What is it like to be in Uganda? The first thing to get straight is how green and lush it is! There are huge, grand crops of sugar cane, tea and maize (corn) covering the hilly terrain. Bananas grow everywhere, and fresh pineapple is abundant here. What a beautiful country! It practically screams PRODUCTIVE. Something else is also abundant; red dust is everywhere. Most roads are unpaved, and the streets are full of people on foot, animals meandering about, cars, trucks and bota botas (motorcycles with one or two passengers, or perhaps a tied-on live goat or a huge bag of homemade charcoal), all of which kick up the fine red dirt. It gets in your nose, on your skin, in your eyes and it covers your shoes. Missions ProTip; wear comfortable shoes that can handle lots of red dust. Make certain they can be washed, preferably in the shower. Bring an extra pair to wear on the days your other shoes are drying. Another missions ProTip; make sure your shower has enough water pressure so that it can actually come OUT of the shower head! Also, there is no such thing as packing too many wet wipes for dust removal from hands, etc. Because malaria is a real threat, do not forget to take your anti-malarial medicine. But then, it is also kind of fun to sleep under mosquito netting. There are those among us who refuse to call the netting suspended above your bed that drapes down around you at night anything other than a princess fort.
When traveling by car, private bus, or other vehicle, to be in Uganda is to get accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. Those right-hand turns are a whole new thing in Uganda! But there is so much to see out the windows that traveling about is one of the great sources of capturing Ugandan life. We absolutely marvel at the things we see women carry on their heads with beautiful upright bearing, from multiple banana clusters to firewood to huge containers of water. The men pull carts fashioned from tree branches. The entrepreneurial spirit is everywhere. One man pumps his foot on a pedal that spins a disc for sharpening tools. Another sets a bathroom scale at a congested intersection and charges a few shillings to measure your weight.
Where traffic is at a standstill due to road grading, Ugandans walk the roadside selling grilled chicken and beef on a stick or bottles of Nehi soda. It is not recommended that mzungus (white people from the States) eat them. The consequences can be trip-ruining.
Small stick huts line many roadways, and from them are sold nearly every item imaginable. Huge carcasses of beef and goat hang suspended, tails still attached to help identify the animal. Some “shops” sell only plastic buckets and basins in bright colors, while others offer hardware and homemade brooms. Fruits and vegetables look gorgeous, and tires are a big seller because the roads are so full of potholes. These are not new tires, however. Many are still the kind with inner tubes, and most all are re-treads.
We need to talk about the bathrooms…The good news is that it is easy to learn to “go” most anywhere. Desperation does that. Many bathrooms are in outdoor restrooms, with four walls and a door and then a hole in the floor. It is a very, very, very deep hole. This is reassuring to those who wonder whether something might crawl out at a most inconvenient time, not that we would ever think that. These bathrooms are built to last! In some of them the hole is flanked by two elevations a little wider and higher than bricks. By planting your feet on the elevated spots, this gets a squatting person further away from the hole; a nice concept. Other bathrooms sometimes have toilets, with or without a seat, with or without toilet paper. As with wet wipes, another ProTip is to bring your own toilet paper on your trip. But this is a small matter, and your hotel room WILL flush and have t.p.. Besides all that, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head, so seriously, what is this small inconvenience?
The food is plentiful, the bottled water and sodas are cold, the internet is, well, pretty good most of the time, and the beds are comfy. The churches are amazing; the humility of the pastors who labor against all odds and see such fruit is exciting. The warmth of the people and their welcoming nature is delightful. If you don’t want children to hold your hands and smile and laugh, do not come to this place. In Kenya, there is more of the same. The terrain is slightly different, but the industriousness of impoverished people and their desire to gain ground physically and spiritually is awe-inspiring. Several of us walked the narrow lanes of the second-largest slum in Africa, the Kybera slum in Nairobi.
We were warned; do not step on plastic bags. Fair enough. But there is nowhere to step without regretting it, one way or another. Raw sewage runs alongside. Small shops face the aisles built from make-shift huts all joined side-by-side, and in the rear of the shops, the family sleeps. Think a bit like scenes in the movie “Slum Dog Millionaire,” but in Africa. Why tred the miserable maize of this slum? Because tucked into a corner was a school made of corrugated tin. Inside that school was a large room with a dirt floor. On home-made benches in the close, dim room were a hundred high-school aged students in uniform, all children of the slum. They were joyfully shouting and clapping and praising Jesus. Slogans like “Blessed to be a blessing!” rang out. Different students spoke in turn, to much enthusiastic cheering. What was going on here? Were they delusional? NO! They were a pure, honest-to-goodness First Priority Club meeting in the heart of the Kybera slum.
Who was there to witness it? One-half of the original First Priority team, Pastor Todd. He put down his head and wept. And in the slum, in the dim light that spilled over that dusty floor, Todd felt as though he had been handed a million dollar payment. To think that God’s work in First Priority had penetrated this place, across oceans, languages, tribes and people groups (yes, there are lots of Muslims in the slum)! Is anything too hard for the Lord? Is anything impossible for Him? Is there any place His arm is too short to reach? Missions
ProTip: Go wherever God takes you, even, no, ESPECIALLY into the heart of the slum. And prepare to be amazed.