So much of this trip is familiar. Packing the car in Kampala, last run of groceries, sipping tea and wondering how to keep that balance between the dangers of becoming dehydrated and the inconvenience of 9 hours on the road with bushes for bathroom stops. The crazy traffic, trucks and pedestrians and bodas all criss-crossing the roads, jostling for position in the lurching stream of traffic. A new scene: squadrons of police, riot-ready, with their armored vehicles and gear, at each major roadway coming into the city. Then the hours of cross-country driving, weaving on and off "diversions" as the roadwork continues, rejoicing in stretches of new pavement. Sailing past vast papyrus swamps, whizzing through colorful trading centers, bracing for the inevitable speed bumps (or mountains). The traditional lunch stop in Mubende, Scott fending off the aggressive vendors and choosing hot grilled chicken on a stick, sweet warm roasted gonja, papery-thin chapatis (one of the sellers comments to him: you changed your car! . . observant). The obligatory hour in Fort Portal, where there are always a handful of errands, someone's last request from Andrews, a last trip to the ATM for cash. This time I stand in line most of that time to pay school fees for one of our students, pushed from behind in that no-personal-space-African way of pressing lots of people into small spaces, until I am among the lucky throng in front of the tired tellers. Then the final stretch to Bundibugyo, this time gaping at the wide swathes of roadway being cleared by the Chinese construction company tasked with paving, gawking at the backhoes and loaders and dump trucks. Which end at Karagutu, making the narrow rocky slippery winding trek over the mountain pass seem even more treacherous. We stop to look at the Semliki snaking its way to Lake Albert, and the hot springs steaming up from the edge of the Ituri Forest. As we descend into Bundibugyo lightening breaks from clouds along the Rwenzori ridges, and we find ourselves trailing sheets of rain and strong winds.
In fact we are only minutes behind what turns out to be the storm of the year, blowing roofs off houses, downing our new power lines, scattering branches. Ominous, or a bracing symbol of the Spirit going ahead? Darkness follows just as we pull in to the delighted claps and exclamations of our neighbors. 8 months gone . . . just long enough for Mejili, DMC, and Truffle to all look nearly ready to deliver. There are hugs and welcomes, and soon visitors in spite of the dark hour. Juliet and Arthur (delightfully cute) have walked up from school, the Johnson family interrupts their meal, Scott Will accompanies us home where we find Star bursting with excitement, and our friend and neighbor Asita with two daughters and stacked pans on their heads, bearing hot food. We are home.
But not quite home, any more. A house that used to be a home and is now, I hesitate to say it, rather depressing. The paint is yellowed and peeling, the shelves are thick with dust, the drawers cluttered with unorganized utensils and littered with creature droppings. Almost all the vestiges of love are gone, the walls bearing scars of photos no longer visible, the warm fridge no longer functional, the grimy stove no longer producing food. It is still a solid, functional house, which the team uses and maintains. It is still miles better than almost any other house in a fifty mile radius. But it is no longer a home, not for us or for anyone at the moment. And a house in the jungle that does not receive the constant entropy-reversing attentions of someone with a vision for glory . . well, that house becomes, sadly, a bit of a dump, a place of broken things no one has the courage or energy to actually discard. We should have been more ruthless in paring down, how crazy we were to think that all those books or games or pans or medicines would be useful.
But house-cleaning is not our priority for this week. We are here to walk alongside our team and understand their new reality first and foremost, to reconnect and reassure that we are still intimately involved and caring, to renew friendships, to bear the burden temporarily, to pray. So today dawns with post-storm clarity, and we plunge into the long parade of greetings and conversations. Everyone thinks Caleb is Luke, and Jack is Caleb (Jack has changed shape pretty significantly these last few months, topped off by a serious bout of sickness that was probably malaria, I see through their eyes that he has become tall and rather thin). Scott makes people laugh be mixing Swahili in the conversation. I find my Swahili veneer is very thin and the old Lubwisi is much more accessible. We sit and greet and greet some more, walk back and forth, tour the health center (more staff than I had hoped for, but largely non-functional in terms of drugs and blood and labs and services, sadly). Many hugs and exclamations. There is time for sitting with team mates and listening, time for wandering around CSB. Julia joins the girls' football team for training--the impact of our team has spread, and now there are SIX SCHOOLS in Bundi fielding girls' teams for a tournament this weekend! Jack plays barefoot football with the younger students. Every few steps up and down the road another familiar face. Quote of the day: "at least you could come back now and stay, well, forever". At least.
The day ends in Nyahuka, first at Melen's where she prepares a feast of scalding hot matoke, kahunga, and rice, topped with chicken, goat, sombe, and a smoky thick gnut sauce. Not to mention fresh passion juice. No one minds the rat running in and out the door a few times, we're all so happy to be eating real Ugandan food again, chatting with Melen who is brave and perseverant against the odds, playfully interaction with little Jonah. And then to CSB for the teacher Bible Study, carried on now by Travis and Amy, a good spirit of participation.
Can you go back? Not really, the back we might imagine reaching no longer exists, we have to go forward to meet the Bundibugyo of 2011. We're wiped out be the effort today. Pray we would gracefully extend the love and approval of Jesus to a wearily over-worked set of team mates and Ugandan colleagues, that this week would not be about our loss, but about their encouragement.