Location: Mbale and Kapchorwa, Uganda
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
We started the day (after our classic breakfast at the guest house, of course) at the JENGA office, next door to the guest house, in prayer and praise. It was such an amazing experience, with some pronounced differences between the way a prayer meeting would work in my church or many others I’ve been to in the US. First, they opened in worship, and African worship is definitely not the same as Western European / Caucasian worship. Drums led, plus one guitar, and very repetitive lyrics proclaiming God’s greatness in general and sufficiency in our lives particularly.
But the other difference that stands out is the way they pray… First, they cry out to the Lord. So much prayer in my experience is perfunctory and half-hearted, but you could never say that about the prayer circles I’ve experienced here. Second, a group of people all prays at the same time. So, everyone talks over each other calling out individually to God, but in a concofiny of community. That may sound weird, and it was very difficult for me to focus in that environment at first, but as the week went on, it got easier. And there really is beauty to it! Third, they blend their prayer and their worship. It’s hard to separate where worship ends and prayer begins. You’re singing and chanting and the drums are going, and you suddenly realize that everyone’s praying. And then when some point everyone just seems to know prayer is ended, and the group transitions back to singing. It is such an interesting experience.
After a couple hours at JENGA, we headed into town, dropped off orders for lunch, and went to visit the Musoto slums (the 2nd largest slum in E. Uganda).
One occupation which is prolific throughout the poorest areas of Uganda is brewing. Especially among women (many single mothers), what essentially boils down to distilling moonshine is a means of generating at least a small amount of income and feeding their children, even if mostly in a black/gray market context. Technically, much of the brewing that goes on is illegal, but the government looks the other way in light of how devastating it would be to truly crack down on it. Even still, there exists a constant threat of being suddenly invaded and shut down … a point which was emphatically made to us as we toured one of the brewing areas in Musoto.
One of the horrific byproducts of the brewing industry is the waste it produces – a horribly-smelling black sludge that is essentially burn’t carbon goo. Because the locals don’t know what to do with it and have no means to properly dispose of it, the typical approach to it is to dig a really big hole in the middle of the village and just keep dumping it in there. They use a little of it to fertilize crops, but the majority becomes a foul-smelling lake. Over time, it represents a significant contaminant to everything there (food, water, etc.), and the smell certainly reinforces the impression of severe poverty to anyone walking in from the outside.
One extremely fascinating thing about our visit… The two Ugandan students with us from UCU are both environmental engineers and had a half-dozen ideas on how to better dispose of this waste, even to the point of making it an exportable resource. They talked about making charcoal brickets out of it to be used for fire, so that the Ugandans could stop cutting down trees. They talked about starting a shipping business that could put it in barrels and ship it all over the region to be used as fertilizer, or even disposed of in a central less-populated area. In fact, they stayed behind while we toured and talked to some of the village elders about it. I absolutely loved seeing that. After we left Musoto, we also talked about whether God might be calling them to Mbale to come and work on / provide leadership for such projects. Wouldn’t that be amazing!?
And that brings us to one of the main reasons we visited — to see one of the bore holes JENGA has helped to build throughout the most impoverished regions of Mbale. I believe they said they’ve provided about 25 such water pumps. Basically, they partner with the locals to provide money and equipment, then work together to dig down about 100 feet to the fresh water table, and build a well and pump. The bore hole we visited in this particular part of Musoto provides fresh drinking water every day to about 300 people.
Before these pumps were built or when they are broken, the locals (who don’t know this is a really bad idea) get their drinking water from the local streams and rivers — the same ones where the sewage goes, where people dump their garbage, where cows and other animals do their business, etc. Therefore, the overall level of disease has plummeted in these areas as a result of the installation of these bore holes. And they are owned and operated by locals. Praise the Lord!
BTW, we were strictly forbidden from taking pictures in the slums. That totally makes sense, because we didn’t want to treat these people like spectacles. They’re people, just like you and me. And I wouldn’t want some foreigner coming into my home and taking pictures of me in positions that perhaps I wouldn’t want to share with the whole world. So I totally agree, but the net effect is that I don’t have any pictures to share. Here’s a picture of a similar bore hole and pump, though.
After Musoto, we went back into town, where lunch was waiting for us. We then snarfed lunch on the bus, en route up the mountain to see Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa on Mount Elbon.
After a very bumpy hour-or-so drive up, we arrived at a resort / lodge which the launching place for hikes of various levels of difficulty up into the mountains to see the waterfalls. We chose to be driven up to the top, and hike back down past three falls. We hiked for about 2 hours, through mountainside farms. It was extremely beautiful and very interesting.
Here are the falls we saw, and a few pictures of each other and of a number of scenic vistas. It’s so beautiful here.
I also learned some interesting facts about the farming in this region. For example, Ugandans in the mountain overcrop, planting potatoes or banana trees with the coffee trees. The banana tree leaves shade the smaller coffee trees in dry season, and the potatoes don’t need much sun so they can cover the ground around the base of the trees. Fascinating! Also, our guide talked about how the coffee is organic. Instead of pesticides, the local chameleon eats the insects that would normally threaten the coffee beans. I love that. I also saw my first unroasted coffee bean. The beans themselves are light green. They have to be removed from a red husk which looks from the outside like some kind of berry. They are then washed for a day, dried and roasted, and that’s what creates the black, hard beans we’re used to. Here’s a picture I found online (I didn’t take one myself, sadly).
It was such a good day; I feel like we experienced so much. Amazingly, tomorrow is our last full day in Mbale. See you then.