Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

October 25, 2003

A typical day?

Living in a small village in rural Africa, a question I sometimes get asked is, "What is your typical day like?" Maybe I can expand that a little bit and tell you more what a typical week is like. Some parts of my days are fairly consistent, but much of my time is unpredictable, so this isn't always an easy question to answer.

Some of the predictable things are how I start my days. Because Uganda straddles the Equator, our days and nights are 12 hours long, year round. So the sun starts shining about 7:00 every morning, and it's quite easy to get into a regular rhythm of sleeping and waking. That might sound funny, but with kerosene lamps and no electronic stuff like TV to artificially extend the day, I probably sleep a full 8-9 hours every night. Usually the singing of myriads of tropical birds awakens me, but sometimes it's my cat. He'll cuddle into the curve behind my knees and begin to purr and groom himself for the day. I reach down to pet him and his little pink tongue starts to groom my hand as well. I get up and put away my bed, because it occupies the middle of the floor in the larger of the 2 rooms I live in. I go outside and fill my tea kettle with water from one of the 4 jerry cans sitting just outside my kitchen, and put it on my gas stove to boil. After breakfast and devotions, I take my laptop computer and adapter out to my pickup truck. I recharge its battery, using an adapter in the cigarette lighter, usually while writing letters that will become emails the next time I drive the 50 miles into Kampala. There I will send them from an internet café. (It would be possible to do email using my cell phone, but would cost me about $100 a month for the services!) The early mornings are cool and quiet, a good time to enjoy the solitude, before my workers and visitors begin to come.

Later on, Nakamiya will come and I will bring my laundry for her to wash, which she does weekly. She is probably close to 60 years old, a widow, and she lives in an adjoining village in a one room mud hut. She supports 12 relatives living with her on the small amount of money she gets from working in my garden, doing my laundry, and cooking for my helpers and my animals. Her family is composed of a senile aged mother, several daughters (one with AIDS), and grandchildren, some of whom are orphaned. Nakamiya is one of the happiest women I know. She was destitute before her job with me gradually evolved. She constantly sings, always praise songs to God. In her spare moments, you will find her reading her Bible, usually out loud. She does not speak English, but we manage to communicate most of the time; she helps me increase my Luganda abilities with persistence, and lots of body language at times.

Nakamiya does her cooking on wood or charcoal fires in my back yard. On the days she does laundry, she sits in the shade and washes the clothes in a basin by hand, with water another helper hauls by bicycle every day, from the village well, where it is pumped by hand. It usually takes 2-3 days to get the laundry all dry, because of humidity and frequent rains, and the fact it is line dried. It must be brought in at night, because a windy storm may come up, and because my dog loves to rip things off the line and chew them to shreds…

On the days she irons, she sits on the ground, spreads out a palm leaf mat and covers it with towels, and irons the clothing with a charcoal-filled iron. A wet finger touching the base of the iron tells her if the temperature is right. If it's not hot enough, swinging the iron back and forth will cause the charcoal to burn hotter inside the iron. If it's too hot, she just waits awhile. Another couple of days completes the ironing.

In the late morning, when the temperature is usually reaching the 90s, I fill 2 basins of water outside my doors, on a special platform. Next to them goes my dish rack. I wash my dishes in cold water, or if I am busy and choose to wash dishes later in the day, the sun will warm the water. Our soap still has phosphates in it, so it washes equally well in cold water. The sun dries and sanitizes the dishes from any contamination that might be in the unboiled water. I use the rinse water then to wash my hair if it needs it, bending over from the steps, letting the soapy water run onto the ground. Or I might use the water to wash my floors or the latrine.

Out back is the latrine, with an adjoining "bath room." In Uganda a bath room is a place you bathe, and it does not have a toilet in it. The "toilet" part of the latrine is 2 stalls with holes in the floor. There are covers we put over the holes. The bath is a walled cement floor with a drain out the back of the floor. With sun heated water, my bath is taken from a basin with a cup to splash the water, and believe it or not, it's absolutely as refreshing as any shower! The walls are about 7 feet high and there is no roof on the bath, so bathing is also done in the sun, which is also very refreshing. I have painted the inside of the latrine/bath pink. It is vented and does not smell bad. A flower-lined walkway connects it with the house, and to me, it's just another room to my home.

Visitors may drop in at any time, and visits usually occur daily. Most people do not have phones, so they just come over whenever they want to, knowing you may or may not be home.

Hannington sits and talks about building me a gate in a new fence. We also talk about the First Aid course he has learned to teach from the team that was here in August, and plans for training various people in the community. He sprays the vegetable garden with an insecticide, the part grown from American seeds, which are very subject to the voracious African insects. We have worked a lot on developing home remedies to the insect problem, rather than using deadly insecticides. They work for some things, but for other things, we must resort to insecticide.

Nakamiya comes and holds up one green sock, telling me my dog has eaten the other one.

Robert, newly come to Christ, comes for fellowship. We talk about his soon departure to Kasese, in western Uganda, where someone has sponsored him for school. He wants to be water baptized before he leaves, but currently there is not enough water in the swamp to do it.

Tiplee comes and we discuss the possibility of me soon starting a ministry with his people, the Madi tribe, in the West Nile region of northwestern Uganda. They are very remote and want the medical teaching I do, as they have no services. They also want to know more about God. The only churches they have are the ones they've put together themselves, to worship without any outside pastoring or teaching. I have to get travel info and prices from him to help plan my budget. He is also working on a translation of Where There Is No Doctor into the Madi, Lugbara, and other tribal languages to assist with the medical training.

On Monday afternoons a group of us meets for prayer, including 3 pastors of different village churches and others. The meeting time is 3:00 but no one comes before 4:00. Most often, we start our prayer meeting at 5 or 6:00 - whenever most of the people have arrived. Once one of the pastors surprised himself when he realized he'd arrived at 2:00! Most village people don't have clocks or watches, they estimate time by the sun.

Our prayer group worships and prays in Luganda. I can sing some of the songs, the ones that are simple and repetitive. As prayer requests are given, someone will translate them into English for me. Likewise, when I speak, my words are translated into Luganda. We have wonderful fellowship and leave the meetings edified and uplifted.

Last week 2 of the pastors, who work with orphans, and I discussed together how they should budget some money that had come for the kids and their needs. I assist from the background with some of their administrative concerns. They have no source of financial support, so we consistently pray for God's provision. Both are working with orphans who live with extended families, and desire to see these children educated.

On Sundays I drive the hour to Kampala to worship at Kampala Foursquare Gospel Church, our head church in Uganda. We finish by about 1:00 and then I often go out to lunch with Greg and Margaret Fisher, our pastors and regional missions coordinator. Before heading home, I go to the internet café and send my emails, picking up my incoming new ones to work on during the week at home.

Preaching at KFC is done in English and translated into Luganda. A group of Congolese refugees sits together and someone interprets into Swahili for them. Sometimes we have Acholi people down from the north, and a person will be translating for them. So the preaching time can appear to be like a busy beehive. Singing is done in various languages: English, Luganda, Swahili, sometimes Lingala, and is always lively. We have our regular choir that leads worship, and then after the offering, the Congolese have a choir that sings for us. Africans worship God with their whole bodies, so they move, they dance, they clap, they jump. The sweat pours, even though our building is "air conditioned" - it is a tin roof on poles and the wind blows through it.

On my way home from Kampala last Sunday, the roadside police stopped me in the north end of town. They don't have speed guns, preferring instead to check for current road license and insurance. Fines are very steep for failure to keep current and they will gladly accept a bribe. They work really hard before school fees are due and holidays. But this officer came to my window and asked me if I could assist them with a ride; there was an accident in Kawempe. The police have few vehicles, so they must often hitchhike to emergencies. So they piled into my truck with their guns, and I gave them a ride about a mile down the road. Then I went on my way.

A few days before, my truck served as an ambulance, which it frequently does. There are no emergency services, so when someone is injured or sick, one of the biggest problems is finding transport (and often money for transport) to the hospital, which in our area, is 17 km away, on a dirt road. This man, a young, seemingly healthy husband and father, had just suddenly become weak and ill, for no obvious reason. A trip to the hospital diagnosed him with a raging blood pressure. After treatment and a rest for 3 hours, he was discharged (hospital bill: $5) on medications. He is away from family, so has no local support system, and he has constant worries about his family in the war torn north. He was told to rest and not worry…

This week the brother-in-law of our village Local Chairman (chief) died and he was desperate for transportation to get himself and other mourners to the burial. When trucks or other local sources of transportation know there is a funeral, they raise their prices, so it's very difficult sometimes to get to a burial. So I lent my truck to a friend who drives, who also agreed to limit the number of travelers to 10 (otherwise they would cram in at least 30!) who only charged the travelers for gas reimbursement. We were told the village was 10 miles away. However, people who don't drive have a hard time estimating distances, and the trip turned out to be much longer, and on very bad roads. They did not return until 11:00 that night - needless to say, I was a bit concerned about my truck! They'd suffered a flat tire going out to the village, but fortunately, it was a big enough village to contain a service station. So the tire was repaired. Then on the way back, another tire went flat.

Another tire, a front one, had had a slow leak for some weeks. The roads are so hard on tires that this is not an uncommon problem, and usually I just keep an eye on the tire, fill it with air as needed, and when it eventually goes flat or loses air too quickly, I get it repaired. When my friend was having the other tires repaired after the funeral, he had the mechanic look at the slow leaker. He was shocked to find there was a huge bulge on the inner side of the tire. This tire was less than one year old. So in one day, I had 3 tires on my truck go bad! And we praised God for keeping us all safe from any accidents.

Sometimes my truck even serves as a hearse! Once I took a body in a casket, and about 10 mourners, to a burial at the home village near Lake Kyoga, about 50 miles north of my village. When going to a burial, people put sprigs of tree branches in the grill of the vehicles they are riding in. This lets people know you are in mourning and even the roadside police don't bother you.

I recently finished debriefing the 3 village churches where we based our team ministry in August. The people were greatly touched by the team from New Life Center, in Everett, WA. They loved the medical and spiritual teachings that were done, and only wished for more. I've always said that in order to be accepted in a different culture, it's important that we do two things: We must eat their food and we must speak (or try to) their language. I was surprised by two things. No one commented on the team's attempts to speak greetings in the language (although I think there might have been comments had they NOT done so). And I was surprised at how MUCH comment there was about the team enthusiastically eating the African food. People were very sensitive to their limited abilities to provide for the team, and wondered if the white Americans would like their plain food. When the team ate with gusto, not fearing illness, hearts were touched deeply.

At the end of the day, Ezira, my night watchman arrives about dark. In my storage room he keeps his dark coat, gum boots, and his bow and arrows. Bow and arrows? Thieves fear arrows more than they fear guns. Why? Arrows are silent, and often poisoned. There is no flame to warn where they are shot from in the dark. They say one good bowman can put 100 soldiers to flight. We visit a bit and then he goes and gets ready for his long night. He unchains my dog, Musege (Luganda for "Wolf"), who patrols with him. After everyone else has left and Ezira has arrived and started his work, I finish my day with worship music playing in a battery- operated CD player, or in my laptop. Occasionally, I watch a DVD in my laptop, but more usually, I work on any emails I might be needing to write, or other business, play solitaire awhile, or read. I put my bed down on the floor, light a candle, turn off the kerosene lamps, and pray and read in bed for awhile. Usually by 9:00 I am sleeping with my cat…