29 March 2010


  • It seems to me that Ugandans speak faster when they're praying than at any other time in their conversant life.
  • Every church has a slightly different take on the offering basket...at the church on the Mission, they use these plastic buckets that I first knew as "potty buckets" (aka. chamber pots) in the duplex. At the church in Bubandi we went to on Sunday, they use a desk drawer...whatever works.
  • Yesterday, when I went to give a dose of IV gentamycin to a sick little baby with meningitis, and there was a bug in the partially used ampule of medicine, I actually considered fishing the bug out and giving a dose from the rest of the ampule...don't worry - quickly the American nurse in me snapped into action, was appalled I would actually consider such a thing, and I went and found a new ampule. Little Atuhaire deserved a sterile ampule, or at least one without a bug in it.
  • There are a couple of big malnourished kids on the ward right now..."big" as in like 3-5 years old instead of < 2 yrs...and all of them are just sooooo precious. Constance: you just look at her and smile and shrug your shoulders and she giggles up a storm and hides her face. Biira, gets her groove on to her mom's cell phone ringtone every now and again (yeah, her mom has or at least had a cell phone...maybe she should be buying food for her kids instead of airtime...), and Baraka's face is so swollen with Kwashiorkor, but when I waved to him he totally shot me a huge grin through the puffy cheeks and eyes. We gave him a Hot Wheel car today and I played a bit with him on the porch. The power of a smile. Amazing. I guess i hope that my smiles are as healing to their souls as theirs are to mine.

26 March 2010

secrets, cross-cultural Bonhoeffer, John 18 & The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Earlier this week I was purusing a rather intriguing source of American cultural commentary online and found the following statement (an anonymous posting of a "secret"):
"My biggest fear is that someone will find out just how lonely I am."
and then a comment on that statement, posted by someone else, read:
"It it my most painful wish."
I was struck by the truth at the core of these two statements...Americans hate to feel alone.

A few days later, Amy was telling me about the Christ School staff Bible/book study and their discussion of Bonhoeffer's book Life Together. (I think that probably only interesting things can come from Africans discussing a book written by a German theologian!) But their discussion was about a portion of the book written to encourage time spent alone. The question posed was what were their home culture's views of time alone or people who pursue time alone. Without fail all of the Ugandans (from different districts and tribes) said that people who pursue time alone come across as rude/angry. Confirms my perceptions of culture here and not at all surprising. Africans hate to be alone.

John 18: Jesus twice poses the question: "Whom do you seek?" In our discussion of the chapter as a team Jennifer encouraged to consider the importance of the question, and the answer we would give...who is it that I am after? that I am looking for? what is my life in pursuit of? And I realized that my life is basically lived in pursuit of not being alone...whether it's a physical presence of other people in the vicinity (even my time alone is spent to/sought in hopes of, being able to be with people in a more reasonable way), an awareness of being understood (a sort of philosophical presence), the satisfaction of acceptance (not being rejected/outcast - a sort of emotional presence); I hate to feel alone.

Last week several of us watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (premise: a man who is born "old" and becomes "younger" as he adds years to his life). In a conversation between Benjamin and a pygmy (who is a very short man - his lack of height being a visible anomaly similar to Benjamin's aged appearance at a young age) the following dialogue takes place:

Benjamin: “Were you all alone?”
Pygmie: “plenty of time you’ll be alone,
when you’re different like us, it’ll be that way.
But I’ll tell you a little secret…
Fat people, skinny people, tall people, white people,
They’re just as alone as we are,
But they’re scared shitless.”

Poignant I thought...No matter what kind of person we are: we are alone and we're scared.
So, yeah, last week this was a theme in my life...but here's what I ultimately realized:

Jesus was *really* alone...for a good part of his life, but especially for the last week of his life...not understood, rejected by his own, let down by his friends, despite his perfection - in his death bearing the sins of ALL GENERATIONS alone. But because of his perfect communion with the Father and Spirit through it all, He did it all willingly. He continued through this loneliness on all fronts, for me. That I might not be alone. That I might have communion with Him, my Father in heaven, and the Holy Spirit that is my perfect portion. He is enough.

"Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."
(Negro Spiritual - "Were you there")

21 March 2010

on kids...

a bit of front stoop first aid
  • On the ward: baby born at 700g in January is inching his way to his 2kg discharge goal. Not quite sure how far his mom was along when she produced the twins (the 2nd born did not survive delivery), but judging by the fact that he doesn't have creases on the soles of his feet and his teeny weeny ears were hairy when he was born, Jennifer thinks they were born at about 27 weeks. Not sure how this little Isingoma is still alive, but it likely has something to do with his mom's relative vigilance about "kangaroo care" or "skin-to-skin" care. There are 2 other neonates on the ward right now, and the three of them are neck-in-neck in the race to the 2kg finish-line when we consider it safe-ish for them to go home. I think Isingoma might actually win!
  • Stateside: Children #3 and #2 safely born to my cousin and my dear friend, respectively and chronologically, last week. Both post-dates little girls who wanted to wait as long as possible before making the move to the outside world. Welcome Harper Susannah and Claire Frances! Can't wait to meet you!
  • in the market: So, most of the kids around the thriving metropolis of Nyahuka know the looks of the bajungu, know the limited extent of our Lubwisi, and often mock us as we pass. And Saturdays are market days and so lots of people from far and wide (read: from outside the immediate Nyahuka metropolitan area); men, women and kids. We found a crate of tonic outside Iddi's store and we had a CocaCola crate we needed to get refilled so after our trip on foot to the market, I drove back later in the day to pick up the soda. I was waiting for the Coke dude to fill my crate with have Coke and half Bitter Lemon, and of course my presence at the soda duka was drawing a crowd of onlooking kids. First of all, women don't usually drive and second of all, women don't usually buy crates of soda. Needless to say, I had an audience. One kid says bashfully, "mujungu, how are you?!" And I replied, "Wesaiyo" in a similar sing song-y voice. "Eh!" they said with looks of shock on their faces. "Makulu?" I continued. "Eh!" they said again as they looked at each other. "Mirembe" they answered. I continued with greeting them as their mocking faces were turned to smiles of applause. "the white woman knows lubwisi!" they remarked to each other. Even though we had established that I knew some lubwisi, they continued with their broken "lujungu" (english). "give me my money" one of the kids in the front shouted. "Ba na weh!" (no way) I said emphatically accompanied with a laugh. The Coke dude laughed along with me :) I spend most of my time discouraged about how little Lubwisi I know, so to have these kids pleasantly surprised that I could greet them in their own language was no small accomplishment for a trip to Saturday market.
  • frightening: Evidently the sight of a white person can be frightening...On Saturday a teenager of about my height, literally jumped back a foot or so, when she turned from looking at some used clothes for sale in the market and met me face to face. I laughed. I was sure to make eye contact with her with a smile on my face and when she met my eyes again she smiled slowly too. Phew.
  • Last but for sure not least: Saidati: 13 year old girl with mitral valve regurgitation likely secondary to rheumatic heart disease - sent to Mulago hospital in Kampala (national referral hospital) and their heart institute sends her back with a very professional report that says she needs a valve replacement...ie, open heart surgery...in India...cost= $15,000. Balyejukia the nurse says, "their family, they have money" when jennifer explains to him that is equivalent to 30 million Ugandan shillings, his eyes open wide and say "huh uh, they cannot manage." Nyangoma says to me "this one is suffering from what?" I explain to her, and she says, "so she will die." "Yes, most likely", I said. I went on to explain that sometimes big organizations have money to sponsor things like this and that Dr. Jennifer is trying to find one of them to agree to it. As Jennifer and Travis stand at her bedside, Saidati leans back awkwardly against the pillows that have been propped up to make it easier for her to breathe and sleep. She looks away. You can see the fear in her eyes as her chest moves up and down, every muscle working in overdrive to support her every breath/heartbeat. I wrack my brain to think of something to brighten her day...stuffed animals are a bit young, but everybody loves a lolly pop, so I handed her one from my stash. To say she smiled would be a bit far from the truth, but the corners of her mouth moved up just a bit as she looked me in the eyes. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

15 March 2010

notes on the subject of life

The Lutjens' take Times Square
hands in pockets...check. (L -> R: brother Jeff, sister Carrie, cousin Jeremy, cousin Brad)
say hey y'all. it seems to me this photo says a lot about each of those photographed...I couldn't decide which of these photos, I stole from either Sus or Ricki, was my favorite so I'm posting both :)
Lake Vic (if looking at a map of Africa...that big body of water in the middle...this is the Uganda coast)
International Women's Day Football Match at Christ School...run like a girl!

*These are just a few of my favorite photos from the last several weeks of my life...not in any way directly corresponding to the post below, other than both are reports of my life :) Just thought you'd enjoy some visuals.*

Notes on the subject of life…

• I moved. Not countries, not cities, not neighborhoods, just next door. There are lots of reasons (community, visitors, household tasks, etc), and in almost all cases it seemed to be a good idea. So I’m now living with Ashley and Anna in what is commonly referred to, since I’ve been here, as “the girls’ house.” It’s been great. I’m so glad I was given the freedom to go ahead and do it, and glad I decided to “just do it!” It’s so nice to be living with Ashley and Anna. I don’t work much at all with them, them being teachers and me being a nurse and all…but that makes for a nice living arrangement…stories to tell at the end of the day, we all learn to appreciate the skill sets of the others. They’re lovely, talented, caring women after God’s heart that I have a lot to learn from and I’m really thankful for them. I have my own room, one wall of which is painted a nice periwinkle blue, and it’s the room in the house with the most light, which is so nice! In the afternoons (the time of day I’m most often at home and needing to get work done) the sun streams in the window right next to my desk. It’s nice having a place to escape school talk for a bit ☺ and for preservation of my introverted heart and mind ☺. It’s a great little corner of the world to call my own. Bonus: HOT SHOWERS and a toilet.

• Bambelela. “Never give up” in a South African language of some sort. You know how you begin to pay attention when themes seem to keep reoccurring in your life? Well, this is one of them for me as of late. I think I wrote a couple months back about the Send Me band concert at the community center and the “shout out” of sorts that Kyomuhindo, the lead singer, gave to us at the Mission, that went something like “and the Bajungu of World Harvest Mission, remember this, pray without ceasing, don’t ever give up praying.” Well, when I was at home, one of the songs we sang at church was an acapella song with 3 parts called Bambelela that simply repeats that word over and over in harmony. Never give up. And then in the theme of South Africa, I was recovering from jet lag on my arrival back here in Uganda, doing grocery shopping in Kampala, and had some afternoon time to spare so I decided to go to see a movie. The options were Avatar or Invictus. I chose Invictus. I won’t spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it, but definitely a theme of perseverance on the part of a certain man named Nelson Mandela. And somewhere in that time period Jennifer wrote a post on their blog to the tune of how the practice of perseverance and persistence and “never giving up” plays out in her life here in Bundibugyo. So, my ears are perked up, I have taken note: Heidi, never give up.

• “One of the most beautiful places in this country.” That’s where I live. Upon my return to Uganda, I flew back into Bundibugyo from Kampala on a MAF flight. MAF rocks. Their ministry of flying to difficult to reach places is so valuable and needed on this continent. I am so thankful for them, for our sake and for the sake of work going on all over Africa that is changing lives. In any case, Samuel was the pilot. My flight was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and after 2 hours of weather delay, he wisely called it off due to a huge weather system between Kampala and Bundibugyo. Better safe than sorry…little 6 seater Cesna over the mountains in rain and lightning sounds like a death sentence to me, no thank you. So, we tried again on Friday, this time the skies were crystal clear and sun was shining brightly, it was a go. As he loaded up the plane a guy from the hanger was around and Samuel tried to convince him to come with us. “You ever been to Bundibugyo?” he asked the guy wearing the Calvary Chapel baseball cap. “No, I haven’t” he answered. “I have an extra seat, you should come. We are going to one of the most beautiful places in this country.” And he was right on.

12 March 2010

the face of HOPE

What does hope look like? Is it a flicker in a woman’s eyes? Is it measured by the width of a smile? Does it heighten as a child puts his/her shoulders back and stands a bit taller? I’m not really sure, but I know it when I see it, and upon my return to Bundibugyo I have found it alive in our community here in ways that it has not been for what feels like a long while now.

My time at home in the US was everything it needed to be, quality time of memories, goodbyes, and closure with extended family, laughs around the kitchen table with my immediate family – all 5 of us!, long strong hugs from people I love who somehow love me, cups of hot tea and cocoa while curled up on comfy couches and chairs accompanied by heartening conversation, holding precious babies, sleeping in, and the list goes on…It wasn’t eutopia, but it was just what I needed, just when I needed it. More quality time in one week than I had in a whole month last time I was home…miraculous! In any case, I’m not sure if it’s because I am well rested and glad to be back, but I see hope where I haven’t before.

• I see it in John and Loren’s countenance when I stopped by to greet them and drop off a few groceries. I hear it in their voices as they give me the brief synopsis of their month of work and relationships and challenges and joys.
• I hear it in Scott and Jennifer’s voices as they talk about Luke’s college interview visit, and the new gas cylinders for the immunization fridge at the Health Center, and the way the term is progressing at Christ School.
• I see it in Nathan’s expressions as he talks about Med School acceptances and kids’ stories from the Pediatric Ward at the Health Center.
• I feel it in the air as Ashley and Anna bustle around the house getting ready for school, and come back at the end of the day with smiles and stories.
• I hear it in Travis and Amy’s stories of their first days and weeks of life in this place, of people and places and creatures and words and smells!
• I felt it in the hand slap of the Christ School student named Immaculate who subbed in for me in the Women’s Day football match this week (CSB girls football team vs. CSB female staff/Mission women).
• I see it in Assusi’s eyes even while she tells me her frustrations with lack of cooperation among staff at the Health Center.

What does hope look like in your today?

04 March 2010

mmm g'bye

the kids table

...…was a Gram-ism. She used it when saying goodbye to someone or something…like if she offered us something from the fridge that we turned our noses up at for whatever reason (they were usually good reasons – she brought some pretty raunchy lookin’ stuff out of there on a regular basis!), she would take it back with a smile and say “mmm-g’bye!” It had been a while since I heard it from her mouth though, one of those things that went with her clarity of mind. It came flooding back to me, though, as I stood by her open grave. What better a time than this to say it back to her, I realized. So, I did. As I stood over her wooden casket with the sheaves of wheat at the corners as it sat in the ground waiting to be covered with earth, I said “mmm-g’bye” to my mamba.

What a privilege to be able to do that. What I didn’t say in my last post, was that I was on my way to the US for Gram’s funeral. My dad assured me that I didn’t need to, that I shouldn’t feel obligated to, but I knew as soon as I got off the phone with him that I wanted to go. My teammates encouraged me to go, the ticket was reasonably priced, the travel was immeasurably easier since I was in Nairobi, and I was a mess. So I went. As most people I saw said “I didn’t expect that you would come back” I explained to them that I didn’t really have the emotional reserve to deal with this from Africa, from my current place in life. Maybe they understood, maybe they didn’t, but it was what I needed to do, and I’m so very glad I did.

Dad called Monday, I bought my ticket on Tuesday, left Nairobi on Wednesday, arrived Newark Thursday, viewing was Friday, funeral/burial Saturday, drove to St. Louis on Monday. It was a whirlwind week but so good.

The viewing was just that, an open casket viewing at the funeral home in my grandparents’ hometown in NJ for 50 + years. Gram didn’t look herself, or at least her face didn’t. Her hands did though – it was something about the positioning of them, the way they were laid crossed on her stomach… reminded me of the many church services I held her hands through during her time in St. Louis, seizures and all. Many people came and greeted us – well, mostly Gram’s kids – at times it seemed to me us Grandkids were there for moral support – but we needed just as much closure as everyone else who came. Between hugs/handshakes from people who remembered us grandkids from when we were “that small” (a few of which we actually remembered), we sat in the middle in chairs talking and catching up on the goings on of each other’s lives since we last saw each other. Great Uncle Fred busted through the room’s open doors with his walker, movin’ and groovin’ like a spring chicken – can’t believe he’s still goin’ strong! Aunt Ruthie (Gram’s older sister in from Chicago) sat in the armchair closest to the casket – her tears, having already buried not only her husband, but also her son a few years back, now burying her younger sister, came easily. It was Aunt Ruth who Gram got her competitive streak from – Aunt Ruth remembered my name while I gave her a big hug from her son and daughter-in-law living in Nairobi, and she still plays a mean game of Scrabble, so I hear. Flanking the casket and large bouquets of flowers were easels with poster-boards full of photos documenting Gram’s 85 years of life – we had a great time putting them together the night before – laughing and telling stories and even crying when reading love letters Grampa had written to her many moons ago.

The funeral was rich. Highlights as follows:

- I Know That My Redeemer Lives
- How Great Thou Art
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
"And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him."

- Lamentations 3:19-27 "...my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord..."
- Job 19: 23-27 "...I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"
- Romans 8 ('nuff said)

It was not what I expected, to be met by God in rich, deep, lasting, timely ways, in a funeral service. I’ll just leave it at that. As we prayed together as a family before the service, God was glorified. In me.

There was the burial. Cold. Tears. Stones. Earth. Mud. Snow. Goodbye.

There was lunch! Reminded me of the warmth and celebration in what I’ve heard of Irish wakes (without the drunkenness). Friends and family packed out the room in a favorite local restaurant of my grandparents’. So packed that the grandkids had to vacate our seats and thereby were awarded the proverbial “kids table” outside the door. In good German tradition there was meat and there were potatoes and there was beer, what more does a celebration need? Well, actually probably most importantly in honor of Gram and Grampa, there was coleslaw and there were pickles – in plenty.

That evening we gathered as an extended family to talk about the weekend, and about Gram and to remind each other of what we loved about her. Again, there were laughs and tears. A particularly special addition to the evening was a partial viewing of the Oglebay video (family reunion footage from a West Virginia site in 1991). Dad’s with hair, mom’s with big sunglasses, grampa manning the camcorder, and Gram always trying to get him to focus in on something/someone in particular. More laughs.

Now, just because we hadn’t quite laughed enough, there was more to come. Saturday night the older grandkids decided to take a few cars into the city for the evening – New York City, that is. A few of us had friends we were trying to meet up with, others just wanted to spend some time in the city. Anyways when we arrived at the street level entrance to the Port Authority Parking Garage around 1:15am, we found ourselves evidently 15 min. late – the parking garage closed at 1am. Since when do NYC parking garages close? Anyways, despite several of our attempts at convincing the guards to let us past to our cars, we hit the streets dumbfounded, looking for somewhere to hang out for the next 4 hours, until 5:30am when the garage opened and we could pick up our cars and head home. We only momentarily considered calling any of our parents for a ride since it was so late and we would have to head back in to pick up the cars so a sigh of relief spread throughout the group when we found a 24 hour McDonalds near Times Square...so, there we sat, upstairs and therefore a bit away from the eye of the staff who we feared would be as adherent to the “no loitering” rules as the parking garage guards…we each bought something – mostly coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu in true Lutjens fashion…what did we do, you might ask? Played games...what games do you play at 3am while sitting on partially-spinny plastic chairs connected to the tables as you find in such fine establishments as McDonalds? I learned a new game, called Contact, from cousin Brad, that I think will be fun to add to our team repertoire...but maybe it's only fun at 3am...needless to say, there were a lot of laughs. And we don't really get the chance to spend time together like that, so Gram would have been proud :) And of all things, as we were leaving to be the first through the garage doors at 5:30, there was a broadcast of a Riverside Church service airing on the radio station as we were putting our coats on. So we walked out of McDonalds listening to Jesus What a Friend for Sinners, and Wade in the Water ☺ SO Gram.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Probably more than enough, but you know me, always thorough! But before I close, a special shout-out to a few very special people who made the weekend possible. John and Barbara Elwood. John very graciously braved NJ/NY traffic for most of his Thursday afternoon and picked me up from Newark and my sister up from JFK (why we didn’t coordinate our arrivals is, well, a casualty of international family communication or lack thereof). Supposedly they both tell me they “fought” over who got to pick us up, John won evidently, but who fights over driving in the greater NY area? And then despite family health complications of their own, Barbara (who didn’t even know my grandma) very graciously came to the funeral, so I got to hug her too ☺ Thank you both so very very much.