Tuesday, December 22



I will never make full conclusions about this 4 month experience, but if there is one thing I always end up concluding about every event, phase, and season of life, it is the same conclusion the wise King Solomon made: Everything is meaningless. I try to do good things for myself or someone else or this theoretical thing we call "the world" but it's always just a chase after the wind. Often our good intentions bring more harm than good. We only hope and pray our efforts bring more good, but in many cases it's kind of fleeting and hopeless. Everything is out of our own control, and there's not much we can do to tame it, yet we continue to do to the best of our abilities what has been allotted to us (9:10), and often that means simply valuing a human relationship, because that is all that has been given to us (9:9). So I don't know what's going to happen next, and maybe I shouldn't really care. Maybe I should just let seasons change and see what falls into my lap. The more I use force to bend and shape the future, the more I will be crushed by let-down. Winter is the season of death, and while I had been trying to escape it, my return was inevitable.

Saturday, December 19

Jet Lag


I got up around 6 AM this morning, which is good because I got to run into the various members of Jeremy's family as they are much earlier risers than teenagers who play music. The past few days have been slightly rough on my body. Two nights ago I only wanted to sleep for 3 hours. Jet Lag is still there.

The transition to eating Subway, Neato Burrito, etc etc is difficult. It's freaking great food, but I've probably farted over 100 times in the past few days, and all of them have smelled gross, causing me to distance myself as much as possible from my friends.

In Africa, we laugh because rain stops everything. Functions don't go on because of a light sprinkling. In America, we have something called snow, which is very cold. I'm supposed to record vocals today, but I'm up before the other band members wondering whether that will be possible, as the drive is from Mt. Holly Springs to Lemoyne.

The good news is, Jeremy's mom is a self-proclaimed health nut. I've been able to eat granola with milk, eggs, tea, green stuff, you name it. But that's only in the mornings. After that, I'm out of the house with a band obligation.

We have a performance in Lemoyne/Harrisburg on Tuesday. It's gonna be great, and the music these guys have created is amazing. I wouldn't trade it for another sound. I feel like I need to be a leader and all because Jeremy and I are the old ones with a somewhat larger amount of life-experience.

Our producer Scott Hoon of Gun for Hire is doing an awesome job with our sound. I can't wait to hear the mix he has been working on today. One thing that America has better than every other place on Earth is the music scene, hands down. It's so talented, diverse, etc. I mean, there's also a lot of opportunities for musicians so you often hear crappy stuff, but no one can argue that overall the best music comes from here. It's so innovative and creative.

Everything here is expensive. Mom gave me $20 when I arrived and I only have 1 dollar and some coins left over. It's weird. But at least now I can respond like a true American and use plastic.

Jeremy's mom is off to their church, which do an awesome program Christmas service for the poor children of the community. Providence is having trouble dealing with heating costs, so the service, if it isn't snowed out, will be held at Hanover High School tomorrow morning. That'd be cool if our whole band could go together, but we'll see.

At this point I'm just rambling, but I'll post a link to our music as soon as we have the finals of the recordings. We just have to lay down vocal tracks and some tracks for small instruments like xylophone.

Thursday, December 17

First Post from the US


Man, I have a lot of days, events, and thoughts to document. I'll do with what I can remember. Here we go....

Friday - the End
The last full day I spent in Mukono was a wild experience. In the morning, I carried a mesh bag of clothes and some shoes across to the old main gate at campus. There I met Rose Kyazike, leader of a microfinance group that I support. I have mentioned this group in previous posts. They sell used clothing. I was selling mine to her for cheap.

First, Rose suggested we take a boda to her home. I said this was not allowed in my program. Her response was, "Oh, I didn't know you people [whites] could walk." By this she meant "walk a decent distance." I assured her I was experienced enough to do the job. We walked a kilometer or so to her home where I was welcomed inside. There she prepared me tea and samosas, which were so delicious. She had me sit and any time I got up, she insisted for me to remain seated. She showed me dozens of pictures from her family, her children and cousins and other relatives. She gave me some to keep in case I would find US sponsors for her own children or the orphans she supports.

As I was browsing the photos, taking tea, and collecting the small payment I requested for the clothes, she exclaimed out loud, "Wow! Who am I that you would come to visit me?!" Upon escorting me partway home, she thanked me gratefully and commented on my friendliness, etc. I didn't want her to think mzungus were her salvation, but I was grateful for her appreciation.

Suzan and I spent much of the remaining day together. Suzan cooked me delicious cassava fried with tomatoes. What a good cook, among other things!

The evening was difficult, as I had my last supper with my family. Sarah called it "The Last Supper with Mr. Alari and Mr. Wilmot." She pronounced my family name so well.

Saturday - the Departure

Rain struck early, and I was delayed in making breakfast for the family. However, Suzan showed up before 8 and helped me quickly make the eggs. I said my goodbyes, which was thankfully emotionally easier than expected, and moved onward to campus to board the leaving coaster. I remember looking into Suzan's tearing eyes when she said, "Phil, I don't want to see you getting on that bus." I told her to go the her hostel as if she were to see me later in the day. It was so hard for both of us. When you walk away from something, never knowing when, or even if, you can return to it, things are very difficult. Even for the most-positive Suzan, the event was tragic and heartbreaking.

We arrived that night for debrief in Entebbe, a few miles from the airport, where we stayed at a convent. The walls were echoey, which is weird to me, but maybe it helps those quiet nuns communicate with each other.

Sunday - the Beginning

The first night had been hard to be away from Suzan, but I was ready to seize the day of fasting and reflection set out before me. I led worship with Brian in the morning, playing songs and hymns which allowed us to reflect chronologically on the content of the semester. Brian read accompanying scriptures, including the Magnificat in which Mary explains that her Son has come to bring life to the poor and send the rich away empty. There were pieces from Psalm 104, Ecclesiastes, Paul's account of his afflictions in 2 Corinthians, and the emotionally tragic passage of the suffering servant in Isaiah. We ended with O Come O Come Emmanuel, praising the King who became more lowly than all in order to enter into solidarity with us.

After worship, Brian fled to God-knows-where, so I had no key to enter the room. I would leave the grounds for fasting with no footwear. I walked barefoot toward the Lake Victoria. When I saw the Lake, I sat at a curb and began to write. I had only just begun when a bus pulled up to me and let a Ugandan wearing a navy blue United Way shirt step off. He asked what I was writing and proclaimed what the billboard above me read, "Welcome to Uganda!" He advised me to move across the street, because I was on the property of a military base.

Not long thereafter, I saw Chelsey walking toward me from afar. Three army soldier fully equipped with guns walked at her side. As she reached me, the men explained they were a "full escort" and left her and I alone together. We decided to walk to the beach together, where I stepped foot into the great Victoria and we sat on driftwood to watch locals pull a long rope of Tillapia fish onto the sand. We noticed rocky islands way off into the distance and decided that we would try to reach them within the several hours we had remaining in the fast.

First of all, we were already breaking rule one of the fast: isolation. We were supposed to be alone, but Chelsey and I enjoyed each others' company as we walked onward through bushy narrow paths toward the direction of the rock islands. Occasionally, Ugandans would notice us in the bush or walk past us. After several kilometers of this bare-footed endeavor, we came to a cove that bordered the water. There we saw semi-wet clothes draped over tree limbs, hovering bugs, and happy yellow birds dancing in the trees. Then we saw some guys sleeping and several boats pulled ashore. One guy was pulling crabs from a net. Another welcomed us and said, "you go relax while we cook you food." Chelsey and I consulted each other and decided the best way to break a fast was to eat with stranger-fishermen providing hospitality.

We took time to explore the rocks jutting from the coast. We saw a ten-foot snake slithering through water. I read Psalm 104 aloud, some other psalms, and a passage from Romans about creation. Then we saw a monitor lizard, like a crocdilish komodo dragon, plunge into the water. It was amazing.

We returned to lunch to find freshly caught tillapia cooked for us. There was also posho. The man gave Chelsey and I a bowl to share. Another guy dipped a cup into the notoriously dirty and disease-infested lake to get water for us to wash hands. After this, Chelsey secretly dipped her hand into her purse, revealing hand sanitizer. She said to me, "Use this for my sake."

After we finished the meal, another fisherman set out to bring us some fish to take back. A mentally disturbed person came to speak with us. he kept going on in French, and then would say, "Do you know English" - onl;y to talk in English for one sentence before returning to French, repeating the pattern six or eight times. We had to soon get back to the convent, so we had to bid all of our new friends farewell before the fish had been caught for us. I told our cook he should eat my share.

The walk back was so long, over an hour of walking without shoes. As we approached the convent at last, two monkeys crossed right in front of us and then began to bicker with each other in the trees. God had been good to us and allowed me to get my mind off of leaving Suzan for awhile.

But it didn't last long. Though I was thankful for the day, the night was hard.

Monday and Tuesday

Monday went by with yet more debrief sessions about returning to the US. The talent show provided hilarious skits and epicly astounding poetry. Tuesday came around as we packed our things to leave. Suzan had told me she would leave Mukono (over a two-hour drive) to meet me at the airport to send me off. I was nervous and excited. It was so great to see her again before leaving the country. She gave me a beautiful note, and after some time I went inside to board the plane, which I slept on for most of the ride.

Wednesday - Flights, Complications, and Life Anew

We arrived in the Netherlands at 7 AM, and since we had a long lay-over, some of us set foot into the city. I was wearing shorts and flip flops, and it was 28 degrees Celsius, but I couldn't pass up going to Amsterdam for a few hours. We took hot chocolate from a place in the Red Light District and bought Swiss chocolate to bring for friends. Each shop and store was so welcoming, especially with the kind people and warm temperature. The infrastructure in Europe is fascinatingly good. There are roads for bikes, and more bikes than cars by far. One toilet had a separate button for flushing pee and poop. The city was relatively clean.

A few hours were spent waiting for the plane. On the ride I talked with Deanna and watched some movies. I arrived in Dulles (DC airport) around 4:30. Of course, the custom agent didn't like my braided hair, and combined with my "exposure to foreign livestock," "visit to Amsterdam," etc - he was a little, okay a lot, stand-offish. "Did anybody give you anything to bring into the country?" the officer interrogated. "In terms of what?" I asked. He simply repeated the question, more angry this time. I told him that I had only bought a few things from the Ugandan markets like instruments and art. He signed me up to go to "line C."

After passing through another checkpoint at which they brought out a dog to sniff my bags (and only the two others in front of me as if to make the search seem random), "Line C" found me among all minorities. In front of me was a Persian lady whom I spoke to. "Every time I come here they send me to this line," she said. "I'm just trying to visit my daughter for two days and then fly out of the country with her." The "Welcome to the United States" quote on the wall behind the security guards presented her no welcoming message. The police checked her bags, asking her about every piece of jewelry, searching thoroughly. The family behind me was from South Africa, and they were sent to a section of the room where all minorities except maybe a few mzungus were seated. There were several dozen people of all ages and ethnicities seated there. Names were called, but slowly, maybe every 20 minutes or so. At one point, the officer read several names at a time, of which about half were named either Abdul or Mohammad. It was a sad sight as I saw the white-skinned residents of "the land of the free" pass quickly to the terminal as these oppressed persons waited behind.

After about 45 minutes of waiting in line (I was only third in line), the officer finally called me to the desk. I placed my passport and customs card at his desk, a little nervous, but knowing that I had been in prayer about asking God to give me the words to love and not to compromise. Yes, I was pissed, but it was surely a righteous anger if there ever was one.

"Yes, my family did not own any, but there were cattle and goats in town, though I didn't touch them."
"You were doing missionary work?" (I couldn't help but laugh inside at this question as we had so often talked in class about how so many people assumed because we were in Africa we were doing missions. I wanted to ask him, "What is missions anyway?" but I figured it wouldn't have helped me catch up with my friends.)
"No, we were studying abroad this semester."
"Oh, what school do you go to here?"
"Messiah College in PA"
"Oh...really...like 'M-E-S-S-I-A-H'?"
"That's correct."
"What did you do in Amsterdam."
"We got some hot chocolate and souveniers."
"About six or seven of us students."
"Did you smoke anything particular?"
"No, you can check me if you want."
"Oh, I know I can check you. it's just a matter of whether or not I will. We have to make sure all incoming persons abide by the same laws and policies."
"Did the dogs pass you earlier."
"Put your bags on the counter. Unpack them."

I began to unpack my three bags and even removed my sweater to place it on the counter as an act of kindness and submission.

"Take apart everything."

He too began to dig through each of my things, searching thoroughly for marijuana. He shook my drum. He skimmed through the pages of my books and shook bottles.

"How do you like your job?" I asked.
"It's okay. Every job has its ups and downs. When I'm having a bad day I get to harass people a little bit."

I appreciated his honesty.

He finally came across my New Testament and Old Testament texts I had saved from the semester. He browsed the pages and started reading some excerpts.

"Hmmm. You going to be a priest or a preacher."
"We'll see, maybe not in such a traditional sense."
"I've been trying to get closer to God. My friend has been giving me some verses about Samson. What do you think about him."
"Samson was a nazirite which means his life so supposed to be devoted to serving God, but he wasted it by fooling around with girls and playing pranks. I don't have much of an opinion about him though, sorry."

The officer laughed.

"Here, you can keep this."

I handed him a copy of The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. He took it from me to look at it.

"What's it about?"
"A group of people in hell go to heaven and some decided not to stay and return back to hell."

By this time other security guards had been overhearing.

"I'll write it down and check it out from the library. I like a good recommendation."

I took it back and began to zip my bags back up.

"You're from Hanover? Is that Mennonite country?"
"It's about an hour from it. My family isn't Mennonite but I claim to be."

He looked at me inquisitively and walked closer.

"You see, well I don't know if I should be telling you this, given your job position."
"Go on."
"Well, Anabaptists believe in the separation of Church and State."
"Even I believe in that. But it's still good to sing the star-spangled banner in schools. My kids learn about all religions in schools and that's great."
"Well a hardcore Anabaptist would say exposure to all religious systems are good. But they also consider patriotism to be a religious system."

From there I could see he was either beginning to lose interest or not wanting his coworkers to harass him for such a vulnerable conversation.

"Well, thanks" I told him.
"Welcome back [to the US], have a good day."
"Thank you"
"God bless"
"You too"

I exited into the terminal wondering what in hell's name just happened. I had been grouped with minorities and potentially accused of drug possession and ended up having a refreshing chat. Weird.

I met up with the USPers who had been worried about me. They told me Jeremy was waiting for me, so I took him to dinner at the airport with us.

On the ride back, Jeremy and I talked about so many things, mainly the band and the future. We stopped at the Giovanni's youth group in Frederick where I met up with old friends who had many questions. I was instantly served chicken with cheesy rice and a biscuit. There was also cold tea, for a change. And ice, which was new for me. It was a good transition back into the upper class world. Both continents can be hospitable. Likewise, when I arrived at Jeremy's house, his mom left a note which said "Welcome back" which is awesome cuz that's also what Ugandans say so often when a visitor comes. Hospitality can be found in both places, and that's awesome. Mom left me some clothes and a new phone which I have not yet set up and some other edible things. It's good to be here, but I am cold and have jet lag (it's so late and I'm wide awake).

So far, I'm still in the "honeymoon phase" - no cynicism or culture shock yet. My extensions in my hair are falling out so fast.

Friday, December 11

The Last Thursday in Uganda


Took the adungu to town for fixing.
Bought a bag from a shop to take things home in.
Had extremely itchy hair.
Put music on Suzan's computer.
Had extremely itchy hair.
Had a farewell dinner with all of our sponsors, host families, staff, friends, etc.
Went home to sleep.
Woke up at 2-something AM and haven't been able to go back to sleep since (that's been happening quite often recently. I think you don't need as much sleep in Africa or something).

Thursday, December 10

Hair = done, School = done


Yeah, I finished my braids and my classes - all academic and hair obligations yesterday. Today I will go into town to get one adungu repaired, look for a bag to buy so that I can sufficiently take everything on the plane that I want to take back, and then put music on Suzan's computer. Tonight is the Farewell dinner at Mark's where all of our families come together with us.

Tomorrow I will meet with Rose whose microfinance group I support to sell her some dirt-cheap clothes (since the program doesn't let us give stuff away). I also have a ton of medicine I didn't open this whole semester so maybe I can bum it off to some local clinics. I'm having trouble packing the things I have haha. Suzan asked for chocolate for Christmas (Africans are easy to please!), so I'll also pick some chocolate up for her.

Saturday morning we get picked up to leave for debrief in Entebbe, which means that after tomorrow the only way of contacting me until a week from now will be by calling my phone.

Wednesday, December 9

Braided Hair


Yesterday they started to braid my hair. I sat on a mat from 8 AM to 3 PM and three people worked on it. They are about halfway done. Dreadlocks are much more painful, though these still aren't the most comfortable to sleep on.

I also stopped by Pearl Microfinancing in Mukono town. I wanted to get in touch with a group I support online through Kiva. Within an hour, the group's leader had come to campus to find me. The group sells used clothing and uses loans from international supporters to stock up in between seasons. I wanted to sell my clothes at a very cheap price (since USP doesnt let us give things away) to Rose. I met with her, and she asked me to bring the clothes I won't be taking home to her place on Friday. It has been cool to personally interact with a microfinance group I support.

When I went home with Suzan I started packing clothes. She slaughtered a chicken which Papa had been given by a relative when he went to get Sarah's school papers signed in Soroti. When you eat chicken in Africa, you are eating an honorable meal. Yes, you pick around bones and organs which you can't identify to get the meat, but it is still delicious.

This morning was the last time we will see Papa, unless Dean or I return to the country. God willing we will return sometime.

Today I am going back to the salon for them to (hopefully) finish my hair.

It's weird not being able to wash hair when showering.

Monday, December 7

I aced that jank


So I just had exams straight from 9 AM to 3 PM. Not fun on the wrist. Lots of objective, short answer, matching, and then of course four essays total with many points and sub-points to be made.

First was Old Testament from 9-12. Easier than I thought. I studied a decent amount. Wrote essays about the Decalogue's purpose today and modern lessons from Hosea.

At 12:10 was New Testament. Wrote essays on how Luke depicts Jesus' ministry to the marginalized and how Paul's statement 'Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial' is relevant to idolization today. The examples of modern day idols I used were Wealth, Television, Safety, and Education. It was really fun to write and think about but my wrist is sore.

I don't know when I'll know my final grades. Those exams are 50% of each class and it's hard to know how to get good marks in Uganda classes.

Oh I forgot to tell you about the weekend because I was so excited for finishing all schoolwork. Saturday USP played Honors College in olympics. I only played frisbee because I love playing that game. Well, I went to church with Suzan Sunday and then she cooked me some delicious food. I gotta take this cabbage preparation recipe back to the states. I don't even like cabbage in the states. Then I went home to study for these exams which I just demolished.

So here's the outline for the coming week:

Tuesday (tomorrow) - get hair braided. I had to buy the hair and pay three workers to braid it in for me, so for the total cost of them working 8 AM to 3 PM and for the hair, I paid $15. I also want to stop by Pearl Microfinancing to try to locate a microfinance group I support so I can sell them some of my used clothes at a really cheap price. The group of 20 sells used clothing and uses microfinancing funds to stock up in between seasons, so I think it'd be cool to meet someone from the group personally and be able to help tangibly.

Wednesday - Semester wrap-up for classes. WE're having a small group discussion on Politics and Peace which for me is a very exciting topic.

Thursday - get adungu repaired. Farewell dinner at Mark's where all host families meet us there.

Friday - no plan. Probably hang out with Suzan for the last day.

Saturday - depart for debrief in the morning.

We'll be staying in Entebbe for a few days of debrief. I don't think I'll have contact then, unless you call me. We'll fly out on Dec 15 and reach DC Dec 16 around 4 or 5 PM, at which point I believe Jeremy will pick me up and take me to learn/write songs for a show before Christmas. Never a dull moment.

Christmas party tonight! There's no snow here. Really, there's no snow.

I have about 5 dollars left to spend. Crap.

Saturday, December 5

Last Visit Home


I woke Friday morning to take Suzan to Kampala so that she could get her final injection in her leg. We showed up before 1, but nonetheless the employees were on their way out for lunch hour. So we bought some western sweets and ice cream. We also got two maps for my family from a street vendor (sorry mom, we looked all over the place for the biggest kind but they weren't selling them anywhere in the city at the time). After we returned to get a few signatures necessary for the final injection, we walked to a higher elevation of town. While I waited in the waiting room for Suzan, I was reading a book on Watoto, which is an organization committed to helping orphans out of poverty and whatnot. It was funny reading after being here, because they had pictures of homes in which the captions read things like "Conditions Unimaginable" - I'm reading these things and looking at the pictures and thinking, "What are you talking about? That's not a bad house. I would live there willingly." Just because a picture features mud walls and matoke trees doesn't mean it's unimaginable conditions. Also, the book noted that Uganda has been home to the highest per capita percent of orphans in the world. This may have been true at some point, but I guess I just find it hard to believe. Maybe that's because local organizations have done an incredible job taking in these kids. Africans are good at solving their own problems, believe it or not.

Then we took transport to Suzan's family's home in Muyenga, Kampala. I like going there. Her little brothers can play all day, and my time there is spent in fending off Emma (short for Emmanuel in Uganda) from biting me. Suzan's step-mom Sarah makes delicious food. She even turned down the opportunity to return home to their village through free transport on Friday because she wanted to stay to wait for me. That was such a nice gesture. Anyway, I think the family likes me. We took a lot of pictures together and that was cool.

The ride out of Muyenga was bumpy and my headache that had been minor throughout the day was increasing. When we reached the giant taxi park, I was hot and uncomfortable because the legs of my boxers kept getting twisted and creeping up my leg. How annoying.

We walked out of the taxi park up the crowded streets to get a matatu to Mukono, but the line was easily over 100 people long, double file. So we went back to the taxi park and I was getting overwhelmed by all of the stress factors and the fact that it was not the first time I would reach home late. On top of that, everyone was trying to sell me things (gotta love white skin) and the taxi was now charging 2000 Shs instead of 1500 because everyone was trying to leave at once. So yeah, we finally got through the traffic jams and made it to Mukono. Turns out I wasn't significantly late in reaching home.

Sarah went to Jinja to get more college papers and then Dad had to go to Soroti, which is very far away, to get signatures for her to submit papers to Uganda's universities. I think Sarah will go for either Fine Arts or Geography at a public school on the way to Kampala.