Friday, November 28, 2008

Finally online!

Well, for those of you who have been to the site looking for updates, we’re really sorry! We haven’t been able to get online all week, and even now, I’ve only got a few minutes. So, let me try to give you a very quick summary of the week and we’ll add our thoughts and stories once we return stateside.

Friday, Nov. 21st – Flew out of St. Louis and were supposed to meet up with Jami’s husband in Detroit. Found out that there were some complications with his passport and he won’t be able to fly out until Tuesday – if at all. The first major downer of the trip. (But it turns out to be a good thing in a way…you’ll see.)

Saturday, Nov. 22nd – Arrived in the capital city of Kampala just before midnight. All the luggage came in just fine and didn’t even have to go through customs. Got to the hotel and to sleep finally around 2:30 a.m.

Sunday, Nov. 23rd – Were asked to come to the village and attend the service at their local parish. We were welcomed with great excitement and anticipation of the work we had come to do. There is definitely a “buzz” in the community about the “muzungu” (white people) that have come and a curiosity about how and why we would be here.

Monday, Nov.24th – We showed up on site at the school first thing in the morning to begin to try to establish a schedule for the week and check progress on work and funds that were arranged ahead of time. One of the first things on the “to do” list was to sand and paint the tin roof of the building that would be used to capture the rain water and direct it to the water harvesting tank that we were going to be purchasing. We soon found out that there were no ladders on site – so the first job at hand was to build ladders from the branches of trees that had been cut down for that purpose. It felt like this was going to be a very SLOW day… By late morning, it seemed like, somehow, the crew had kicked into a whole other gear as students and some of our team members worked feverishly in the heat to scrape and paint the roof. Another crew from the community was working on the fascia (sp?) board that would be needed in order to attach the guttering that would come later.

All in all, by the end of the day, the roof was painted, and most of the fascia board in place and we still managed to have the mandatory breaks for mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea. We’ve learned that those aren’t optional! ☺

Tuesday, Nov. 25th – Today was a much slower day in terms of the actual work done. We’re quickly becoming aware and accustomed to the differences in the approach to work and schedules and the challenges of making major purchases in a foreign country. Part of the team left in the morning to make the purchases of the materials for the repair of the primary village well and to locate and purchase the water tank and make arrangement for delivery. Sounds relatively easy, right? So we thought. They were gone for 6-7 hours or more, BUT had a hugely successful day as they were able to purchase all the materials need to repair the well (we hoped!) and locate a 24,000 liter tank AND get a $600 discount on it! We were ALL so pumped (no pun intended) to hear it! The tank and well materials were delivered at 10:00 p.m. that night.

The rest of the team had success of a different kind that day. We spent the day with the students playing ball, having shade-tree conversations that turned into lessons on American culture, anthropology, government, social studies and beyond. It was SUCH a wonderful experience. They are so eager to learn and so curious about so many things that they have only read about. The conversations ranged from skyscrapers and American wedding practices to aliens and Prison Break and a hundred other random topics in between.

Who knew that there were actually people around the world that truly believed that Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows really were brothers (Prison Break reference); and who had no concept that what they were watching wasn’t really the actual events in their lives… Their innocence and eagerness to learn is so refreshing.

Wednesday, Nov. 26th - This was a HUGE day. The pump technician came in the morning and the long-anticipated work on the well began. The well, the primary source of water for the school and hundreds of families in the village has not worked for almost two years. In our conversations with the students, we learn that their lives are true reflections of the statistics we’ve seen. Every one of them is involved in the collection of water for their family every single day. They spend an average of 3-4 hours collecting water for that day – about 6-9 “jerry cans” (sp) for a family of 9-12 (average). Each can weighs around 40 lbs. when it’s full. The smaller children carry what they can, but generally as much as their own body weight or more. People with containers are a constant scene – either going or returning from the water source.

A pretty good crowd shows up as the technician, our team, and local men start to disassemble the pump. The day is gorgeous and the air is thick with enthusiasm. All goes well with the removal of the old pipes and we discover that there is definitely water in the well as the final sections of pipe emerge wet. This is great news!
Mid-morning the install is scheduled to begin but is promptly halted as we realize there is no lubricant for the gaskets on the new pump. So, someone is send in search of lubricant. By now mid-morning tea time rolls around and even clean water efforts get trumped as we go back to the school for tea. The women of the village have served us tea and lunch each day. Their hospitality and joy is so humbling. They are such delightful people.

By 11:00 the lubricant arrives and the work resumes. The new piping begins to go down the hole and the excitement of seeing flowing water continues to mount. As they get to the third or fourth pipe, the technician recognizes that the final rod will not fit through the hole that leads to the pump itself and, for a moment to those of us looking on and not understanding a word of Ugandan, it seems as those the day may end here. But within a couple of minute a man walk off with the rod and we find out tha he’s taking it home to grind it down. They’re as determined as we are – maybe more – to make this work.

As the next to the last pipe is prepared, the man returns with the rod and it’s ready to go. Perfect. However, the technician discovers that the rods will be too long and the pump will not work. They gather around the pipes and he begins to explain to the problem. It appears that the final rod will have to be cut and welded to fit before we can finish the work. Another villager has the welding equipment (incredible!) but, as happens every day at some point, the village is without power. It could be minutes, but more likely hours before it returns. (Can you feel the tension of the moment?)

The discussion continues and we realize that the rod from the old piping will work as a temporary solution and within minutes the final countdown is back on.
Everyone gathers around the pump as the final piece is assembled and one of the men immediately begins to pump. This is the moment that ALL of us have been waiting for – the MAJOR moment behind all the efforts of Project Restore since our “Walk for Water” in May.

Then it happens. Water begins to trickle and then to flow. It’s a moment you can’t really put into words. We’ve tried as we’ve retold it to each other several times. Wish you could have been here. Wish you could be here to see the lines of people waiting with their containers to retrieve the life-giving water. Sometimes you can hear their laughter from around the trees as you approach the well. This is so much more than water. This is hope. This is life. This is a message to the entire village that they are not alone. They keep telling us that they don’t have words to thank us. This changes all of us.

So, for those of you who played a part in this moment, you were with us as we stood around the well and watched the water flow. We don’t have the right words either, but “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

What’s so amazing is that the day isn’t over yet. This is the also the day that our team distributes 300 treated mosquito nets to young and old. We have all seen, firsthand, the effects of malaria as people we know – host homes and school teachers – have family members with children who have some form of handicap because of this disease. It’s more than a statistic here. It’s a very real and present illness and fear.

But today, 300 people – and another 100 to come – will sleep peacefully. One of the school teachers said it something like this: “You don’t understand what this means to our village. The children will probably oversleep tomorrow because for the first time in their life they will not be awakened by the noise or sting of the mosquitoes. They will not have to sleep in fear.” Just one net. $4. Hard to fathom that for them it’s still life and death yet, until now, out of their reach. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

The day concludes with a group of us heading through the jungles on Uganda to collect water samples from some of the primary water sources in the area. We’re traveling by “boda boda” (motorcycle taxi) and having the time of our lives! One of our team members is a chemical engineer and hopes to take the samples home and test the water so that we can know which, if any, of the sources are contaminated and life-threatening. As we visit the sources it’s clear that at least two of them are clearly unsafe. What we don’t know is how many families are drawing their water there. Another sobering moment.

Thursday, Nov.27th – Thanksgiving! – Well, it’s not officially “Thanksgiving” in Uganda, but we are all pumped about ALL that we have already seen that we are so thankful for.

Jami’s husband, David, arrives on site first thing in the morning. He’s the team member whose trip was detoured because of the passport issues. It’s great to see him! We soon find out that he’s brought two basketball hoops because Jami had told him that we had brought balls, but there were no hoops. Because of his delay he was able to pick those up and bring them. What follows was nothing short of amazing!
Within minutes the buzz about building a basketball court is going around among the students and teachers and they start asking us which trees should the cut down to use for the hoops. Within a matter of minutes, literally, the axe is swinging a tree is coming down, then another and the Namulonge Secondary School basketball court is underway. It’s unbelievable!

By early afternoon, they’ve located the area where the court will be, dug the holes, found an old door that has been now cut in half. The hoops are taken away to be secured to the backboards and the goals are going up.

Less than three hours, I think, have passed from the time the hoops arrived and there is now a full-fledged basketball game going on first the first time ever in this village. Ever. It’s just incredible. There’s not another basketball court for miles and they know it. They have a treasure. The are having the time of their lives and we are too as we watch them dribble, shoot, laugh, and play. We’re reminded that it’s the simple things that are our richest blessings and how easy they are to miss. We have more than they’ll ever begin to understand, but they’ve taught us, reminded us again, what it is to be truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and all our loved ones who’ve allowed us to be half-way around the world on a day that we’re typically together celebrating. We’re thinking of you. We’re missing you. But we’re thankful in new and deeper ways.

Friday, Nov. 28th
- Today we're taking some time to see some of the historical and landmark sites of this beautiful land. We're on our way in a few minutes to visit the site that is the source of the Nile river. There are beautiful falls there, we're told. So, we've returned to Kampala for the first time since we've arrived. The rain has come this morning and it's very cool and refreshing. This should be another breath-taking experience.

Until the next time we're able to log on...


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The conversation begins...

OK... so we're starting the conversation. (It was actually Catherine's idea...) We thought we'd launch our blog on the eve of our first major initiative in Uganda.

Ten of us are headed out this Friday to the village of Namulonge, outside the capital city of Kampala, and we're going to begin the process of bringing clean water to hundreds of people who don't have access to it now. That's a pretty overwhelming feeling...

So, come back over the next couple of weeks and we'll do our best to keep you updated with the daily activity. Not sure when we'll get to have internet access to post our journal, but stop by when you can. We're looking forward to sharing this journey with you.

PS: Check out our site for more info: