Monday, July 14, 2014

Huffman Family Adventures: Maggie's

To get to the Ekitaangala Ranch (meaning: "the light" in Luganda)  that houses The African Hospitality Institute, you take one long road, turn onto another long road and you begin to see what people describe as the "bush" of Uganda.  Many of the homes we saw were what we Americans would call "huts" and there were other small buildings made of clay bricks....

It was fascinating to see women outside of their homes using small 'brooms' (made of long sticks) and sweeping the dirt.  These brooms had short handles and the women would have to bend over at the waist to sweep the ground around them.  It seemed like a very tiring chore but you could tell who took pride in their homes by how the dirt in front of their homes was neatly kept.

We saw a lot of chickens and a ton of goats that were tied up and feeding on the tall grass.  Chickens and goats are common foods for the Ugandans.  When our vehicle would drive down the road, people would stop and wave and countless children would run up to the road and wave and greet us with their adorable little accents and gorgeous smiles.  You sort of feel like a celebrity with all of the waving and I swear, my face hurt from smiling so much!

Upon our arrival to The African Hospitality Institute, we were greeted by Maggie and her staff with fresh, cold juice and helpful hands to carry our luggage to our rooms.  AHI is a GORGEOUS place with beautiful landscaping and great accommodations. Samara and I shared a room and the boys had their own.  The rooms were very spacious with two beds, a wardrobe and luggage rack, a small sitting area, and a very large bathroom.

The AHI is a a Guest House and Vocational School (2-year program) that "prepares vulnerable, unemployed young adults in Uganda to lead significant and productive lives that bless others. We accomplish this this through a 2-year journey with an intentional mentoring community, character development and vocational training."

They train their students in all aspects of hospitality from meal preparation and service to house keeping.  They are trained at the institute for the first year and then are sent off to an off-site location to work and train.  Maggie does such a phenomenal job of training them, meeting their needs, understanding their past and their pain, and loving them with a deep and passionate love.  Maggie's love for her students is evident in all she does and in the honor and respect she extends to them.  In the next blog, I will tell a little more about some of her staff and students....

We freshened up a bit and then had lunch with Maggie who shared a little bit about the ranch that is made up of Cornerstone Leadership Academy, African Children's Mission,  and AHI (The African Hospitality Institute).  She then offered to take us to the Cornerstone Leadership Academy to meet some of the people there.

If you look closely in the photo below, you will see the little girls in pink dresses running toward us when they saw us approaching them.  It was so cute to see them so excited to see and meet us.  They couldn't contain their excitement!

The Cornerstone Leadership Academy was having a huge celebration for their 25th Anniversary so we joined in on the celebration and met some of the founders of the Academy (and loved what Tim had to say about bringing people together in the name of Jesus).  I would butcher his words but the meaning has been held dear to my heart ever since).

He also said,

"In America, we have all of the watches and clocks to know the time yet we never have enough time for one another." 

yes.  we really do. how can we fix this?

(so i'm challenged to spend more time getting to know people instead of focusing on my phone or my calendar and deadlines....) 

It was amazing to meet the people who came up with the idea for such a beautiful, life-giving place. We met current and former students and later found out that several of the graduates of this Academy are currently in Parliament in Uganda.

Makes my heart happy to remember....

Greg was so excited and eager to meet people there.  I loved watching him engage people, shake their hands, and see how he could connect with them.  Both of our children were instantly main attractions.  Samara's long, blonde hair was quite interesting to many of the children there.  They would hold her hand and poke at her white skin and stroke her long hair and giggle.  I'm sitting here with a cheesy grin on my face as I recall the beautiful smiles and contagious giggling going on at that time.  Samara held herself with such grace and love for the children who were surrounding her and continuously touching her.  She would smile and hold their hands lovingly and when they would poke her and giggle, she would poke them back and do the same.  I am so thankful for her loving demeanor and her desire to love all people.  I am so blessed by her and her inner beauty.

Josiah had several children who gathered around him to figure out what this "muzungu" (white man) is about.  Josiah was pretty shy at first but eventually warmed up a bit with his first real experience meeting Ugandan children. In Uganda, men and children hold hands with those they like and trust.  It is not uncommon to see two men...two male teenagers....walking down the road holding hands and conversing.  This marks a sign of friendship.  This young Ugandan boy grabbed my boy's hand....and although I know that Josiah was quite caught off guard at first, I am amazed that this young boy would trust Josiah so quickly and long to be his friend. Josiah never pulled away or tried to get away from the boy and instead, engaged him and stayed with him until it was time to go.

It was quite precious. 

After visiting the Cornerstone Leadership Academy, we walked a bit more and visited the local primary school.  Samara received equal attention and Josiah was trying to navigate his way through the crowd as they were playing a game we couldn't seem to grasp.  Maggie recognized the chaos and confusion and took us back to our rooms to rest and prepare for dinner.  

The students and staff of AHI were fantastic.  The table was set elegantly and the food was always hot and delicious and the fruit they offered was just perfect. The photo below really doesn't do it justice.  The students and staff of AHI prepare the food, present the menu to you and serve you.  My favorite new meal was called a "rolex." It contained chapati bread with eggs and sautéed vegetables rolled up inside of it.  This was my first experience with chapati bread and let me tell you, it was AMAZING.  Still one of my favorite Ugandan foods!

We met a group of people from Alabama who were staying at Maggie's but volunteering their time at the African Children's Mission there on the ranch.  They were a lively and fun bunch with volunteers as young as high school.  We got to know them as we shared meals and volunteered our time when they held a VBS for a local primary school the next day.  They are a really cool bunch who always had hilarious stories to tell, music to share and great camaraderie in the midst of our journey there.  They loved to serve and were so down to earth and cool.  

Here's a photo I stole of them helping to "mud" a building.

i was honored to help with dishes that first night after dinner and I had the opportunity to get to know some of the students and staff.  It was a neat time of curiosities and answers and intrigue and laughter. I met some beautiful people that I hope to never forget. 

Our first night of rest was good.  Samara and I would always laugh because we heard a rooster throughout the morning AND the afternoon AND the evening.  We joked that the rooster was confused and that we were ALREADY awake! ha ha.  I've never heard more rooster crows in my life! :)

The next morning, while Samara and I were still snoozing, Maggie met Josiah and Greg and took them on a walk to go birding.  This was pretty amazing.  She shares a similar passion and seemed to enjoy helping them experience many birds for the first time.  They saw a Saddle-billed Stork for the first time....and got up close to the HUGE termite hills....and saw people bathing in a large pond on the ranch. (no nudity. ha!)

We later ate breakfast and went out with the mission group to hold a VBS.  The children seemed to love it and were very engaged and excited to have us all there.  Greg really seemed to enjoy taking it all in. We sang songs and listened to a Bible story and went outside to play.

This was where Josiah really got into it.  Josiah initiated a game of soccer and showed off his fancy footwork and moves.  The students really enjoyed playing and really seemed to enjoy watching him play. It was really awesome to see Josiah in his element---playing soccer--and he was pulled in many different directions by children from different games wanting him to play on their teams. The language of love and friendship was being expressed through the game of football and my boy was in the middle of it.

Be still my heart.

Samara was yet another main attraction and had 10-15 children following her, touching her, stroking her hair, or poking her at one time.  So many times I would ask her if she was okay and if she needed to get away and in her beautiful way, she would just look up at me with those green eyes and say, "Mom.  I'm fine.  I don't mind." and then run off to play with the children again.  I had to remind myself to chill out when I realized that she really didn't mind it and that she was really having fun with the giggling and adorable children.

here she is (in the blue) playing on the playground with some of the children of the school

(the precious girl with the yellow dress stole my heart---Anna is her name....such a precious little one)

(I'm so sad that all of my photos of the precious children were accidentally deleted.  It makes my heart hurt.)

My favorite part of the morning was hanging with the children and serving them their food.  As I grabbed their food and drink and handed it to them, I wanted to sob.  I felt as if I was standing on holy ground.  Something about serving these precious and GRATEful children was so holy....  The girls would curtsy and say "thank you" and the boys would bow and say the same.  "My pleasure..." is all I could utter while fighting back tears.  

My pleasure. 

(I didn't capture any photos of this but was able to find one that another team member had shared and you can see me to the right of the photo waiting to serve the next student)

It was at this primary school that I experienced the Latrine (african toilet) for the very first time.  I will have to share this experience with you at another time because it deserves a small blog of its own and right now I'd like to focus on the positives of the day.  ha ha.

Later on that day, Maggie had it arranged for our family to go into the village to meet some people and see how they lived.  Greg, Josiah, and Patrick rode bikes while William drove Samara and me on a cart attached to a motorcycle.

It was really eye opening and amazing.  We met several people in the village and were invited into their homes.  One man named Godfrey and his precious family stand out to me the most.  Godfrey continuously welcomed us into his home. "You are WELcome!" he would say while shaking our hands.  He was a very kind man full of such joy and pride in his home and in his family.  He invited us into his home and shared a little bit about his family with us.  He grabbed Greg's hand while he gave a tour of his land and didn't let go until we left.  Such a beautiful thing.

He also shared how they make cassava flour.  He explained the process of make the flour....digging up the roots, leaving them out to dry, and then grinding them into a flour.

Here are some roots drying:

Before we left his home, Godfrey asked if he could pray a blessing over all of us.  We stood in a circle, holding hands with his family, while Godfrey prayed a special blessing over all of us.
--holy ground--

We saw the very simple living of those in the village that afternoon.  They work so hard and care deeply for their families.  I loved being invited to their homes and seeing how they live.  

That night after dinner, Maggie shared that they have a Sabbath Ritual that they do each Saturday night to prepare their hearts for the next day.  She then passed around a basket full of slips of paper that held really neat and meaningful quotes or Scripture on rest and the Sabbath.  There were approximately twenty people, including guests, staff, and students gathered around the table.  Each person was asked to take a slip of paper and read it aloud.  The lights were turned down and each person was given a candle.  The mood was instantly different.  In the dark, each person read his or her slip of paper with intent...concentrating on each and every word and its real meaning.  It was amazing.

After we read our slips of paper and focused on the beauty of the moment, Maggie pulled out another paper that contained a special blessing.  She asked each of us to turn to the person on our right and speak the blessing over him or her.  Samara was to my right but to her right was a man named Herbert.  As the blessing was read from person to person, I began thinking about Herbert and his the words I soon would be speaking over his life were so life-giving and important for him to hear and believe....and when the paper was handed to me, I began to read it....and immediately, tears began streaming down my face.  While choking back tears, I looked over at Herbert and finished the blessing.  He must have thought I was a crazy lady crying like a baby.  I have thought about that experience many times since returning home.

Oh I hope you see God's grace ALLLL over your life....may you know that your life is important....that you were MEANT to be born and that you MATTER.  May the Lord BLESS you and KEEP you and Herbert, may you know that you have what it takes to make it through this life victoriously.  You really do matter.  You are enough. And you are important.

more to come...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Huffman Family Adventures: Part 3

This was our first trip to Uganda and although we had heard that the Ugandan people were amazing and super friendly, the dark skies and lack of lighting at the airport had us all a little hesitant to accept these friendly and casual people at first. 

It was past 11pm Ugandan time and we were wiped out.  Here we are in the back of the driver's vehicle on the way to our hotel.  The flash was a little too bright.  ha ha.

We checked in to the Sunset Motel in Entebbe, just a ten minute drive from the airport and were greeted by some extremely friendly people named Grace and Jacki.  We checked into our room and were too hyper to retire for the night but knew that our driver would arrive early the next morning so we took super quick showers and tucked our adorable kids into their beds that were fully equipped with mosquito nets.  Aren't they adorable?

We awoke the next morning to a delicious breakfast.  Our driver, Simon, arrived early to get our luggage and find out where we needed to go before going to the Ranch.  We could hear the busy sounds of the town around us and I kept being distracted from breakfast to check out the birds I heard cawing in the distance.  We thought we had found a true treasure of a bird: A pied crow....only to discover that these gorgeous birds are as popular in Uganda as an American Robin is in the States! ha ha.  We saw thousands of them throughout our trip to Uganda.  But was our first time seeing them so we were stoked!

Simon drove us through Kampala to a Money Exchange Market.  It was quite eye opening as we drove through an extremely busy town.  Boda-Bodas were EVERYWHERE.  If you aren't familiar with these, they are small motorcycles that hold two adults (we saw some carrying two adults and a small child) and they swerve in and out of traffic like you wouldn't believe.  They are very dangerous and are the leading cause of vehicular deaths in the country.  We saw vendors selling everything from bananas to shoes to toilet paper and sodas on the street.  I have a hard time saying, "no" to someone who is trying to get me to buy something and a man outside my window was very insistent that I purchase some newspapers.  Thankfully our driver sternly said "no!" and drove off.  The man didn't return to my window.  Within minutes of driving on the red dirt, my heart strings had been pulled.  Oh my word.

Simon went with Greg to exchange money and the kids and I took in the sights and sounds of the people around us.  There were people and vehicles EVERYwhere.  No set lines on the road made it extremely chaotic and nerve racking.  Sitting in the passenger seat in the front left of the vehicle, watching the chaos surrounding me, I became quite tense on my first trip through Kampala.  We eventually drove through the chaos onto a less busy road.....but this road had the biggest, bumpiest pot holes I have ever seen.  Drivers in Uganda communicate much differently than we do.  Americans use their horns to indicate warning or anger but Ugandans use their horns and turn signals to communicate with boda-bodas or pedestrians ("Hey! I'm right here...just so you know!") and turn signals ("Hey...I'm going to go to the right in front of you in order to get around this HUGE pot hole in the middle of the road...").  They are constantly swerving and honking and using their turn signals to communicate with each other and it was quite fascinating after I realized all of the dynamics of those on the road.  Men riding bikes while carrying sticks, women carrying their precious babies on their backs while carrying large jugs on their heads, boda-bodas, children heading to school, teens carrying jerry cans, oncoming vehicles....the chaos is unnerving and beautiful all the same.  Everyone has a place to go to....a task to complete....and they move steadily with such strength and grace.  

The people clothed in white in the photo below are the Traffic Police.  They point at cars as they go by and the cars must stop.  They make quite a presence on the roads everywhere you go.

Our first trip was to the Ekitaangala Ranch to stay at the African Hospitality Institute, aka: Maggie's.  Stay tuned for stories from the ranch....

Huffman Family Adventures: Part 2

We decided early on that it would be a good idea to layover in London for a few days to acclimate ourselves to a time change and to be able to enjoy the city of London on our way to Uganda.  We are very glad that we did.  We had a very exhausting couple of days in London but truly enjoyed every bit of it.  Our agenda was planned down to where we would eat and despite getting mixed up on the double decker bus one night (and taking a two hour detour!), we really enjoyed the sights and the culture of England.

We were a little disappointed when we found out that the black taxis of London were on strike, causing a ton of chaos near the Westminster Abbey and Big Ben area.  Because of this, we were unable to make it to the Tower of London (we had already purchased non-refundable tickets) but we were still able to make the High Tea at the Savoy to celebrate Samara's birthday as planned.

Here are some highlights: