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The Beauty of Uganda

Yesterday, my son Charles and I returned from 2 weeks in Uganda. I wrote some of my thoughts on Uganda‘s culture while there. As we flew 9000 miles to return home, I reflected how much the beauty of eastern Uganda had settled my mind; God’s green brush strokes on a red dirt canvas.

the road to Light Village from Mbale

the road to Light Village from Mbale

We have a tendency, in the states, to rush. Ugandans do not. Which is not to detract from their work ethic – the villages I spent time at were all up by 6 every day, often earlier, with heavy physical workloads all day long. Kids come home from school as the afternoon approaches evening, carrying loads. But conversations were never peppered with glances at a cell phone. Some would take my hand and walk with me as they talked. Eye contact and names were important. People asked of my family, my land, and remembered details when I saw them days later.

Uganda can be captured in the smiles of its people all over the lush, contoured red land, blanketed in tropical greenery. A German girl who’d been staying in Nairobi the past year mentioned to us the change in people’s attitudes as soon as the Kenya/Uganda border was crossed. Smiles widened, and a more helpful people approached. We experienced the same in Uganda.

Martin and his grandfather

Martin and his grandfather

pause

pause for photo

Agnes

Agnes

George

George

a boy runs behind our Land Cruiser

a boy runs behind our Land Cruiser

I admit my knowledge of Africa came mostly from movies I’d seen, and I expected dirt and plains, giraffes and lions. Nothing like what we were actually greeted with as we drove hours from Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria, through Kampala, Jinja, and to Mbale and One City’s Light Village in the foothills of Mt Elgon. Temperate weather, less mosquitos than Florida’s back yards, colors shouting to your eyes you’ve been missing out for years.

We spent a night at Sipi Falls, home to three waterfalls (well, 4 since the top one is a “twin falls”). Charles and I rappelled down the 100m (300ft) main waterfall the following day. That first and only night at Sipi, we sat by a fire in the cool air and looked up at the Milky Way, the first time I’d seen it with my naked eye in quite some time (aside from a previous night on this same trip). As the embers burned, the evening laid itself out, waypoints of life’s stories and experiences dotting it’s course.

sunset from Sipi Falls

sunset from Sipi Falls

The Milky Way, visible from Light Village

the Milky Way, shot from Jacob’s camera

look closely and find me rappelling

look closely and find me rappelling

rappelling down Sipi Falls

rappelling down Sipi Falls

Charles rappelling down Sipi Falls

Charles at Sipi Falls

Our friend and guide in Sipi, Martin, walked us across the street to his small (8 by 10 meters or so) plot of growing coffee. He told us the story of arabica coffee’s journey to Uganda from Ethiopia, and how he appreciates it much more than robusta, which has twice the caffeine and a more bitter taste. Sitting on a stump in my Bata Safari Boots, we shelled dried coffee cherry pits. Martin roasted them in a tin over hot coals (“the pan must be evenly heated!”), and we ground them using an 80 year old wooden mortar and pestle his grandmother had owned. Boiling the grinds in water, he then poured us the freshest coffee I’ve ever had.

pouring coffee, freshly roasted and brewed

pouring coffee, freshly roasted and brewed

Although our friends Mike and Deb, who we were visiting and helping, had much to do while we were there, days began early and ended early. We were home by 5 each day, and often had time during the day with nothing scheduled, where Charles and our friend Jacob and I would wander the Light Village and it’s surrounding areas. Twice we hiked small local mountains as Mike and Deb focused on getting Light Village construction completed, stopping along the way to pile locals into our car with us. Sam, a local politician who came with us (one of the good ones!) explained it is custom when you enter someone else’s territory to ask the leaders if they’d like to be the ones to guide a hike. Agreeing, they simply walked off the side of the road where they’d been talking to other locals, jumped in our car, and wandered around the mountain for hours with us.

On another hike, pastor James Tukole walked with us. When we spotted baboons across the field, he led us through 45 minutes of mildly chasing them through the brush. We’d began that hike parking our car at Damascus’ house, a local who took great pride in showing us around his home before we set off on the hike. He’d been putting the finishing touches on a chicken coop outside, where a piglet was sleeping and rabbits were hopping around. After losing the baboons at one point, we wound up at Damascus’ house again and headed back into the village.

looking across the valley

looking across the valley

Ugnadan countryside

Ugandan countryside

African trees are stunning

African trees are lonely; incredible

I am constantly reminded in my life to focus on where I am. My thoughts return often to a post I wrote in 2011, 10 short months after Ezra died. I wrote it just after spending a weekend with our friend VJ, and realizing he and I (and Robyn) had all come to this same conclusion that everything matters. These moments making up our life are all equally a part of us – each morning we wake, each opportunity we pass, each death we cry over and each birth we do as well. VJ died 2 years after that weekend.

“Slow down” is a phrase we use often, as a motivational speaking reminder to pause more often. I think we’re mis-speaking, trying instead to say we should focus on what’s in front of us. I have been avoiding the word “busy” lately, as we use it simply to get out of conversation. “How have you been?” “Busy.” It says nothing, and really, we’re all always active, getting things done and going about life. I feel I’m always working on a hundred things. Where we go wrong is when we are so focused on the “busy” we lose the people, moments, and experiences right in front of us. Busy is worthless.

These past couple weeks in Uganda re-centered that for me. Accomplish much, live with precision. Wake up, work hard, love others. Focus on what’s in front of you. Ugandans walked through the mountains with me, pointing out each plant’s purpose and use. They shared stories of their families with me, and asked about mine. We paused at the top of a waterfall to be silent as we looked out. At the top of each hill. When the sun went up, and when it went down.

Uganda has been through a lot, and yet its beauty and its people’s smiles persist. I couldn’t help but draw parallels while I was there with my own family’s struggles. Our commitment to never be bitter, to affect change for the next family, and to recognize the grace which gives us a chance to still be beautiful out of our ashes. I’ll return.

messing around at Light Village

messing around at Light Village

into town

into town

hello from kids in the village

hello from kids in the village

monkeying around

monkeying around

kids on the side of the road coming to say hi

kids on the side of the road coming to say hi

kids bringing wood somewhere

kids bringing wood somewhere

a woman walks home from church

a woman walks home from church

more night skies from Sipi Fals

night skies from Sipi Falls

Comments 8

  1. you've captured the beauty and heart of the place and people we've fallen in love with….once again friend. So happy to have been able to share with you and Charles. Come again!

  2. Amazing ! You are so correct when saying we are way to busy every moment with stuff, just stuff. We need to stop and take a moment and think about how we have spent the day and how we are going to spend tomorrow. Take a moment to notice our neighbor. Is there a need that I could fill ? I believe if all of us would just make that small change of noticing our neighbors needs our world would be forever glorious . There would be no need for guns or weapons. There in Uganda it appears the people have next to nothing and as you described they always greet you with a smile. It makes me stop and think about all of us in the USA have been showered with so much we have no idea what makes us smile. We as a country need to go back to the simpler life where it took next to nothing to make us smile too. 🙂 My daughter, Rosie is in Uganda right now with One City Ministries. She is a member of The Light Team. God Bless all of you who give of yourself to make a difference in this world {hug}

  3. Oh my Dear Nephew, how your words hit me with a jolt of reality as to what my life is, and the beauty of the simplicity of these seemingly innocent peoples. Makes one stop and look at themselves & be grateful for this day and each day to come with an awe of pleasure instead of drudgery. Amazing when we can step back to look at ourselves and all the beauty and love we miss by not taking the time. I liked what you said about "BUSY". My "Busy" is so empty with mostly nil accomplished, then complain of tired each evening. The blessed people of Uganda have such a light heart with beautiful smiles, they don't take time for self pity. They seem to stay focused on their daily needs taking time for others to talk or give generous smiles.

    Kyle, you write so beautifully as if one was sitting in front of you while you tell the story. I can feel your words and stories in my heart as you tell them. People here are too worried about their appearance, or a day spa, or living a higher life in our homes, cars and clothes. We MISS so much in life. Uganda is about the best day spa anyone could go to for an awakening to what is truly important in life.
    What is LOVE:
    What does love look like? It has the hands to help others.
    It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
    It has eyes to see misery and want.
    It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
    That is what love looks like.
    – Saint Augustine

    Kyle you, and Robyn truly have the LOVE, it shows in your smiles, your integrity, in your attitudes and your never ending faithfulness to reach out a helping hand to give for others. Your love is not the pityingly kind, people don't need Pity, they need Love and understanding.
    I hope someday you write a book to allow others to see through your smiles and talents our Heavenly Father has given you. How your heart has not hardened through all your and Robyn's trials and tribulations and at such a young age.
    You and your family are in my heart Forever and ever. Although I only see you once in a blue moon, my Love for you and your precious family grows stronger and stronger each day. with the greatest of respect and integrity.
    May God continue to be with you and family from here on out, while you continue to grow in His love for you.
    With my prayers, blessings and smiles from across the miles always be with you.
    Aunt Sharon

  4. Thank you my brother for sharing your experiences & the beautiful pictures. Every word & every picture bring joyful tears to my eyes and they keep reminding me that I will get to see it all again very soon. We would love to sit with you & Charles and share your experiences face to face after you have had a little time to settle back in & reflect. Love your heart & passion!!

  5. Beautifully said. As always your expressions from the heart penetrate the hearts of others. Thank you.

  6. What a blessing to experience Gods people and beauty, and in such a way. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of His beauty.

  7. Thanks for collecting your thoughts and photos into this post, it is a timely reminder to keep the important things centered. -p

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