Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. -James 1:27

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fancy Dresses and Pick Up Lines

There are not many reasons to dress up really in nice party dresses and go out. Actually, my housemate and I daily do our part to fight the stereotype of the ‘missionary look’. So when the occasion arises to get all dolled up- high heels and everything- it is hard to say no. Last month was a fundraising event celebrating local women of the eastern region of Uganda that had made a difference in Mbale and the surrounding area.

Waltzing into one of the two fancy hotels in Mbale, our group of Mzungus was lookin’ good! After enjoying perusing some booths that were set up, all the guests were invited into the tent. We found our reserved table (donned with the ‘Mbale Mzungus’ table marker- awesome!). The night proceeded with a live jazz band, dinner, and an awards ceremony. But the highlight of the night was the fashion show of local ‘kitange’ pieces. The ladies modelling the clothes were very serious and focused, whereas the men hammed up the whole thing with funny expressions and great spin-around moves to assure the audience had a good look at their fashion.

Overall it was a fun night with friends and a great excuse to wear the dress that has been sitting in my closet the past year awaiting the right opportunity to make its grand reveal.

Unfortunately the fancy dresses have nothing to do with the other half of the title- pick up lines. But this story is worth telling.

We have found a great weekend getaway in Jinja. Being only 2 hours away, right on the Nile River, and only $7-15 a night, depending on your choice of dorm or private tent with a bed and a patio, it is the ideal spot to take visitors before they depart Uganda. But as with most backpacker places, there are often some interesting characters around, especially at night after they have had a few drinks. But they are also good for a laugh as we ‘people watch’ from the tables on the patio of the restaurant.

But there is one infamous weekend that provided more laughs than the rest. First there was our friend ‘Pudge’. That was really his name, or at least what his friends called him. We watched him wander around the bar all evening looking for his shoes- which proved to be comical as he would awkwardly bend over very near people searching for his shoes. During one point of the night, after he had already approached Allison and I twice to ask if we had seen his shoes, he approached a third time. This time he sat down and said with great emphasis, ‘You girls are... LEGENDARY!’ Ha.

But the best moment was Saturday night when many of the white water rafters were back from a great day on the Grade 5 rapids. Many people were dancing and chatting, so we sat on the side wall for a different perspective on that night’s ‘people watching’ event. There was a group of Indian guys that enjoying dancing (without the influence of alcohol added) near where we were seated. All of a sudden one points down at the bottom of wall and shouts, ‘snake!’. Surrounded by loud music, I didn’t clearly hear what he said. Plus I was sitting on the wall with my feet on the bench in front of me. Then he pointed and said it again. Siobhan, who was standing, quickly cleared the area, but I looked down to see where it was. Though seeing nothing, Allison and I quickly vacated the area after he pointed and warned of the snake he was seeing a third time. Once we were away from the wall and closer to him and his group he said, ‘Yeah! Now we dance,’ with his hands in the air. The line was too good. How could we say no? Actually they were really nice guys and taught us a traditional Indian dance they usually do at parties.

So that is the end of these two lovely stories. Hope you enjoyed.

Also, below is a picture of us in our fancy Easter ‘kitange’s’.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Oh Uganda... police investigations

Oh Uganda…
I realize that I have a whole collection of great stories that capture the daily antics of normal life in Uganda. When these moments happen phrases such as, “TIA (This is Africa)” or “Oh Uganda” are really the only suitable response.

For example, last weekend my car was broken into while visiting Jinja. After doing a bit of shopping my friends and I returned to the car only to see that someone had forcefully shoved a screwdriver (or something of the sort) into the door lock. Unfortunately, they made away with my laptop and some work documents, a camera, a makeup bag, and Melanie’s turquoise purse (containing a phone, drivers license, and debit card). HUGE BUMMER. Fortunately, nothing from the trunk of the car, which was filled with our overnight bags, including a bag that had someone’s passport in it, was taken.

I praise God for the peace that He gave me despite the great loss of my laptop. But not knowing what to do from here, I went inside the restaurant our car was park outside and asked the owner for her advice. After kindly offering a few of her workers to ask the nearby piki piki guys if they saw anything, our investigation was at a dead end. One of the workers (now to be referred to as “Mr. Green Shirt”) then escorted us to the police station to file a report. This is where the story gets good.

Walking up to the front desk, the receptionist seemed very uninterested in the fact that we were robbed. She lazily strolled behind the wall to retrieve the report papers. So, while waiting for her return my phone rings. Looking on the screen for who is calling, it is the STOLEN PHONE. I tuned to Melanie and said, “Uh, you are calling me.” We quickly shoved the phone towards our new friend, Mr. GS, trying to explain in our best British accent, “It’s the stolen phone. It’s the stolen phone calling. You answer and speak in vernacular!”

By this time another gentleman stepped up to the front desk, later to be known as Ruben the police investigator. Mr. GS explained that the guy on the other end of the phone was saying he found a purse and he is about 10km away and we can come and reclaim the purse. Ruben was not impressed, explaining that these calls happen a lot after a theft. They call, tell a location to meet, only to not really be there and lead you on a wild goose chase and “make you look like a fool.” But having watched one too many episodes of Castle, I was ready to follow all the leads, track down the thief, and reclaim my items. I knew God was going to redeem this situation. (Now is where I tell you that Tiff and I have been somewhat obsessed with Castle, watching at least 3 episodes almost every night, so I have learned many good tricks). Therefore, I told Ruben that I would rather try and be proven a fool than not try at all. He agreed reluctantly for us to go, alone. But in typical Ugandan style, I had to then ask, “Well, since we are at the police, are you not going to come with us as the investigator?” (Oh yeah, maybe that would be a good idea).

So we all load into my car, but not before having to go to the passenger side to unlock the door and climb over onto the driver’s side to unlock the rest of the doors, because remember- my lock is broken from the forced screwdriver entry and my clicker is conveniently not working at this moment. Crammed in the car we travel to the location the guy on the other end of the phone directed us to. But my excitement of partaking in a real crime investigation was crushed as Ruben and Mr.GS told the mzungus to remain in the car.

So as the dynamic duo were asking around at the local drinking spots for further leads to the suspected caller/potential thief, us ladies were left uneventfully in the car. Until a beautiful lady came to the window and said, “The man who’s calling you is there.” She points and then goes that direction, behind an old lorry truck. Where the heck is Ruben and Mr. GS? This is it! The caller is behind the truck where the lady has pointed but if we don’t move now we will lose her location. So, again using the great investigative skills I learned from Detective Beckett, I knew we couldn’t lose this lead so I jumped out of the car to see where the path led that was behind the truck… which was pretty much nowhere. The path stopped immediately at some grown men playing Ludo, a game similar to Trouble. We call these men idlers, as they spend most of the day using the little money they have on beer and playing games.

At this point I see the dynamic duo and clap to catch their attention and call them over. They lady had said the man who was calling me is among the Ludo players. I told Ruben what had happened and what the lady had said. Again, he was not very impressed with my skills. This was just a guy wasting my time because he wants to speak to a mzungu. So, my lead was dead. Hopefully Ruben had more luck.

Sure enough after returning to the car Mr. GS gets a call and the two cross the road together and disappear behind a brick wall. When they reappear Ruben is carry something… the turquoise purse. Apparently the thieves (likely from Kampala) only wanted the items worth something so they removed the SIM cards from Melanie’s phone and my work documents and glasses and shoved them all into the purse. A Good Samaritan who collects scrap metal to earn some cash was wheeling his finds on the back of a bike when he saw the purse. Apparently the thieves took enough time to tie the straps together and actually stop to place the purse in the trench on the side of the road because nothing was missing or scattered. So the Good Samaritan picked up the purse, saw Melaine’s driver’s license and the SIM cards and put them into his phone to try to locate the owner. He told Ruben that he thought maybe it was a murder case because it was a lost bag for a mzungu. Having called two previous phone numbers, he then called mine, which cycles back to the beginning of this antic dote.

Though I was skeptical at first, Ruben was confident that this was not our thief but just a nice guy. So, we gladly received the turquoise purse and head to the police station to file to report.

Now the station is almost a story of its own. The path to Ruben’s office first leads you by the holding cell for those recently arrested- today being three men with their arms and faces dangling out of the door bars. I wonder why they were there? And how long they have been there? How many are in the cell? But these questions are not why I am at the police station. We enter into Ruben’s office- dark and dingy. Expecting something official, Ruben then surprises me by drawing lines on a paper and beginning to hand write a report about the happenings of the afternoon. The sun was setting further in the sky and Ruben had to ask Melanie to move out of the last remaining sunlight because the power was out in the building.

Oh Uganda. Stolen items. Mystery phone calls. Goose chases. Idlers misleading the investigation. Recovered turquoise purse. Primitive police station. Hand written reports made by the light of the setting sun. And peace that surpasses my normal fleshly response coupled with a hope of redemption.
Ruben said that he would track down the serial number of the stolen phone and then try to check to see if someone has put a new SIM card in it, therefore leading us to the buyer of the phone, who will lead us to the seller of the phone, who could or could not be the actual thief, who then will take us where my laptop is so that I can have it back. (God is good, in that I had backed up everything from 2011 just a few weeks ago onto my external hard-drive, so not all was lost).

So I am still waiting. And I still have peace. And I still feel like the Lord is going to redeem this situation somehow. But even if He doesn’t do it in the way I would expect, I will still praise my Father because He is good.