded in there with mother’s sitting on the porch waiting for the rain to stop. In Africa everything stops when it rains. Once it stopped pouring, we made our way out through the mud and got in another crowded taxi. It wasn’t the easiest trip, but sometimes that happens. Everything can’t always be easy, then there would be no excitement in things.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

We Throw Mud at Birds

Marian invited us to her rice garden. Her mother is a single parent so they all work in the garden to sell rice to make money for school fees and food. She invited us there, early this morning, and so Dad, Dora and I woke up early, got on the back of a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) with Marian. We started out on the paved roads but the pavement doesn’t get you everywhere so as suspected, we were soon on a dusty trail through the sugar cane fields. When the bodas could go no further, Marian led us through sweet potato bushes and corn stalks up and down steep, narrow paths. Finally we see her mother and elder sister near a soggy marsh full of tall green grass. Of course, it wasn’t grass at all, it was rice and we were just in time for harvesting.

Marian’s sister showed us how they harvest their rice. She hopped down off of the dirt dam that worked as a pathway, and splashed into the ankle-deep water without shoes. She hacked away at a few stalks with a short scythe but that wasn’t what we’d be helping with. And of course I mean the “royal we” because I would be behind the camera lens. Her mother led us over the dirt dam to the other, cleared side of the muddy field to demonstrate harvesting the rice from the stalk.

For those who haven’t collected rice from the swamp, it’s strikingly familiar to wheat but with more grass leaves. It has the grains at the top, long leaves protecting it and roots in the mud. When enough stalks have been gathered up, they put them all in a big pile, grab them in bushels and beat them on a tarp to remove the grains quickly instead of pulling them off by hand.

Another important job in harvesting is keeping the birds away. There was a woman sitting on the edge of the rice pit the whole time we were there, yelling and throwing things at the birds that would come to eat the unharvested rice. I didn’t fully understand her job till I saw a well-aimed mud clot shoo away a whole group of flying thieves. Dora and I learned the important body mechanics of throwing mud on sticks. The woman, Monica, would stick some wet, red mud on the end of a long stick. It took at bit of practice to stop flinging the mud at my feet but if you imagined throwing a fishing line towards the sky, the bit of mud would fly up, land in the field and frighten away the birds. Dora got it pretty high a couple of times; I got it a few times too. One of Marian’s sisters was very good at it. Every now and then, one of the girls would let out a shrill whistle. I asked, “Why do you make noises like the birds? Wouldn’t it be better to make a noise that scares them?” I cupped my hands over my mouth and barked, low and loud like my dog, Nana, does. They were surprised when I did that. Dogs and Ugandans are not friends here.  Most Ugandans are very afraid of dogs. They said the birds aren’t afraid of dogs because they can just fly away. So we introduced them to the Southern way of getting rid of pests. It’s basically translated as, “You! Go on and get!” but when said in the proper accent, it’s pronounced, “Yongit!” (YON-geet). They thought this was lots of fun though of course, their enunciation was a little off.

We took a short break and ate blackened corn and played with the clay that remains after the rice is harvested. Then it was time to see where the rice went next. After saying our goodbyes, we followed Marian down the train tracks that led from beyond Kampala to all the way to Kenya. It was so warm that I felt like my feet were going to be steamed in my black combat boots. Finally we reach our destination, the edge of Lake Victoria. Marian’s brother was there with previously collected rice, drying it out in the sun. After a few pictures, it was back up the hill, through the corn, sugar cane and rice.

A good time was had by all, we definitely learned a lot. Marian and her wonderful family are our ticket deeper into this rich culture, one garden trip at a time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

For the Record, I Won the Muddiest Shoes Award

On the 27th of November, I had a once in a life time opportunity to go to the all-night Worship Night Festival at the national stadium in Kampala with the current training school. When was I invited? The morning of the day we were to leave. But like a true missionary kid, I had my bag for the weekend packed in an hour. The last time I was in Kampala, it was 3am and we were driving back from the airport so I had no idea what to expect besides lots of driving to get there. The bus picked us up two hours late, true to African time. Dinner wasn’t available as were already late and by the time we got to our first destination, it was dark and we were tired. On the first night, we would visit the church that would be running the worship night and have a mini worship night, then we would go to a missionary lodge where we’d sleep, early the next morning we’d head to the stadium where the worship night is held. We’d help however we could and then the actual worship night would start at 6pm and end at 6am. We had a long weekend ahead of us. The head church was called Light the World Church and they were singing when we arrived. Though, since we were late, they were already in full swing. The atmosphere was incredible! The Holy Spirit was obviously there, it felt like the wind was knocked out of me as the music flooded my ears and the lights blinded my eyes. The stage was filled to almost overflowing with choir singers in bright colors dancing in perfect yet unchoreographed movements that flowed together like a fluid machine. Many songs were in Lugandan but it didn’t matter, the rhythm of the unknown words was as meaningful as the words I understood. They had a few speakers spread out between songs, probably to keep people from falling asleep. The last song was literally the word “Amen” over and over and the singers danced around the stage as we filed out to get back on the bus.

At the missionary lodge, they provided Rolexes (basically a fried egg rolled in a chapiti, which is sort of like a thick tortilla) and I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a better meal at midnight. I shared a dorm with the only other three girls in the team and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light. We didn’t have to leave till 11am so I slept some more even though the turkey next door would not shut up!

When we got to the stadium, even though the church had been there most of the day, there was still work to be done. The team helped by setting up chairs and wiping them off and I flitted about taking pictures. I even got special access to go on the stage and the stands to get the shots I wanted. All was going fine until, rain. Rain is the enemy of anything productive in Uganda. When it rains, everything stops. So after the team spent all that time wiping down chairs, they would have to do it all over again when the torrents ceased. Until then, we hid under the stands. Our only prayer was that it wouldn’t rain when the worship started.

The rain passed on and we went back to work until the sun started setting and the lights started to come on. Ms. Marg, who watches out for me like I was her own daughter, stretched her VIP status over me too so I got a front row seat to the proclaiming of God’s glory. The first choir was the same from the night before and I admired their ability to stay awake. The choir was bigger than I anticipated, it was so massive, half of them had to stand in the mud that the sun didn’t have time to dry (my shoes were filthy). I don’t believe I could ever fully worship like Africans do. God loves all kinds of worship, but I personally find the African’s dance absolutely exhilarating. One of the best songs that got people jumping went like this, “Jesus is Savior, He came down from heaven. When he landed, He landed in Israel. When there was trouble, He came down to Africa. So we must praise Him, praise Him in an African way!” When you first entered the stadium, they gave out white handkerchiefs. At first I didn’t understand why until the choir started waving them around. I looked behind me and the entire stadium was like an ocean of white flags, bright in the stage lights, waving surrender to the Almighty God. Truly a magnificent sight, the stands, the field, the stage, packed with people who were only there to worship. When the songs and dances slowed down, it was around midnight and I was already beginning to lose the battle to stay upright. I reminded myself to stay awake for the children’s choir, one of the reasons I was excited to come in the first place. When the children pranced up on stage, wearing tribal prints and big smiles, I was instantly enamored. They were excellent, singing and dancing with exciting joy. Then there were sermons and I found myself nodding off. At 3am, we agreed to go back underneath the stands where we left the bags and we found the rest of the team catching up on rest time. That’s we decided to start heading home. I was too thrilled because I couldn’t stay awake much longer.

I will never forget the experience, it was truly amazing. So many people in one place, filling the stadium with praise, it gave a perfect picture of God’s love for Africa and for the world, “so we must praise Him, praise Him in an African way!”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

All You Need is Love… And Glitter, Charm and a Few Lugandan Phrases

My camera has made me more popular than anticipated. I don’t know it well enough as I’d like but I feel unprepared without it. My favorite place to photograph is in Jinja in the African Market and the taxi stage. There’s always so much to see, you never get tired of just looking around, especially through a viewfinder. The locals see me strolling about with my very professional-looking camera around my neck and soon I’ve got a mob, especially this last week. On a previous visit, I took many pictures of locals in their workplace there at the taxi stage. Dad had a few shots of these photos printed out for me to give out. This was both a blessing and a curse. I was blessed to see the looks on their faces when they recognized themselves as the picture was passed around and smiled at. It was a curse in the fact that now every walking adult within 10 feet is crowding me wanting their photo taken.

Pictures are huge here. There is no digital copy, no online album, if you can’t hold the photo paper in your hand, it doesn’t exist. I have been shown a multitude of photo albums and they will keep every photo they own. If it’s not in focus or someone blinked, it doesn’t matter. Those photos are their history and honestly, the only way they can keep track of what they actually look like.

Mom wanted me to video Liesel greeting people in Lugandan but I haven’t quite figured out recording yet. I still brought her around though as I was taking pictures of random people because they asked me to. Then a craze got started as a dried noodles vendor wanted a picture with my youngest sister. The ever-shining star she is barely flinched, she simply smiled at the camera like a professional. She definitely became a professional by the time the taxi was ready to leave. There was a small crowd gathered around Leisha’s snack stall, all wanting a photo with the little mzungu. People would either have her in their lap or hold her up or stand next to her like a character in a Disney park. On one occasion, she sat with three men on a bench. “Button!” I joked from behind my camera, “You should at least tell him your name before you sit on a strange man’s lap!” Cool as a cucumber, she turns and says, “Bampita Liesel.” Meaning, “I’m called Liesel.” Hearing their language come out of a six year old always makes them laugh, which makes for a great photo.

Many kids would be overwhelmed by a large crowd of strangers all wanting to shake her hand, pick her up and hear her use her Lugandan.  We can’t wait until she is nearly fluent.  We might have to hire an entourage by that point because all of Jinja will be talking about it.  She already makes an impression with her colorful outfits, sparkling bows and very long hair… but then she begins the traditional Luganda greetings and WOW.  I wish you could see their faces. They will ask her the same questions over and over and over just to hear her speak.  She is unfazed by this attention, just repeats herself countless times.  When it was time to go, she climbed up upon her front seat in the taxi bus like it was a throne, and exclaimed, “Tu genda waka!” (We are going home!) to the driver of the bus… who obliged her of course.  She rode all the way home waving to strangers who chuckled back and waved.

 Ugandans love to ask Liesel what she wants to be when she grows up because she always answers, “The First Lady” and that gets a roar of appreciation from the crowd.   After seeing her in action today, I will be proud to have these photos of her practicing her campaigning skills. Who is to say that after all this practice that she stops at just being the First Lady? We know she will do something amazing for the Lord someday and if that is the First Lady or even the President, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.