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Yesterday I got some bad news, in a couple different forms that really had me down. This is stupid because yesterday morning I was really feeling great because of the amazing “Kentucky miracle“. The ISSA class, and all the support really told me quite clearly, “You’re in the right spot, doing the right things. Carry on.” I can’t tell you how encouraged we all were after that. But like I said, some bad news started pouring in and last night, after being sick for most of the day and bathing in the negative crap for far too long, I went to sleep, my mind reeling over the negative stuff.
This morning I woke up grumpy and got more bad news. News of injustice that filled me with even more frustration. It was a dangerous downward spiral. But in the midst of that, my wife encouraged me to keep the faith, to see this for what it was, an attack plain and simple against the “Kentucky miracle”. Her advice was to not forget about that.
She was right, of course, but I needed a few minutes to think about it and make it seem like my idea so I could fully embrace it.
Are any other married guys like me? It gets to the point where my wife is right (and I am wrong) so often that I want to be right about something too so I use theft and misdirection to make her good ideas (at least in my mind) seem like my ideas so I feel like I’m on the winning team. Is that a married thing or a hacker thing, tampering with someone else’s data until it suits my needs and then it’s MY data? Anyhow, I digress.
As I pondered her unfair brilliance, I decided to check my email, and I got one from Sam, which simply told me to, “check out Paypal”. I flipped to the paypal email account and saw exactly what I saw before I went to bed. (I’ve been keeping up with it pretty regularly for obvious reasons). I was just about to smugly tell Sam that I was already current with PayPal (as a way of proving that I am, in fact, quite plugged in despite my disadvantaged geography) when the refresh hit, and yesterday’s news dropped completely off the screen, nudged south by last night’s activity.
I started reading the updates from PayPal and I first read the names of many of my old friends, most of whom I haven’t seen in years. My first thought was to search the interwebz for news of my untimely demise. Because that would have sucked if I was dead. I flipped through more updates and I recognized so many old friends and regular supporters and quite a few new friends and supporters. Donations were coming in from all over the US and even from the UK and South Africa, many with encouraging messages:
All things said, over $1,000 came in a span of five hours. Three donors had even signed up for monthly commitments. I was amazed by the total, but the messages of encouragement, both voiced in comments and voiced by giving, was overwhelming. I couldn’t imagine what I had done to warrant this kind of support. I had to know what was going on and I had to make sure that I wasn’t dead.
I followed one friend and donor, Magen to her Facebook page, and saw this photo:
My friend Nathan made quite a statement. “Have Faith HFC”.. “How in the world did these guys know”, I wondered. Then I saw the link: http://havefaithhfc.createsend4.com/t/ViewEmail/i/BB5D21082D771083/BB6BC86839809BBB created by @synackpwn.He had also posted an encouraging photo:
It seemed that, inspired by Jeremy and crew and what went down in Kentucky, he announced what I tried to keep quiet in that post, that we were out of money.
That wasn’t the point of the post. The point of the post was SUPPOSED to be that I was encouraged by the folks in Kentucky and that it was a kick in the pants that we needed here in Uganda, and that I was extremely thankful. The bit about money still being an issue was SUPPOSED to be an aside. But thanks to @synackpwn, many people who hadn’t read the post carefully now knew that little detail.
On his page, he explained that we were out of money and encouraged people to donate, spread the word and light up Twitter with #HaveFaith #HFC. He also went on to say:
“You may have never met me. Or Johnny. But you know us. We’re hackers. The Long Family made a huge personal sacrifice to help those in need and now they need us.”
Make no mistake, we are so very grateful for the money. It comes at a miraculously perfect time (you have no idea) but I personally am more humbled, grateful and blessed by the show of moral support. It means so much to know that people care about what we’re doing, that it makes a difference that we’re here, not only for Ugandans but for our friends in the community.
Thank you all so much, AGAIN for your support. I want you to know that I and the rest of the HFC team have been working so hard (some of us 12+ hours a day through weekends) on the Volunteer Network project, which is designed to make HFC about so much more than Uganda. It’s about providing a platform where this amazing community can use their skills and heart to help non-profits in need. We’re really excited about this project because we’ve seen the positive things this community is capable of through supporting us and we can’t wait to see what will happen when there are opportunities to give more than money.
Stay tuned and again, THANK YOU ALL!
Sometimes I can only shake my head in disbelief, when disbelief is exactly what I shouldn’t be feeling. As socially awkward as it may seem I’m trying to nod my head in belief instead.
I’m often at a loss about what to write when it comes time to talk about what we’re doing. So much has become routine here, and lots of that shouldn’t be routine because it’s so very different from what most readers experience. I’m learning to see things with a fresh pair of eyes, say through the eyes of a tourist or first-time visitor to Uganda. The Keep is a great way to keep that perspective because we get a lot of first-timers in the restaurant. Too often, I find myself writing about what is bothering us, or troubling us, or “oppressing” us and I hate that because it sounds like I’m whining.
Last week, I was hyper-sensitive to whining because we were out of money, flat broke. I whined to my Board, who was understanding but really powerless because we don’t have money as an organization (and none of them are independently wealthy anyhow) but it felt like the right thing to do. I kept this off the blog because I’m really starting to loathe asking for money all the time. I kept quiet about our financial problems and we just prayed that God would show up, at the very least to encourage us to keep plugging away here.
I spent a lot of time on our website, which I found to be horribly borked in so many embarrassing ways and in that process it dawned on me that while we’re in a constant cycle of needing support from donors, I had neglected the one interface we have to our supporters. I had felt for a long time that I had to “prepare the field” in expectation, and although I had no idea what that meant specifically, taking care of the website in preparation for relief felt like a reasonable act of faith. I also plugged into our info@ email account to keep closer track of incoming “Contact Us” requests, and to our new Paypal account, which changed after we gained 501(c)3 status. I had delegated that job to others in an attempt to “focus on Uganda”, which I now realize was causing some real short-sightedness and disconnecting me from the big picture.
Things last week got really desperate and we were at the end of our rope. Literally. The end. The money was gone, and I had no idea what we would do for food, or how in the world we would continue operations and continue to support the 49 Ugandan workers that keep our programs running and who rely on us to support them and their families.
Days went by, and still there were no miracles. Jen and I started discussions about our exit strategy from Uganda if this was really the end.
Then on Saturday a flood donations come in, all from Kentucky. Each was a $40 donation and most were marked as “Long Journey” which meant it was to support our family. It was really a miracle. I realized that the ISSA Kentuckiana Pen Testing course had run and as I began to research it, I realized that Jeremy, who was running the class had run the course for free, asking only that students make a $40 donation, not just to HFC but specifically to our family.
I reached out to Jeremy to thank him as best I could (still in shock that this was happening) and his response floored me:
I saw you present at the DerbyCon and was amazed at how many people you help; especially when more “opportunities” were thrown in your path than seemed manageable. Our preacher challenged us to either go on a mission trip or help support someone already on a mission. Your mission struck me as soon as he mentioned it.
He went on to say that other had pitched in as well including Adrian Crenshaw, Carl Alexander, Conrad Reynolds, the KY ISSA and even the local OWASP chapter. It was an amazing team effort that had been sparked at DerbyCon and through Jeremy’s pastor, Kyle Idleman. The story got even better, as Jeremey revealed:
This is the first time I have tried such a stunt and I was a little shocked at how it turned out. We thought about 20-30 people would show and planned for 40, but then 50 people bought a seat. I didnt have the heart to tell them I’m not that good an instructor to have 50 students so I went with it.
I’m not sure what floored me more: the explosive response, Jeremy’s humility or the obvious miracle and encouragement that we were in the right place.
Our financial future is still uncertain, with a house in the US about to foreclose and back US taxes threatening to clean us out once again, but one thing is for sure: we should not focus on the fear and the worry, but only focus on the task we’ve been given.
I’m so encouraged and blessed by Jeremy’s faith in action, his effort and sacrifice, and all the folks who played a part in this, from the DerbyCon staff that made that talk possible to Kyle for the message of encouragement, Adrian for his work on Mutillidae and for recording the talks, Carl and KY ISSA for providing lunch, Conrad who pitched in two modules, Brian from ISSA who helped with the donation links, OWASP for their support and the 50+ students who generously donated in some cases beyond the minimum. Thank you all.
We are truly blessed, humbled and encouraged.
Some of you remember Loko village. After that rebuild, we tried to start a work program there to help people that didn’t have jobs or skills. Nobody showed up to the free training, and that’s when I pulled away. Pastor Jesse and I couldn’t really see pushing hard into an area where there was no effort on the part of the residents.
Since some of the residents were renting their rooms to others, we gave the tenants six months of free rent, then had the landlords agree to let the tenants stay at the previous rate for another six months. We were told that the “squatter settlement” that is Loko would be bulldozed after a year. I even encouraged to landlords to find new work because their places were going to disappear. I even invited them to the leather training.
Well yesterday morning some of the landlords showed up at our gate. It turns out (surprise, surprise) that the chairmen, and LC’s are corrupt (go figure) and they are playing games by taking money from the tenants (less then rent payment) to keep the landlords from kicking them out. The landlords want me to do something about it. They’re coming to me because normally they bother Jesse but he’s out of the country. I feel bad for everyone in that village, but I’m not sure how to help people that don’t want to help themselves. It’s not that they can’t help themselves (they could have come to the free training) but they didn’t help themselves (they chose not to come).
Some folks warned me against a “handout” when we rebuilt that village, saying that in some cases, like those that abuse welfare in the US, people ride the wave of social support for whatever reason and after a while it just because How Things Are.
So I have some paperwork I can dig up that shows the allocations of the properties that I can give them and I’ll offer to sit in a meeting with whatever non-corrput official can spare a few moments but really, I’m nobody. I was part of a team that built a couple dozen rooms on property that wasn’t zoned for construction that’s owned by a company that’s wanted it bulldozed for years, and who has sounded the final gong at least twice in the past year. I can’t even re-offer the leather training because we’re already at 15 people and we can barely afford to pay them because frankly we’re not selling much. Not sure at all what to do to help Loko.
Speaking of leather, I realized today that I have to do something to keep this program alive, so I emailed the owner of Uganda’s most popular (and highest-end) gift shop, Banana Boat. They sell very high-end and pricey handmade African gifts that are considered the cream of the handmade crop. I think our stuff is that good, but only time will tell if they accept it. It would be great if they did. We need a bump for that program. I spent an hour or so in the workshop today (which is rare when I have so much going on) and did a few maintenance things: helped Jen finish a project and cut some leather straps so the girls could finish journals. I miss being in the workshop, and I might have to spend some more time in there creating some new stuff. I guess that’s what I’m best at: coming up with new stuff. I miss the workshop. There’s something soothing about being in there and it’s so right brain. (I had to Google which side of the brain that was. I’m not sure what that means.)
I sent a few very long emotional emails today: one to our board (which I now regret) and one to our old computer program in Kenya. As for the latter, it turned out that they invited me to a graduation of their Computer Training Program. You like how I did that in all caps, like all official-like? Well not only was I invited, I was asked to help pay for it. Croykies. I thought the program was dead because since we don’t live in Kenya I relied on photos and emails to let us know how things were going. I would visit and ask for updates and never received them so I assumed the program was dead, only to find out there are graduates! My email to the director in Webuye was pointed (because HELLO? We donated gear and only asked for some photos!) and as I wrote it I had to push down my frustration because we were sitting on so much gear at one point and all I wanted was to find something worthwhile to do with it. I’ll see what the response is and I’m trying to not have a bad attitude but it does burn me when stuff like this happens. We even donated a video camera so they could send footage. I’ll tell you one thing.. if we send them more gear, they’ll keepus posted. My email made sure of that. :-)
On another subject, the MiGs are flying over again today. That’s five passes so far.
And last but not least, I spent the day working on the Volunteer Network.
Unfortunately I was in a cruddy mood all day because the bad news is outweighing the good news on just about every front. Money has become an issue and we are really hoping some money comes in for the kids’ school, otherwise things will get.. messy.
Snuck off to Kenya Saturday night to surprise my daughter for her birthday. Jen had arrived two nights before to surprise her and I surprised them both.
I rode for twelve hours on a bus packed full of Sudanese families, their chickens, farm implements and what seemed like all their belongings. There were people two to a seat and wedged in every imaginable space including sprawled out in the aisles. Oh, and the Rastafari-Kenyan driver cranked reggae the whole night on the BANGING sound system and rolled and smoked a joint twenty minutes into the trip. At a police check, he pulled out his log book and sprayed a cloud of cherry air freshener right in front of the cop, while the joint burned away on the bus floor.
I arrived in one piece with a bad case of the munchies.
The surprise was appreciated and it was mission accomplished but thirty hours later I was back on another night bus back to Jinja and now I’m .. tired.
I had such a great time seeing Jen and the kids but if course it was way too short.
I got to spend a few moments with a man I have a ton if respect for, Steve Peifer, the Director of College Guidance at RVA and author of “A Dream So Big“, which is a book that has already encouraged me so much within the first forty pages. Steve walked away from a successful career in the tech industry to move with his family to Kenya to work with kids like ours at RVA. His heart was drawn to the Kenyan kids and he began computer training courses and feeding programs to help kids in need.
In the process he’s improved thousands both inside and outside the school walls. I really can’t wait to finish his book. It reminds me of why I came here in the first place.
I met a kindred spirit in Steve and I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds. It’s also gotten me thinking about my own story (not my idea) because my biggest complaint is that I’ve failed too many times and my story has no “happy ending”. Steve has shown me that neither if these things matter, that it is the journey that matters, and what we do with the time we’ve got. Do check out his book if you get the chance.
Going to get some sleep. It’s been a long weekend.
I still haven’t gotten used to blogging every day. So I’m missing days. Sorry about that. It’s just too easy to get heads down into work and forget.
Lots of things going in the last few days and when I look at it all it does seem like quite the hodgepodge but that’s what life is like here. I can’t easily answer the question, “So what do you do?” There was a time when that was a straightforward thing to answer. Not anymore.
The past few days reflect that. We had visitors from YWAM that we met at the Keep who took an interest in our leather project. They were so interested in the project that they asked to visit the shop and learn about making journals. Although its not something we normally teach outside our program, they were nice enough people and were so excited to do it after weeks of slogging through some rough places that it was hard to turn them away. I got to learn about their story, show them the shop and the BnB and share what we did in Uganda. They each made (and paid for) a journal and they were so thankful. It was pretty cool because you could just see the stress of “work” melt as they did something creative. It was fun for me too because the leather program started as something really fun and eventually became “work” as we maintained the program, taught and tried to support the program with sales. I’m happy for the reminder about how fun it is to create something cool out of some of the toughest natural material on the planet.
I also began working on (yet another) iPhone as well as a MacBook belonging to a doctor friend that inexplicably died when she plugged in her daughter’s kindle. It was funny because she described it as a “first world problem” but then told me that her PhD was on that dead machine. Irregardless she’s a doctor taking care of many of the expats and workers here so it’s important to keep her happy and productive so I don’t think of it as a “first world problem” anyhow.
Had a really crazy run-in with some workers on our street. A few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the roads leading to the Keep was closed due to some construction. I stopped and talked to some of the workers around the area, and asked them how long the street was going to be closed. They told me that “none of the businesses have appreciated (them) so it was going to be closed for a long time”. This rather infuriated me, because basically these guys were asking for a bribe on top of getting paid to do their job. I was going to go to the police but I had other things going on at the moment totally forgot about the incident for a while until work started on the sidewalk in front of our place. My manager went and asked the guys how long the sidewalk was going to be torn up because it made it hard to get into the restaurant, and he told me that the guys were also expecting a bribe. When I asked the guys about this, they basically said the same thing my manager said, although they used the word “blood”, which means “assistance in working faster”.
This totally tweaked me the right way so I did end up going to the police and came back with three officers. The officer a long conversation with the two guys, and went on about “investors in the country being important according to the president” and how “it was wrong to be paid twice for one job”.
As this conversation went on I looked at the guy down in the ditch which was the one that was asking for the bribe, and in that moment I realized I had made a mistake. He was completely filthy from swinging a pickax breaking concrete all day. His feet were swollen from standing barefoot on the hard rock. His skin was dark from being in the sun for long days in a stretch, and his clothes were all pretty tattered. All the other guys on the crew looked pretty much the same way. The conversation was rather short and I took the police back to the police station, and thanked them for their help. But on the drive back, I really started thinking about the situation in a different light.
Yes, corruption is a huge problem in this country. Yes, it’s wrong to ask for bribes for anything. But on the scale of things I was wrong to call the police on these guys. I admit, I did it in anger, but I was angry at corruption, not these guys in particular.
I stopped at a local supermarket and got four one Litre bottles of cold water and went back to the keep. I apologized to the guys for bringing the police, and in not so many words told me it wasn’t really a big deal. He also explained more about what the problem was, saying that the concrete was incredibly hard and he was working as fast as he could. One guy said that at the end of the day his arms are so tired he could barely lift the ax anymore and it was usual to slow down at the end of the day. He also went on to explain that they were paid very little so there wasn’t much incentive to work fast.
His explanation didn’t make it right to ask for a bribe, but it did put a human element into the conversation that I hadn’t considered at all. The guys were after all paid very little and had incredibly difficult work. They were just guys trying to make their way in the world.
I tried to explain to them why bribes were so infuriating for foreigners, and why it’s so hard to lift the country out of poverty when corruption rules. They didn’t seem to understand this, so I tried to put it another way. I asked them if their lives would be different if everyone in their town had to be paid twice to do anything. They laughed at this, and I knew the point have been made.
I gave the guys the Cold water, (which they were ecstatic for) and realized in that moment that things would’ve been much simpler if I had just talked to the guys for a few minutes and gave them water.
I would’ve built a bridge, and in the process I might’ve made a difference in these guys lives.
I’m ashamed to tell the story as it really happened, but feel that I should because it was a very educational experience for me. Hopefully someone else will read this story be affected in a positive way the next time they’re faced with something they perceive as incredibly unjust.
Anyhow, attached are some photos of my new “friends” from all over the world.
There are times when I just scratch my head and confused, wonder what I’m supposed to do. Do I belong here? Is it time to move on, scale back, do something different? I’d like to say I have these deep contemplative moments often as they would likely help me keep on course but most often I have these thoughts when I’m broke. And last week, I had those thoughts because we were broke.
We weren’t just running low on cash, we were completely out of money. We paid our staff, and that was the end of it. It was so bad that we didn’t have money to buy cooking gas or charcoal so we couldn’t cook, not to mention the fact that we couldn’t afford anything to cook. We have a handful of faithful supporters that have literally stuck with us for years by making monthly donations and we are so unbelievably grateful to them, but sometimes, that money is simply not enough.
We’ve run out of money several times in the past four years here in Africa and obviously it’s scary. I haven’t had a job for almost a year now, and before that I was out of work for three years. And when the money runs out, one of my first thoughts is, “How can I fix this?”
I usually spend a lot of wasted cycles thinking about getting a job, one way I can “fix this”. I think about the good money there is to be made in INFOSEC. I think about the ridiculous amount of money I was making when I was working full-time, speaking and writing books. Looking back it was an obscene amount of money. I could make a little bit of money plying my trade here in East Africa, but the real money is in the US, Europe or the Middle East(!). No matter how many times I think through the various scenarios, I always come to the same conclusion. Getting a job means moving. It means moving away from the kids in Kenya or (even worse) pulling them out of school. Neither of those options is feasible. It means abandoning our projects here. The Keep would be liquidated, or sold as-is. The Training Center would close due to lack of management. The BnB would easily rent to someone else and of course we could sell all we own to the ravenous ex-pat community who, despite their own financial hardships always descend en mass and manage to clean out Mzungu yard sales.
That line of thinking makes me realize that there’s not much I can do to fix things, but like I said it does make me wonder if I’m really doing the right things.
Was The Keep really a miracle? Does it really fulfill important needs by providing food, caffeine, relaxation, safety and tech support to the community? What about the Computer Training Center? Was it a pipe dream and yet another challenge I had to overcome just to prove that it could be done? What about the hundreds of students that we trained, and the stories that are pouring in about their successes? And the Bed and Breakfast? What about the miracles that put us there, despite all the odds? What about the clear vision and the series of events that stretched back years before we even knew the place existed? What about all the times before that we were broke and we politely “dared” God to pave a way forward to “prove” that we were supposed to keep doing what we’re doing..and then he did?
So once again, this time without too much contemplation, I began to pray for direction. If we were meant to be here, I reasoned, something needed to break loose. God, I insisted, needed to show up in some way that was undeniable, because this was the end of the road, again.
As I stood up (with considerably more discomfort in my knees than I appreciated) I heard a car in the driveway. It was a team of visitors from the US scouting around for local hotels. They were asking about a hotel that we never heard of. Eventually we mentioned the BnB. They “loved it” and asked if they could book eleven people for ten days in July. This was a serious event, a direct response to prayer and the promise of good money.. in a few months. The rest of the day was so surreal. By the end of the day we were booked solid through July and August and eve double booked for a stretch in July. Surreal, and confusing. This was the promise of money later, not now, and the amount we had to turn away (due to our limited capacity) was greater than what we would bring in.
See the twist there? A miracle had arrived, but why had too many people booked? This was God’s abundance, clearly, but what was the point if we turned away more than half the provision? Then, I had an idea. Perhaps this was a sign that we were supposed to expand our capacity. After some quick math, I realized that if we built three more rooms, and if we booked the entire BnB during the two-month busy season, we could support all of our our family’s living expenses for the entire year!
I decided to get an estimate on what it would cost to build those three rooms. The estimate was more than I expected. We could afford to build it only if we asked all our current booked guests to prepay for the months of July and August. And even if they agreed, that money would be just barely enough to build the extra rooms .. In fact, the income from the currently booked teams would be almost exactly enough to build the rooms .. Odd. That meant we wouldn’t be able to pay down our kids’ school debt (which is so high because we aren’t considered missionaries), we wouldn’t have money to put towards rent and we’d have nothing from that to live off of. But it was exactly enough money to build. Seriously?? What in the world did that mean?
So I’m in a familiar state: Confused. And I started wondering if I was starring in the parable of the talents from Matthew?
Traditionally, the parable of the talents has been seen as an exhortation to Jesus’ disciples to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These gifts have been seen to include personal abilities (“talents” in the everyday sense), as well as personal wealth. Failure to use one’s gifts, the parable suggests, will result in judgement. – Wikipedia, emphasis mine.
The message there is clear. Don’t hide your “talents” under a rock. Make the most of it. So did that mean to have faith and use the money to build, trusting for the provision to cover the other expenses? Or is it being a better steward to use the money to get ahead of the expenses immediately in front of us?
I’m not sure which way we’re supposed to go, but we have to decide quickly because the busy season is rapidly approaching. Post a comment and let us know which way you think we should go. Do we take the safe path or the risky one?
And please help us as we pray for clarity.
But regardless of which way this goes, I’m thankful for our unexpected guests, for the answer to prayer, for the confirmation that we’re still supposed to be here and for the promise of financial help in the near future ..
A busy few days and I’m too tired to write a lot, and besides my posts have been running pretty long, so I’ll summarize. Stuff worked on:
Whew. What a busy two days. So much going on my head is spinning. First, I’m so excited that our kickstarter has been fully funded! Thanks to everyone who helped us get there! Our team has put in money to ensure that the entire kickstarter doesn’t flop, so please, if you haven’t donated and were thinking of it, please do! Even though we’re over our goal, we are still in debt as we attempt to float this project.
It’s been a busy couple of days. I worked with Good Shepherd’s Fold in Uganda as we try desperately to get them Internet as they’re out “in the bush”. This has been a several year-long project and right when we thought we were there, it turns out we have the wrong gear. We have 3g gear based on US frequencies and we need gear for Uganda’s 2100 3g. Crud. Back to the drawing board.
I worked on two iPhones for Renee over at Serving His Children, a Macbook Pro and iPod from the folks at Mto Moyoni, and a few other odds and ends. I took some time to track down one of the teachers I worked with at St. John’s Wakitaka, where we installed one of our first computer classrooms. I’m trying to find out what’s going on with that classroom and in preparation for the documentary(!) trying to trace some of the early students, some of whom might be in University by now.
I spent some time working with our staff at the Computer Training Center as they’re also following up with some of our students for the documentary. This is interesting work and it’s really encouraged me. I never really sought out stories. So in the back of my mind I’ve been wondering if the work here in Uganda is actually accomplishing anything tangible. Yes, we help organizations, and support a lot of people by helping behind the scenes, but I was beginning to wonder if we were making a difference in anyone’s life directly through our training. Instead of searching for stories (which seems self-aggrandizing and makes me uncomfortable) I would convince myself that training is a “long-term investment” in someone’s future and that “I may never see the results of what we do”. And while that’s true to a certain extent, the fact is there are lots of stories to be told and I’ve just missed them. And that sucks, especially when I consider all the people that have supported us through the years. They (so much more than us) deserve to know what’s happened here ..
So I’m SUPER excited about the documentary now because it’s forced me to take a hard look at what we’re doing here and VERY critically judge whether or not it’s been worth the effort. I’m excited to say that it has.
I’ll be releasing some stories on the site in the next few days as soon s I get approval from Jeremy. I don’t want to spoil anything he’ll do with the documentary.
I also had a great interview with CSO magazine for an article entitled Security for Good “about security pros (CSOs, physical and IT security types) who use their skills for charitable causes. We’re wondering how someone would get involved with that, and why.”
It was an opportunity to tell my story from the beginning. Again. And I have to say it was therapeutic. I had to slog through good times and bad, talk about things that failed and things that worked, but I followed the thread through it all and realized that I have purpose. (It’s something I’ve doubted for quite a while now). I realized that me and my family are here (exactly here, in this spot, through this path) for a purpose. I realized that the long, winding path since even before the first trip in ’07 had meaning. I’m doubly encouraged by the stories we’re hearing from our students and by the interview and for the first time in a long time I’m really, really excited about what we’re here to do. I’ve fully “got my head in the game” again.
That’s been a long time in coming. I literally feel air returning to my lungs (physically, mentally and spiritually) and really all it took was kinda getting over my own fears and failures and changing my focus from me to others. I’ve said once or twice that, “If you want to find real happiness, get out of your own way and do something for someone else” and I’m glad to take my own advice. And it’s pretty darn cool that the Volunteer Network has the potential to do that for hundreds of others. Cool, cool stuff.
And for those of you that have read my long serious post (wow, I can go on and on and on..) here’s something amusing. We went to lunch today and the armed guard outside the restaurant stopped us. He made us roll down the window, glared at Jen and said, “I think you don’t have a gun.”
What can you possibly say to that? =)
Today was an oddball day that is becoming less and less odd as we realize that Africa does indeed have it’s own rhythm. As an American I get out of bed and know there are things that “hafta” get done. We Americans are all about our lists and checking boxes and multitasking. We live and die by the clock and for most of us that have spent time in the “workplace” we get really antsy when time slips by. Sometimes we even get sick with stress when we have too many days where we feel like things “slip”.
By American standards, today “slipped” by. I didn’t really accomplish anything I set out to do. But by African standards, today was a good day. I did some work, ate (thrice) and I spent time with people.
I accomplished a few small things, but they weren’t on “the list”. They appeared today and were dealt with today. I sat down to work with Vito on the app, and after getting up for the fifth time to deal with some small thing I decided to just get up and plunge head on into the small things that were threatening to kill me and my American sensibilities. These were not important things, but they were things none the less and they wouldn’t have gone away on their own. I helped organize the building of our puppy pen. I didn’t actually work on it mind you, I Middle Managed the process. I provided some guidance to the students in the leather workshop. I dug into the comments on the website.
I also tasked and supervised a carpenter with the final touches of the dozen chairs we had made for the dining room at the bed and breakfast. This was one of those painful jobs because it’s a DOZEN CHAIRS. I mean first of all we’re .. (how can I say this without sounding whiny or revealing a lack of faith?) .. kinda broke. But when we were provided with this place and provided the money to move in and get it ready, we had the money for these chairs. Each one cost fifteen bucks for the wood, then we had to get material bringing each chair up to $23. Pretty reasonable, especially considering how awesome they are and how well they match the British colonial period antiques we modeled them after. But then at final assembly I find out they’re just a bit off and they jab into my backside when I sit in them and I realize I just paid just shy of $300 for my very own fleet of Judas cradles. So it kinda sucked to have to bring in a carpenter to fix these things when really we don’t have the money to fix them but without chairs, we can’t take guests into the BnB. So I hand the carpenter some money and try not to think about what bill won’t be paid.
So not only were these kinda meaningless tasks, but the chair thing just kinda put me in a rotten mood.
But thankfully that wasn’t how I spent the majority of my day. I spent the majority of the day hanging out with people. Relationships are so important here, and there are several types of relationships (in terms of how they operate), the two most significant are relationships with nationals and relationships with other expats. It’s not uncommon for expats to cluster together (a holdover from colonial times no doubt) but most expats are so busy with projects, missions and businesses that they rarely take the time to get together. The stars and schedules must align and everything must be right in the Universe. It’s a bit like the US in that way, but here it’s so critical to share experiences, to commiserate, support each other, and take time to feel “normal” again.
So when our good friends the Coggins (who look after our classroom in the north, see here and here) came down from Gulu on their way to take (our new friend) Liz to the airport, we were happy to hang out with them for a while. We talked about projects, our kids and life. Lisa is the amazing artist and craftsman who got us started with journals and whom we infected with the “leather bug” so we talked a bit about leather and crafts. We shared a few laughs and were refreshed by their visit. It was nice.
Later, we spent a wonderful evening with some good friends who have been in Uganda for decades and among other things run the best, oldest and original rafting company in Uganda. It was so nice hanging out with them, and we had a great time. It was so refreshing and fun, and really made us feel “normal” again. It was also quite interesting because they have such a deep knowledge of how things work in Uganda and they run in different “circles” than many of the folks we see on a regular basis and help make connections that keep us from feeling so isolated.
So at the end of the day I was both exhausted and refreshed, strangely. My task list was still there, but nothing had exploded as a result of letting the list lie. I still laugh at myself for thinking that it might.
I’m starting to see why the old saying is so true: “Westerners have all the watches, but Africans have all the time.”
The day had a good start. I got in a run to the gym and was greeted with a nice sunrise. However, the morning crept away from me as errands and side trips consumed a few hours. After breakfast, I visited the leather workshop and found a few nice treasures waiting for me. The girls had made some nice journals, and Johnson made a really nice mug and tumbler. Their skills are really improving. I also met Algetta, one of our staff working out in the village making paper for the journals. She brought in a batch of finished paper and I realized I didn’t have a single shilling on me, which meant a trip to the bank.
On my way out the gate, Jen asked me what we were doing about a dog cage. Our female German shepherd is preggers again, ready to have puppies any day but since we moved we lost our outdoor pen. Now the scramble’s on to build another one. She saw a cool one at our friend Bobby’s house, so that meant a trip to his house to see the design and find out who build it. I returned an hour later, after greeting some visitors at Bobby’s (who’s son found a “big spider” which was small by our standards), finding out about the cage, greeting his shamba (who used to work for us and is now one of our computer students) and stopping at the bank.
For some strange reason I decided to take apart one of my prized possessions today: my Leatherman Skeletool. It needed cleaning and sharpening. What a mistake. It was so hard to get back together and somehow I lost one of the screws. It still works and looks ok, but in my heart I felt like I injured my BFF.
The MiGs were flying around again today. Such a strange thing.. so surreal. I took a video. In other odd news, I found some of our guys crouched down staring into a bush when I came home. I had to ask them what they were up to, since not only did it look strange but one of the guys was our guard. They explained that there was an enormous caterpillar that they had been trying to find for a “while”. This is pretty funny to me because so many Ugandans are flat-out TERRIFIED of caterpillars because, “they’re all so poisonous”. So I joked with the guys that, “That beast was probably so big it rides a motorcycle”. They laughed, nervously. Then I saw the turds on the ground. They looked like rabbit turds. Before I could ask the question, they told me somberly, “Those are the caterpillar poops.”
Holy crap. Not I’m worried. The photo shows the “Caterpillar Poops” next to a coin the size of a quarter.