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Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Double Double Plate

"Karen, it's your lucky day!  Edward the carpenter has your license plate!"  A team-mate excitedly explained to me on the phone.  "What, my plate is back in Soroti?"
A few weeks ago I lost my front license plate while coming home from the northern regions, near Abim.  Crossing 11 rivers on the journey, I wasn't exactly shocked to see that my plate was gone.  Listening to my neighbour's advice, I went to three different radio stations and put a personal announcement on the air.  I gave the stations my information, plate number, and the promise of a reward to the person who would bring my plate back. 
For weeks, I heard nothing, but people continuously told me to wait.  "The Iteso people are good people... someone will bring your plate to town.  Villagers just need time."
Hearing that my plate was back, I remembered that I had promised a reward (which is not uncommon - it should pay for their time bringing it to Soroti) but I had no idea how much that really meant.  Over the past few weeks, many people had asked me if I had received my number plate back.  :)  Not too many Ugandans have a name like "Karen Lubbers" so people knew it was me. To figure out how much I should pay for a reward I went over to the URA office, across from my compound. 
URA = Uganda Revenue Authority... the place where I would have had to purchase a new plate eventually.  After some fun discussions, I found out that I should pay about 20,000 UGX.  ($8)  I also learned that some young man had come to the URA office, just a few hours earlier, trying to find the owner of this particular plate.  The URA had even looked up my TIN (vehicle registration) in the computer system and they got my name, but somehow when I received my TIN from Kampala, the agency made up a phone number and email address for me... so the information the man carried was false.  The URA even suggested they had tried calling me, but I was failing to pick. 
I was curious how Edward, the carpenter, had my plate so I called him and he told me that he didn't have the plate, but he had the phone number for the man who does.  Within moments I was driving to town, to meet this man and retrieve my plate. 
A kind young man stepped up to me and shook my hand, and with a big smile on his face, said "Wow, I have finally found you.  I have your plate."  Slowly he started to explain to me all he had gone through to find me.  A few weeks ago he had heard my announcement on the radio and he happened to be up in the Abim area for work.  A young boy had found my plate, so he gave the boy some small money and took the plate back to Soroti.  For a few weeks, he didn't have time to do anything about it.... but finally he could make time.  He went to the radio stations and all three of them said "Oh, we burned that announcement/contact information since it is now old, but you can leave the plate with us."  This young man didn't want them to have the plate, so he went to the police station (where I have now been twice for this plate) and they told him that no plate number like that has been reported, but that again, he should leave the plate.  He started to get the feeling that everyone else wanted the reward money even when they didn't bring the plate down from the north.  After the URA gave him my name and information, he went to the internet cafe to send me an email, but to a made up address.  He then tried to go to a Dutch run orphanage to see if anyone there knew me and they didn't either. 
About this time in the story I noticed that he wasn't carrying the plate.  He quickly explained that he had left it at his compound just a few kilometres out of town.  He suggested that we send a boda taxi out to the village to pick it up, but I told him I could drive him home to get it.  As we were driving he continued the story.  He remembered that the carpenter he often works for has many mzungu clients, so when he asked Edward if he knew me... the answer was a positive response.  The only problem was that Edward didn't have my phone number, so he called my team-mates and told them that my plate was found.  Ah.. the story has finally come together.
As we were driving he showed me his family's land and told me of the Lord's blessings.  There is a Nigerian song here that goes " OOOOO my God is good O... everything is double double!"  Meaning that God pours out double blessings and double anointings.  While he was running into his hut to retrieve the plate I started to get the feeling that I needed to bless this man with double double since he had gone through so much run around to try and find me.  Just before arriving back into town I gave him his blessing and he was truly grateful.  And so was I!  Now I'm off to the garage to put the plate back on the front of my car.  They are going to secure it double double.
(I have a feeling that I am starting to speak with some Ugandan phrasing, so please forgive my funny English) 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where did my Sabbath go?

It's hard to find a day of rest here... so I often take moments or half days of rest.  Yesterday is another clear example.  I woke up early due to a dripping nose.  It's always a strange feeling for me to have a cold in Uganda... it's the tropics.  Colds are for cold weather.  Maybe that's why Ugandans call it the flu... for the longest time I was so confused about how sick people really were.  :)

Close to 9 am I walked over to my neighbours because 7 year old Victor wanted to come to church with me.  What a privilege for this Auntie!!  We had such a great conversation as we footed or walked to and from church.  Worship was good and the sermon was interesting.  Since we follow the Lion of Judah we are all lions... so the sermons was about lions.  Lions all roar - so praise God.  Lions never eat each other - so build up Christians from all denominations.  Lions don't chase rats - so let the little things in life pass you by.  Lions never look behind them - so don't backslide in your faith.  Lions mark their territory - so don't switch ministries... if you are a singer, don't become a deacon... and if you are an usher, don't become a preacher.  So interesting?

Walking home from church I received a text from a good friend that he was at the clinic.  By the time I got home and called, my friend was asking for pain killers and some juice.  I loaded up my supplies and spent a few hours with a patient.  While there I had the chance to also sit an chat with a former child soldier.  He was expressing some difficulties.  He is still young and wants to do what is right... so he is studying hard at school.  He doesn't want to go home to the village for Christmas because he says it is boring there, and that just creates trouble.  He says if he takes a walk to the centre (a small trading post) people run to his father and create rumors that he is out visiting girls and his father doesn't know who to believe.  He wants to find a job in town until the new year and then he will return to the village in the new year to help during planting season.  At least, then, he is busy and won't get into trouble.  He will just work and sleep.  Life is not easy in the village.

At 4:30 pm I raced to a meeting for the upcoming youth camp in December.  It was my third meeting in 9 days and I have at least one more in the next week.  I think we have nailed down a venue, posters are being published, a small budget is set and speakers are being organized, and finally, mobilization is in full throttle.  At 7 pm I carried 5 pastors back to town.  They were grateful for a ride home in the dark.

I spent the next two hours with my neighbours.  Playing with the twins and talking about life.  I can't say it enough... the people in my compound truly include me as one of their own and I love it.

A good day, but I was glad to sleep in til... 7 am today!  :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Ant Load

A stream of tiny black ants lined the crevices of my floor tiles, carrying white specks of crumbs that had escaped from the bottom of my toaster.  I could almost hear their voices of joy.  "Isn't this great?!  We can work together to be a blessing.  The colony is going to be so excited when they see our find.  Oh, the community is going to love this!  I cherish working with my friends... it makes the load so much lighter and the burden seems small when shared with cheerfulness."  Before I could imagine any more of their discussions, they filed out my side door and disappeared into creation.

These ants reminded me of a fun occasion from last weekend.  But first I need to give you some back ground.  For the past three years I have known a hard-working family - who run both a stationary/document shop as well as a "fast food" restaurant.  The owner, Isak, is a strong, tall man who is honest, insightful, and very supportive.  He truly loves his beautiful wife and precious son.  Earlier this spring I helped in his document shop for a few weeks... we organized shelves, came up with a better inventory system, and priced everything.  We taught the staff how to read the price labels so that the owner could have more freedom away from the shop.  I even helped hang decorative banners in the shop - so you could tell it was a place that meant business. 

Now this man is able to spend more time in the restaurant... and it's very rare for a man to enjoy cooking and serving, but it is definitely his calling.  Isak is such a good, up-and-coming chef.  He often invites me for tea so that we can talk about how the business is going and how he can improve things with his staff and menu. 

Two weeks ago, while sitting in the restaurant, we were chatting about giving the restaurant a face-lift for Christmas.  Way out of my element, he wants me to help pick paint colours and art for the front room.  And then he mentioned that he wants new items for his local menu.  He wants to be different than the other restaurants in town and desires to add more western recipes to his selection.  He mentioned that he wants to add hamburgers to the menu but that he didn't know a good baker.

Here my light bulb turns on... I have a team-mate who is a trained baker/chef and he also has a heart for business sustainability.  He is also training a local pastor to make breads in a newly made clay oven.  I texted my team-mate, Jim, and asked if he had any good bun recipes.  A few days later I was able to introduce Jim to Isak.  Excitement flared as we thought of all the ways we could work together to make his business more exciting on main street Soroti.  A trial run was needed for the burgers... so with the help of all my friends, we had a burger party on Saturday night.  The restaurant was closed for a private party. 

I wore my new party hat, while Isak and Jim sported aprons in the kitchen.  I think the serving staff was a little overwhelmed with all the mzungus in the room, but it was such a fun night.  As the evening was coming to a close, we wanted to pay our bills.  Isak didn't want any money... he just wanted us to pay for our sodas.  He was in complete shock was he looked in the tip folder at the end of the night.  Tears were in his eyes as he was happy with how the team worked together to encourage him in his work. 

As a team, we strive to walk alongside and encourage local passionate Christians, and it truly excites me that we can bless this hard-working man.  May the whole down-town area of Soroti know about business sustainability, integrity, honesty, and serve God in all they do.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Missing Number Plate

Fida International asked me to drive them up to Abim last week since the Soroti office is missing their Land Cruiser at the moment.  I didn't hesitate to join my friends on the field - driving north to my favourite little town tucked in the hills of Karamoja region.  Leaving at 8 am, I was slightly nervous about the road because the skies were grey and rain was pouring in the north.  Who knew what kind of roads we would be traveling over. 
Arriving in Lotuke at 11:30 am, I was delighted with how well the journey was going.  Two men - CAAF (Children Affected by Armed Forces) committee leaders, joined in my car and we continued north to Abim.  The locals were beginning to think we would never make it.  The roads were sheer mud, but my Subaru Forester handled it well.  Thankfully I have 20 years of driving experience and lots of time spent in snow and ice, so I loved the mud. 
After a three + hour meeting in a tiny grass thatched roof, cow-dung floor church, there was some discussion as to whether or not we should stay in Abim over night, because the rains had been pouring all day.  But then we decided that since we had to bring the CAAF leaders back to Lotuke, we would just continue home.  The mud was fierce going back south, but so much fun.  The music was blaring on the ipod and all my passengers wanted driving lessons.  :)
Continuing south the road changed shape.  It was now a winding path with huge water ditches.  11 times we had to cross a body of water. Most of them were half a foot deep or so and quite easy to plow through in first gear, but one of the last overrun water spots started out shallow, but quickly became too deep.  Water gushed over the front of the hood and poured in on my passenger's feet.  I prayed, continued pushing on in first gear and we survived all the rivers.  Then we had one spot where two seriously stuck Lorries (huge trucks) we blocking the road.  There was a track in the upper bank showing that vehicles had been passing around, so I geared down to up and around also.  The track had turned into 5 inches of mud.  Muck flew everywhere and the truck drivers just smiled as we successfully passed by.  At 8 pm we pulled into Soroti.  Comments like: "Wow, Karen, you are a senior driver!" or "We have seen miracles today" were coming from my passenger's lips as we exited the car at Sipi Falls Cafe.  I was truly ready for local rice and beans before heading to my house for the night. 
It wasn't until the next day that the kids in my yard noticed my front license plate was missing.  Neighbours advised me to go to three radio stations and put an announcement out that plate UAQ 226S went missing between Abim and Soroti.  Many people have heard the announcement - I know, because my name is not a typical Teso name so everyone in the north knows it's me.  :)  But, I haven't got the plate back yet. I think it is washed away with that deep river I crossed.  So then, two days ago I went to the police station to report my plate missing.  They wrote the complaint in a log book at the front desk and then handed me a scrap piece of paper that said:
CPS Soroti
Complaint 19-07/11/12
Lost Number Plate
It was written in chicken scratch and apparently it means I now have a file with the police.  I had to laugh when the officer was taking my information - she asked for job, address of residence, my tribe.  I guessed Canadian and people in the waiting room just chuckled.  From the police station I went over to the URA (Uganda Revenue Authority).  They are the ones who deal with licenses and plates and vehicle registrations... so I went to them to report the plate missing.  They laughed when they saw my police report.  "Sorry Mam, the police were lazy today - you need a real report with official police logos on it, along with a newspaper announcement that you have lost the plate... and then we will issue you a new plate."
So for now, I'm waiting to see if my plate still comes to Soroti from the nice people in the north.  The newspaper suggested I wait for two weeks before placing the personal announcement and since I have the chicken scratch note from the police - it's okay for me to drive around.  :)  I'll let you know if and when I get a plate back on the front of my amazing Subaru!

Waking Up

6:33 am: I struggled to open my eyes and was greatly confused.  While Mr. Sandman was wrestling with me, trying to keep my lids sealed, I briefly thought I was waking up in my childhood home.  A tiny 9x9 pink bedroom, with a staircase just outside my door and a narrow hallway.  I was baffled upon waking up that I was actually in Uganda and then I was excited.  Yes!! See how far God has brought me.
Then I remembered that I should have been waking up in the village in Kaberimaido district.  The churches in Bululu have been so delighted with the Evangelism Explosion training, that they want their neighbouring churches to hear it.  It was arranged weeks ago that I would spend two days out there this week, training a few more churches.  But on Wednesday afternoon, the phone rang with an announcement that there was a burial in the village and the church members were going to have to postpone the training since it was an important person and connected to the church.  I completely understood... a burial is a village affair and it takes at least a few days with all the relatives and neighbours coming around.
So, I'm in Soroti instead.  Yesterday I was able to attend a planning meeting for an upcoming Youth Camp.  It was quite exciting that there was a room full of denominations - Catholics, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Evangelicals, and a few Reformed :)... and we all shared a vision of reaching out to today's youth.  The meeting was supposed to start at 4 and delightfully it started at 5:30pm.  We debated through theme, topics, speakers, venue, mobilization, publicity, and more and haven't really laid down anything in stone so we have to meet again on Monday.  Hopefully we will have a chosen venue so we can start going to the radio stations and schools to start bringing in the youth.  The meeting ended just moments before darkness settled in the sky and rain poured from the heavens.