Neither words nor photos can capture what we have experienced this week. We cannot believe all this change has happened in only 5 days in the field. We will never be the same again. I’m working on a video post of our experience in the bush yesterday (Saturday), but am sending a photo summary here along with a quick re-cap of an epic rite of passage.
We’re beginning to understand what President Chatfield means when he says you cannot explain Africa, you have to experience it. There is a feeling you get here in this third-world country that is both raw and sacred at the same time. To see the mass of humanity in Kampala and the isolation out in the bush is indescribable indeed. Words fail. Pictures don’t capture it. You have to feel the dirt and the grit and smell the odors and see into the eyes…and be truly humbled as if looking at a mighty redwood tree or standing in a sacred place rather than amid squalor. And, as we had anticipated, the happiness of people who have every reason to be miserable. Maybe that’s why it seems higher than we are.
Our visit to a village near Jinja was the most transforming of our week.
Just the drive there shook our world. We will never complain about bad roads in America again. You can’t imagine how much the driving and conditions on these roads (if you can call them roads) resembles navigating through a battlefield after a war. I’m not kidding here. There was one section of road today where the skimpy pavement had so eroded that two cars could not pass in the same spot. On one side the road dropped 8 feet into a ditch and on the other a mere 4 feet. Slipping off the road on either side would result in a roll. We’ve seen many such rolls this week.
As we neared the village, we turned off the pavement and jostled down a rutted red dirt trail such as you have seen in documentaries. We saw every site you might expect; bikes loaded with sugar cane, natives dressed in filthy, holy t-shirts (one read “my rules or no rules”) from the USA, beautiful smiling faces worn by the poorest people on earth.
The jiggers project was to scrub the feet of children and cut open the festered sores and extract the maggot-like jigger, which lived inside (sorry for the mental imagery, Laura). Mom and I both took turns scrubbing filthy feet and preparing the children for the procedure. Then each child was given a sucker as a reward for coming. Some with severe wounds received a pair of new shoes to protect their feet so they could heal. Others might be outfitted with used clothes. The whole experience was so emotional and soul wrenching that we were too stunned to cry. I had mistakenly worn my new sandals and was told I might get jiggers myself. I felt creeped-out all day and was anxious to get to our temporary apartment in Jinja to scrub my own feet. I kept wondering all night if there was a critter burrowing under my skin.
This morning was our first Sunday in Africa. We attended the Jinja branch, which itself was an experience. When we arrived for PEC, we found that the church had not been cleaned and it looked like a dust storm had been there. Two priesthood brothers were busy sweeping the chapel. We pitched in with brooms and mops and each person who arrived early was rewarded with the same opportunity. Just before sacrament meeting, the last of the cleaning was done and we all sat down sweaty and dirty, ready to worship together. The power had gone off in the night so Mom had to go with wet hair (we’re talking no curling iron, girls!). There was no water at the church so the boys washed and dried the sacrament trays using a spigot from a wall near the church. Once begun, church services were great. It was remarkable to be among just four white people (called Muzungoos) in a congregation of 70 blacks. Their testimonies today were strong and very direct. Not one person went off about some trivial thing. They all testified of Christ and miracles and gratitude. And, by the way, our car was one of two in the parking lot the whole day. The second belonged to the Elders. No one in the branch owns a car so they all walked to get to church.
Mom and I are changed people today. We are so grateful for this opportunity to serve in this part of the world. It is an honor. May you all be blessed and grateful for simple things like clean water, electricity, safety, health, and of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is really the only thing these people have as abundantly as you do.