Dear Family and Friends:
This will be our last blog coming from Uganda. We will leave here on Friday, October 31st and fly to London where we will spend two days and then fly home to Seattle. We should be home on Sunday, November 2nd. We cannot believe it is time to go home and still remember the day we arrived and Elder and Sister Call picked us up at the Entebbe Airport. Today is Sunday and we went to the Kololo chapel to watch October conference. Uganda receives the conference on a disk, so we see it later than the live broadcast. So many people spoke with us and wished us well and told how much they would miss us. It was very emotional. If anyone had told us a year and a half ago that we would have mixed emotions about leaving, we would have questioned that statement. We have so many friends and people we love here. Tomorrow night will also be hard because we are going to visit our little branch and take most of our clothes and other things to give to them for distribution. It will be hard to tell them goodbye. Thursday night is a going away party at the mission president’s home and the couples will all be there, and that will also be a very emotional meeting.
Our replacements, Elder and Sister Glenn from Salt Lake City, have now arrived. We liked them immediately and they will do a wonderful job. They have a very exciting mission and adventure ahead of them. They have been here for less than a week and we have taken them to witness five project handovers. They have been very good sports, as we know they must still be experiencing some jet lag. We are closing most of our projects as we will be leaving very soon. We held a sewing and knitting machine handover at a small medical clinic to help them buy medicine for their patients. We also had a handover where we distributed 20 wheelchairs to the physically handicapped and the rest of the 750 chairs will be distributed shortly. We commissioned 26 newly protected spring wells and officially turned them over to the communities where they are located. We launched a poultry project to benefit a teenage center here in Kampala and also gave away 26 cows, 80 goats, 60 pigs and the necessary veterinary drugs to 10 groups of 30 women residing in 7 different adjacent villages. Many other women in the villages will be helped when they receive offspring from the donated animals..
One of the memorable handovers was at a small school that was newly launched. The Church gave them sewing and knitting machines, wood working tools and paint for the outside of their building, among other things. The man in charge told us to wait at the top of the hill before we came to the school for the handover. We had also invited the missionary couples to join us Elders and Sisters, Wilkes, Giles, Libby’s and Nye’s. We all formed a line with our trucks at the top of the hill and soon a big brass marching band in full uniform came up the street, turned around in front of our line of trucks, and led us slowly down the road. We drove past little huts, houses and schools, with the band playing marching music. We were a missionary parade. All along the way people came out of their houses and kids came out of the schools and waved to us as we passed. The kids shouted, “Hello Muzungus”. We felt like very important people being escorted to the school by a very loud marching band, and we all waved and smiled and really enjoyed it. We took pictures and felt very important.
We have three more handovers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and wonder when we will have time to pack or sleep.. It does seem a little unreal that we will be going home in a few days, but we are excited to see our family, our house, and be back in the United States.
We will be back in time to cast our vote. The U.S. election is causing a lot of excitement here and people have been following the campaign religiously. They are asking all of us who we will be voting for. As you might guess, everyone here loves Obama The Ugandans love him because he is African and Kenya of course claims him as one of their own. Kenya is already making plans to renovate their airport so it will be big enough for Air Force One to land. They will call it the Obama National Airport.
We have had a very busy and interesting month and October has just flown by. We went to the Sudan on October 1st and stayed there through October 6th. We accompanied President and Sister Christensen and the two assistants to the president. The President wanted to check out how many members are there, if they have been properly baptized and what their needs might be. Our job was to identify sites for 10 boreholes, and latrines and to assess any need for wheelchairs and school supplies. We flew from Uganda to Juba, which is the capital of Southern Sudan. Juba is a one hour flight from the Entebbe Airport in Uganda and is located on the Nile River. Upon arrival we were met by Bishop Enos Lanogwa from Kenya, who is a public affairs person for the Church, and has important contacts in Juba, one of which is Dr. Rick Machar, the vice president of Southern Sudan. He took us to the parliament building where they were holding the Government of Southern Sudan 6th Governor’s Forum (GOSS). The room was set up like a United Nations meeting with seats in a circular formation and we all had ear phones for translation purposes. There are 10 states in Southern Sudan and all governors were present and spoke, plus a few representatives from the United Nations.
We sat for at least three hours in this meeting and when it was finished at about 7:00 pm, the vice-president invited us into his private office and we met with him and explained what we wanted to do in his country. He was very gracious and certainly approved of the Church moving in to the country and liked the idea of the help we were offering. He had his photographer take an official picture of our group and we then went to our hotel, which was pretty expensive, $250.00, for what we got. The next morning we flew on a small prop plane into a town called Aweil. This town was pretty far into the interior of Southern Sudan.. It is a two hour flight from Juba and we flew over vast uninhabited land, except for a few grass huts here and there.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and is very different from Uganda. It is not as tropical, nor has it progressed as far. It is still, I would guess, backward and unchanged and has not progressed like some other African countries.. One of the reasons is that it has seen constant war in many different areas since it gained independence. It is a very poor country and the area we were in had recently experienced severe flooding. The Sudan is almost like two countries, they have Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan and they have two different governments. They do not get along very well and Southern Sudan is trying to gain its independence from the north so it can become a separate country. This is causing a lot of trouble between the two regions.
Upon reaching Aweil, we landed on a dirt airstrip, after the cows, chickens and goats had been shooed away. The other unsettling thing, was that as we were about to land, we looked down and saw quite a few wrecked aircraft lining the airstrip. However, we landed safely and headed for our hotel, which was to be our home for four nights. The hotel was not especially a plush hotel and we didn’t sleep very well as there were no sheets on the mattress and the mattress was lumpy and the we had only one pillow, which was like a sack of cement There were no towels and when we asked for a towel, they told us to go to the market and buy one. We went to the market and all we could find were wash cloths, so we dried on a wash cloth. The first morning our outside door handle broke off and we couldn’t get out of our room. It was not a very clean place, but everyone was a good sport and we had a few laughs and did one-up-man ship on who had the worst room. Also it cost us $180.00 a night.
The prevalent tribe that inhabits Southern Sudan is the Dinkas. They are very very tall, very skinny and quite dark, darker than the Ugandans. Even the little kids are very tall. They look like the wood carvings you see of African people with a robe over one shoulder. I just couldn’t get over their height. They speak the Dinka language and are quite handsome.
We drove to a village called Nyamlel where there is a large settlement of people who call themselves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is a handwritten sign on the road with an arrow pointing to a large area with a thatched roof-like structure, which is the Church building. The sign read “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. These people have not been baptized, but want to be members very badly. They had been given Church literature in the past and knew somewhat of the doctrine. Theyare anxious to be baptized members of the Church. President Christensen told them they had to first be taught more about the Church before being baptized and he held training sessions for the people that could speak English and asked them then to teach the others.
The village also has over 700 orphans who had in the past been kidnapped by Arabs in the north and recently the Save the Children organization had negotiated their release and brought them back to this village and just dropped them there, so there were many children without parents. It was an unbelievable situation, there were children everywhere. They are being cared for by the Latter-day Saint people and I suppose this care is pretty minimal because of their great numbers. We held Sunday service by the hut-like structure and Sister Christensen and I held Relief Society under a tree. We used a translator and we told the women a little bit about ourselves and then asked them to come forward and tell us about themselves or ask any questions they would like. Most of them told us they needed medicine and a health clinic. They also wanted education for their children and they wanted to be official members of the Church. Their plight is very sad and you could see that a lot of them had health problems.
Ron and I spent a few days on our own meeting with the Water District and talking with people who had drilled boreholes in the area and speaking with NGO’s that operate in that area. We have since sent a request to the Church asking them to approve the drilling of 10 boreholes, the constructing of 10 latrines and have requested 300 wheelchairs and also provide some school supplies for the village of Nyamlel. We are pretty sure this project will get approved and will leave it up to the new couple to follow through. It was a very interesting and also a very sad experience. These people are the poorest we have seen in Africa and need so many things. There was flooding in the area and a lot of people had made temporary shelters along the road while their small huts were half submerged under water. We were grateful to have gone there and at least we have started to place a few projects in motion, which will give a great boost to the area.
We are very humbled and grateful for the blessings we receive as members of the Church and for the abundance that we enjoy every day of our lives. It is a big reality check when we see how many people live. They have very little, and are without adequate medical help, without adequate food and live in very poor circumstances and then to see how much we have and take for granted. We are grateful for this reminder of how blessed we really are.
We are well, happy and look forward to see all of our family and friends. We love all of you and really appreciate the support, love and interest you have shown to us during our mission.
See you soon, Elder and Sister Bean