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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Catching up with January: a little journal of isolation, election results in two countries, and hope for 2021

FRIDAY 15 January

The story of 2020 was one of constriction, isolation, a space socially created around each of us for survival. Enter January, 2021, and vaccines and hope and . . . . elections. America imploded with a mob taking the 2nd amendment right to bear arms to its logically unintended extreme: if we don’t like the government other people voted for, if we feel it is illegitimate, then we are revolutionary heroes for storming the Capitol. And just as we were watching new depths of self-serving justification and hearing speeches about accountability . . . . Uganda went full lock-down mode.


Because Thursday, 14 January, we had our own elections. In our case, a handful of opposition candidates are challenging the ruling National Resistance Movement. We have a 35-year incumbent whose vision for a thriving economy and self-determination now feels to a generation born long after Amin and the bush wars as if he is just holding onto power for power’s sake. Perhaps after watching even America fail at running a credible election, our president here in Uganda simply put up a total firewall. On Wednesday we noticed slowing of the internet, and all our friends said, just use a VPN. We do a lot of patient care communication by What’s App. By evening we were cut off completely. No internet-based anything: no loading pages, looking up references, sending emails. No imessage, what’s app, facetime, Facebook messenger. No news. 


Thursday, the election day, was orderly in our district. We did hear of someone accused of preparing to stuff ballots, but the military came to his house, he let them in, they searched and confirmed it was all a big rumour, and the election went on. Our community centre across the street is a polling station, and we saw people lining up dutifully all day. A friend told me she stood in the rain for 4 hours for her turn. There were temperature checks, hand washing stations, masks required, and devices loaded with all the voter data to check ID cards and photos against the database. There were clearly visible ballot boxes. It all seemed very organised. 


At first the lack of internet was just annoying and left us a bit incredulous. By the 24 hour mark I bought airtime to use straight cellular phone time to make voice calls to our moms and the couple of kids we could reach, saying we are fine but you won’t hear from us for a while. We aren’t receiving your messages or emails and don’t feel bad when we don’t respond. Now Friday at the 48 hour mark I am calling my mom in NC to hear what AP and Reuters are saying about the Uganda election: that the opposition is crying foul, that the police and military are patrolling the streets, that the incumbent president is well ahead in early results. We have twice called friends in America to ask them to email people whose previously-set meetings we are now missing. We are dreading the eventual return of service with the dam-burst of back-logged work. 


But in the meantime, at least we CAN for now still use voice calls, even if they are expensive and hard to hear. I just walked down to talk to a team mate . . . we do so much team communication by text chains. Someone wanted to bake and realised her recipe was online, I threw in my opinions of ingredient quantity. I was dosing morphine for a child with severe pain from sickle cell and second guessing myself on no-references-available medication writing. I wanted to communicate with our surgeon in Kampala and a neurologist in Mbarara. Not yet. We went to see a sick neighbour and Scott did an ultrasound, then told him he needed to look up something in a 20-year-old text book that we would usually just use our on-line references to consider. Meanwhile I see mingling in yards, kids riding bikes, and realise for most of Bundibugyo the presence or absence of connection to the wider world is not much of an impact.


No news is good news, is an army-family mantra. If you’ve not heard anything, it’s all OK. However that assumes that “no news” is because nothing is happening, not because you’re cut off from hearing it. As a person whose five dearest humans live very very far away, whose moms could have any number of medical crises, whose job involves mentoring and supervision by internet-based mechanisms for multiple teams across East and Central Africa, whose organisational role connects us nearly daily with many continents, whose last conversations with one team involved rebels invading a fairly nearby town and last conversation with another involved some looming potential crisis . . well, it’s hard to feel that no news is good.


As Scott reminded us, when we moved here in 1993, this was our life—no email, no internet, no mail, no phone. We had a radio to call a MAF plane in an emergency. When we were attacked by rebels it took days to reach safety and send a fax. When my first niece was born it took days for us to get a fax delivered to a post office hours away. Oh, how our expectations have changed! 


So, back to 2020 . . trying to embrace this little window of world-quiet. Of not-knowing. Of living on our small radius of what we can see and touch and hear. 


SUNDAY 17 Jan


Day 5 of disconnection taken to a next-level. 


Positives: finding out how frequently we turn to a phone for an answer. A spelling or definition, a dose, an historical fact, a location, news, a disagreement settled, a curiosity satisfied. Listening to birds, quieting one’s mind, sending prayers.


Negatives: never knowing if our extended families are fine, or just incommunicado. Thinking about the work piling up. Missing deadlines. Missing faces.


Our incumbent president won, of course. We actually do not doubt that result. There was a dignified ceremony run by the electoral commission and televised on Ugandan TV on Saturday afternoon, giving all the vote tallies and percentages, publicly stamping the papers saying Museveni is not only the president he’s the president-elect. The countryside sings his praises. Today we visited one of our young doctors, and his mother gave a speech: Amin threw out the Indians and Europeans. Museveni brought them back. Because of this mission (us), my orphan son got scholarships, training, discipline, opportunity. Thank you God, thank you Museveni. He is seen as the source of electricity, roads, hospitals, development. So the idea that 58% of the voters (who were only half of those age-eligible to vote) came out to support him is not shocking. The fact that the main opposition candidate garnered 35% IS surprising. Museveni usually wins by much higher margins. So yes, there is a young contingent that is ready for change. Uganda’s next task is to figure out: how do we get that change without violence or implosion, how do we move beyond one man’s vision and rule after a generation? It will not be easy. And 5 days of no internet does not build confidence.


We miss communication; and we hope it is back tomorrow.


TUES 19 Jan


Yesterday late morning, working in NICU, suddenly my phone started buzzing. Nearly 300 emails pouring in, dozens and dozens of texts. HOORAY. Uganda still has social media shut down, but the internet is back up. And those who can manage a VPN can connect on what’s app too . . .but the choke on it is enough of a deterrent to make it unlikely to be used for mass mobilisation (having an internet-capable phone, paying for data, paying for a special tax the country imposes to use social media, getting a VPN, all mean a significant barrier as intended). Also, as noted in the newspaper today, culturally people here expect to be paid to show up for a candidate, so it would take a LOT to get them rallying at this point.


We were practically giddy getting home. Sure we didn’t get to have lunch til almost 4, but we watched some news and checked some web sites and had a family FaceTime and texted others, and by 7 we were were on a Leadership Foundations Round Table with 11 other Sergers. HOORAY. 


Truth be told, the tyranny of demands can make the accessibility feel over the top at times, but when it is gone, we realise just how far we are from many of the people who occupy our hearts. Being an Area Director located in a very small place on the Uganda/Congo border rather than in a hub city . . . is possible only because of internet. Being a human who supports her family from a distant village is also only possible because of the internet. So I for one am glad to be turning the corner back to “normal.” 


SUNDAY 24 Jan

And here we are at the end of the week, a blur of meetings and calls once we were back in range, the week that was our turn to not only lead the book study and business for team meeting but also prepare a prayer time; the week that it was not only our responsibility to prepare the fire and oven and dishes and space but also make all the dough/sauce/toppings for our weekly pizza night. The week that another round of elections went by, this time for our “governor” (LC5 in the ascending hierarchy of local councils elected by the population), which ended in a surprise upset, nights of loud music, days of processions in the streets. The week that patients and workers started coming back to normal levels at the hospital (not that we ever noted a lack of patients, but the workers were thin on election days). The week we lost our tiniest preemie, but revived the second-smallest who presses on. The week we learned of more stresses and traumas for our teams, had more phone calls, more prayer. The week we woke up in the night to an hysterical sobbing call from a dear friend who thought her 2-year-old was dying, and rushed the child to the hospital for oxygen. The week a CSB teacher’s illness turned into a community panic about witchcraft. The week only half our CSB seniors returned to school to finish a delayed 3rd term preparing for national exams (but as of today, we are only missing a handful).


But also the week of America’s inauguration, the week that we hope our country turned a corner towards reaffirming democracy and the value of laws, balances, institutions instead of one dominant personality. 


Our team book study? Surprised by Hope. Seems like a good title for 2021. 


Two patients, just because of cuteness

Even when the internet was down we could get Uganda Broadcasting on the satellite TV

Polling station at the Community center, as seen from our driveway at 8 am pulling out to hospital

One more cuteness

CSB students returning

The road choked with revellers after the new LC5 was announced

discharge day celebration of survival

This land is your land, this land is my land


Friday, January 22, 2021

Amanda Gorman’s Poem at The Inauguration

A reposting for those who heard it and those who didn’t.  This is courage, beauty, hope.

——————————-

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade.
We've braved the belly of the beast,
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn't always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn't broken,
but simply unfinished.
We the successors of a country and a time
where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished.
Far from pristine.
But that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
that even as we grieved, we grew,
that even as we hurt, we hoped,
that even as we tired, we tried,
that we'll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid.
If we're to live up to our own time,
then victory won't lie in the blade.
But in all the bridges we've made,
that is the promise to glade,
the hill we climb.
If only we dare.
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it's the past we step into
and how we repair it.
We've seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption
we feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert,
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation,
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy,
and change our children's birthright.
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west.
We will rise from the windswept northeast,
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sunbaked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

----

CLICK HERE TO WATCH HER POWERFUL POETIC RECITATION



Saturday, January 09, 2021

Epiphany part 2: the dark side of revealing radiance

 The post below was written on Jan 6, Epiphany, in the daytime in East Africa, in between a full hospital day, some meetings with local teams, and an evening zoom with our Home Office. At 9 pm our time (1 pm EST), we sat down at the end of an exhausting day to watch the Joint Session of Congress certifying the electoral college vote, an interesting arcane exercise of our democracy that had never seemed very dramatic or important until now. CNN was covering live, and whenever possible it is helpful to listen to actual speeches rather than what someone tells us about what was said. We watched Vice President Pence presiding, and the beginning of the state roll call. Alabama, Alaska. Then Arizona, and the objection presented, the retiring to the debates, the alternating speeches. We were watching live as the reporters outside the Capitol building began to note the increasing aggression in the crowd. Then we watched the surge up the steps, the barricades turned to ladders, the mayhem, breaking windows, the people gawking in the rotunda with their red hats and their Trump and confederate flags, and then a voice behind an outdoor reporter saying "the FBI has shot a woman," the jostling confusion, the stretcher, the blood.  No need to describe the day; the documentary evidence of violence was splashed across our screens.


Literal light arising, this morning

It occurs to me though that those hours are also appropriately called an epiphany, it is appropriate that they happened on January 6. 2000+ years ago, Jesus was revealed to a few who had searched, found in a fairly obscure outpost, in weak and dangerous circumstances, a truth that was enfleshed in powerlessness. In 2021, there were more revelations of character, though weakness was derided in favour of aggression. This Epiphany day, the phrase from Luke spoken by Simeon over the infant rings true: "the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Nothing about America changed on Jan 6, but many hearts were revealed. Glorifying the Confederacy, questioning democracy, using untrue and incendiary phrases to incite a physical, illegal, violent occupation of congress to stop the final step in certifying a lost election, repeating baseless allegations after 60 lawsuits and dozens of recounts proved them false, building an actual GALLOWS AND NOOSE, these are all just as evil as breaking the window or trashing an office. But the afternoon of insurrection made those attitudes visible in actions. 

The fact that the vast majority of domestic terrorism has arisen from the white majority not from immigrants or minorities is not new news, but we all watched it on Wednesday. The fact that a large proportion of our elected officials care more about pandering to the lowest common denominators of fear to maintain their power then they do about the rule of law or the truth is not new news, but we listened to it in speeches even AFTER the rioting and danger.  The fact that law enforcement treats protestors unequally based on race or demographics is not new news, but we watched in real time the complete lack of organised resistance to the take-over of our US Capitol.  The fact that our outgoing President actively encouraged this anarchy might have been suspected but we could all watch it on TV on Wednesday.

So, another epiphany, a revealing. We have sold our souls, and the Devil is taking payment. 

But the good news is that when light shines, the hearts that are revealed can change direction. 30 years after the wise men, Jesus started walking around saying Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Light is shining, and we're all a mess. Every single one of us carries the same broken heart that would choose to harm those in our way. Perhaps this will be our national reckoning. We have too often accommodated injustice to protect our own way of life, and too often worshiped power and money. Jesus offers us exactly what we need: forgiveness, and change. Because we are loved, we can love others. We are preaching this to ourselves and to others. None of us are innocent, all of us need the good news. Many of us get much more than we deserve, hallelujah. Praying the church steps into this moral vacuum with truth: nooses and confederate flags and broken windows do not represent the Gospel, and getting the world while losing your soul is never a good bargain. Let's ask for that Kingdom to come ON EARTH as in Heaven, in equitable vaccines and oxygen, in empathy for those losing loved ones, in transparency of accounts and discomfort for the greater good.

Deep breath, and forward into 2021. Lord we NEED your mercy, we NEED your grace to love others more than ourselves. Amen.



Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Epiphany in all its centripetal and centrifugal radiance

 Today much of the Christian church celebrates a feast called Epiphany. 12 days after Christmas, the traditional remembrance of the Magi who came from the East to find the new King. The word comes from a stem of shining, light, appearance, manifestation, with the intensifying prefix. As in that crucial star, that juxtaposition of planets that inspired the scholars to pack up their camels or elephants and trace the migration of Abraham. For everyone without Jewish ancestry, this is a day to be thankful that the Messiah's grace extends beyond all human constructions of boundaries, nations, classes, genders, roles. Because God ensured that even as a baby Jesus would be announced to the world beyond Palestine. In fact we see in the story a dual effort of God to make things clear, known, with dreams and light and stars and clues. And of humans to understand, with questions and study and history and observation. 


And we see not just enlightenment for the Magi, but rescue and provision for the family. Gold, and spices, probably came in pretty handy as currency when running for their lives across international borders. 

December was not an easy month around here, or anywhere. 2021 does not so far look a lot better. Besides the obvious: COVID hovering like a dark cloud, vaccines still a distant dream for most of the world, one new low after the other with our democracy in the USA as we brace for contentious elections in Uganda, family far away . . . there is the daily slog of life in Bundi. Before 8 am most days we are confronted with hard stories, today a woman with AIDS coming to ask for help, a friend telling about her very sick adult daughter being taken to church for prayers against spiritual oppression, some confidential issues on email. We hit the ground running to the hospital. The tiny tiny infant born at 26 weeks is back up to 700 grams, wearing her little striped crocheted hat splayed between her mother's breasts, a sliver of hope for a woman who has lost every previous child. But, so tenuous. On the Paeds ward I find that 13 of the 50-ish patients are malnourished.  The boy who had his spleen rupture in a beating needs a transfusion, he's breathing fast and looking distressed. Multiple kids await transfusions by the end of rounds, their lifeblood melted away by malaria or sickle cell or trauma or hunger. A child we nearly lost last week is still with us though, and miraculously we get a positive TB test giving us a life-saving path to recovery (it's a fatal disease that can be completely treated if we only find out). Five days this week we have evening zoom meetings--three of those days are 4-hour conference times, the kind of meeting that used to occur in the context of fellowship at a retreat center or hotel; and now occurs sitting on stools at our kitchen counter staring into a computer.  It's good work, grounded in routines and relationships. But it's not terribly glorious.

I suppose for Mary and Joseph, there was relief in surviving the birth, wonder during the visits of the shepherds and the recognition at the Temple . . . but mostly the post-delivery time in Bethlehem might not have felt so glorious either.  Perhaps they found better accommodations, ways to wash clothes and find food. Perhaps there were negotiations with relatives our landlords. Perhaps Joseph was looking for work to give Mary time to recover for the walk back to Nazareth. Then just when they may have been tempted to doubt whether the angels had been only imagined, the surprise visitors. Gifts. Wonder. And chaos. 

Because God's presence is not typically something that leaves the situation calm or straightforward. Epiphany is immediately followed by flight, by genocide. A baby shines; the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms react with a vengeance.  

Yesterday one of our Serge team leaders (hooray for PhD theology students) explained "hallowed be thy name" as the pulsing force of love at the heart of the universe. A kind of molten gravity, a weight, a truth that anchors us to this life. An epiphany I suppose: holiness-gold-starlight-power-purity-presence packaged in a baby that changes the entire arc of history. The one sure thing upon which we stand; love. And yet that love requires faith, as we run for our lives with Mary and Joseph and the baby to Egypt, as we evade the dark murderous slaughter. Epiphany as the lava core of revelatory grace shining and drawing us in; epiphany as the encounter with disruption, the gateway to expel us out into good trouble.

Would you pray with us into 2021? The verse I have taped on my wall this year is from 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14:

Watch. Stand fast in the faith. Be brave. Be strong.

Let all that you do be done with love.

Sounds epiphany-worthy, prepared for evacuation, cognisant of danger. Centering into God's presence, propelled out to the world. A lot of standing against difficulty, and a lot of tempering everything with love. We feel poised at a point like Joseph and Mary as we peek into 2021, in need of miracles, God moving rulers to make a way. Pray with us.

Bwampu and our Nutrition team

Church on New Year's Day . . . Scott got to preach Christmas AND New Year's this year

Holy Family in Bundi 2021 Style

Praying for TB drug miracles 

Happy New Year from the Myhres

Harmonia Rosales's Madonna, just because I LOVE IT

Bright spots of today: Nusula starting 2021 as charge nurse of Paeds by taking CHARGE, and Ammon coming to rescue me from despair by helping with rounds.

The Old Guard: Ann, Pat, and us on NYE