29 December 2010

At the Moolah: The King's Speech

Where can you see a new movie for $5 these days? Not many places. How often in your life do you have a lengthy period of time set aside without "work" and responsibilities? Not often. So, what did I do tonight? I went to the movies!

The Moolah is an old Masonic Temple/Lodge/Shrine turned into a movie theatre, bowling alley, bar/lounge, and loft apartments. And this is no ordinary movie theater! Imagine a ballroom of sorts, 2 stories tall, one wall entirely occupied by a movie screen and the ballroom floor filled with leather couches and chairs in rows, with a handful of rows of ordinary stadium seating on the wall opposite the screen. There's even a balcony that I didn't get to explore due to it being closed on weekdays. I was delighted to notice what seemed to be a random mural of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on one wall in the lobby that I got a quick glance of while moving through the line of people waiting to get into the theater, and Regina Spektor's Far album was serenading the spectators in the theater once they found their seats and waited for the movie to begin. I followed the line into the theater and found a leather chair to settle into. I crossed my legs, leaned back and sighed, "now THIS is how to see a movie!"

The King's Speech (Colin Firth & Geoffrey Rush) was the feature film this evening, and I quite enjoyed it. Definitely not an "on the edge of your seat" kind of a film - but that was fine because sitting on the edge of my luxuriously relaxing leather arm chair was not was I was really in the mood for. Both men did a fantastic job playing the roles of King George VI, and Lionel Logue respectively. The setting was the 1930's-40's in England and the topic was the rise of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, to the Crown, and his audibly crippling stammer. Logue (Rush) is the "not interested in your royal shenanigans but very interested in helping you with your problem if you play by my rules" speech therapist, and Firth the "struggled for as long as he can remember with getting words out of his mouth in a timely and respected fashion" younger brother of the expected heir to the throne now thrust into the Crown of England.

I've spoken on numerous occasions of the "culture of fear" that exists in Bundibugyo, that has a crippling effect on the people who call it home. The truth is that we all live in fear of things that cripple us in one way or another. Prince Albert/the Duke of York/King George VI lived in fear of his father and brother and others who might judge him and this was manifest in his patterns of speech. When Logue gave him a non-threatening audience who didn't judge him, who encouraged him, who believed in him even when he didn't/couldn't believe in himself, the stammer which had crippled him faded away as he relaxed.

I also live in fear of people's judgement of me most days of my life which leads to a crippled voice of sorts. Some days/weeks/months/years are worse than others and generally speaking this is something that God is growing me in. As the heavy curtain is drawn back and I'm able to see the unconditional love of God and others for me, I relax and my voice comes back.

Sappy, you say? Maybe, but my guess is that most of us could see some part of ourselves in this movie, and while that's not a requirement for a good movie, it sure does help. (Rated "R" for language as far as I could tell.)

20 December 2010

sprinting across the parking lot: reflections on holiday shopping

This morning I saw a woman in her work out attire, sprinting across the parking lot pushing her cart to return it and then sprinting back to her SUV parked at Hobby Lobby. "Wow, now THAT is a shopper," I thought to myself.

Shopping. It's not really my favorite activity, but I do love putting a dark line of ink through items on a to-do list and a shopping list is kind of like a specialized to-do list. In Uganda we would do blitz trips in Kampala, carrying water bottles and shopping lists that have been filling up on our fridges for the 3 months since the last shopping blitz. Shopping for 3 months is a task:
But the nice thing is once it's done, you're done for a while. And it was generally a communal activity, something we did together. And in this shot, Anna is in what might have been her inauguratory entry into Kampala shopping with full decision making responsibilities...and look, she's smiling! What a pro! Now, if only I had a shot of Nathan having one of his grocery shopping freak-out moments in front of the mayonnaise jars...decisions decisions! (BTW - he tells me he's enjoying grocery shopping these days - says it makes him feel like a real person when he uses it as a study break from his med school madness.)

There are a lot of funny shopping stories from my time Uganda, most of them having to do with a Christmas grocery and gift blitz day 2 years ago...
  • N: "I'm pretty sure I've seen all of these things before." (while perusing our 3rd Banana Boat gift shop of the day)
  • H&A: "Nathan, you ready to go?" (look who we had to "drag" out of the store :)
  • H: "Hey, Nathan, can you give me a hand back there?" (trying to see out the foggy back window of the vehicle in order back out of a parallel parking spot in a crowded parking lot in the rain without hitting the vehicle behind us)
  • N: "It's no problem. You've got like 8 feet!"
  • H: (after slowly easing the vehicle into reverse and hitting the vehicle behind us!) "Are you kidding me?! 8 feet! Give me a break!" (He insists to this day we did not in fact hit the vehicle, but we totally did...and yes, "we"...this was a collaborative effort!).
A few weeks ago I was freezing my toushy off in my warm-ish but not warm enough fleece jackets and so I went to a department store's discount store looking for a winter coat with a coupon, and I had a couple of "are you freakin' kidding me?!" shopping moments...
  • I drove into the parking lot and noticed a group of about a dozen women standing outside in the freezing cold by the front door of the store...Uh oh. Protests? Picket line? What in the world is going on? On approaching the store I passed a limo pulling up in front of the group of women who began piling their bags into the trunk (did you know limo's had trunks?!) and getting in...this was a chauffeured shopping trip. Kind of like our shopping trips in Kampala I guess (with the multiple people using one vehicle and piling bag after box into the back)...minus the limo and the chauffeur :)
  • Sadly after not finding any coats suitable I was on my way out of the store when a man rushed in the front doors yelling "Jackie?!... Jackie?!...oh Jackie?!" I stopped dead in my tracks, being taken quite aback by such a scene, looking around wondering who this Jackie might be...when he got to the cash registers he continued: "oh, there you are! What are you doing?" (when I thought to myself, well what do you think she's doing in a store?! shopping perhaps?) "Oh, you're buying panties...ok, well, I'll be outside in the car, ok?" Wow, at the top of your voice?! Really? Let the poor woman buy her underwear in peace!
So, it seems shopping brings out the best in lots of us ;-) Seriously though, I really do like giving meaningful gifts to people so I also actually really do like that part of the shopping experience, finding something you know someone will really enjoy, or even better finding a good bargain on something you know someone will really enjoy!

Here's what Nicholas Kristof has to say about gift giving this year:

"One of the paradoxes of living in a wealthy country is that we accumulate tremendous purchasing power, yet it’s harder and harder for us to give friends and family presents that are meaningful."
~ NYTimes "The Gifts of Hope" December 18,2010

He does a good job of offering the public great ideas on ways to invest their "purchasing power" into their neighbors domestically and internationally, and I have a few suggestions myself.

Christ School Bundibugyo Student Sponsorship: Sponsorship of a secondary school student in Bundibugyo, Uganda

BundiNutrition: Nutritional support for Bundibugyo, Uganda

Sari Bari: blankets, scarves, bags, and pillow covers made from old sari's by women coming out of prostitution in Calcutta, India

Happy Shopping!

16 December 2010

the leopard and the goat, AMEN

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
- Isaiah 11: 1-10

How long have I been reading the Old Testament Messianic prophecies during Advent, or if unable to read them for whatever reason had them read to me? Um, 31 years. How old am I? 31 years. So, all my life. Every year, I have read, or had these scriptures read to me. And EVERY YEAR I see/learn something new that I had never taken notice of before.

This year...the leopard and the goat. In my experience, we in the western church have this affinity for the phrase, "the lion and the lamb." I'm not quite sure why we have attached ourselves to this pairing, because it's not directly from the Bible, but maybe it's because culturally we imagine lions to be the ultimate predator and the lamb to be the ultimate docile prey? In any case, one of the pairings that is actually made in this passage (and actually the one with the unlikely peaceful language/image of "lying down together") is the leopard and the goat.

The leopard ("leh-o-pard" as Ugandans say). Elusive, carnivorous, territorial, solitary, nocturnal, predatory, thieving, stealthy...supposedly they are the most numerous of Africa's big cats (due to their adaptability to several climates/terrains), but I have yet to see one.

The goat. Domesticated, milk giving, herbivorous, the prey of the leopard, herd lifestyle, affectionate, generous...so populous in Uganda that often you have to dodge them in the roads.

Two antithetical animals. For anyone who has read about them, or even better having encountered either or both of them, the thought of them lying down in proximity to one another is laughable, outrageous, unimaginable.

Isaiah 11 tells us that one day the unimaginable will happen...mortal enemies in the animal kingdom will live in peace.

What about mortal enemies in the human kingdom? Most readers of Isaiah 11 that I know of, interpret the peace demonstrated among animals in Isaiah 11 to illustrate such peace among men as well.

I've been thinking a lot about judgement between people, about my own heart's tendency to jump to judgemental conclusions about those I've just met, known for a long time, or even people I've never ever met, people I love, people I dislike, people of all kinds. Differences are key participants of judgement. I don't like your style choices, your accent, your personality, your politics, your religious convictions, your philosophy, your lifestyle, your bumpersticker(s)...and I will judge you, make assumptions about other parts of you, decide that you must also think or be like x, y, or z. I pride myself in loving diversity, but the truth is, part of that appreciation involves a keen ability to try to put people in boxes.

Judgement is a key participant in conflict. And can I just say that conflict between people (interpersonal conflict) is rampant, my friends. It's why people leave foreign mission fields, it's why people leave jobs and churches and marriages...Judgement and conflict bring our defenses up, they bring out dread in our heads and hearts, they make us afraid of one another...

Just this week this has been my experience.

That's why Isaiah 11 has struck me so...

"...The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth..."

That He might make me like this!

"the leopard will lie down with the goat...
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain...
and his resting place will be glorious"

That the human kingdom might be at peace!
That we might not judge each other; harm or destroy one another...
That we might rest.


*and if only with reading that Amen you could also hear the chorus of "Amen's" (concluding the section titled "Worthy is the Lamb") that serves as the conclusion of the entire Handel's Messiah (probably my favorite piece of music of all time). I have been newly intrigued by this chorus particular chorus this season. Magnificent. Gives me chills.*

**totally random tidbit: when I googled "the leopard and the goat" the top of the results list was this very amusing video telling the story of what is supposedly a Ugandan myth re. the hostility between the leopard and the goat. An interesting take on this animosity/conflict.**

12 December 2010

Uganda Gold

The first time I drove through Bundibugyo Town (sometime in the first few weeks I was in Bundibugyo) I was in the passenger seat of Clifford the big red Myhre truck. Scott was driving and just after passing the boda stage under the mango tree in town, Scott slams on the breaks and throws the big red truck into reverse, exclaiming: "Did you smell that?!" I had gotten a whiff of something remarkably fragrant but not enough to identify the scent..."That's vanilla, one of the only nice smells around here. See over there on that tarp, they're drying it. I always take a big whiff when I pass it." I inhaled deeply and oh. my. goodness. I cannot even begin to describe the intoxicating aroma that a tarp full of fresh vanilla beans exudes. I was a quick convert. There are certain places around town that dry it, so you always look and inhale when you pass.

When I left Bundibugyo I had it on my "to do before leaving" list to buy some vanilla to bring back to the US with me. Well, you know how those lists go, certain things never get done. I had talked to Pat "I-know-a-guy" Abbott about where to find it in Nyahuka, I had just never made it a priority to make it down there on a market day and strike up the courage to deal with yet another male businessman. Well, the night before I left I said to Pat "shoot, you know what I never got around to? Buying some vanilla." "Oh, it's no problem," she says, "lemme just give Habibu a call" as she picks up her phone (which holds the contact information for someone in Bundibugyo who can help you with just about ANYTHING). 15 minutes later a boda honks from the driveway out front. Pat goes out and comes back in with 1/2 kilo of vanilla beans. Amazing I tell you. She's got the hookups.

So, I quadruple bagged my vanilla beans in ziplocs and with Pat's instruction poured in about a 1/2 cup of vodka to keep them moist while I traveled home to the states. Now, traveling to the US with fresh vanilla beans means a trip through the Agricultural line in customs Stateside, but it's worth every minute. When I pulled out my "agricultural products" in the ziplocs and explained what it was they said, "This is it?" "Yes ma'am." And I was motioned to move along.

By hope was to make homemade extract from these beans but I hadn't the foggiest idea how to do that, so I began scouring the internet for instructions. It turns out that everybody's got a different idea on how it should be done...ratios of beans to vodka, splitting the beans or not, cutting the beans up into pieces or leaving them whole, scraping out the caviar or not, length of time for "extraction," etc. etc. etc. I made a few middle of the road decisions and have been patiently waiting.

Now that I've had my beans "extracting" for almost 3 months now, I'm ready to start attempting to use it. People also have differing opinions on this but as I've been looking around today I found a guy who seems to know a bit about what he's talking about, and is open to suggestions and varieties of approaches and such (which I like in a person). And I noticed that he mentions that he uses Amadeus Trading's Uganda Gold vanilla beans. Well Well Well. So according to this vanilla guru and his dealer, Uganda's vanilla beans are top notch...THE top notch....how cool is this?!

Now, if you're curious enough to explore the site, you'll find pictures of their purchasing trip to Uganda and so forth. The not so cool part of this story is the financial realities of this situation. As you'll notice, these sellers will get ~$65 for 1 lb of vanilla beans grown in Uganda by these farmers they have their arms around in the pictures. How much did I pay Habibu (the middle man who buys from local farmers and sells to exporters in Kampala) for my 1/2 kilo (~1lb?) 15,000 Ush (~$7.50)...and how much did my teammate John tell me afterwards that local farmers in Bundibugyo get for a kilo (~2 lbs: ie TWICE the amount of vanilla) when they sell it to a middle man like Habibu? <>

Now I, my friends, am far from being an economist, far from being an agricultural specialist, far from knowing anything about growing or trading vanilla, but I am a consumer, and I can do simple math at least some of the time (check me, please!) This is sickening!

Vanilla is FAR from sickening, and my jars of currently "extracting" beans will ever remind me of the fertile land of the Pearl of Africa. But simultaneously, those jars can't help but remind me of the injustice in the appropriation of resources around the world...

08 December 2010

out of sorts

Feeling a bit out of sorts today.
Not sure why.
It's 11:30pm and I'm sitting in bed here in my basement abode with my laptop in my lap on top of the fleecy blankets keeping me warm.
The guys next door are chatting on their front porch, and the smell of their Marlboro's is drifting through my closed window. Porch chatter and cigarette smoke are the urban America equivalent of the compound laughter and cooking fire smoke that drifted through my open window in rural Uganda.
With the funny out-of-sorts feeling tonight, I resorted to a familiar vice...suspenseful/humorous crime show tv...I laughed out loud a few times, but the cackles reverberating back from the empty concrete walls quickly reminded me that my onscreen "friends" at NCIS are poor substitutes for the "been through the thick of it together" friends I used to gather with 'round the same screen to laugh and be entertained.
As I write, the tears come and I realize what the out-of-sorts feeling is...it's homesickness.
But you are home, you say. I am. I'm not.
This last Sunday at church our congregation said a tearful goodbye to a family in the church that is moving away. They were sad to go. Our community is sad to see them go. And in the prayers that we sent them off with, someone mentioned that the tears from both parties demonstrated the longing for our true home that we all feel at one time or another...our true home where there won't be any more leaving.
When I spoke at another church a few weeks ago, that church community surrounded 2 particular women in prayer that day. One of these women is probably younger than me and was headed into surgery a few days later to have a mass of unknown origin removed from her abdomen. I have learned since that this young woman had a total hysterectomy and was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and was to learn this last week whether the cancer had spread and how far. In our true home there will be no sickness.
We all will long for home with a big "H" for a long time, no matter where we are or who we are.
We will long to be with people we are far from, we will long for familiar sights and sounds and tastes and smells from places dear to us, we will long for sickness, death, injustice and tears to be no longer; we will long.
It's good for me to long. It's oh so heart wrenching but it's good. It's good not because of it's value as an emotional exercise, it's good not because the things that are so heart wrenching are of ANY less value...it's good because of what is at the end of the longing...it's good because it focuses my mind and heart on what's true...it's good because God promises to come back to right all wrongs and take us Home (with a big "H").

I heard a radio broadcast the other day in which the guest spoke of his disappointment with the egotism of a particular group of people - writers I believe - in their tendency to view everything in the world through the light of their own lives, that they somehow would turn every situation into a story about them. I got scared. Maybe that's me. If it is, my most sincere apologies.

07 December 2010


a theme throughout my life in several arenas...this time, namely in reference to the visual experience of my blog. Too much. Way too much. I don't look at it very often, usually just writing and then posting. But when I have looked at it recently I've been overwhelmed...wondering how in the world you have been able to stand to read it...must simplify...so here you have it. Hopefully the changes make for a more enjoyable blog reading experience...