Category Archives: Health

Swarming and Snacking

Sunday night at the Children’s Village is quite low key. The kids sometimes watch a movie when they hook up the generator. So on Sunday when a movie was playing suddenly there were swarms of White Ants (also known as termites) around the outside lights. The solution I thought would be to shut the lights off and let the white ants fly away, however the kids solution is quite different. They were elated at the swarming. Out the younger children came with pans and they started to catch them. Soon the other consultants and myself joined in to help. So we swatted down and caught white ants by the hundreds. I would be glad when they landed on me as it was easier to add them to the pots. White Ants are, well, quite stupid. We put them in the pots without any lids and they didn’t fly away. I jumped on the counter in our house to get the ants closest to the overhead light. A young girl gave me a piece of clothing to swat them down and they anticipated each one that fell to the ground to add to the bounty. More and more were put in the pots until our arms were tired.

The kids put the pots away for the following day. After school on Monday they prepared their snack – they sorted the ants and began to cook them over the coals. The young girls had a pot and so did the young boys. They stirred and cooked until they were a bit crispy. Then we snacked on them. A unique snack that after eating I could still smile about.

Yes we have after school snacks here at the Children’s Village, just not warm cookies and milk.

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You’re all Fat

Saturday I was sitting with a group of girls. I was helping one sew a skirt by hand. She is about 8 and we were putting a simple stitch in to make a seam (thanks Mom). If I didn’t look at them, rather focused on the sewing, they kept touching my skin and each freckle. If I happened to look up they would suddenly realized I knew they were studying me and possibly could feel them touching me. I let them stare at my skin and run their hands over my white arms as I sewed. Then they informed me “you’re fat.” Thankfully I had already had a conversation with Jimmy one of the fantastic National COTN staff. He had informed me that it’s a complement in Uganda to be called fat. To be be fat means that you look good, healthy, nice, etc.

Without a doubt I’m sure you all look wonderfully fat today.

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With Joy from Uganda

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Pictures from Uganda

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My Ugandan Neighborhood

My new neighborhood, a Ugandan village. I wake up on Monday morning ready to work. It is rural Uganda however and it takes a while for the daily chores and tasks to be completed. The children in the COTN Children’s Village start getting up at 5:30 and 6am. There is water to be pumped, food that must be prepared, clothes to be washed, floors to be swept, beds to be made, and most importantly a time to have for prayer and devotion. I woke to Kumbya being song at 6:30am one morning and other mornings the children and staff sing songs to God as they work. But if music and pots clanging don’t wake me up the roosters are like the back up alarm clock.

I have started working on the child profiles and getting just a glimpse of the children’s stories. Parents who have died to HIV/AIDS, grandparents who have been unable to care for their grandchildren, parents lost to the Barlonyo massacre (the word alone is difficult to write), parents who have committed suicide, or some who have abandoned their children. I need much more information from the teachers, Mamas, counseling staff, sponsorship coordinator, and interviews with the children themselves yet I feel that I have a plan that will hopefully get much accomplished. After connecting with many of the adolescent girls I’ve decided to run some counseling groups with Chelsea, an intern who is in school for a master’s in counseling. She is excited and we have some fun activities planned with the girls for the next couple of weeks. The girls also seem very positive about the idea of meeting together.

The past few days I have woken up early to take a brisk walk. It’s not a common sight here in Uganda, they don’t walk for exercise rather they conserve their energy and walk with purpose as so much of their day involves physical labor of some sort. (It’s quite possible all the pumping of water I’m doing must work some muscles that would rival any gym workout) As I head out just before 7am the sun is rising children are starting to arrive to school. The song that is playing on my headphones is God of Brilliant Lights by Aaron Shust. As I walk around the school the children are shy and try not to stare at the white person exercising, however the do. If they are more bold they practice their English and wish me a “Good Morning.” As I walk down the road past one of the local wells I exchange greetings with children, mothers, and men and women on bikes and motorcycles. This afternoon I also went out for a brisk walk which turned into a run as Guito, a village child who attends the school, grabbed my hand. He would not let me slow to a walk rather we ran to his home. Thankfully it was only about 1/4 mile away. It was a mud hut with a straw roof. He entered it to grab a stool and have me rest (clearly I looked like I needed it). I offer thanks for the rest and get up continuing my walk. I’m greeted by name by a woman from the church who is riding her Borda (motorcycle) down the road. Then a number of primary school boys begin following me, clearly talking about the white (Muno) person walking, and from the shadows I can tell they are attempting to imitate how I walk. At one point I turned around abruptly startling them and we all break out in laughter. They are like any other elementary school boys full of curiosity and mischief.

I look forward to more days to see and talk with my new neighbors. As the brilliance of God’s light is shining here in Uganda, breaking through the darkness, may it also be as brilliant in your life as well.

Life Lessons from Biking in Vermont

There is a favorite bicycle ride that I have in Vermont. The back roads are couched perfectly in the Champlain Valley. The Adirondacks and Lake Champlain are on one horizon and the Green Mountains on the other. Cows occasionally look up from feeding to give me a curious stare. Occasionally I talk to them, they are good listeners. Wildflowers line the sides of the roads until they meet fences keeping in (or out) hay, corn, and cows. During my most recent ride I learned three important lessons.

  1. Keep your mouth shut. I seem to get a refresher on this lesson each season both when biking and in “real” life. Biking is not like driving, there is no windshield to protect us from bugs. There is less safety, you’re more exposed. The faster I hurdle myself forward the more unpleasant it can become if I forget to keep my mouth shut. I won’t elaborate you can imagine. However simple this lesson is I need to remember it and implement it or I end up with consequences that leave me sputtering, frustrated, and even angry with myself that it’s such a simple concept. I must remember to learn to keep my mouth shut.
  2. Find a healthy rhythm – gain momentum and sustain it. Once I get up to a steady speed it’s much easier to maintain it. What the optimal speed is for me and how long can I go at a particular pace, in biking and in “real” life is another question. I don’t want to over-exert but I also don’t want to underperform. Underperforming becomes a danger zone in Vermont, moving so slow that I’m at risk for attack. As I biked up a sharp hill I was bit by a horse fly, quite common near so many farms. There was one, then two buzzing around me looking for an opportunity to take a chunk out of me. I felt as if they were taunting me and wondered at what point could I regain enough momentum to part company. Finding a health rhythm feels better, whether it be the pace of the ride, a morning routine that is refreshing, times to reflect, spending time with friends, etc. When I know that my rhythm and momentum are at a more optimal pace then the momentary hindrance of feeling like a pincushion for horse flies is just that, momentary.
  3. Keep enough in your tank – to outrun the surprise enemy. In this case it was 2 dogs. I was enjoying the view, recovering from a slight hill when the dogs sighted me. They attempted to greet me and I was thankful to move out of their reach before their teeth offered salutations. My takeaway is that too often we run at full tilt, all out, with little gas left. Thankfully I was prepared and was able to dig down and stay safe. There are times to “leave it all” on the court, field, game, meeting, etc. however it is essential we know when those times are. This was not one of them and I was glad I was prepared and had enough left in the tank to outrun the enemy because he was real.

Ladies Choice

As I was trying to purge a closet today I ran across a gift I have kept sealed away for about 14 years. I had stowed it in a tin and I smiled as I saw what lay at the bottom. A series of memories arose aided by the aroma. Years ago, just out of college, I was the house manager at a home for individuals with persistent mental health challenges. Translated, I shared a house with 3 individuals with severe mental illness for over 4 years. I managed the home and loved many aspects of this job and living situation. Thinking about my housemates, the “clients”, makes me smile. The one man that lived in the home for at least a year I’ll call Anthony. He’s an intelligent man who began to experience psychosis while studying engineering in college. A ranked chess player and continuous student he was always looking for ways to stop the voices he experienced. When he learned a new medication received final approval to treat schizophrenia he stopped his medications in order to decline enough to be hospitalized and start the new medication. He would listen intently to his headphones to study new languages. His hope was that if he learned a new language he would no longer be able to hear the voices which he heard in English. He attempted to learn Spanish, French and numerous others including Esperanto. There were attempts at playing three dimensional chess which I believe he thought would give him a new perspective and unlock answers to him. We also had an adventure with spearmint schnapps which contrary to Anthony’s opinion at that time does not stop voices originating from schizophrenia.

From Anthony I learned one of the most crucial scrabble words to play when you get stuck with a Q. From Anthony I learned that a man should walk closest to the road to protect the woman they are walking with, as he would do so with me. From Anthony I learned how a soft boiled egg is cooked. From Anthony’s I received Ladies Choice. Anthony typically would not smoke cigarettes but for a period of time he felt that smoking pipes would help alleviate his schizophrenia. It was important to him that he smoke the correct mix of tobacco in a corn cob pipe. Anthony was also looking out for me. He came home one day with a gift, my very own corn cob pipe and Ladies Choice tobacco. Though my attempt was to purge I remember that day clearly as he was insistent I keep the gift, insisting it was “important.” Anthony worked in a local restaurant which was challenging for him as he regularly talked out loud, having conversations with the voices he experienced. Though he was working to find a way to stop the voices I never knew him to give up or be stuck in a depression because of them.

Anthony is someone I wish you could all meet. He’s a man who actively tries to live his life despite having diagnosis of schizophrenia. He made me laugh, looked out for me in a brotherly way, and I was glad that we were housemates. For two reasons I wish you could all meet Anthony. First because of who he is as an individual, he’s worth meeting. Secondly, because despite having diagnosis which comes with a host of images and opinions, he is not his diagnosis. He’s not scary or violent rather he’s intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate. He was my housemate who gave me an “important” gift that will always make me smile.

Great Souls at Prayer

Today my dear friend Gini is exhausted and uncomfortable she is 2 weeks away from reaching 96 and is ready to be with Jesus. She is a Great Soul. Today there was little she could focus on or receive comfort from. I read/prayed with her from “Great Souls at Prayer” a compilation of prayer by Mary W. Tileston. Her copy is well worn with personal notes and meaningful phrases underlined.

Today’s prayer:

December 12th: “Most Loving Lord, I offer my whole self unto Thee. Take, I pray Thee, into the hands of Thine unspeakable pity, both my soul and body, my senses words and actions; vouchsafe in all things so to direct and govern me, that I may ever flee every occasion of sin, and may so constantly cleave to Thee and to Thy commandments, that neither life nor death, nor anything which may befall me, may separate me from Thee – Amen” Treasury of Devotion, 1869

It’s a Wonderful Life

The work week came to a close and the to-do list for work and home over the weekend was long. Some was checked off but new items have appeared on the list. It is hard to take time to write and reflect on this stage in my life when I feel there is so much to do.

Downstairs is my dear neighbor who my mind wanders to continually. My focus is to help her finish well. She is receiving support from Hospice of the North Shore. The support and care is wonderful but when she is home the most they come is an hour a day. As I think of her it is clear that our friendship and the proximity of our apartments are not by accident.

Being single, and without kids at this time in my life, is not what I imagined, expected or planned. I don’t always handle this stage in my life with as much grace as I would like. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the work that God had in mind for me. Yet over and over again I think of the coming weeks and there is no other place I would rather be. If I was married I would not be living here (a hope for someday). If I had adopted (a hope to do someday) I would not living here. If I had foster kids (again a hope) I would not be living here. If I had bought a house again of course I would not be living here. Would I be friends with my dear neighbor? Yes I expect I would be in some way. However if many of my dreams, goals, and expectations for my life had been realized at this time I would not have the depth of friendship with my neighbor, nor the proximity. So my journey has taken a twist I never imagined and I would not have written the story another way. One of my closest friends time here is coming to an end.

I went downstairs last night and Gini was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart would essentially be her contemporary. Though some years it seems to run continually on TV she had never watched the movie in its entirety. This weekend she watched it and it made me ponder what would the world be like without her. Who has she touched and how? How has she touched me? Gini’s depth of care and willingness to have hard conversations is amazing. Many times heartfelt words have been shared verbally and in notes. I wouldn’t be the same nor would many of the women she has taught for decades in Bible Classes nor would the students she walked alongside of in the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. There would have been much less music in this world without Gini.

Don’t miss the story of It’s a Wonderful Life for yourself and for those you love this Advent season.

 

Giving a Last Letter

Back in April of 2011 I blogged about Writing Gini The post was a way to keep myself accountable about something I didn’t want to regret not following through with. Gini Andrews, my mentor and friend, is now 95 years old and 11 months. She has been a dear friend for 13 years and has played an integral part of my faith journey. Her life here on earth has been winding down with the support of a group of friends, friendship which is measured in decades rather than years. I am humbled that in a small way I am part of this group that is part of loving her into eternity. I have been thinking of this a lot for the past months. How do I express to her how much she means to me? How for my own process, journey, and eventual healing do I feel I have no regrets and enough been said? Though both of us have been generous with words I chose to write a letter. Yet for many months I didn’t feel the pressure of it. She seemed relatively healthy and I only wrote a bit. However in August there was a diagnosis of cancer and decision for hospice rather than treatment. The pressure moved to writing the letter and my desire to get it “perfect.” How I hate the part of my personality that puts pressure on myself to both overachieve and do things “perfectly.” So I worked on the letter in fits and starts. It was exhausting to write and to edit. Writing each section brought tears as did each edit. Yet finally I finished and it found its way downstairs and into her hands this week.

Having completed writing a letter of gratitude and thanks I leave you with some suggestions when writing and sending an important letter, especially for those leaning toward Type A.

  • It really is the thought that counts. As long as it is readable the receiver is not going to look at it with an editor’s eye. I have comma issues and Gini is a writer. Get over your grammar issues, finish and send it.
  • Allow yourself to use the process to work through your own feelings. Allow tears to flow thinking about saying goodbye whether goodbye is in months or years. Allow tears to flow about expressing things that someday you will not be able to. Assume you will not be able to easily identify all the emotions the process stirs up.
  • Express what you have learned from that person. We all want to know how our lives impact others and wonder if/how we will be missed.
  • Most relationships include humor and if you are able include this aspect of your relationship.
  • Consistent with your own beliefs, share your own source of peace, or if you share similar beliefs/faith this could be the most central source of comfort and strength you share with the person.
  • Get it done, put it on your list, and prioritize it with enough time to allow the emotional process of it.

Other posts referencing Gini and the gift of her friendship: A Childless Mother’s Day
Embracing a Space

Hospice is an agency that excels in helping individuals and their loved ones make end of life decisions with dignity and grace. Hospice of the North Shore