Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Would You Clean Out My Puke Bucket?

Well, I am really stunned and humbled and have to swallow some of my words from before. Two weeks ago I became SO sick with malaria that I couldn't drink or eat, I was puking and way out of it with fever and chills and this terrible malaria headache. We are living across the valley from the rest of the base, and since the DTS left on outreach it was only me, Paul and Eric in the dorm block. I was alone in my room but Paul and Eric became my nurses. Eric took me to get the test that confirmed my malaria and then for the whole week after that, they brought me food, soda, water. They carried my water for me to the shower, even put a chair in there for me cuz I was too weak to stand. They sat with me, prayed for me, encouraged me to eat when I didn't want to. They emptied my puke bucket for me, and kept their phones on at night in case I needed them. And when I was finally feeling better, they rejoiced with me; they were so happy! They really took such good care of me and I am so thankful. I have really seen the love, care and concern of my brothers in action. Have I ever cared for someone who is sick so carefully myself? In our culture, we leave people alone when they're not well; we respect their need for space and privacy. My brothers were constantly on the watch, even thinking they'd not done enough because sometimes I was left alone. I had to assure them it was ok with me. I am truly humbled.

I Am Sam

My mom sent me the movie "I Am Sam" in a package a few months ago. It's Sean Penn playing a mentally handicapped man trying to raise his daughter and Michelle Pfeifer as his lawyer. I didn't know how it would go over here, but my friends LOVED it! Like loved it so much we watched it twice in 2 days and then everytime someone who hadn't seen it came along, we had to watch it with them. Now we are all quoting it around the base and anyone who hasn't seen it is super lost and just thinks we're freaks. It's been really fun. So, thanx mom!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Days In The Life Of...

Isn't it amazing? Pertaining to the previous post, as I moped around wondering why I was even here blah, blah, blah, my brothers here confronted me for withdrawing and not speaking about what was bothering me. So, I told them and we had a huge discussion about gender roles and differences in our cultures and it bridged that gap between us. I mean, it didn't solve some of the big fat hairy issues but at least we heard eachother and I promised to be better at talking about my struggles instead of hiding. So, in the end, it becomes about friendship and doing what's necessary to keep that friendship from failing. We learned from eachother and will continue to do so as long as we are in eachother's lives.

Sigh...sometimes I can't believe how much we're alike and how much we're so different at the same time!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Heart Hurts

It's hard to be a western woman here in Uganda. I struggle with figuring out when to take a stand on behalf of women here, and when to just respect the culture.

I understand gender roles here are very different. A woman's worth is, not always, but often, determined by her skills at cooking, keeping the house and her ability to "produce children" as they call it here. (Sounds like the woman is a factory)! I bristle with disdain when this topic comes up, but I generally keep my views to myself unless asked, becasue even the women accept these roles and as I see it, are not all that eager for the kind of liberation I would hope for them. So I respect them.

But when it comes to violence against women, which is unbelievably acceptable here, I get so damn angry, so very, very, angry. And then sad. So very, very, sad. You see, many of my closest, dearest friends here are African. I adore them! But when the culture speaks through them, I just don't know how to proceed. How do I respoind to my brothers, talking about beating the wife they don't even have yet? How do I help my African sisters to be strong, self-confident women, without them experiencing cultural estrangement?

At times like this, I feel really alone. Because they don't understand where I'm coming from. And maybe they never will. But I want them to come to my side on this issue. There are lots of cultural things I can let them have, but this one thing, I cannot accept. And so I feel a rift forming, and it breaks my heart. I never wanted to be the "I know everything" westerner. And I don't want to be divided...will someone help me understand??

My heart hurts...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Hello hello! It’s been too long since I last wrote so I am going to try and fill you in on the last few months.

Looking back over these last months, I see I have learned so much! I’ve been able to adjust to this culture, the routine, the work and feel more at home.

No, it’s not what you think. Our affectionate term here for hospitality is “hospitalizing someone.” One of my newest roles on the base is hospitality. I have been helping Regina, the hospitality queen but now I will take over for her when she goes to Sudan for two months with the DTS. I’ve already been the cake decorator to her cake baking but now I will receive visitors, make up the rooms and welcome the visitors with tea. African hospitality is very important here and sometimes it’s difficult for me, as my form of hospitality is a lot less formal. But I am learning and enjoying the challenge.

Our Life Skills program picks up again September 22 for our last term. During the break we have been planning our trip to Yumbe, to do more HIV work and we’ve been visiting some of our students. It’s really special to visit them outside the class and meet their friends and family and be in their homes.

Our visit to Yumbe was a success and a big thank you to all you helped us out! We discovered that in the last year, the women we visited have received training to go out to the more remote areas to teach about HIV/AIDS. This is so encouraging to us and we are now planning how we can continue to support them in this work. They are so passionate about their communities and I am definitely encouraged to see them taking the initiative!!
We also visited the Yumbe hospital where we spoke with the administration about their HIV programs, and we visited the lab to see how they do the actual HIV test. It has piqued my interest in this area of testing. I want to see how I can get more training in this area of VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing).
We also visited with the youth of the local church there and hope to bring Life Skills training to them during their term breaks.

Finally, we visited a little girl called Zaira who lives in the community where we stay. She is lame, can’t speak, is unable to care for herself, is prone to seizures and can be tormented by spirits at times. I know her from the time we took our HIV/AIDS school team there in 2007. We prayed for her a lot.
Now, when we went to visit her, we discovered her crouching in the compound, naked, dirty and terribly thin and weak. We came back the next day to bathe her, we gave her some of our clothes and prayed for her again. We feel very strongly that we need to monitor how she is being taken care of. All of us were touched and concerned by the state we found her in. Please pray for her and for us to know how we can help.

Some of the other things that have happened in the last few months:
-had a team from the US come and they gave me the task to orient them to the culture here.
-led worship with a team from the DTS at the Anglican Church in town. We played and sang at all three services!!
-had the whole base at Pastor Sam’s house for his son, Stephen’s, birthday and everyone danced!!

-A story I wrote about a Congolese couple here is being published in the YWAM GO Manual! You can read the story on the YWAM Arua Blog:

-we finally got a reserve water tank for the base!!
-we made new water filters for drinking
-we had a visitor here from the UK who is studying to be an actor. He came to one of our Life Skills classes and sang some broadway tunes for them! They loved it and we had the students sing some of their favorite songs. It was an answer to how we can make our classes more creative and lively. And music is something the youth really love here!!
-our trip to Yumbe!

-wisdom to know how we can continue to serve the community of Yumbe
-a good finish to this term’s Life Skills Club
-the development of the community life here on the base, physically, and spiritually. Lots needs to be done still to have a healthy community in all aspects.

Thank you everyone for your continued love and support!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Yesterday, we found out that one of my fellow staff members here, and very dear friend, lost her father. It was unexpected and traumatic for her, as she had not seen him since he left their family when she was only 8 years old. She had plans to find him and reestablish connection with him so it was even more painful for her to hear the news.

I went with her and several others to attend the burial. It was my first time to attend a funeral here. We traveled quite a distance out of Arua, to their village where a big crowd was gathered. When we arrived, they began singing, dancing and playing the drums as we each took our turn to view the body. Then we sat and a number of people spoke in the local language, Lugbara.

The women continued to sing as they took the body to a closed off room for the family members to mourn. They wailed and cried. In another corner of the compound women were cooking the meal required by the mourning family to provide for everyone. In still another corner of the compound, was the freshly dug grave.

As the rain threatened to come, they sped up the burial and people gathered around to watch the coffin being lowered into the ground. It was an emotional day, but at the end of it, once back in Arua, all of us gathered around our sister and talked and laughed and processed.

Yesterday, as we traveled back through the villages and to Arua, I felt like I belonged in Africa. I have cried with my friends, laughed with my friends, struggled through things with them and they with me. We are family. It didn't make any difference that I was the only white-skinned person there at the funeral. I am part of this family, and I really do feel like this is home. I love them, cherish them and hope with them for the very best and I know they feel the same for me.

Carpentry Day

Africa is great! I love Africa and I'm learning A LOT! However, there are a few things here in Uganda that need challenging, in my female, western, opinion. ;) A couple of them are, a) gender roles, and b) taking initiative to get things done.

Now, we have had a perfectly fine, newly made water filter that only needed a stand to be placed on so we could use it. But it sat in the storeroom for weeks before me and Stacey, one of our DTS students from the US, decided we needed to just build one ourselves. Her dad is a carpenter and I'm no stranger to a hammer and nails, so it was a go. We bought nails in town, found leftover lumber from all the construction on the base, a saw, a hammer and we were on our way.

Our other American sister, Laura, also joined us and away we went. We attracted the attention of a few of our male counterparts who lent their recommendations and their hands so it was a gender-mixed project, fine by me, because I want to see men and women working more together in all areas: the kitchen or the workshop.

After the stand was made, and the guys left, we girls decided to make our very own project. A bench for the girls room. And we did it! Ourselves! Woo hoo! It's weird that it should be such a big deal, but here in Uganda, it kind of is. One of the women walked by and oooed and awed at our creation. We felt pretty good about ourselves that day.

Not just pretty faces...;)

The bench and Stacey

The water filter

Me, Laura, Stacey

Joseph, helping me to hammer the nails


Job is one of our students from our Life Skills program at the secondary school. We went to visit him at his home in town and had a really great visit! We met his older sister, Imani, which means "faith" in Kiswahili and his cousin Frank. They are all from Sudan but have been living here in Arua for many years. I felt an instant connection with all of them. They are sweet and kind and intelligent. We talked politics, government, about our life skills program and YWAM in general. Paul, my colleague, expressed our hearts very well when he said, "we have gained a sister and two new brothers today." I really hope to continue to get to know them better. These are the moments that make me so happy to be here.

Left to right: Paul, Imani, Me, Frank, Job
I hope one day I will have a beautiful son like Job! Hey don't laugh! It could happen!

Heaven Is Tuna Casserole

Apparently, heaven will be like tuna casserole according to my friend Paul. I made it for us one evening after he told me he'd never had tuna before and was curious. I bought the box in Kampala, good 'ol convenience food and they loved it! We polished off the entire saucepan! Laura, from the US, and I laughed at their reactions. Granted, it was pretty yummy, but heaven? I dunno. To each his own...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nicole's June 2008 Update

Greetings all. We are now approaching the six month mark of my stay here! But time is not the only thing moving!

Being a relatively new base, there are always changes, and there is always construction going on! Since I’ve been here, a crew has been working on putting up a dorm across the valley particularly for DTS students who are here three months out of every year. Students started arriving yesterday for the DTS and we were fortunate enough to have the building just finishing so they could move in and I have also moved into one of the rooms. I spent the day yesterday moving all my things across as the construction crew were still laying cement down around the verandah! Though living across the valley has some challenges, (no tap to access water, no electricity), it is actually so beautiful there and much quieter (save for the construction :)). Eventually we will get solar power there and some kind of access to water.


The last few months have been a bit slow for us as schools were out on term break. So I took advantage of the down time to take a small trip to Jinja and Kampala with a fellow staff member, Regina. We stayed at the YWAM base in Jinja, saw the source of the Nile and the Bujagali Waterfalls, then went to Kampala for a few days to enjoy ice cream and seeing a movie in the cinema! We had fun but were also glad to get back to our village after the bustling chaos of Kampala!

Now things are beginning to pick up again here, with students returning to school and the start of DTS (Discipleship Training School) here on base. We have some new people and a new routine to get accustomed to. I am not officially staffing DTS, but I am helping out as needed.


After a long break, we finally got to see our students again at the secondary school in town. They were also very pleased to have us back, even requesting we make our program twice a week instead of once. This is so encouraging to us as we can see they are interested and eager to learn! We did a review of first term’s lessons and they really retained the things we taught! So now we have some discussing to do with the team about the feasibility of going twice a week.

The YWAM base here in Arua has been in operation since 2003. As part of moving out of a pioneering stage and into more of a developed base, the leaders have introduced Phase 2, a program for new staff to get a better understanding of why they are here and how they fit into the vision of the base in their own unique way. Six of us meet every week to discuss things like, vision, finances/budgeting, newsletter writing, community living etc. The topics are good to think about; I appreciate the time we have to consider these things and the interaction with my fellow staff members. I was even recruited to team teach one of the topics (newsletter writing) which I enjoyed.

Thank you for reading my news and being part of this journey. I appreciate all the facebook notes, emails, pics etc.

If you’re the praying type, please consider these things in your prayers:

-a sustainable source of water for the base. Often our tap, which is meant to bring us water, fails and the department of water is struggling to figure out why. It has been dry for the last week now!
-health: being the rainy season, malaria instances rise.
-creativity to reach out to the young people in our HIV/Aids program


Thursday, June 19, 2008

How Many Hours Does It Take To Drive 2 Hours??

Pastor Sam Abuku, or Papa as everyone affectionately calls him, is one of our base leaders. He and his wife, Agnes, have been in the UK for the past three months staffing a Leadership Development School. They arrived back in Uganda last week for a YWAM conference in Jinja. Then, they were going to travel back to Arua with their vehicle, about a 7 hour drive.

We got a phone call Monday evening that they had broken down and were stranded about 2 hours from Arua and in the middle of the game park. Sharon, one of the staff here who has a vehicle, decided to go pick them up. She took with her Alex, who is from the area they were stranded in, and Samuel, a mechanic from Congo, and me, because her car is automatic and so I could drive if necessary.

We left around 8:30 and made great time out there. An hour and a half! Samuel assessed the problem: radiator tube was leaking and dirty radiator. The car was drivable after some bungee cord and water, but only for 10-15 km. Then we had to stop, let the car cool down, and refill the radiator. It was a beautiful night. The moon was full and bright enough for us to see well, the air was cool, the roads were empty. But that sentiment faded after a few hours of driving, stopping, driving, stopping. We wondered if it would be quicker to tow the car. So we attached the tow rope to Sharon's car and Papa's and drove at 20 km/hr for a while until we thought Papa's car was cooled down enough. Then we went back to driving, stopping, driving, stopping. Sometimes losing the radaitor cap becasue it shot up into the air from the pressure. I drove when Sharon got tired. We continued like this for hours! Sharon, exhausted, let me take over and I drove the rest of the night, helping Papa and Samuel everytime they got out to refill the radiator.

I couldn't believe it when I checked the time upon entering our compound in Arua. 5:50 am! It had taken us 9 hours to drive a 2 hour route! We all fell into our beds exhausted and slept the morning away. I was so glad we made it and even more glad I had decided to go so I could help drive and now I absolutely have to learn to drive a standard so I can do more driving! :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Welcome to Our World

I've known my friend Beatrice since last year when I stayed in Arua. She's the one who braided my hair and cared for me whenever I was feeling sick, and laughed with me daily. She just had her third child, a little girl, so I went to visit. She is so tiny and so cute, and I swear she smiled at me while I was holding her! Here are some pics from my visit.
Beatrice with her new baby...ahhh...only 5 days old!
Beautiful mother; beautiful daughter
Me and baby sharing our first silly photo
I think I want one...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Normally Strange

I left the base today to run a few errands and had one of those strange, looking at my life from the outside moments. There I was, on the back of my motorbike boda, watching the palm trees go by, the children waving, the women carrying basins of bananas and avocados on their heads. There I was carrying 3 kilos of peanuts I had roasted and peeled, to be ground on the corner in a tiny machine that makes THE best peanut butter you've ever tasted! There I was popping by the tailor's house to see if he could make a skirt for me. There I was greeting my friends in one of the small food stores in town.

It's strange how normal life becomes here and how strangely un-normal it is all at the same time. That's all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

She Loves Me! She REEEALLLY Loves Me!

My homegirl Shan came to visit me ALL the way from Canada last week! Though it was short, we made the best of our time, talking, drinking coffee, talking, laughing at our stupid jokes, talking, eating, praying, talking, and we even squeezed in a little work! Shan tagged along with us to our school ministry, and to our HIV/Aids Life Skills Club (but none of the students were there-shame). She even used her linguistical skills to help a girl here learn to teach English to one of our staff here. Yah, it was great! Short, but great!

Saying bye at the airport. Shan was just about to kiss my cheek
There's her little plane in the background
Drinking, what else? Nescafe!!
Icky got to go back to Canada with Shan. He might have future travel plans.
African toes

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Beauty and Mystery

Fragrant smoke from my incense stick wraps around me. Brown comes up beneath me, sturdy, strong; holding all the weight of my happily burdened soul while green shelters and canopies me in safety. I trust the greens and browns with these soft tears, all the "what if's" and "what for's." There is a dream's essence still haunting me; the sitting still holds hope for peace.

There is mystery and melancholy in the heavy, silver sky-I hope for rain. I stare into my own eyes in the mirror and wonder what's really in there. Something worth fighting for. Not all suffering and struggle. Thinking of the ones who drew me out into the open and kissed my soul with delight. Thanking them for seeing deeper. Wondering if I have the power within myself to escape my own walls or if there is hope of another. Maybe if I also become a soul kisser...draw us all out into late nights, staring with wonder at a wide, starry universe, and at eachother.

Ahhh...Beauty stirs up so much in me. Beauty and mystery. In your dark eyes; white smiles I am overwhelmed. Inspired to poetry or song; itching to dance next to you. Hoping you will come out, hold my hand and stare at the stars with me.

Friday, April 04, 2008

How the Gas Oven Saved My Life

Digging-The Ugandan word for farming/gardening
Mingling-The process of mixing flour, boiling water and sweat to create a stiff porridge, the staple food for everyone here (the sweat is key to taste)!
Sigiri (I'm positive this is spelled wrong)- a metal stove to hold coals for a fire

So, I may not be able to "dig," I don't quite have the muscles for "mingling," and try making a cake over a sigiri with a Dutch Oven. Ok, probably someone out there is stellar at it, but not I.

However, give me a gas powered oven, and see how happy you will make me! Brownies, cake, bread, pancakes, French toast, water that takes 5 minutes instead of 15 to boil!

Two of our staff members left for three months to the UK and have allowed us to use their house while they're away, including the glorious gas oven! It has saved me from a possible nervous breakdown as I try so hard to adjust and learn how to do things the African way. My teachers have been gracious and encouraging, but the day I made brownies in that oven...yah, I can do that. I can bake. I love to bake. Me, I can do that. Here. In Africa. A peice of me is useful here.

I still fumble my way through the day to day life here in my village, and I'm learning along the way, but at least I have my gas oven.

Speaking of, better go check on my bread.