Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Children Start a Blog



These days, "just Google it," is more common than, "go ask your father." This has its pros and cons. My general knowledge of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything isn't challenged daily but I also don't get to sow into my children's lives my vast wisdom and lifetime experience. I'll let you decide which is the pro which is the con and for who, me or the children. I'm sure somebody somewhere has made a study of how our brains are losing cognitive recall or memory storage capacity because we don't keep information at the forefront of our minds (if you don't believe me just Google it). How many phone numbers can you rattle off? Can you even remember your own? If sales tax wasn't so close to 10% could you calculate a tip without a calculator? Baking from scratch without a recipe? When is the last time anybody did that? Too much information around us necessitates us relying on technology to help us process, record, and remember. For better or for worse this is reality. 


Despite the demise of our cranial capacity the ability to keep a running post of our lives is a plus. My Facebook and blog posts are forever in the "cloud" allowing me to reflect on a moments notice what I did, when I did it, and whether or not other people "Liked" it. This recall gets to be very important not only for TV shows like the Newlywed game (YouTube it) but when children want accounts of every decision and choice you've made from favorite breakfast cereal to where were you on 9/11. As I get older I am glad to have this resource available. I'd only wished I had started sooner. Well the children have.


They don't want any of these new experiences to go unrecorded not only for posterity but with so many families are coming to Uganda if the children's experience can help someone else make the transition, it will have been worth the effort. 


They have started with simple intro bios and will over the subsequent weeks add all of their challenges, accomplishments, frustrations, Christmas lists, etc. This will also fulfill the constant request from the grandparents for more updates about the children, yeah Pop I'm talking about you. ;-) 


We've had so many encouraging comments about the older girls' posts but we also want the youngers to get involved so look for short videos, drawings, photo diaries, small scale sculpture, flash mob choreography and safari excursions. Xander would make a fantastic safari guide all he needs is a financial backer to send him to North Uganda for training. 


Pray for Jeri. Almost as soon as she got here two of the long-term gals took her under their wing and showed her the way to get things done. They have been an invaluable help and resource in getting settled and they have been good friends. As one would expect in this business both are leaving the country for a spell and Jeri is at a loss. Pray she finds new friends to share this experience with. She is already serving in two separate women's ministries, joining a homeschooling collective, and will be starting her Ugandan midwife certification this winter but a friend would be  a blessing.


Thank you for your prayers. If you've missed any of our previous posts check our site at clarks2africa.blogspot.com. And visit their site at clark-kids-in-africa.blogspot.com.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekly Update 7: Nine Down Thirty Million More to Go


Fathers and sons should have many bonding moments. If possible they should involve some kind of messiness, disassembly/construction, and in the best of situations a wee bit of killin'. Both boys helped in the field planting technique we learned this week (more about that in the next post). They came with our Community Development Team again this week. And they visited a local farm with our class. All of these activities checked appropriate boxes in father son development and shared moments. Heck, if they are paying attention (most of the time they are—I quiz them frequently) they might grow up to be farmers without having to take a class. 

That third component, knowing my short list isn't comprehensive, needs to be visited often and with great revelry. Now a wee bit of killin' can be the equivalent busting something big down to tiny little bitses. In fact if the something big is technology based and has been a great source of frustration it might even be more satisfying to beat it till the plastic returns to granular form. Which if you've seen the above pics brings us to Xander and my work duty Friday morning.

As mentioned in previous posts the spiders here are exactly as you would expect jungle spiders to be: large, black, and terrifying. We haven't photographed them up to this point because we didn't bring enough smelling salts to revive Zoe from the fainting she would succumb to in sheer fear of their appearance. I'm not sure if you can make out the traffic safety stripe across the back of specimen on the upper left. That stripe is required by the state as it is on all vehicles over two metric tons. I don't have fancy back stories for all the spiders we encountered cause me and the boy were too busy just killin'em. 

Did we create unbalance in the ecosystem? Did we needlessly eliminate God's natural mosquito exterminator? Could we have relocated each of those nine reason-for-sleeping-with-the-lights-on to another hospitable environment? (One  more) Did we explore all the options possible to live in harmony with the spiders, like distributing hazmat suits? And of course Zoe's solution, "so what if we burn down the dining hall? Dining by starlight sounds delightful." 

Armed with a brush nailed to a pole, I knocked them down and Xander stomped on them. Nine, we got nine. That's 72 legs, 72 eyes, mandibles, thoraxes, abdomens, etc. I have to tell you it was satisfying the first few times but as we knocked them down from their perch they proved to be less than formidable foes. Superior acrobats in their own webs but less than pedestrian on the ground, all back end and no scurry. In fact the final kill in the last pic on the bottom right practically fell off and lied still till Xander ended it. We collected lots of webs and scraped off more egg sacks than we could count and for a few minutes before breakfast a new day dawned in our open air dining hall.

As for all the unanswerable questions, unnecessary. By Saturday just as many new spiders filled in where the previous ones were vacated. Like teeth on a shark or workers from a temp agency as soon as a space is available there'll be another to fill in. We keep killing them, but I have a feeling Zoe's solution will prevail someday, hopefully after the rainy season ends.

Thank you for your prayers. If you'd like to get weekly updates by email please contact us at clarks2africa@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

If God Farmed Today



Systems. Systems. Systems. I love systems! Measuring and building and layouts, yeah. It's like graphic design for the garden. Farming God's Way is not only an ideal for a agricultural principle it is also a resource for maximum yield in farming your crops. In a nutshell you create reusable planting stations that you nourish and return to every season. It is a minimal till, heavy mulch, and limited compost strategy that is very effective in Sub-Saharan Africa. We were introduced to the technique in a seminar fashion (very quick overview) and spent a day of practical demonstration creating a small plot, pictured above.

Much of the time spent in the classroom was devoted to the Biblical principles behind changing a culture to make lasting development possible. When we take this farming practice into our community we are purposeful to build upon scripture because establishing Farming God's Way is hard. Without the conviction of God's Word most farmers couldn't follow through with the high standards required to make this system successful. For me the scripture was gravy on top of a systematic strategy for crop management. 

Our instructor/trainer was a Canadian fellow who married a Ugandan and has spent the last decade or so traversing the subcontinent teaching conservation farming. The consequence of his pan-global experience has modified his speech patterns to what I'm going to refer to as a mimic-dialect. When I fall victim to it my wife calls it, "Stop trying to sound African."

The stereotypes of this speech pattern are characterized by Anglo speakers who holler when confronted by a non-English speaker (as though they were hard of hearing) or adding a foreign affectation to their words ("Do you speakee Eenglish?"). Our instructor was much more subtle, he only tended to drift into a more African sound when he was translating terms from Swahili or reflecting on the traditional farming practices of the locals. I on the other hand am much more broad in my mimicry. "Hello my brother, how are you today?" Is my family's impression of how I sound.

Granted, I do this with any accent. If I am watching too much Doctor Who, I'll walk around for days sounding "like" a Brit. When we stopped in France en route to Mauritania, my "French" was merely speaking English with my lips puckered up. I still answer the phone with "Allo?" Because I worked for a Palestinian guy and that's how he answered the phone. Some people chew their nails, I put on fake accents. 

I've asked my African friends if they can tell the difference when white people talk to each other and when they address Africans. They say they can but don't bother pointing it out. I'm not sure if there is an equivalent in 'Murica. We are such a land of mixed up dialects. Texans were always remarking how they knew, "I weren't from there" but I don't know if that was a commentary on our accents or that we never quite conjugated "y'all" correctly.

The boys did very well Farming God's Way. This Friday we're planning on making a few planting stations ourself. We'll let you know how it goes. If you are interested in the resource find them on the web. The information is all available and they have directions for kitchen gardens too. Thank you for supporting us so we can go and support others.

This is Weekly Update 8. If you think you've missed any check the blog at clarks2africa.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Transported Teen Writes: Trying My Hand at Sugarcane

 


Marian is one of my first friends here. We both enjoy crafts, drawing and "shoetags" (their word for nail polish). As we talk, we have cultural exchanges. Sometimes I forget most people in rural areas have no connection outside of Uganda. In America the internet gives us a widow to other places, like the post you're reading right now. Watching Africa on YouTube is rather lacking. It doesn't give you the feel of Africa, the excitement of their worship, the racket of rain pounding a tin roof through the night or the chatter of exotic birds in the morning. The window only works one-way. Marian and I have created a bridge, I share something American and she teaches me about Uganda. I get to explain hamburgers and she shares Ugandan expressions. She was shocked that we live down the road from an enormous plantation but never eaten sugarcane. So she brought some over.


Like a fancy chef from Benihana, she skinned, chopped and sliced the bamboo stalk in a matter of seconds. Swoop, chop, ka-chunk, perfect. Then the pivotal moment of failure comes as she hands me the knife. Let's just say, my obviously superb knife skills are unrefined for African cuisine. Swoop, slice, oops, ow. The knife attacked my thumb. It's fine, a mere flesh wound, but it proves the fact that even though we've been here for almost a month, we are not yet experts.


Dora and I got invited to her house Tuesday. We met her mother, older sister, younger sister and baby brother. Her simple brick house had no windows so it was very dark. The living room was already very small, no bigger than an average bathroom, but it was also the kitchen sink storage and dining room. Apparently it's a thing here, when you have visitors to show them your family photo albums. After meeting the family, we discovered more cultural exchanges by watching the Avengers movie translated to Lugandan. Later language lessons with her mother included phrases like, Wasuze otya, good morning. We removed dried corn off the cob for grounding into posho powder. They were kind enough to feed us lunch. It was a very traditional Ugandan menu: potatoes, cabbage and posho. As much as we are indifferent about posho, theirs was much better then what we're used to on the base. We also snacked on popcorn, more sugarcane and blacked corn kernels which tasted like little salty rocks yet were surprisingly good. Then it was time for Dora and I to leave, next time I'll bring my camera. It was fun to hang out with my friend and her natural teaching spirit is what I need most, just don't ask me to cut the cane.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Weekly Update 5

Welcome to YWAM Hopeland’s kitchen. In this open concrete building over one hundred staff and students are fed daily. The children and I prepared the after church meal in Texas for roughly about the same amount of folks at the Tyler base each Sunday last year. When people asked if I was a good cook I would correct them and say, “No, I’m just good at warming food up,” (mostly what we cooked was boxed or frozen). How else could one person make chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and roasted cauliflower for a hundred people? In Africa I’ve worked a couple of dinner preps and it is just the opposite. 


Everything is raw and sometimes out of their own garden, which means dirty. So you sit on a bench and you peel it or take it to the sink and wash it. Greens and cabbage get shredded. Onions and tomatoes get diced. Fruit gets chopped. Then the fires get built. The kitchen has four wood burning stoves, the picture to the right shows beans in a pressure cooker. They start with long logs and keep pushing them in till the food is cooked. All the pots have a thick layer of soot on the outside which remains beyond clean-up because there isn’t enough soap in Uganda to clean them at this point. If you have worked in an open kitchen before you know resources have a tendency to walk away so the knives and cutting boards are an assortment of cast-offs that nobody cared to “borrow.” I’m sure they use the repaired bottoms of the pots for identification. “Bring me the three patch pot. No, the one with the rivets, not the welds.” Despite all these challenges the food can be filling if you can eat enough.


The components repeat daily so if you come to Africa let me give you the breakdown of what to expect. The first pot will be rice or posho. The second pot could be small russet potatoes, pasta, or white sweet potato. The third pot might be beans, collard greens, or stewed cabbage. Some days a tomato cucumber salad, pineapple, watermelon, or avocado makes it to the service which helps to break up the plate of off-white food. To accommodate everybody portions are strictly doled out. Special meals will include the local chapati flatbread, a beef soup, or sliced sausage added to the cabbage, these are especially limited. Basic foods and plenty of them, well at least plenty of posho.

Needless to say, every food related post we see on Facebook fills us with longing and fond memories of life back in the States. We have hope to increase the food variety and availability of vegetables at Hopeland through our Sustainable Agriculture Course. This will benefit the locals in healthier ways to eat and give our foodie friends a reason to visit us here in Uganda. Thank you for your support.

The Clarks Visit the Local Village



Dora Clark, the Mini Midwife writes about her first trip off the YWAM base.

I walked along side of my family, up the short hill to the entrance of the Youth With A Mission base where we currently live. We were headed for the first time to the nearby village called Kakira. I started thinking what will Kakira look like? Will it be poor? How poor?

The road is long and winding, made of red dirt. Corn is all we see, and mountains. I am tired and hot, this elevation takes it out of you. I look to the right and see that we’re higher than I thought. No wonder I am tired. There are big orange colored puddles on the ground. I try to dodge them, but the recent rains have made everything slippery. Boda- Boda’s (otherwise known as motorcycles) rush around us. There are no traffic laws here really and the “right of way” does not exist for people walking. Sometimes the Bodas almost take Liesel with them or nearly run into her as she dodges out of the way. 

We stop to take a family photo, how strange we must look to the black people who are slowly walking past, staring at us. You know, we are just some white people just standing on the side of the road taking pictures with a very expensive camera. We have to take this quick because cars drive by and again we are big white targets. After pictures, (this takes a little while) we continue walking. Corn, corn, corn, and guess what? CORN! 

After what seems like one hour we start seeing houses, but that means there is ten more minutes until we get to town. Children are playing outside when we start hearing them shout, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Mzungu means white person in Luganda. We smile and wave, smile and wave, like royalty. They pour out everywhere, in all various stages of dress (or undress, as it were) The place smells, don’t breath through your nose, I have to tell myself. Everywhere there are colorful buildings and no white people besides us for miles around it seems. I long to play with the children; it looks like they are playing with sticks and make-believe. I should keep with my family because those who know me will know that I will just keep playing with children and never come home. 

I hold out my hand for one of the children to grab. A boy with a red ripped shirt comes to my side. His smile spreads from ear to ear; it looks like he is gloating as he looks back to his friends. Not long after children begin to follow us, chattering away in a language I do not have any hope of understanding. People look at us with strange expressions; but when I smile they smile back. People are also selling things outside, no food though, just dirty, used clothing. We walk to a small shop to buy a soda for our lunch. We definitely can’t fit in this shack so we stand outside. There are two boys behind the counter. They look to be about 10 or 12 with no adult in sight. 

After buying our glass bottles of soda pop, we walk through the mud into a very small, crowded, passage way filled with shack-like looking shops. They look more like lemonade stands than shops. There is an awning with MEAT hanging from the tin roof of the wooden shop. On the dirty wooden shelf, there is various cuts of meat just lying there, baking in the African sun. Behind the shelf, there is a man with a large knife hacking away at some beef on a very dirty stump. We squeeze past him and the flies buzz around. On the concrete next to him is a man cooking something on a large metal drum that smells delicious. Is this where we’re going to get lunch? Apparently we are eating a kind of breakfast burrito called a “Rollex”. It is made with chapatti, an Indian flatbread and vegetables and eggs cooked inside.

We wait patiently for our rollexs amidst the stares of the locals. My Dad asks my Mom to go find some laundry soap in the “shops” nearby. I bounce up and down, volunteering my services to escort her. We squeeze past the meat man and his hanging merchandise. We walk past more brightly colored stores. I look at people who do not look very friendly. We get many stares and not many smiles. We dodge the muddy places, puddles, and people. 

We walk through an open gate where there are lots more people. We begin to ask where there might be laundry soap. They don’t understand the word laundry. No wonder they keep shaking their heads! So we ask for clothes soap, pantomiming washing clothes by hand. At this point, they gesture towards a shop where women are standing. We ask them for clothes soap they shake their heads no. We are very confused because this is the shop that we were shown. We walk around the shop where there are bars on the window. We ask for clothes soap again even though this seems like the same shop we were in just the other side of it. This time a nice man says to the person in the shop “Omo” and the store man hands him some laundry soap! The man hands it to us. We give the store man money, “Thank you! Thank you!” we tell him. It seems as if there is very few places that you can walk in and get what you want in Uganda. Most places you have to ask for the product by name.

We head back to our lunch, again dodging chickens, mud and staring people. As we’re nearing the breakfast burrito place we walk past another meat man, his meat is a gray color. It does not look good at all. We find our family sitting on the concrete and eating. I take a bite of my Rollex; I think I am tasting heaven. YUM! This is delicious! 

Normally, every meal we have had in Uganda is posho, which tastes like a flavorless sponge, some thin spaghetti noodles with no sauce, and beans. That’s it, so this was a big treat. For once, I am stuffed afterwards. 

Then it’s time to go home, so we decide to get a taxi. The taxis are long buses that are always packed full of people before they will leave. It took a while for people to load in it, so Zoe took that opportunity to take photos of the village. Finally the bus seems full, but we didn’t move. Then, two more people squeeze in- a mother and little girl. The mother squeezed in the second row and the little girl on my mother’s lap. Things sure get cozy here in Africa. 

We left KaKira, with full stomachs, crammed into hot dirty vans and a whole new way of life to ponder.

Monday, August 4, 2014


The Transported Teen Writes:
How I Became a Mzungu Manicurist and My First Impressions of Uganda

“So I said to my girlfriend, ‘My stars, I bet people sure are interesting. I’m sure you get to meet lots of interesting people.’ Now let’s dip our mani’s in the water”
-Bugs Bunny impersonating a manicurist

The scenery is not what I expected. I thought it would be more jungle, like Belize, where Dora and I visited two years ago. It’s actually a bit like home, minus the mountains, there’s tall weeds, tall trees but every now and then you’ll find the occasional exotic plant, random cow or bird who does monkey impressions. It seems pretty normal on base but once you get high enough, the view is incredible! If you’ve seen The Lion King, you’ll remember the part when Simba and Timon and Pumba meet. They show Simba the view from a tremendous mountain and all the jungle is laid out around them like a tropical paradise. The similarities are striking. The only difference is how Lake Victoria dominates the territory, blue as the sky and almost as big. The sight reminds you of God’s magnificence, taller than the mountains, deeper than the lakes.

Our house is quite comfortable considering the circumstances. It resembles a large storage shed, completely concrete and with two broken, wood frame windows, and with furniture in it. Our bathrooms have actual toilets! One who has not used a squatty-potty could not possibly understand the joy this gives me. So far, I have not had to use one and I’d like to keep it that way as long as possible though I know that dream may be short-lived. The kid’s room has animals and food painted around the top of the walls like crown molding. Maybe the artist only had a vague impression of what food looks like because the bananas are similar to bird feet and the pineapple could be mistaken for a very fat carrot.

Mom describes the afternoon heat as wearing clothes fresh from the dryer on a spring day. It’s warm but not swelteringly uncomfortable. The weather is almost always the same with the exception of an occasional rain. I think I’ve learned the true meaning of torrents. The rain falls in waves, just a little, then a lot, little, lot, little, lot, etc. We’ve only had a few nights of showers but the rainy season is on its way. It gets dark very fast! The sun starts setting at 6’o’clock so it’s black outside by 7 and it will stay that way all year long since we are directly on the equator. 
We went to the small village of Kakira on Sunday for lunch. Needless to say, I was shocked. The image I had produced in my brain and reality were extremely contrary. When Dad said we were going there for rollexs, I knew there wasn’t going to be anything fancy, maybe a rinky-dink little vendor? In all actuality, it was in the back roads of the back alleyways, smokey and muddy, outside. While we ate our lunch on the cement stoop we had a perfect view of the “meat shop” (which was nothing more than a stand with racks of hanging meat shrouded in flies and a man hacking away on a dirty stump) right next door. The smell that radiated from our chapatti and egg lunch made it worth it. Either that or I was very hungry. Probably both.

I did expect the staring but not the magnitude of it. Many of the looks were distasteful, like we smelt rancid. We did get the occasional smile out of an adult here and there; but the children, oh the children, they loved us. Running out of their homes, calling to one another and us, either bashful or ridiculous at the point of my camera lens. Some grabbed Dora’s outstretched hands and followed us everywhere. They even sat on a tire and watched us eat, occasionally teasing one another or hitting their friends with sticks. The smile on Dora’s face radiated and I knew her heart was home.

I’ve met many Ugandans but so far I’ve only talked with three my age. Almost every Ugandan we’ve talked to has said, “You are welcome here.” On Thursday, a local girl, Maria came over to greet us. Maria sells homemade earrings in the market. She likes drawing, singing and dancing. We found that cards are the easiest games to play because they don’t require a lot of communication. I showed her my favorite game, called Snap, and she really liked it! But we really started to relate when she asked about my painted toenails. After her toes were a lovely shade of neon green, Viola came over, and I did her nails (blue with sparkles) and we played more Snap. We laughed a lot and I’m glad we found something we could all do. On Friday, Viola came back and brought Sarah, asking for her nails done too (pink and lavender, she’s on the right). Viola also needed a touch-up but then she decided for a completely different color (green, teal and pink, she’s on the left). And then we played Snap again; Viola is very good at it. I wouldn’t call us “fast friends”, and there’s no way they could replace my besties back in America. We still have lots of differences to overcome, language for example (they call nail polish “shoetags”. I don’t know how it’s spelled but that’s how it’s pronounced). Right now, all that’s connecting us is hot pink, teal and glitter. But for right now, that’s good enough for me.