Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Snapshots of Kapchorwa Homestays

Last Friday morning, we loaded students and staff into the USP van and bus and left the slowly growing comfort of the Uganda Christian University campus, our Mukono host families, and our internships to learn about life in rural Uganda. As we leave Mukono, we quickly notice the houses and buildings growing smaller and more spread out. There are vast fields and swamps as far as we can see. Then we cross the source of the Nile River in Jinja. And finally, after a day of travelling, we turn up the small mountain road to Kapchorwa and the little van begins to climb into the clouds.

We’ve said before that homestays are the lifeblood of the Uganda Studies Program, but it’s so true that we’ll say it again. We learn so much more deeply about places like rural Uganda when we’ve also experienced what it’s like to really live there. Whether it’s up on the mountain in Kapchorwa or out in the grassy flatlands in Soroti, USP students experience a new way of living—and therefore a new way of loving—through the wonderful host families who welcome them in.

Emily Bartel showing PA Becky Nairuba how she washes dishes at her Kapchorwa homestay.

This week, we bring you a tiny snapshot of some Fall 2018 students’ experience with their families in Kapchorwa and Sipi:

“My favorite memory with my host family was going on a hike with my sister to see a waterfall and visit family…and learning to make chapati and passionfruit juice!”
—Emma Cann (Patrick & Violet Mutai)

“The best moments for me during the week were sitting with my mama in the kitchen hut every night making dinner and having the best conversations.”
—Payton Dierkes (Mama Judith & David)

“Beauty was found in the simplest of things last week. I look back with so much joy on sitting out eating lunch with my siblings during a rainstorm, and taking a walk with my brother to a waterfall, both of which were filled with laughter and meaningful conversations that further made us family.”
—Richard Guinta (Chebet Joel & Joselline)

“It was a time to reflect and experience God’s amazing beauty in the middle of the semester.”
—Derek Twinney

“Picking coffee every day…really makes you appreciate that cup a day even more.”
—Alexa Spandrio (Maliche Martin & Mercyline)

Kevin Domanski with his host niece.
USP is a program built around relationships. Everything we do here, we do in the context of relationships of friends, roommates, professors, supervisors and families who welcome us in. The experience of waking up on Mount Elgon, learning how to pick and roast coffee right where it’s grown, and live life at a "rural pace" with Ugandans would not be possible without the deep ties of these relationships with host families.

We love you, and thank you for all you do, host families!

Miriam Thurber and her host mama.
Daniel Kim with his host mama, Jocelyn Kaptire.
It's not a birthday in Uganda without being "showered"! Rachel, Eddie, and the PAs made a special visit to Madi Shae Thompson's homestay to deliver a few birthday surprises.
Rachel Baker smiling with her host family as the USP van stops by on the main road.
We made good use of the mud on our hike to see all three of the Sipi Falls!

Hiking Sipi on our debrief weekend.

Richard Guinta preparing to lead a USP worship service for students on the edge of the world.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Intersections: Reflections on a Mukono Homestay

Happy Monday, friends!

During the USP application process, students choose their living context: either an "On-Campus student" living in the dorms with fellow UCU and USP students, or a "Homestay Student," living with a host family for the full semester. Our On-campus students, also do a shorter homestay in Mukono for two-weeks, which they recently completed.

No matter their living situation, all students who come to the Uganda Studies Program are committing to engage with two different host families during their time in Uganda, one in the more urban, or suburban context of Mukono, and one in a rural context for a week mid-semester. This commitment paves the way for some of the most beautiful friendships and learning moments of the semester to take place. Host families are the life blood of our program. They welcome us in semester after semester, they call us "son" and "daughter" though we have just met, and they gently teach us so much about hospitality and generosity.  When I did USP in 2016, I was a Hometsay student, and this week, I'd love to share some thoughts on living with a homestay family in Mukono town.

The woman, the legend: Mama Robinah Lubanga, my host mom 

"The sun has sunk beneath the horizon just moments before, and has left the sky with a deep, fading glow. The bean vines climbing upward in the center of the courtyard stand dark, silhouettes, against the deepening sky. A rooster lets out a strangled cry somewhere outside. The smell of cooking matooke and woodsmoke wafts over from the cookhouse. We lean back on the porch, our backs resting against the thrashed love seat that stands against the wall. On the ground between us, drifting up from Eva’s phone are the tinny words:

Greater things are yet to come.
Greater things are still to be done here.

We sing along quietly, lost in the moment and at least for one space in time not Ugandan and American or black and white or nineteen and twenty-five. As the porch light flickers on and the mosquitoes slowly gather in swarms above our heads, we sing the end of the song as family.
I didn’t expect, when this whole crazy adventure began, that I would leave Uganda with a second family. But things are shaping up for exactly that to happen. My Ugandan sisters make me laugh and drive me up the wall simultaneously, just the way my American brothers do. The echoes of Mama calling down the hallway for us do something for her sounds pretty much the same as my mom at home.
But there are also times where I feel the weight of the fact that I’m only in this family for four months. There are moments when Luganda or cultural differences step in between us and I wonder how I ever could have thought I was part of this family. But then come moments where I let my guard down, where I stop trying so hard to be in my family and relax into the place of simply being present with my family. These are the moments where I feel at home.
An added wrinkle comes, also, when I consider that I don’t always feel like I completely fit in with my family back in America either. Especially since leaving for college and I think that’s just a part of being in community with people—as similar as we may be, we are still built for different callings. We are still fearfully and wonderfully and uniquely made. We will always find a part of us that remains separate from our chosen family. And so it seems to me that the best way to find family, both here in Uganda and back in America, is to meet each other at the intersection of our faith in Christ. 
Here in Uganda, our intersections are the moments where we sit around the coffee table reading the story of Moses from a tattered Good News Bible. Or singing loud, off-key worship songs in the kitchen while washing dishes. Or thanking God before dinner that He has kept us alive and safe for another day, and has shown us just a little bit more of His glory. 
The times when we all pause and focus not on all the things that make us different, but instead on the most important thing that makes us the same—those are the times when I am woven inextricably into the fabric of this family. 

Sisters. From left to right: Louise, Judith, Eve, and Gloria

The same thing applies to my family at home in the United States. It all comes down to one simple thing, I think. Where we find God, we find love. And where we find love, no matter who with, we find family. I have found that real family comes when we intentionally say to someone else: “I acknowledge that we’re different, but I won’t let that keep us from each other. I’m going to love you anyway in the best way I know how.”

My Ugandan family is a perfect example. None of my host brothers and sisters are biologically related to my host mom. We’re all “adopted,” living together in the same house and trying to build a family pretty much from the ground up. We’ve come from seven completely different directions, far apart from each other and yet somehow converging on this one spot. This intersection of a house on Kayunga Road in Mukono, central Uganda. Mama has welcomed us into this place with all our differences and baggage and has invited us to an intersection of love. Of faith. Of dancing in the rain and chasing chickens across the courtyard. And while sometimes we still find ourselves sitting around the table with nothing to say, those moments are becoming fewer and fewer. We’ve begun to build a lattice of memories and laughter and knowledge about each other. Our intersections are becoming larger. As we draw closer and closer to each other, our family grows stronger."

~ Louise Clark