Living Hopefully

Stories from Uganda

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Snakes and Assault Rifles

During our first week in Jinja we set out to explore our new home town. We walked to dinner, ate on a dock over the Nile, and watched monkeys playing in the trees. It was dusk when we made our way home.

We took a new route, walking up a rutted dirt track we had not yet explored. The road wound between abandoned British colonial houses, tile roofs sloughing off, shattered windows gaping, chain link fences rusted and falling down.

Ahead a shadow passed behind a broken window. A moment later a man emerged from a hole in the wall of a once grand, now decrepit, house. He disappeared in the tangled undergrowth.  The man reappeared and pushed through a creaking gate and stepped into the road in front of us, wearing a stained and tattered uniform.

The man shifted his weight and hefted an old militarty gun from one hand to the other. I quickly looked around, not another soul in sight. The sun behind the horizon. A dark face hidden in shadows. A rusted barrel casually, perhaps accidentally, swinging past my chest. I held Winden’s tiny body a little more tightly.  

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This guy looks way cooler than the guy I’m talking about.

Like the sunrise a smile split the man’s face, white teeth nearly shining in the dusk.

“Praise the Lord! How is baby? How are you finding Uganda? How is mamma? You are most welcome here!” And with a handshake and a grin he sauntered off and we went home.

And that’s normal here. People that would kill me in a movie drink tea and talk about their kids in real life. 

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This photo is borrowed from Fox News. Not shown: his pearly whites.

Every day I see things that white middle class Americans are taught to fear. Snakes on the bedroom floor, black men with machine guns, muslim men in turbans. As I walk by they call out “Hello friend. You can not just be walking by me. Stop and say hello.” (The people…  the snakes just slither.) And so I do.  We laugh, they ask about Winden, and they teach me words that I promptly forget.  I’m a stranger here, but I feel welcome.  I’m a foreigner, but we are sharing life in little ways: greetings, laughter, asking after family.

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This is how it feels to find an unidentified snake in your baby’s room.

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This is what it looks like after you catch it and identify it.

Africa. It’s not a news report, a movie, or a church bulletin photo.  For a lot of people it’s home.

I didn’t see this coming

Life can change in the most surprising ways.

I think we’ve all experienced some of the tragedies. Dreams get shattered, or just slowly rust away. A person you love is there, and then they are not. A friend you can count on betrays you deeply. A family ruptures. It’s shocking, it’s cruel, and I was getting used to it.

But then there are the other surprises. The birth of a child (plan all you want. You’ll be surprised just the same). The resurrection of a cat (that’s a story for another time).

Six months ago I was, living my life in the Pennsylvania woods, doing environmental education. 

 

This used to be my commute to work.

This used to be my commute to work.

Flash forward to today, and you’ll find me driving a motorcycle around Uganda directing a public health NGO.

 

This is my commute now.

This is my commute now.

Six months ago, It was just Laura and me.

We had a good time.

We had a good time.

Here we are today with another beautiful little person in our family.

 

I'd say she's an improvement.

I’d say she’s an improvement.

 

This morning I rode into town, bought water, and strapped the jug onto my motorcycle.  As I threaded my way through a herd of cows and a machine gun toting marching band I realized that I don’t recognize this life I’m living. But I like it.

And I’m falling into the rhythm of it. It feels like a different world, but I am still me.

We feel like a different family. But we are still us.

For a minute there, I’d forgotten that surprises can be amazing. That life can twist and turn and leave you breathless for all the right reasons.

That’s a thing worth remembering.

Sole Hope. It’s Why We Moved To Uganda.

There are a lot of good reasons to move to Uganda.  The avocados alone are about worth it, but that’s not what chased us out of our cozy little Pennsylvania life.  We came here to work with an organization called Sole Hope.

The Problem

Eastern Uganda has a terrible problem with a little bug called a jigger.  They are a nasty parasite accidentally introduced by european colonialism that infest people’s hands and feet.  They often infect children and it can keep them from being able to walk to school and thus have a cascading negative impact.  There is a lot of misinformation about causes and treatment, and a heavy social stigma associated with having jiggers.  They can really destroy a person’s quality of life and lead to a lot of pain and serious health complications.  You can trust me on this, or you can click this very graphic and disturbing link.

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Having traveled a lot I feel I can say this: Jiggers aren’t the the only problem in the world, and they probably aren’t the worst.  They are unique, however, in that the solution is simple, lasting, and effective.  It’s an area where education and some simple tools can drastically change lives for the better.

Sole Hope Steps In 

Sole hope is an organization doing something about Jiggers in Uganda.  Most of the supplies and funds are raised by a small army of advocates and volunteers in the US.  The work on the ground here is carried out by over thirty Ugandans and a handful of Americans.

Crafting Quality Shoes

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Jiggers live in dusty dirt and they infest people through direct contact.  If you aren’t walking directly in that dust, you won’t get Jiggers.  So, Sole Hope builds shoes.  The uppers are made from repurposed worn jeans.  The soles are made from motorcycle tires in Uganda.

People stateside get together, have a party, and cut up their own pants.  Usually it’s their old jeans that they no longer wear.  Very rarely, it’s the pants they wore to the party.  They ship the pants to Sole Hope’s North Carolina Office.

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Once a year, thousands and thousands of sets of shoe uppers, plus loads of medical supplies are sent to Uganda on truck and a ship and a train.

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Once they get here, Sole Hope’s team of tailors sew the uppers together.

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The cobblers form the shoes and add the soles.

 

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And boom.  A shoe is born.  It’s sturdy, durable, and almost entirely made out of repurposed materials.

The Mobile Clinic

Every Thursday the team loads up the vehicles with shoes, medical supplies, and extra volunteers and heads out of town.  When school is in session, we generally target schools.  During holidays we go to communities that are suffering from Jiggers.

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First, each kid’s feet are thoroughly washed.

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Then the jiggers are removed with razors and safety pins.

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Each patient gets a pair of handmade, eco friendly shoes to help prevent future infestation.

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Each patient then gets one on one education about how to remain jigger free.  They go home with educational materials pinned to their shirt.  And a lollipop.

The Outreach House 

The worst cases come back to the Sole Hope Outreach house where they are treated over the course of one to three weeks until they are jigger free, healthy, and ready to head home armed with new knowledge and tools.

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This is Waiswa.  He came to the Sole Hope outreach house around a year ago with over 1,600 jiggers.  He was treated for three weeks.  I saw him last week, healthy and jigger free.  He gave Winden the biggest hi5 of her little life.

The outreach house can treat up to 30 patients at a time.  It’s run by a dedicated team of nurses, social workers, educators, and caretakers.

The Guest House

If you want to come hang out, volunteer at clinics, play with kids, etc… Sole Hope also has a guest house.  It’s on the same compound as the shoe factory, is safe, beautiful, and full of delicious food.

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If you are looking for more information, or would like to cut up some of your pants, you can visit Sole Hope’s Website and learn a lot.  Or you can talk more to me.

We just moved to Uganda

We moved to Uganda.

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When you put it that way it sounds easy.  It wasn’t.  Shoot, let’s be honest here, it isn’t.

We’ll start with wasn’t.

First off, leaving everyone we love was difficult.  I’ve never lived more than a dozen miles away from the bed I was born in.  And I have loved that.  I live and breathe those pennsylvania woods and streams (then I cough, because water is hard to breathe).  I can walk into church and hi five way too many people that changed my diaper 30 years ago.  All of our parents, most of our siblings, 66% of our niblings, and many lifelong friends are minutes away.

Walking away from that level of intimate familiarity and real, close community is tough.  I cried a lot.   

Then, right when we were almost out of time to pack, our bathtub broke, our AC broke, I got Lymes disease etc… etc… etc…

This is not our home. But this is how it felt.

This is not our home. But this is how it felt.

All the people that love us pitched in and helped us fix everything.  We got on a plane and here we are.

Hi-5

Hi 5

So… let’s move on to isn’t.  

We don’t have a car and public transportation here is motorcycle based.  It’s economical, convenient, and cool for adventurous adults.  It’s not recommended for even the most adventurous babies.  Even badass babies with fros.

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We are accumulating a large pile of dirty diapers and don’t know what to do with them.  Trash is basically composted and burned here.  Can you imagine the environmental damage and the smell of burning poopy diapers????

We are accumulating a large pile of dirty clothes and don’t know how to clean them.  This country of red dirt makes the double layer of deodorant trick useless.  

This is not me. This is, however, what I'll look like next week.

This is not me. This is, however, what I’ll look like next week.

We used to have friends nearby.  We liked that.

We were literally making new friends.

We were literally making new friends.

In short, we barely know how to tie our shoes around here.  

I'm leaning towards this way.

I’m leaning towards this way, though.

But you know what? We didn’t freaking drop the lives we loved and move across the world to have an easy time.  It’s been truly difficult.  And terrifying.  And heartbreaking. And awesome.  

And maybe sometime I’ll tell you about that part.  For now, we are going to go live it.

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