summer memories

summer. that great break for students…no more tests or classes…no papers or assignments. some of my favorite summer memories are from the very beginning of summer when the newness of that fabulous and ever-longed for three-month-holiday was still fresh.

long evenings on the front porch of friends or my back deck in north carolina…enjoying the cooler evening air with good friends, some delicious food paired with long-steeped sangria and perhaps some apple tobacco in the hooka.

laughter.

stories.

laying in the sun with friends, a book or magazine at my side that i have zero intention of reading. all sighing delirious sighs of relief. we've survived again.

it seems that a lot of my fond memories of summer (or perhaps in general) also have something to do with food. nothing beats good food with good friends. nothing.

summers at camp barnabas…the exhaustion and the sense of "doing good".

loving people.

young summers. playing in the park across the street from the house i grew up in. sleeping in and taking naps in the shade of a tree. praying school never started again.

being barefoot.

and then there was that fateful summer. the summer i first traveled abroad. and i was never the same again. the whole world opened up to me in ways i could never have expected. to see…something else. somewhere else. the travel but bit and the waunderlust will never be cured.

and now summers are always different. i'm no longer a student.

but, for now, living in uganda seems like perpetual summer, even though i am working–something about constant warmth lets the relaxed feeling of summer permeate all i do. every project is a summer project. every harvest is a summer harvest. every party is a summer party.

perhaps my favorite summer memories will be from this 3-year-long summer…

ergo…scruples

recently when driving back from kampala to kotido i was stopped by the traffic police.

we had just crossed the nile, and were creeping up the steep hill after the bridge. and i say creeping because a)the car was quite full of stuff and heavy and, ergo the car moved even slower than usual. b)its a steep hill. i drive a manual. again-ergo, slower than usual.

i will admit that i did not check my speed as i was coming up said hill. but i submit to you the above information regarding the steepness of said hill, the weight of the car and will add that i had just navigated a massive speed bump.

ergo–i was not traveling 74kmph. there is just no way under the sun that this could be true.

but the officer who flagged me down said that he was “able to clock” me at 74 kmph coming up the hill. he even showed me on his radar gun.

i was extremely polite and patient. i said, “sir, i did not look at my speedometer as i was coming up the hill, but i know that there is no way i was traveling that fast. i know that the speed limit in this reserve is 20kmph. also, the hill is steep and the car is heavy so i know that i had to be well within the speed limit.”

basically he ignored my response and asked to see my driving permit. so i retrieved my uganda driving permit from my purse and handed it to him. he was shocked to see that i *actually* had one. he did not hide this shock.

he then started in on the speech that is meant to scare me into bribing him. “now…what are we going to do, you were breaking the law… what can we do?…”

i sat there, waiting for him to name it out right that if i paid him then this whole incident would be over. he never just came right out and said it (drat!). instead he kept repeating “what are we going to do?”

my mantra was, “well, we follow the law. we will do what the law says.”

well, that was just a response a mad [crazy] person would give, apparently. he enumerated many reasons that following the law would really just create more problems for both of us, eating all of our time.

he told me that he had to keep my permit with him, to write me a receipt (ticket) and that i would have to come back there with a bank slip to clear the receipt and retrieve my permit. he asked where i was to, and i answered honestly (i never answer honestly. i nearly always say lira because i don’t want to get into a conversation about kotido/karamoja on the side of the road when all i want is to be home) telling him that we were going to kotido, and that we live there. and have for a year and a half.

this started the “now, what are we going to do…?” barrage again. i forced myself to not roll my eyes and stuck with my mantra, “we follow the law. if you need to keep my permit and give me a receipt for me to pay at my bank in kotido, and then i have to come back here to finish the business, then that is what we will do. because if i was truly breaking the law then i should have to pay those consequences. if i was not breaking the law, however, then i should not have to pay anything.”

in an attempt to make me nervous (i believe) he said, “well, let me discuss with my colleges.” so he took my permit over to his fellow officers to “discuss.” if it was really an attempt to make me nervous and break to pay a bribe to get my permit back, it didn’t work. i wasn’t nervous. on the contrary i was getting worked up.

there were many emotions that clouded my mind, many of which are resurfacing as i type this about 3 weeks later… i was angry. i was (and am) angry because we were taking time out of kelly’s and my day. we had already been on the road for a long time, and had a long time to go. daylight is not to be wasted when traveling here. i was angry because i knew that i wasn’t speeding. i knew that i was well within the law. i do not like being called or implied to be a liar or someone who would deceive people who are supposed to be protecting the people.

i was angry because i felt like he was trying to take advantage of me. as a white person and as a woman. using intimidation and fear to take something away from me that you perceive that i have because of how i look.

a deep feeling of sadness was fighting the anger i was feeling in that moment. sadness that for whatever reason, this man was angling for a bribe. it could be because he doesn’t get paid well/on time/at all/very much from his job. and to make ends meet this has become the “acceptable” form of making money. sadness that such corruption is a mainstay in this beautiful country. sadness that had i been a different expat or ngo worker i would have just chalked it up to “typical ugandan” behavior and thought badly of the whole people of uganda and perhaps of the continent. (i don’t think that way, for the record. its not “typical” and i do not think less of the people of the ‘pearl of africa’. or the continent, for that matter.)

in the moment i was calm, cool and collected. stating my case and sticking to my story. “we will follow the law.” and i think that that was the best way for me to behave. i do not believe in paying bribes. i know this won’t fix the system or make things ‘better’ but well, i’m just morally against it. we spent my time and his time on the side of that road, i think that’s payment enough.

the officer came back from consulting with his fellow officers. he handed my permit back to me saying, “we see that you are a mother, susanne.” (why the middle name??) and we respect our mothers, so we are going to let you go with a warning.”

i swallowed my feminist pride, gave a smile/grimace in his general direction and said, “thank you.”

and then he made some comment about how yes, i was correct in thanking him for “letting me get away with it.” i gave him another
smile/grimace and drove away. at 20kmph.

and then, i rolled my eyes.
multiple times.

2 haiku (and parenthetical addendum) on the incident:

to the police man
you accused me of speeding
that i was not doing

you ask for a bribe
i do not pay them, for i
work for m.c.c.
(and because i have scruples)

and now for some cuteness

there are puppies at my house… my dog (kimya magdalena dogson) had 5 healthy little balls of fluff while i was away in kenya. and here are some photos of them before they find their ways to their new homes…

bad girl

a pile of 5 puppies snoozing away in their box

provision?

ramblings and wondering [stream of consciousness] on provision…

recently i have been thinking a lot about provision and being provided for or being a provider…or about god as provider etc. generally i come out of one of these thinking-sessions feeling inadequate, confused and sleepy.

many times i am looked upon as a provider int his community. i have means. i have access to means. even though protest and say “i’m in debt!” i am still viewed as someone with access not only to means, but to sums that are unimaginable to those who come to me for assistance.

specifically, i’ve been thinking about how much my university and grad school educations cost (and continue to cost…and will probably continue to continue to cost) in regards to money. and how even just one semester of my undergraduate education would pay for a primary student in uganda to complete ALL of primary school and perhaps even all of secondary (ordinary and advanced levels-thats 6 years of secondary and 13 years of school!). this includes tuition, notebooks, pencils/pens, mathematical sets, uniforms, lunch even boarding. which is just insane to ponder.

its the beginning of a term, and students need notebooks for school. and something to write with. so i have had children coming to my office asking for assistance. and i tend to give it to them. when students ask for books [notebooks] i get them. i find money and i buy them.

i do this in the good faith that they are taking these books to school, where they write in them and then read from them again. (they don’t have textbooks of their very own. most schools, if not all, do not even have student books in their schools for students to borrow–they rely on what they copy from the board when their teachers are teaching. and then they memorize what they wrote and regurgitate it on exams at the beginning and end of each term.

maybe i should have some sort of “checks and balance” system where i consent to give a child books and pens for school IF they bring me their results… or if i go to their school and see that they really are enrolled and not just collecting books from me and selling them. however. if they ARE collecting books from me an selling them, they are probably using that money for rice/posho and beans. (which, lets be frank, i’d buy too. at least as much as i can afford… if i were asked to do so.)

but i don’t know if i want that system. 99% of the kids/people who i have helped out with books or pens, money for exams or trips hiking with the scouts come back to me on their own to show me their results, or to thank me, or to give me a report about how great hiking was or what they learned on their trip to gulu. i prefer that they come on their own–that they feel obligated because they want to share with me not because i told them they had to.

am i perpetuating the archaic white-african relationship that i loathe and despise? i certainly hope not. i hope that my actions and willingness to help out translate as one human being helping out another human being because i love them. not because i think less of them for some reason. i hope that we are forming relationships that aren’t based on what our skin looks like, or that i seem to have when they have not. i hope that these interactions and relationships show my humanity to them as their presence in my office and on my veranda do to me.

i hope that i am able to communicate that we are learning from each other. that i don’t have all the answers. i never ever just give something away and thats it. we talk first. “whats your name?” “where do you stay?” “who do you stay with?” “do you like school? what is your best subject?” “how did you know to come to me?” and they always have questions. “why do you love uganda?” “how long will you live here?” “when are you coming to school?” “how do you take care of your hair?”

come to think of it, i don’t want to be a provider.
but i do want to share.

[n.b.] i still have a lot of confusing questions about god as provider–and sometimes feeling angry that if god is supposed to be this great provider why in heaven’s name are people starving? and why are people hurting like this? and a “well humanity is fallen” answer just doesn’t cut it. i’m left with a lot of “WHY?!” it seems to me that living in this “WHY?!” and being uncomfortable is why i tend to want to share–even if sometimes i glare at the heavens thinking snarky thoughts like, “YOU should be doing this, i’ll help out in your seeming absence or lord of everything…”
and sometimes i hear something like “am i not doing through you?” and its enough.
but sometimes its not enough.
and i just feel angry.
but i do want to share…

another homily: betwixt and between

the second homily offered at the mcc-uganda team meeting on 8 june 2010. i hesitated to post it because it is a lot less polished than i would like it to be. but then i decided, “what the heck.” so, here it is:

ecclesiastes 3:1 for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven

jonah 1: 17  but the lord provided a large fish to swallow up jonah; and jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days  and three nights.

matthew 2:12 and having been warned in a dream not to return to herod, they left for their own country by another road.

homily: betwixt and between

the magi had to return to their own land by a different way because they were different. they were changed by what they saw, what they experienced­­­­­­––they could not continue to function as they were prior to their new knowledge. the magi were betwixt and between… their journey had begun, but they had not arrived.
everything of necessity was different as they had to re-pattern their lives according to what they have seen, learned and understood. likewise for us, everything of necessity will be different as we re-pattern our lives according to what we have been given to see, to know, to understand and experience.
the re-patterning of our lives is not easy. in times of instant travel, the notion of journey has lost its symbolic significance. in times of transition and change there is no instant arrival at a new way of knowing or being. we have set out, but not arrived.
each new breakthrough and insight or revelation in the journey of faith requires a re-patterning of our lives according to what has been given to us to see. when we are in times of transition, wondering if we will return to our own land by the same or a different route, we are in a risky space. a risky space between remembering and hope.  there is a season to be in the risky space. to re-member ourselves and our relationships both near and far.
remembering in that we are re-membering what we had left behind. picking up where we left off, or working again at friendships that need some mending. we are re-membering the memories and experiences we have had away from our own land––we wonder what those memories and learnings will look like in this old and yet new context. risky space between remembrance and hope presents a potential context for transformation.
being betwixt and between is not experienced as comfortably riding in an airplane, car or bus where we may bring along comforts of our homes, from either side of the ocean. rather, as some writers of the old and new testaments have more accurately imagined this transitional space as a wilderness or desert. a wild-space…a space of being liminal. we have set out, but not arrived…
being betwixt and between is most palpable in those unexpected moments, when feeling comfortable and good back at home with our friends and family, and suddenly feeling out of place. nothing in particular was said, no one gave you a dirty look, but a memory from a place these people will never experience––and that they have no desire to experience­––has struck you. you are not here. you are not there. you are somewhere between the two places. you have returned home, but by a different road.
jesus’ idea of church is not about giving people answers but, in fact, leading them into these liminal and dark spaces where we long and yearn for god, for wisdom and for our own souls. this is­––and always has been––the only answer. (richard rohr)

embrace liminality- it is where god is in control and we are not.
we must trust that this darkness (time of transition/change/facing the unknown), is also light unimaginable.
for you i hope that you are cursed with divine restlessness and unsettledness of a pilgrim of christ. that your presence may be a disruption to the norm and at the same time a sign and symbol of peace, joy and loving-kindness. i hope that you are plagued with the faces and names of your brothers and sisters in uganda and that you have no choice but to share those faces, names and stories with your brothers and sisters wherever you may be. i pray that you are never able to be the same again.
i hope that sometimes you inexplicably and randomly crave matooke or posho. i hope that you accidently say “irish” instead of “potatoes”, that when someone asks you how you are, your response is “somehow.”… that you are confused about what kind of greeting is appropriate–that you accidently hug someone you probably “shouldn’t”…that instinctively you hold someone’s hand after shaking it… i hope that you are able to laugh. to cry. to be confused. to ponder and wonder. i hope that you let yourself be changed­­––and that those you are returning to not only see the change, but are curious about it. i hope that rather than wanting you to “just be who you were”  they just desire you to be exactly who you are, and who you will continue to become as the years go by.
i hope that you see your students faces in you dreams, and hear their songs floating on the breeze. i pray that you close your eyes and long for the equatorial sun’s warmth–that you breathe deeply and long for the smells of uganda. i hope that the stories you heard and documented stay with you, and keep you from being too comfortable. i hope that in welcoming new family you are reminded of the family here.
two roads converged in the woods, and most of us took neither of them––we turned and created our own path, charting our own course. and were lucky enough to stumble upon each other. the path widened and continues to widen to hold others as we journey together. this time in transition, of being liminal, is not a t-intersection––but a slight bend in the road. we  all continue on––journeying.
may the road rise to meet you.
amen.

homily: all we know…

homily (1 of 2) prepared and shared at a mennonite central comittee–uganda team meeting, during a time of change and transition–7 of 12 team members are returning to north america in the coming months. this was our last team meeting together as this group…

ecclesiastes 3:1 for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter  under heaven

jonah 1: 17  but the lord provided a large fish to swallow up jonah; and jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days  and three nights.

matthew 2:12 and having been warned in a dream not to return to herod, they left for their own country by another road.


homily: all we know is we cannot run from nineveh

for everything there is a season:  a time to journey to distant lands, and a time to return by another road. a time to be in the belly of a fish, a time to be spat up on the shore. there is a time to be away, and a time to go back. a time to transition, a time to journey on.
we will be living with these texts in today’s and in tomorrow’s worship.
the passage from ecclesiastes tends to be a familiar passage of scripture, with familiar words that follow this superscription: “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; /…/ a time to weep, and a time to laugh” etc. i struggled with using this passage, and almost left it out for some of the cliched and tried uses it this portion of scripture has been subjected to over the years––however the base sentiment still rings true: for everything there is a season. there is also a season of not knowing.
matthew’s gospel tells us that the magi––those wise persons who visited jesus after his birth––were awed by the presence of the christ child, and where warned in a dream not to return to herod. the magi were changed by their visit to christ, their route was changed by their experience, they returned to their country by a different road, a different way–as different people.
the small snippet from jonah comes at a time of great unknowing for him, potentially he does not know which way is even “up” in this great fish…he does not know how long he will be there, if he will ever be outside of this belly again…i suspect that it is dark inside the belly of a great fish, so i also suspect he might not even know what else is inside his floating home with him.

ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season for everything, including a season of not knowing––a season of transition and change––of being liminal. we are, but we are not. we have begun the journey, but we have yet to arrive.
this is where we find jonah. he has began a strange journey to a strange place and in a strange way. this time of change for him is enshrouded in darkness–he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a vague idea of where the journey will end.
our journey through times of change and transitions is a lot like jonah’s ––we may not be in the belly of a great fish–but our times of transition and change are shrouded in the darkness of unknowing and that unsettled feeling in the pit of our stomach that is a mixture of excitement and fear.
these times of excitement and fear, of transition are wild-spaces. the wild-spaces, the wilderness’  we journey through are phases that disorient us and test the heart. when we struggle to know which way is up, to know where the right shore or destination is.  these wild-spaces stretch every fiber of our being in order that we may be capacitated to learn more of our own self, and of god’s self. these are spaces when we are invited to let go of all images and perceptions of who we are and how things ‘should’ be.  without experiences of liminal [or wild] space , there is no truthful perspective on life. without truthful perspective there is no true transformation.
in a time of transition and change we have the opportunity to become aware of a new way of seeing, valuing and believing as persons in relationship with other and the world.
there is therefore both a death and a birth–the death and loss of former ways of being as individuals and as communities. but this is an opportunity for birth as well–birth into new ways of being in the world. a birth into being the new person that we have become through our experiences and our learning.
in the wild-spaces we discover that we do not speak the same way we used to. things are subtly and somehow-ly different than they used to be. of some of these things–we are all most aware. but there are things that we overlook–things that become so ingrained in our lives that we forget that what is now common-place and everyday that we are not able notice them as different until it is pointed out to us:
“you never used to…”

“since when do you care about…”

“you’re different now than you were then…”
we are in unknown times, like jonah, and for now, we do not know what or where the right shore is. all we know is we cannot run from nineveh. we cannot run from the wild-space. the question becomes: what will we do here?