Uganda update

Greetings from rainy Mukono! I wanted to give you an update on how we are in Uganda here. Like the rest of the world, we are watching with somewhat bated breath to see what the next developments are. 

As of 22 April, Uganda has 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 41 have recovered, 20 are active cases, and there have been 0 deaths, thanks be too God.

PBS published this 5 minute video about how Uganda is a model for containing contagious diseases like Ebola and Marburg; I very much appreciated their reporting. For context, when the woman speaks about the increase in the price of beans, the kilo (2.2 pounds) for 4000 shillings (~$1.08) increased to 5000 shillings (~$1.35) overnight. All food prices have increased, some nearly doubling. And we’re just a month in to the pandemic. 

In line with taking swift action, the president closed schools and churches as of 20 March, and the driving ban kicked in about a month ago (I think; time is super fluid these days), so that means that few people are working unless they are essential, or they can walk to work. I’ve talked to some friends in the village, and since they can’t drive, it’s hard to get food. There are reports of women delivering on the side of the road because there was no transportation, so the president relaxed that rule so that the pregnant women can be driven for medical attention.

The list of the government’s actions is now 34 items long, but please don’t ask me to list them. In short: there’s a curfew from 7pm-6:30am, no driving vehicles, bodas (motorcycles) can carry cargo, but no people. Of course, the airport and borders are closed, but thankfully, cargo is still coming in.

I’m immensely grateful for my little protective bubble on campus. For me, the restrictions are mostly an inconvenience. I can walk to the supermarket outside the gate for basics and veggies, and there are supermarkets who will deliver out here for about $10, for which I am immensely grateful.

Most of all, I miss my students. Several have called or texted to say hello and check on me, which is sweet. But the campus is too quiet. We had planned to have our students have take-home exams, but the government nixed that. We had hoped that schools would reopen 5 May, but that has been postponed indefinitely. We are all concerned for how this will play out. 

Please continue to pray for us as we pray for you as well.

Ugandan quarantine

Ugandan quarantine

I must say, it has been quite surreal to read the news about Coronavirus in the world, especially in the US, mostly because it’s hard to see the people I love being affected, and it’s hard to be so far away and not able to help anyone.

On Wednesday, the President of Uganda announced that he was closing schools and churches for 32 days, effective noon on Friday. This wasn’t a huge surprise; there had been rumors floating around. Yet Wednesday was still rather tense on campus until the official announcement came at 5:00pm.

For our finalist students, this is their last semester, and they will graduate in July. Happily enough, we were in our discipleship groups before the official announcement, and I was able to check in with the students in my group. They were obviously stressed, and were very concerned about the future, especially graduation. I’m so glad that I was able to debrief with them a bit and pray with them.

It seems like the university is doing all it can to be able to reopen in May for the new semester. Students will take their exams as take-home, and will return them to Academics, who will give them to us for marking. Fortunately, I only had one lecture remaining in my classes, and the students were able to finish their courseworks, though one was due on Friday, so I encouraged them to finish it before they left.

It’s been eerily quiet near my flat. Usually when the students move out there’s a lot of noise; perhaps that will come today when they leave. But otherwise, they’ve been doing wash and preparing to go, though a lot more quietly than usual. The students I’ve seen have been fairly upbeat, though the uncertainty of the future, especially how to do their exams, is weighing on them.

I am physically fine, though I’m also wondering what the future holds. The State Department sent an email last night basically telling Americans to come back now or risk not being able to come back for some time. This isn’t a surprise; the USPs ended their semester early and will fly home this weekend. Several countries around have closed their borders, and several days ago, Uganda instituted a self-imposed 14 day quarantine on all visitors from highly impacted countries, though that seems to have now changed to visitors immediately being taken to a hotel in Entebbe (removing the self-imposed part).

Emotionally, I’m also fine, I think. Aside from crowds being banned, it seems as though life is continuing as usual here. I have some things to do in town, but I don’t venture off campus much, so that is good. I’m hoping to use the time to really make some good progress on my dissertation. 

The very good news in all this is that Uganda is the model for how to handle an epidemic, such as Ebola, Marburg, etc. The breakouts that have happened in the last ten years have not gone far because of this, for which I am grateful. I am hoping this holds true.

Continue to pray for us, as I continue to pray for you.

Abbott and Costello in Uganda

It’s always fun when I can bring a bit of Americana to my students.

Yesterday in class with my Master of Divinity I students, one of them asked me a question, to which I responded, “simanyi,” or “I don’t know.” A student who was sitting in front of me asked what that meant, and I said, “I don’t know.”

The look on his face barely changed, and said, “but you just said it.” I missed his nearly imperceptible look, and replied, “I don’t know.” So he repeated, “what did you say?” And I said, “I don’t know.” Poor guy. He must have been frustrated.

He finally rephrased the question to “what did you just say?” I finally got it, laughed, and told him that I said that I had said “I don’t know.”

Then I asked the class if they were familiar with baseball, and tragically, they are not. So I did what any red-blooded American would do: I drew a baseball diamond, and explained the basics of the classic Abbott and Costello sketch. It’s impossible to do it justice in only a minute, but I certainly tried. Fortunately, they seemed to enjoy it.

Supervision selfies

One of my favorite things about being a lecturer is supervising our students in their block placement churches, or senior internships. It’s so fun to see them out of the confines of the school and to see how they’re engaging in ministry. Of course, sometimes this comes with hardship, but that makes for great teachable moments and opportunities for exhortation.

Today I went to a university chapel to supervise Barnabas, one of the MDiv students. I know the chaplain there, so we all spent a good amount of time catching up and talking about Barnabas’s time there. At the end, Barnabas asked to take a photo, which I thought was sweet.

Imagine my surprise when I received a copy of another of the photos from one of his classmates! It turns out that the class has been uploading photos with their supervisors to their group chat in WhatsApp. I guess I’m honored to have joined the gallery!

Rain, rain go away

I’ve been hearing that the rain in Mukono, and in Uganda generally, has been too much. The rainy seasons often bring mudslides, so news of those was not new.

But friends. In my first week here, it rained every day, often several times a day. The ground is beyond saturated. There is one corner I need to navigate to leave the Honors College, and it is absolutely a swamp. It rarely sees the sun, so who knows when it will dry.

The BBC explained that this is because of the Indian Ocean Diople, similar to El Niño. This article is from 2 December, and the graphic notes that Uganda had 9 deaths due to the rain then; a newspaper headline two days ago said the death toll was up to 25.

Farmers are seeing their crops obliterated. This hurts the farmers and their families because they will have nothing to harvest and nothing to sell. This, of course, will also inflate food prices for the foreseeable future, so the impact will be long-lasting and will affect the entire population.

The last few days, we have actually had sun most of the time, thanks be to God. But the rain continues to wreak havoc. Today’s paper posted an article that a roads worker was killed by a flash-flood on Entebbe Road. The death toll from flooding and mudslides continues to rise. A student in Tanzania texted me Wednesday that his family narrowly survived when their roof collapsed from the rain there.

Road construction is happening everywhere, even on campus. However, the rain has obviously had an impact; traffic is all but impossible with torn-up roads being further deteriorated by rain. We use this space behind the Bishop Tucker building to gather for discipleship and before and after chapel services. Well, we used to. I’m sure we will again, though it won’t be at the beginning of the January semester.

The plan had been to pave sections of campus, to include the parking lot at Bishop Tucker, and to level the ground and add pavers. Obviously, that’s been put on hold. The roped-off bit is exposed pipe that’s being repaired.

Please do pray that the rain go away. I’ve asked God to send it to South Africa or Australia… surely He can send it to a place that needs it terribly.