Saturday, February 27, 2010

if there was no way into God, i would never have layed in this grave of a body for so long

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can not be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives ligt to everyone in the house. In the same way, letyour light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorifyyour Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

hands together, eyes closed

(and this is how the kids start every prayer here at Amani, before each meal and snack)

i have a purpose for this, hold on...

The other night, as i finished washing 23 little hands and one of the older toddlers started the prayer, i got stuck at the very begining, as she annouced loudly, "hands together, eyes closed". I thought to myself, "when do i ever do that". When do i ever close my eyes and just keep my hands folded in my lap? Figuratively of course. To really slow down and understand what is going on around me, rather than allowing my mind, my emotions to get first priority in how a situation or an interaction unfolds. I think i need more of that. To not think i can fix and control everything. To sometimes put my hands together, and close my eyes when i need to. To be okay with improvement, to be satisfied at the end of the day when you've done more good than bad. And realizing that any of that good wasn't really you. Not to dwell on the past and the mistakes that have been made, trying to justify or explain them away. But to understand the forgiveness that is offered, the grace, and the love. To fold your hands and let life happen when you can, because as in control as we can think we are at times, we really never are. Does that mean feeling a little crazy is warranted? Maybe. There will always be room for improvement. There will always be people who are worse off in whatever area. Love is real, and the real pure love isn't of this world. I think that's what i live for. To try and better understand this, and get better at loving selflessly, like You.


Friday, February 19, 2010

it's natural to be afraid

amoxicillin! and ibuprofen (Ugandan style- cost me the equivalent of 1 USD)

Closing in on 3 weeks here already, weirdly put that's about 1/4 of our trip. It feels like i got here a couple days ago still. i can't imagine leaving here and not coming back and working with Uganda in some way. Maybe it will be through adoption, work, opening up my own place. It's just exciting to feel like i at least know more clearly what i want to be doing with my degree in social work when i get finished school.

"we don't get to decide who God is. "God said to Moses. I am who I am" (Ex. 3:14). We don'tchnge that"
"God exists outside of time, and since we are within time, there is no way we will ever totally grasp that concept."

okay, these are two quotes out of the book "Crazy Love" my Mom got me for Christmas, and getting sick here finally made me pick it up and read it. I'd be lying if i said i was thrilled when my Mom bought me Christian literature for Christmas, but i'm glad she did. My mindset when i receive something of the sort is some sort of hidden agenda or message behind it; A sort of "hey kelsey, you've got a lot to work on". And i mean i know that but like most people, i definitely don't particularly get excited when i'm confronted about something or forced to reflect on what i need to change. I think it took me to get to Africa to finally ask myself why i was uncomfortable. And i think that's something overall i need to ask myself more, and maybe everyone should. Why do things get under our skin or make us flip the channel. is it difficult to see images from places like Uganda because we are comfortable in our ignorance, or because we ae scared of not being able to reason with why we are here and they are there. Even on much smaller scales, it's difficult to see a need, and realize that no matter what you are planning to do to help, you aren't even making the smallest dent in it all. I think all of the negative attitudes tied to the terms "Christians",or "The Church", come from us trying to put the creator of the universe in some sort of box. Trying to define, and claiming to know everything about God seems pretty silly to me. So we have this God, who exists beyond time. We can't even begin to grasp what that looks like, and for a lot of people that means writing even the idea of it off immediately. How can we believe something without concrete evidence? What if this is it, this is all there is? I think that is terrifying too. What has always stumped me, when i've thought through every reason i shouldn't believe in this God, or much less a Saviour. I always come back to the very beginning, the whole "matter can not be created or destroyed". and now, i know i've said this before, i've probably had this talk with you if we've ever gotten into any serious talking. So we have this universe, lots of other universes? with no idea where it all ends or how it all started? So gases and particles combusted to form a never ending space with universes, galaxies, planets, and an intricate planet we now live on and try to make sense of. Okay, but where did those "gasses" and "particles" come from? i think it's safe to say we have no explanation, and that something above our understanding started all of this. The idea of "Religion" and "The Church" have formed and still exist today, in the opinion of many to govern, create structure, and instill fear in societies. But what happened to a God that Loves? the, "we love because He first loved us". I don't think compassion or love is instinctual, not at all. I think it's a choice. I think the choice between selfish and selfless in every circumstance is an inner war we won't ever really conquer, but one that isn't fought without purpose or reason. Much of that we can't understand. God's plan. It would really scare me if the God who created everything ever didn't have a plan worked out and didn't know how things would end up for us. Obviously i don't have all this figured out, and i promise i wil never claim to. I will never be one of those "holier than thou" people, because i know where my faults are and i know i will always be working on myself.

This is a lot of what i was thinking about while i've been in bed sick. I've been seen by the nurse twice, and tested for malaria twice. BUT i ended up having strep throat? The nurse gave me antibiotics right away. I'll be able to get back to work by monday! i'm really excited. I think being sick has made me really excited to get back to work, and really value my health and being able to these kids.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

we're not half as bad as God is good

okay we are going to the capitol of Uganda today, Kampala, today for church, shopping, and an african dance show. BUT i am making this post as a promise i will write about the story of this girl named B i met yesterday. stay tuned

As promised:

Well the past few days my health has been deteriorating a bit, and it is frustrating because i came here to work with, love, and spend time with these kids. The nurse just said she's going to keep an eye on me. I've had chills/fever, and been achy for the past 2 or 3 nights, and yesterday a lymph node on the right side of my neck started to get pretty swollen. She said i am most likely just fighting off something, which is fine. I just want to not feel achy and weak so i can get back to my kids. Yesterday in Kampala was fun besides not feeling to well. We drove to the capitol in the morning and went out to lunch/looked around the mall. Kampala is for sure more westernized, and at some points there were so any whites around us, we forgot where we were. We ate at the "New York Kitchen", the girls all got "new york style pizza", pretty wild to have that in Uganda, huh? Then we went to church, and shopped around the different craft places. I bargained down and bought a lot of neat stuff for people back home. We then went to an "African Dance performance" which lasted longer than 3 hours. The dancing part was really neat, and there was some funny political satire about the Ugandan government through out. But overall, it was just really long, and there was too much talking and not enough dancing.

I'm really hoping to get back my strength/energy soon, i tried to work in the morning and only lasted a little over an hour. I really don't like laying in bed here, it's not like a sick day from school or normal work. I love these kids and i want to just be better. So i guess just pray for me about that.

Story of B:
(again we use just the first letters of names on blogs just out of respect for children and workers, etc.)

On saturday I worked with Baby A in the morning and Baby B at night. After dinner with Baby B, as with most of the children, they go to the bathroom, they are bathed, we put them in diapers/pjs, and we put them to sleep. As the children were being bathed, there was one mama, B putting them in their diapers, and she would hand them off to me to get their pajamas on. Usually the mamas and aunties are just trying to get the bedtime routine done as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Night time isn't normally a time for conversation. But B started to talk to me and she asked how long i would be at Amani for, if i was in school, and finally how many people were in my family. I told her there were 5 of us, my Mom, older brother, and a younger brother and sister. She asked, "what about your father". and i explained to her that he had passed away when i was 14. She replied with, "Oh i'm so sorry". I told her it was okay. Of course i then asked her about her family. She said, "We were 7 and now it is just me". She went on to talk about something, until i quickly realized what she had just said. I asked her what had happened to the others in her family, why there were no longer 7. She went on to explain that she was from the North originally, and that her father had died of cancer, and her Mother and all her siblings had been killed by the rebel army. So here i am, working next to a woman only 1 year older than me, who just offered sympathy to me for the loss of a father, when she has lost absolutely everything, every single member of her family. This was another time i began to cry, but quickly got myself together so i could hear more of her story. Sometimes here i don't know if i am crying out of happiness and hope when i see the strength of these people. or if it's the grounding and overwhelming confusion of why? I guess maybe a lot of the time it's both. As i continued talking with B she told me that her mother had been raped and killed by Joseph Kony's army, and that her siblings had all been killed as well. I kept telling her she didn't need to talk about any of this if it was too difficult, and she told me "no, it is good to talk about it. i do miss my family, but mostly at times when i need a mother and father, and they are not there". I don't think i could ever understand being an orphan at any age, but much less having my entire family taken away before the time i was 21. She lives here in Jinja now and works/supports herself. She was telling me her favorite cities in America were New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, and that she wanted to come and visit one day. I told her that it really isn't that great. I told her how different we are, and how much of our lives are just spent acquiring things, money, possessions. She talked to me about how in Uganda people are satisfied much more quickly, and about the importance of relationships with people, with family. I told her how much i envied the strength of the Ugandan people. How although things are more difficult in Uganda, they have a quality of life that seems nearly impossible in our consumer/all about me, culture. I asked her if it was hard for her to understand why God would allow these things to happen to her, why he would leave her all alone with no one. She said, "i just can't, i don't understand why, but i know that he loves me, and i know he is there". I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why a loving God allows people to hurt like this. Not really questioning Gods existence in it, but his reasoning. And i think after never finding an answer for that i've come to the reasoning that there are bad things in this world, there is hurt, there is pain and suffering. That comes with our freewill and selfish nature. His plan is always bigger than we could ever understand, so i guess i can also just rest in that. I guess it would be pretty foolish to believe that we could understand and find the answers to everything. There are already so many things in science, in our existence, that we can't really explain with concrete evidence. While faith, and not a blind faith, are constantly tested, and second guessed. I come to this place where i could never say there isn't a God, and that there isn't purpose behind our existence. The rest is learning, and figuring out what that is supposed to look like i guess. While B and i talked through some of this, i told her how we couldn't fathom going through what she has been through. i'm really grateful i got a chance to meet her and hear her story.

i didn't probably write that as well as i could have if i was feeling better, but just wanted to share B's story with you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

in the clarity of his grace, remember me

wash, Uganda style.

i'm leaving this video as a promise that i will update this, to let you know what this past week has been like. (the girls in my room decided that this was the theme of the next 3 months, kinda cheesy but whatever, makes sense clearly)

Alright here we go.

Almost closing in on the first two weeks here. Sometimes it feels like we've been living here forever and other times it seems as if we just arrived. I guess you catch on to some things very quickly and other things i hope never seem okay or normal to me. You get fast at changing cloth diapers after your first night of putting 13 toddler boys to bed. They eat dinner around 6:30 and around 7:00, 13 hyper 3-5 year old boys stream in one by one, after being bathed. I am lucky if i can dry them off and get a diaper/underwear on them before they are climbing up the sides of the bunkbeds, throwing clothes/diapers all over, or running outside. For the most part the toddler boys are completely loving, and fun to be around, but i think we decided that they transform once the sun goes down and it's time to go to sleep. If there is a Mama in the room with me they listen a bit better, while I do all the work of getting them ready for bed, the Mama's presence helps keep the boys in line. I am a Monitor for the Toddler/Preschool group, this means every other week I am with them the entire week. The off weeks i will be with the other kids, doing laundry, or helping with other various tasks around the compound. This week of toddlers went by so fast, i taught preschool every day. A few girls and a few boys are extremely attentive, and i can tell they really want to learn. Others stare off, and just have a hard time focusing on what we're working on. Go figure it's difficult to get preschoolers to pay attention and sit still! We are attempting to buy whiteboards when we go into Kampala this weekend, so we can start working on learning to write letters, their names, and eventually easy words. I'm not an education major to say the least, so i feel extremely inadequate to be teaching these kids, or trying to plan out any curriculum. But i guess it's a blessing that i did my internship/career study senior year with a kindergarten classroom.

When we are not inside helping out during meal/snack time, or teaching preschool, we are out in the front yard under the warm Ugandan sun. Mornings and afternoons with the kids consist of blowing bubbles, running around, singing, simon says, crawling on all fours pretending to be whatever animal i'm told we are that day, and pushing a tire swing packed to its full toddler capacity of course. I love getting to love these kids and be a kid at the same time. When we're outside it's almost 100% silly time. The second i sit down there are at least 4 kids pushing one another, and crying "auntie", because it's "their turn". N from toddlers is one of my favorites. (don't get me wrong, i love them all, but i can't lie, a couple of these kids in particular just make waking up at 6:30am not so bad). I took N into town the other day and bought him ice cream. We take a different kid out once a week, and this week it was N. I think it's the way N says "i love you" that really gets me. He'll come up to me smiling, saying "auntie" in his high pitched voice, and i'll hold him tight and whisper "auntie loves you". He pulls away fast, lights up and replies "SO MUCH", or "love you". I started saying "N auntie loves you SO MUCH",and now i will just say "auntie loves you", and he'll reply "SO MUCH". These are the little things that are so important for me to help you understand. So while i feel completely useless and trivial when i consider how little i am actually doing, and how much needs to be done. I just feel really lucky to see these kids light up when we love them.

I really wish you could be here to meet some of these kids, no actually ALL of these kids. But one little boy in particular. His name is M. I'm not sure if i talked about him yet but i'm going to now. He is HIV positive, and as a result, he has TB as well. It is really hard for him to breathe and he is very weak/frail. He can't play and keep up with the other kids so much, he takes a few steps and is already too tired to keep going so i pick him up. The other day before dinner, he was sitting on my lap outside as the other children went in to eat. He began to cry and i asked him what was wrong, thinking one of the other children hit him or had stolen his toy (that is the usual), but he was trying to tell me it was hurting him to breathe and he was crying because he was in pain. This little boy is so strong, and i started to tear up. I got myself together quickly so he wouldn't see me cry. He's already way stronger than i am, i couldn't let him see me cry. I sang to him and told him to lay his head on my shoulder, and just held him for a little. M is always so good, and he even tells the other toddler boys "listen to auntie" when all hell breaks loose at bed time. Every night when he walks in slowly and comes to me to get changed, i just think about how strong this little boy is to hold myself together. As i put his fragile body into his diaper and PJ's, and i help him stand back up, and i hug him gently, and tell him that i love him. i wish i knew the strength of this little boy.

I am glad that all of this is more real to me than it ever has been. I can't imagine going back home and not being involved with Uganda in some way. As i was hanging laundry on the line the one morning, the sun was beating down, there were chickens at my ankles, and herd of goats was stampeding down the dirt road in front, i thought how wildly different my way of life is here, and how i am completely okay with that. While i miss friends and family back home, I know time is going to fly by, and i am going to miss this place when i leave. Not going to think about that now, and just going to keep loving and learning from these kids, and the Ugandan people.

PS: Emails, Messages, and skyping has been so great. People who have taken the time to write me, and see how everything was going, Thank you. I've been really surprised by the people who have taken an interest in what's going on here, and I really enjoy hearing how things are going back home. It helps a lot at night when i'm missing everyone back in the states.

skype: kelseyyynielsen

i wouldn't suggest actual letters, just because they can take a very long time/may not get here at all.

emails, fb messages, and skype dates are great :)


if you have time, this made a lot of sense to me. kinda neat

Friday, February 5, 2010

if you'd forget the pain i caused before

these two boys are not from amani, they are from the villages down by the lake. i want to make my way down there as much as i can.

i promised to keep this blog more so than anything else, but in all honesty every time the kids are napping, i have a break, or wake up in the middle of the night and can't sleep. i think about writing an entry, but most times it is too overwhelming to start. there is not enough blog space to explain to you the things i am seeing and learning here in Jinja. There isn't enough time, nor the right words i could use to help you picture all of this. every time i would attempt to log in and write an entry i'd close my computer with out writing a thing, because honestly i don't know where to start. the times i write are the times i feel like i can make some sort of attempt at it.

i wish i could explain to you the type of love you feel when you pick up one of these babies and hold them close. as they immediately stop crying, there is this brief moment of silence where you can hear God quietly remind you why you flew over 8,000 miles to spend 3 months with these children. i wish i could in some way package up the joy you get from hearing these kids laugh, and send it back home. i can tell you that is a better gift than any wooden giraffe or any hand crafted necklace. i wake up and get to see the 8 smallest babies light up when as i say good morning and hold their hand or kiss them on the forehead. See i really can't begin to explain these things to you. you'd have to see it for yourself. The Ugandan people are so unbelievably strong and resilient. I was making an attempt to explain this to a friend the other night, and it is unreal to me that we coexist with them on the same planet. I feel lucky to be here.

Today we have off. I'll explain a normal day at Amani. As i've explained i wake up around 6:00-6:30am every morning, just before the sun rises. The 8 smallest babies live upstairs with us, so i get to see them (baby A's) every morning. i either hear them, or the roosters first. i get up, make myself breakfast which has included fresh pineapple every morning. then we get dressed, and go to work at 8am. We get schedules every week, for the most part we work monday through friday, roughly 8am to 7pm. We begin our day a little bit after the kids get up, and end it as they go to sleep. The mamas have everything under control, we offer a little bit of extra help and love for the kids. but believe me, these kids and these mamas do a lot more for us than we do for them. We alternate working saturdays, and then have off a different day during the week. At first this seemed overwhelming, but as i sit on my day off trying to explain some of this to you, it's hard to not be spending time with them. We have a break while the children are napping, during which we eat lunch and a lot of the time walk into town and just look around. We help feed, change diapers, play with, and wash up the kids. There are 8 other girls here volunteering, all of them are great.

Power is off and on, as is internet. Water pressure, or rather water in general is the same way. But how can you complain? it is still unreal to have running water, power, and internet here. Today we are going to go into town, the girls are going to get lunch, and Alissa an I need to mail our post cards out. Hopefully you guys will get them by the time i leave here, you really never know here. I'm getting off soon, but first I want to introduce you to a few of the kids. We can not put pictures up on blogs or mention the children's names because those sort of things have caused problems for the orphanage in the past. So when i talk about a child i will just refer to them with the first letter of their name, as the other girls do.

Baby C and baby E are the smallest babies here. Baby E has the most warm laugh, the largest brown eyes, and the biggest smile i think i have ever seen on a baby. Baby C is charmer for sure. We took baby W and baby S down with the older kids yesterday because baby S is moving up to baby B's soon. She did great, she was super warm and loving toward D. D has cystic fibrosis, she has to sit in her chair as she watches the other kids play. But when she smiles, it is the greatest thing ever. Baby J is one of the younger babies in baby B, the mamas all call him lazy, but i think he's just extra loving. He loves to be held, and cries when you put him down. He fell asleep while i was holding him the first day, he just wouldn't stay awake. Baby L came to Amani more recently and is still very small. She is another special needs child, are not entirely sure what her condition is, but i think the one thing i guess i am glad i can not explain to you is how hard it is to hold back tears when you work with these kids and know you can't take their pain away. It is more than challenging to see a loving God in that, but he's there, and i know it. He's reminded me several times since i've arrived. M is a slightly older, autistic boy, he can't really talk, but i think if we started to work with him, he'd be able to. He is also super loving, and he gives great hugs. Amani is an amazing place, and they love their kids here and go above and beyond what most orphanages here are able to. i'm glad this is where i ended up. if i could talk about in detail each one of the kids i would, but for now this will have to due, this entry is already way too long, and you should win some sort of prize if you made it this far.

i'll update this when i feel the least bit capable

Thursday, February 4, 2010

jumping into a puddle wearing no boots

The title to this entry will make more sense further on. Well, we are here! After almost 30 hrs of traveling, we made it to Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja, Uganda. I was way too excited to pay attention to the fact that we had been awake for almost 50 hrs straight. Once we landed at the airport in Entebe, we got our luggage and met our taxi driver. We learned later that we were very fortunate to have gotten all our luggage, a few of the other girls had theirs lost when they arrived a few weeks ago. Once our driver helped get our luggage into the van, we left Entebe for Jinja around 10:30pm. Despite being beyond tired, I didn't really sleep at all during the 3 hr drive to Jinja. We passed through Kampala, the capital. There were people out everywhere. Small outdoor night clubs, pool tables, small 24 hr stores, people selling some type of bread by candle light. Men riding bicycles, and bodas on the sides of the road, and women carying packages on their heads. The headlights of the minivan only allowed us to see things in imediate view, i'm sure that there was a lot we missed because it was dark. Everything about Uganda imediately felt different, the warm air, the smells, everything we were seeing. It was unlike anything. In the begining of the drive I was able to relate somewhat to what Peru was like, but as we continued to drive i waa realizing just how completely different Uganda is from anywhere else i've ever been or heard about. It is amazing, and i am completely excited to be living here for the next 3 months.

It's 3:30 pm right now in Uganda. We have break/lunch in the middle of the day while the kids nap. It's almost time to go back to work, so i will finish the rest later. Hope everyone back home is doing well!

i wake up around 6am every morning, just before the sunrise, to the sounds of babies crying and roosters crowing. it is simple and wonderful. i just made toast and had fresh pineapple for breakfast. I was taken around the smaller villages down by the lake yesterday. We had taken bodas into town (these are men who ride motor scooters/motor cycles),we pay the equivalent to 50 cents USD to catch a ride with them. I didn't think i would ride one my first full day here but I did. We decided just to walk back and we saw one of the mama's (the Ugandan ladies who help look after the kids). Her name is Judy. She was the first person to amaze me while here, on my first day. As we were walking we asked her to show us how to get down to the lake, it wasn't too far, but as we were walking she began telling me about her family. She is a mother of 3, but looks after 5 children. Her sister, and her sister's husband died so she was left with their two children. Her husband was shot in 2008, while she was pregnant with their last child, her name is precious. So here I am, walking along lake victoria in Jinja, Uganda, with this singe mother of 5, who comes to work and take care of children here every day, just so she can feed her own. She also said she has to give money to her mother who doesn't work,so that she too can eat. I am here, feeling completely small, but completely encouraged with humanity. This woman's spirit is like no other. As we were walking back, I tripped and fell in the mud face first (go figure). She kept apologizing, and offered me the only other outfit she had in he bag, so that I wouldn't be embarrassed walking back through the villages. I told her that i was fine, and that sometimes you should just laugh when you do things like this. She brought me to a house, or rather a hut in the closest village, where the let me use a bucket of water to wash up. What a way to introduce myself to Uganda!