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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
After seven months in the US, I was more than a little concerned about how my reentry to Uganda would be. I’d become pretty Americanized; I even learned that I could run errands at night (something I wouldn’t dream of doing in Uganda)!
Thankfully, my reentry has been incredibly smooth. Even while we were leaving the airport, everything felt very normal, even if I was sufficiently exhausted from little sleep on the airplane that I slept most of the way home over roads that have been ravaged by construction and rain.
I switched to driving on the left easily, though I am still confusing the turn signal and windshield wipers sometimes. I very much miss Waze. Google Maps knows many shortcuts, for which I’m grateful, but I cannot tell you how much I miss real-time reporting of traffic jams. That would have kept me from sitting on Jinja Road for over an hour on Thursday, in one spot, just because. One newspaper has even started a hashtag: #KlaTrafficFrustrations and it is so appropriate. We have always talked about the jam, but now it is beyond epic: I will visit a student in a couple days, and I would normally allow 25-30 minutes to get to his church. He told me to allow 90.
It’s a bit hard to adjust back to a cash-based society. Yes, many merchants accept debit cards, but there are still instances of debit card numbers being stolen, so I try to not make this a habit. It’s also much easier to budget when one is operating from cash.
Most of all, though, it is so good to see people, especially supervising my students. I love seeing them in the field and hearing about their ministries. At one parish, I happened to meet two of our graduates who have been posted there, and it was a delightful reunion.
Thank you for your prayers as I traveled back to Uganda, and please continue to pray for us as we wrap up the holidays and prepare for the students to return in January.