Month: July 2019

Thoughts Addressed to the Gecko on my Wall

It’s been 6 months. Six looooong months, of adjusting to heat and new diseases and inconsistent electricity. But it’s also been six short months, of learning a beautiful language, building relationships, making new friends, loving the sunshine and the rain and the growing things, and making a home. I could give you an introspective blog on what life has been like these last few months, on how I’ve grown in my faith and the ways that I’ve changed. But I’ll save that blog for another day. 😉


Instead, I’ll give you a fun bullet-point blog, on the interesting and funny things these last six months have held. Hopefully these bite-sized stories will help you share a little bit in my unique sense of humor, in the shocks and the fascination, and in the joy of experiencing new things.


A gecko lives in my room, and another in the bedroom across the hall. I talk to him now and again to thank him for eating the mosquitos that eat me. Maybe Africa has messed with my brain a bit too much. 😉 The first gecko I met, I named Moki. The gecko in my room got the name Loki. So, naturally, his brother across the hall got the name Thor. Every once-in-a-while these geckos get to catch some of my musings as I’ve adjusted to life in Africa. I like to think they’re becoming a bit wiser from the things they hear, but perhaps more likely, they’re just entertained by my foibles. These are some of the events they have borne witness to.


  • When I first got lice in Bulgaria, I noticed by the eerie sensation of a creature crawling on my hairline. At first the sensation here gave me shivers down my spine and sent me rushing to the nearest mirror to check. But I’ve since learned that here it just means I somehow picked up a harmless stray ant from my house and he couldn’t find the way back home. They’re not as difficult to kill as lice, though… I have gotten used to the sensation because this is as much my house as the ants’. They live in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and even cross my bed on their own mysterious errands.


  • My water heater reminds me of a curmudgeonly old man. He’s quite persnickety. Turn him on just before your shower, and you get only cold water. Turn him on all night before a morning shower, ice cold again. Three hours prior to a shower, still no heat in sight. The sweet spot is 1-2 hours. He heats up the water just fine, but the trick is catching enough for a shower without giving it time to cool down.


  • Uganda has two types of mangoes. The bigger ones can be up to 8” tall, and they’re ripe when they’re green and red. The other smaller ones are ripe when they’re yellow. Regardless, don’t stand under a mango tree in ripe season. The trees carry hundreds of them, and those suckers are likely to smack you square on the noggin.


  • I arrived here during the hot dry season. We could go days without electricity at the worst of it, and when we did have electricity, it often wasn’t on during the night to run fans for noise or to keep off mosquitos. I also couldn’t master keeping mosquitos outside the net over my bed. You can hear that infernal buzzing before you can see the little buggers, so it was a nightly occurrence to wake up to the sound, flip on a flashlight, and hunt down as many as five of them before I could go back to sleep.


  • When rainy season came, and with it nightly electricity, the sound of the blessed fan drowned out the mosquito buzz, so I would be confounded to wake up in the morning to bites on any part of my body outside my covers. I spent a few weeks researching ants, gnats, and midges, to see if I could figure out what else might be biting me, since I couldn’t hear the mosquitos anymore and I was so sure it wasn’t them. I did enjoy pretending I was a hobbit getting eaten by midges. “What do they eat when they can’t get hobbit?” Best to make light of an annoying situation.


  • Personal hygiene is different here. Water is scarce during dry season, so is electricity to heat the water, and lukewarm showers with any kind of water pressure are few and far between. I used to wash my hair daily in the States. But now… The large bottle of Suave rosemary mint shampoo I brought with me is still going strong over six months later.


  • Life is much more holistic here. It involves body, mind and soul in unified ways North Americans can’t easily wrap their head around. For example, in church we praise the Lord with our whole bodies. From toddlers to grandmas, everybody able dances at least a little with worship. Some songs have you clap hands with someone next to you. Some songs you shuffle your feet in time and kick up dust. Some songs you touch your head, eyes, ears, crouch down slow and dance back up. Praise isn’t just mental or spiritual—it’s physical. Gratitude is too. It’s not uncommon to give an offering of a chicken to the church instead of money in the offering plate.


  • It’s funny how easily I flick the ants off of my bed, by body, my food. I have jokes with the ladies I teach to bake for the coffee shop. We knead and roll out lots of dough, and for some reason that’s like catnip for the ants. It summons them from near and far. So we call them fil-fil, which means pepper in Arabic. They’re just another ingredient to give it that real African flavor, because sometimes you just can’t catch them all. Extra protein, right?


  • We get to have fun pets here. Aside from loving, dumb, drooly dogs that “guard” our homes, several of our families has baby iguanas for pets. Ugandans are TER-RI-FIED of them. But they’re adorable little dudes! My favorite is the one named Darth Vader. All his buddies like a nice resting cool cucumber color with flecks of orange and blue and red speckled in. But not him. That’s too mainstream. He goes for the exact coloration of a rotten banana peel. He has to let everybody know about his angst so they don’t confuse him with “those other Iguanas.” Their lack of faith disturbs him.


  • It might be surprising to you like it was to me, but there are lots of ethnic Indians here in Uganda. They came with the British and stayed on when the British left. Many of them run grocery stores, and because of their impeccable tastes, we are blessed with a bounty of spices to season and cook with. It’s literally my dream. I can get just about any spice I’m looking for if I know who to ask. In fact, one of the markets run by an Indian family here is called Dream Shoppers. The stuff dreams are made of, people. Cinnamon and ginger and cardamom for dayyyyyyys. Want garlic powder? Done. Cumin? We sell it by the kilo. Spices you’ve never heard of? Why not give them a try?


  • Taxis don’t really exist here. People walk for long distances, or ride on a lorry or a bus. But to get around town you can ride a boda boda. They’re motorcycles, they drive recklessly and always think they have right of way. They’ll usually get you where you’re going for less than 5 dollars (or as little as 30¢). On my walks I always get beeped at, sometimes yelled at, to see if I want a ride. “Miss, boda?” “We go?” It does feel kind of fun and adventurous sometimes to ride through town with your hair and giant earrings billowing behind you. Even more fun to surprise some of the drivers by deciding to ride side-saddle behind them like a graceful, poised African woman. Just hold on tight around those corners!


  • Everything grows here, especially during rainy season. We keep a plastic trash bucket on our back porch for food scraps, leftovers, discarded bits of stems or peels or seed that might attract ants if put in the trash inside the house. We also have a friendly calico cat that likes to dig through our bucket sometimes. She must have knocked it over with some pepper seeds one time, because now a thriving pepper plant is growing beside our back porch. I have no clue what kind they are, but after sampling them in some of our cooking, I can tell you those trash peppers are delicious!


  • Most of you know I’m not a coffee person, under any circumstances. If I can taste coffee at all in any kind of desert or ice cream or anything I’m out. But coffee here is sometimes offered with hospitality during a visit. Sudanese make it with ground ginger and sometimes cardamom. Maybe it was the glow of visiting Sudanese friends but… you know…? It wasn’t half bad!


  • I’m slowly getting used to being an object of interest. As a single white lady I often have an audience for anything I’m doing. Most of these onlookers (at least they’re often really cute kids) rightly assume I’ll end up doing something foolish or wrong or funny, so they’re entertained. It can be helpful though! When everyone in the market knows the only white girl there is on the hunt for key limes, you’re likely to have a random stranger chase you down on your way out and touch you on the elbow to take you to the right stall. It’s also quite fun to surprise your impromptu audiences by carrying a heavy case of water on your shoulder, or working with a sledgehammer to knock down an old building.


  • We think Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” I think I must’ve made horcruxes of my soul then. My first efforts to learn Spanish were stumbling and stilted, and in my young mind it sounded like what happened if you put English in a blender added a few ‘o’s to the ends of words. That soul of mine loves Mexican food, spice, futbol, and memories of my first mission trip. My Romanian soul existed only in the close context of family, learning to make salad in the kitchen, singing hymns in the living room, sharing communion in a house church. The small bit I knew was learned through and by family, in a home. My Bulgarian soul… it was a tough little white girl, hardened against living in a place by myself, chewing the Slavic syllables and consonants all crunched together, enjoying the forcefulness in the language when I had to order children around. I spoke it a pitch lower than I did English, with my lower jaw thrust a bit forward and a thick, loose tongue. But that part of my soul loves children and orphan care—it was learned and grown by telling Bible stories, playing Uno, or coloring in the slums. French held my mouth tight with pouty lips to get the vowels right. I mostly only used it to order food, ask directions, and find my way around Paris. It was a romantic language for me, flowing and rushing, exciting and adventurous. But Arabic… That part of my soul is still forming. It has Sudanese tea for its lifeblood and the private sisterhood in the company of refugee women to thank as its teachers. It reminds me of hospitality and working in the kitchen, of sitting in the shade and learning the names of common everyday things around us, of strength and dignity and the noble, modest power to make a welcoming home in unimaginably difficult situations.


So, now you know what my geckos know, and you can make up your own mind whether they’re entertained or confounded. Regardless of your evaluation, you can be sure these six months have been full of quite a few entertaining stories.