Well here goes, my first blog post ever. I am sitting in a coffee shop/internet café in Mbale, Uganda, and have no clue what to write about.
The electricity in town is out again but the gentle roar of the generator just outside the front door provides enough electricity to power the Wi-Fi router and run the TV’s that are blaring out a poorly dubbed Indian soap opera full of all of the same drama and deceit found in its American counterpart….oh wait, generator is out of gas so all the power is out for real now.
And this is when I figured out what I can write about, the day to day differences of living here in Africa verses back home in the US. First of all, I need to explain what I am doing in Africa in the first place. This is my 6th trip here since 2005 and by far the longest amount of time I have spent out of the United States.
I have been in Africa just under two months working for Barry Wood Ministries. BWM is a non-denominational, Christian mission group whose objective is to fulfill the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 through one on one discipleship. My responsibilities are pretty broad and include administration type functions, training and teaching our staff, reviewing staff reports, generating my own reports, reviewing construction progress and assessing the access to technology of our staff and the pastors they work with. Needless to say, that keeps my pretty busy. I am travelling about 3 weeks out of the month to visit our various staff members but I have an apartment in Mbale.
I’ll start with a few basics I’ve learned since being here. Most of the resorts and large hotels in Africa have learned to cater to the Western clientele, particularly when keeping a schedule or managing time.
The rest of Africa however runs on its own schedule. An African friend and pastor here told me that “Americans have watches, and Africans have time.” When asking “how long” until something, you will regularly hear the phrase “some little bit” of time or “some few.” “Some little bit” can be any denomination of any number or any value or any distance, basically an infinite possibility of anything you wish to quantify.
For example, yesterday I drove some few miles to purchase some little bit of groceries using some little bit of money which took some bit of time. It is wonderfully ambiguous and takes “some little bit” of getting used to.
Africa seems to delight in ambiguity and travelling is no different. For example, the term “the other side” can be used to describe anywhere. Anywhere you are going, anywhere you came from, anywhere you have ever heard of, basically, anywhere you are not currently occupying at that very instance. As an example, when you are travelling and you ask “where are we going”, you’re travelling partner will respond “just to the other side”, which may prompt you to say something like “how far is that” and the response will inevitably be “it’s just there.” Fortunately, google maps actually works most places and can help you escape this conversational cul de sac.
Settling in to the pace of Africa definitely takes a good effort. We in the US are so used to everything happening on time, having short wait times at restaurants and shops, an ATM on every corner, and we have even managed to make emergency medical trips more efficient by advertising which locations have the shortest wait times down to the minute. And yet over here, the seeming inefficiency of most interactions immediately causes stress and frustration.
But in those times, if you take a second and look around, you are the only one frustrated, you are the only one stressed. And everyone else is not going to hurry up just because you want your coffee 5 min faster, or want to get to the ATM quickly, or don’t have time to share your life story with the customs official. What I’ve learned to do is to relax because I know that whatever delay I am facing will be resolved in “some little bit of time.”
So, I thank you very much for making it this far and I will try to update this page regularly with anything I find interesting. I ask that you who are reading continue to pray for our staff, our work, and myself that our time here will be fruitful, that our travel will be safe, and most importantly, that we will be Christ’s representative to all we meet and they will know him because of us.
I can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to offer any thoughts or questions.