Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One blog at a time

I find that I'm duplicating entries here on my other blog, The Infusion, so I'm going to stop adding new entries at this page. Thoughts on Africa will occur on a sporadic basis on my primary blog, interspersed with other items. If you are interested, feel free to come by.

Opinions on an opinion

There was a long editorial in the NYTimes today suggesting that creating a trade agreement in East Africa will create peace in the Congo. I think that's a lovely thought, but I'm skeptical. And it's not that I know a lot about the situation, and perhaps a trade agreement will help. But I'm particularly dubious that having the U.S. negotiate such a trade agreement will make any difference.

It seems rather infantilizing, suggesting that Daddy needs to step in and negotiate among the different parties. These are, you know, sovereign countries in their own right and if they want a trade agreement, they can negotiate it amongst themselves. If anything, I would suggest that the new administration say they are ready to help if asked, but will not create plans and programs for East Africa. My two cents.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Violence in Nigeria

I find it very strange that I only learned today that over 300 people have been killed in post-election, sectarian riots in Jos, Nigeria. And that I learned about it sideways through an Anglican blog, which was noting the silence of the Archbishop there.

I can believe that I haven't been paying enough attention; I know that full well. It's just particularly strange that this happened at the same time as the siege in Mumbai, in which (and not to belittle this at all) about 200 people died.

I'm not saying one is worse than the other because there's greater carnage. I'm just struck by the fact that there was constant radio and TV coverage of the one and (in my media exposure) silence on the other. To me, that painfully suggests that deaths in Africa are not news.

Please pray for Nigeria, and India, and all places torn by violence or strife.

At the U.N.

Of all the Obama appointees announced today, I am personally most interested about the ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice -- another Rice from Stanford (she got her BA there in 1986).

For one thing, she seems quite a change from John Bolton who simply despised the UN in which he worked (I was appalled by his appointment). What's more, Obama is making UN Ambassador a cabinet position during his administration.

I'm excited about her because her particular specialty seems to be African affairs, and one of her primary goals is to prevent and/or put a stop to genocide. I'm nervous about her because she seems very hawkish.

During her first run at the State Department, Ms. Rice was a point person in responding to Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombing of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the N.S.C. staff.

As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.

“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

But I don't know. This could be a very positive thing, especially for African nations. Or it could be a disaster. Here's hoping it's a good thing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

An interesting blog

I'm not sure how, exactly, I stumbled upon this blog, but I really appreciate what Chris Blattman has to say about Africa, aid, and related topics.

As I wrote on my other blog, at the moment I'm really struggling with the concept of foreign aid, and this blogger has some worthwhile things to say on the subject.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The country of Africa

Sarah Palin took a lot of (probably unjustified) grief for saying that Africa was a country, not a continent, but I have to say that understanding is probably deeply embedded in a lot of us. I heard it today when Barack Obama was announcing the Secretary of the Treasury and said that "Growing up partly in Africa" had given him perspective on global markets--and it does. But I was surprised to find myself instantly wondering "Where in Africa?" knowing now better than before that "Africa" is not a country, and to grow up in Africa doesn't tell me as much as I think it does.

Incidentally--and significantly--the African nation where Geithner spent some of his youth was Zimbabwe, a country with a sad history of economic disaster.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dean Martha in Sudan

I've fallen behind in my Africa news, but I was very pleased to see this tidbit (following the Lead) about the Very Reverend Martha Deng Nhial being installed as the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Renk, Sudan. Very cool!

Friday, August 15, 2008

China in Sudan

The NY Times has a very succinct summary of the China-Sudan situation: "The brief against China is by and large uncontested (except by China): the Sudan government buys its weapons from China with the foreign currency it makes from selling China its oil. China, meanwhile, protects Sudan from excessive attention in the United Nations Security Council." This is written in a much longer piece discussing the methodology of a group called "Dreams for Darfur," which is strange to read in retrospect because all the plans for making the Sudanese genocide a major issue for this Olympics don't seem to have materialized. I mean, I was looking out for this issue and I can't say I've seen it a whole lot. Is it just me?

I think the inkling of China's connection with Sudan came about only because Steven Spielberg resigned as a creative consultant for the opening ceremonies. I don't think that hurt the opening ceremonies, but it was the thing that got this issue into the news. Aside from that and Joey Cheek, former Olympic speedskater, having his visa revoked before the games started (Cheek is the president of an organization called "Team Darfur"), I haven't seen this issue mentioned very much.

Mostly, I am upset at the International Olympic Committee. I think they have been rather weak and cowardly in their dealings with China and could have done far more to say to the Chinese government, "We made a bargain; we can go somewhere else," and stick to it. But what do I know? I'm sure there's plenty of blame to go around: to NBC, the major advertisers, journalists, the U.S., the U.N., the athletes, all of us who are excited to watch the Olympics...point your finger anywhere, I'm sure you can find someone who's culpable.

My main hope is that the story doesn't disappear in a puff of Olympic success. And my prayer is for the people of Sudan who are the ones primarily affected by the conflict there.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

China in Africa

I hope at some point to post a slightly more knowledgeable entry on China's relationship with Sudan, one of the very touchy issues with the Beijing Olympics. In the meantime, though, I encourage you to read this very interesting article from "The Root" (which I think is affiliated with the Washington Post) that offers an intriguing look at why China is so warmly welcomed by most African nations. A former US ambassador to two African nations, David Shinn, summarizes it thusly: "One, they take greater business risk, and two, they don't attach the political conditions that the West tends to impose."

The article concludes, "If the West wants to push back China's undemocratic influence across Africa, it will have to match China's economic commitments on the continent. There are 900 million African faces waiting to greet the future as it approaches—from east or west."

A complicated situation of which I know only a smidgen. Read the article and tell me what you think.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pray for Mauritania


One thing I hope to do with this blog is introduce us all (myself included) to the news from Africa.

Mauritania is a former French colony on the west coast of Africa, between Senegal and Mali. It gained independence in 1960 and has since then had bouts of very long, single party rule, interspersed with military coups (in 1978, 1984, 2005).

According to Wikipedia, the first fully democratic election since 1960 (when the French-backed President Moktada Ould Daddah began his 18-year one-party leadership), occurred in March of 2007. "This was the first time that the president had been selected in a multi-candidate election in the country's post-independence history."

All this being a lead-up to the news in Wednesday's NY Times that "A group of senior military officers in Mauritania arrested the country’s president and prime minister on Wednesday in a bloodless coup against the first freely elected government there in more than 20 years."

Hard to say what the motives were. The Times says the National Assembly had been critical of the government's handling of rising food prices and dealing with oil revenue. In the speedily updated Wikipedia article, "A Mauritanian lawmaker, Mohammed Al Mukhtar, announced that 'many of the country's people were supporting the takeover attempt' and the government was 'an authoritarian regime' and that the president had 'marginalized the majority in parliament.'"

As of today, according to the BBC, the ousted president's whereabouts are unclear, the U.S. has suspended $20 million in non-humanitarian aid (i.e. money for miliary purposes and peacekeeper training), and diplomats from the Arab Union and African Union have arrived in Mauritania to discuss the situation with coup leaders.

Again according to the BBC, things are calm on the ground for most people going about their daily business. The reported noted that "some people at the airport were joking about the situation - possibly as it is not regarded as that out of the ordinary given the country's history of coups."

But I can't help but believe an ongoing pattern of military coups is not good for a place. Please keep Mauritania in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On the selection of the Archbishop of Canterbury

You know, one thing that's wonderful about having a blog is that when you put a mistake in print, it will stay in the blogosphere forever, like one of those rogue satellites.

I found this little tidbit today from the London Times:

And, despite Africans' claims that the process was a colonial imposition, they did choose him: although the appointment was formally made by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Archbishop's name was put forward by an electoral college made up of Church members. It consulted widely, in a process that took far longer than a papal convocation, and was endorsed by a meeting of all the Anglican primates in the Communion. As Anthony Sadler, the then Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments, wrote to The Times yesterday about the meeting of the primates: “I have never attended a meeting where the presence of the Holy Spirit was so clearly and movingly in evidence.”


Which just goes to show how little I know about the mechanisms of the Anglican Communion.

One thing I do not know: can someone beyond the UK be appointed by the Queen to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury? Even looking at the procedures for the appointment of the ABC on the Church of England's website, it is not clear.

One thing I would like to point out is the way this comment in the Times protests against "Africans' claims that the process was a colonial imposition." But despite his use of the plural, this is Archbishop Orombi's claim, not the continental church's claim as a whole.

I have to say, after looking through the procedures for appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury, I still think Archbishop Orombi has made a reasonable point. It's hard not to think that the C of E and England's government has the upper hand on the ABC's selection when you read, "The Prime Minister, after consultation, appoints a communicant lay member of the Church of England to chair the Crown Appointments Commission, which oversees the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury." And et cetera and et cetera and so forth. Still sounds rather imperious to me.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Archbishop Orombi in the London Times

I'm a bit behind the times here (pun really unintended, because it would be a lame pun), but last Friday in the Times, Archbishop Orombi of Uganda published a column as a guest contributor that is worth noting.

He writes, "We believe that our absence at this Lambeth Conference is the only way that our voice will be heard. For more than ten years we have been speaking and have not been heard. So maybe our absence will speak louder than our words." Which reminds me very much of the time that my sister and my mother were] having an argument and my sister's side consisted of the refrain: "You're not listening to me! You're not listening to me!" and finally, "You're not agreeing with me!"

But the Archbishop has a very good point (i.e. I'm agreeing with him) when he says, "Since that meeting [of the primates in 2003, after the election of Bishop Gene Robinson there have been numerous other “betrayals” to the extent that it is now hard to believe that the leadership in the American Church means what it says. They say that they are not authorising blessings of same-sex unions, yet we read newspaper reports of them. Two American bishops have even presided at such services of blessings. Bishops have written diocesan policies on the blessings of same-sex unions. It is simply untrue to say they have not been authorised."

It's driven me crazy, too. There's all sorts of legerdemain in the church about how, "Oh, no, no, we're not authorizing blessings; that's for the national church to decide at General Convention and they never have. We're just proposing rites of same sex blessing" I'm sorry, but that's just sissy talk. It's quite clear that those who are opposed to same sex blessings are opposed to them happening at all. And I can understand why they feel betrayed when the Episcopal Church says they won't authorize same sex blessings and then offers them. It's like the old "I'm not touching you!" torture. Technically, no, but surely we must realize this is pouring salt in the wound.

Why not be up front about it? Why not brave the possibility that we would be kicked out of the club for doing what we think is right? As it is, our behavior makes us look like jerks, and in this article, at least, Orombi is too much of a Christian to say so outright.

The final major point of the Archbishop's article is to state that the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is a colonial remnant, and he certainly has a point here, too. The only person who can invite people to Lambeth or not is chosen...by the British government. "Even the pope is elected by his peer," the Archbishop notes. And it is indeed very odd. The Archbishop further says, "The spiritual leadership of a global communion of independent and autonomous provinces should not be reduced to one man appointed by a secular government." And I don't think it is, but he raises an issue that I haven't seen mentioned before.

I think the Archbishop, of course, has every right not to attend Lambeth if he doesn't want. I am very sorry if (and I don't have all the details aside from Bishop Mwamba's comments) he prevented other Ugandan bishops from attending Lambeth against their will. But I do think his statement in the Times is more than just a fit of pique and is worth listening to, even if we don't agree.

Dirt on the shoes

 
These are the shoes I used for heavy-duty walking in Uganda (though often I wore shoes that were dressier, even when walking on dirt roads--and most of the locals wore flip-flops). I hadn't taken them out since I got back and I had an immediate bout of nostalgia seeing the red dirt on these shoes. Alex would have cleaned all the dirt off them by now, but of course, Alex ran off. And I'm in California where cleaning my shoes is no one's task, including mine.

In the midst of the confusion and sadness over Sally and Joseline, over Lambeth and GAFCon, I have absolutely no temptation to shake the dust of Uganda from my shoes. None at all. I realized yesterday when I was doing some supply work and included an illustration from Uganda in my sermon that there's still more to learn from even that small experience. I'm still working on it, and Uganda is still working on me.
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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Update from Joseline

Just got this painful email. Please pray for me as I consider what to do. Here is what Joseline writes:

Yes i also feel good now that you have answered my mail and you are praying for me Mummy how are you well i really dont know what you will tell her about about the money because i have tried to talk to her bout the condition was going from bad to worse i even printed out the mail you sent to us and she just got bitter she shouted at me before all the girls that "so now you have printed out this mail stupidly to show me how right you are" she even told me that my greed and narrow mindedness should not should not ruin her ministry.

Mummy she said alot and i have been in alot am just recovering from the shock so i really dont know how you are going to talk to her because i see my future is at steak and i think you should pray to the holy spirit to give you the right words that may not put my future at steak again because i know you are really hurt by what she did .

of recent when i took my list of requirements she quarreled and said you see how stupid you are now you needed this much it was 200,2000 shillings i was trying to save for your requirements you see how shallow minded you are but Mummy imagine she told me i have sponsors this is a man and woman sometime which are supposed to cater for all my school and am sure these people catered for the requirements and very thing even then, imagine if you had not left that money 760000 wouldn't i have gone to school with the requirements to say all that i now she was guilty and she was trying to make me think that she is right by the way, she even told me that she actually needed my mother to come because she wanted to beat me before my mother because am not great full for all that i get from her meanwhile i haven't yet settled am still so stressed because i have to spend the whole day without lunch and break fast and am scared i may get ulcers well she is saying that she is trying to save for my own good but i don't know whether it will be cheaper to sustain me with ulcers you still have to pray for me alot and by the way she warned me about writing to you which she called going behind her back ans spoiling her name so am really scared .

do you know what there is a time i have not been going to school waiting for my requirements when i went back to school people thought that i was sick because every one was telling me that am so skinny now and there is now life in my smile ok dear bye love you and am praying for you too

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pray for Zimbabwe

Excerpted from the NY Times this morning:

Zimbabwe Devalues Currency; $10,000,000,000 Now $1
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:27 a.m. ET

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Zimbabwe will drop 10 zeros from its hyper-inflated currency -- turning 10 billion dollars into one -- the country's reserve bank said Wednesday. President Robert Mugabe threatened a state of emergency if businesses profiteer from the country's economic and political unraveling.

Shop shelves are empty and there are chronic shortages of everything including medication, food, fuel, power and water. Eighty percent of the work force is unemployed and many who do have jobs don't earn enough to pay for bus fare.

One third of Zimbabweans have become economic and political refugees. Another third is dependent on foreign food aid. But Mugabe barred non-governmental organizations from handing out food last month, claiming they were supporting the opposition.

***

Mugabe has blamed profiteering and sanctions by the United States and the European Union for Zimbabwe's economic collapse. Critics have blamed mismanagement by Mugabe's government and a land reform program that has slashed Zimbabwe's agricultural output.

***

Mugabe went on television just as South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki was jetting in to meet with him about stalled power-sharing talks. Mbeki was greeted by Mugabe at Harare airport Wednesday afternoon. The two shook hands and briefly embraced before leaving together.

Mbeki has insisted the power-sharing talks which started last Thursday were going well and had simply adjourned on Monday.

But several officials said Mugabe's negotiators returned home and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai went to South Africa, the venue of the talks, after they deadlocked over who would lead the ''inclusive'' government under negotiation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because all parties agreed to a media blackout surrounding the talks.

***

Mugabe and Tsvangirai, bitter rivals, met for the first time in 10 years last week and agreed to have their negotiators hammer out a formula to share power and halt the southern African nation's political and economic disaster. The talks came after three months of state-sponsored electoral violence that killed more than 150 opposition activists, injured thousands of people and drove tens of thousands from torched homes.

Both men say they won elections this year and should lead the government.

Considering...

Since my last entry, I could have noted any number of things, but I felt they would be a rehash of previous entries or else not considered enough to be of use.

I've heard from Joselyn, but not from Sally as the email did not go through. I need to call Sally, but am not looking forward to the prospect.

Meanwhile, the only thing I feel worth noting about the Lambeth Conference as it relates to Africa is a comment from Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana. Many have noted that the Bishops of Uganda and Nigeria have boycotted Lambeth. Bishop Mwamba points out that this is not exactly the case, in an interview reported by "Thinking Anglicans"

Bishop Mwamba described the situation as it had been in Uganda, “where a special Synod is organised and provision passed which would penalise any bishop coming to the Lambeth Conference. That denied freedom of expression in terms of any individual bishop. The invitation to Lambeth is in the gift of the archbishop and it is up to a particular bishop, not a particular province, to say I will come or I won’t come.

“What are we saying about our leadership styles? It was the same in Nigeria- many would have been glad to come. So when they say 200 of our brothers have boycotted the conference – definitely no. Maybe given the freedom, one or two would have stayed behind. It must be clearly understood: the reason why they didn’t come is that they were forced not to come.”


I find this incredibly sad. What might Lambeth have been if all the bishops who wanted to come had come?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The heartbreak continues


Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about the companion relationship between the Diocese of Lui in Sudan and the Diocese of Missouri. I said that I thought this was the way to go. Which just shows how much I know.

Today's news from the Lambeth Conference is that Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul held a press conference. In it he said, not only that Bishop Gene Robinson should step down for the sake of the church, and that "Asked if he has talked to Robinson, Deng replied, 'I have nothing to say to him.'" But furthermore,
"He also said he cannot participate in the Anglican Communion's Listening Process because homosexuality is not 'approved by the Bible' and 'is not part of my culture, I cannot talk about it.' Deng said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan."
(This was reported by Episcopal Life Online, and more specifically by my friend and fellow CDSP alum, Mary Frances Schjonberg.)

Reading this, I zipped on over to "My Manner of Life" , written by Lisa Fox whom I quoted the other day and who chairs the companion diocese committee. It's pretty devastating, in several senses of the word, and I encourage you to pop over there to get Lisa's view on all of this.

My own view is, How can he have visited the Diocese of Missouri, met Lisa, met gay clergy, had members of the diocese come to his diocese, shared and prayed with and gotten to know all these people and not be changed at all? How is that even possible? How can you completely shut yourself off from listening? I simply do not understand, and I cannot imagine the amount of effort it takes to hold yourself with such forced rectitude that you cannot bend no matter what you see or hear or do. It just baffles me.

I continue to realize that I don't understand much at all. Which is not going to stop me from trying. But I begin to wonder if I personally will make any headway at all, or if any headway is even possible.

Monday, July 21, 2008

An email

This is an email I wrote this morning. I'm posting it here because I think it gives a sense of the complicated nature of the relationships between Africa and the West in a rather personal context.

**
Hello, Sally and Joselyn!

Grace and peace to you both.

I have gotten word from Joselyn that she has been having trouble getting money for transport and lunch for her beauty training school. What Joselyn doesn't know, Sally, is that I gave you 760,000/= before I left so that she wouldn't have to worry about transport money. I didn't want to tell Joselyn because I wanted our friendship to be simply friendship and not based on any kind of patronage. I could understand that you might want to give her word that there was money for a month at a time, but I simply do not understand what is going on that Joselyn is so anxious about getting the money for her transport. Is there really is a problem or is there a misunderstanding? If someone is misrepresenting something, that would break my heart. I cannot believe it, but I cannot understand it any other way at this time.

It is really distressing to me because I don't know what's going on. I love you both so much, but there is obviously some difficulty here. I really don't care what's going on; I just want Joselyn to have the resources she needs to get to school and back and to have lunch.

Please make sure that Joselyn has the money that she needs for food and transport. I will expect Joselyn to report that she has what she needs. Also, Sally, please do let me know your perspective on the situation. I honestly have no idea what's really happening there in Kampala and may never know, and that's not important, actually. But I do know that I want Joselyn not to have to worry about food or transport and I think it should be possible for us as sisters in Christ to make that happen without difficulty or constraint.

At 5,000/= per day, which is what Joselyn has told me she needs, 760,000/= should last 152 days. Even with the 7 weeks gone by in the training, that should still leave enough for the rest of the calendar year.

Please know that both of you continue to fill my thoughts and my prayers. I so value and respect both of you. I hope and pray that this will be resolved happily for all of us, and I wish you every blessing in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.

In His name,
Laura

**

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The way forward

The Lambeth Conference started this week and it has been amazingly quiet. They're on retreat, don't you know, and many of the Anglican websites report how the press is upset there is no NEWS (meaning no kerfuffles).

One of the blogs I read is called "My Manner of Life," written by a woman in Jefferson City, MO. Her diocese has a companion relationship with the Diocese of Lui in the Church of Sudan, and she reports of her reaction to seeing a photo of Bishop Daniel, waiting for a bus to go to the Lambeth retreat. It's quite lovely, and I do recommend a trip over there to read it. Here is the link. (My life has changed since I found out how to use that link function.)

And here, I think, is the key point.

Folks like to draw a thick line between the Episcopal Church and the churches of the "Global South." But I met this man. I spent a lot of time with him. I have no doubt that he will argue for the Gospel. From what I heard in my time with him, that means feeding people who are starving in Sudan, bringing them water and education and health care, and building a healthy society in Sudan. Those are the priorities I heard from him. When it comes to the "issues du jour," I hope his view will be informed by the time he spent in Missouri, where many folks introduced themselves and their partners.
And to me, this is key: actually meeting face to face, getting to know one another as members of the family of God. Some of them you like and some of them you don't, and that's not related to race or place of birth. But you can love one another all the same.

It's a shame that the bishops of Nigeria and Uganda (alone of all the African nations) are completely boycotting Lambeth. I wonder if deep down the real reason for doing so is that if they met those with whom they disagreed, these bishops might find they actually like them, and the internal conflict would be unbearable.

Kudos to Missouri for making connections with Sudan. For what it's worth, I think this is the way to go.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Perhaps there are other issues in Africa?

This morning, thanks once again to "The Lead," I found another African website of note: the African Monitor, "African voices for Africa's development." Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, is a regular contributor (some readers may remember that Archbishop Ndungane visited the Diocese of California at the time of our convention last year). Why, astonishingly, he seems to be more interested in issues of hunger, poverty and disease than with human sexuality.

That's one thing, upon reflection, that I noticed about the Top 50 list: where were the people who were making a difference in, oh, I don't know, alleviating suffering. It would be kinda nice if the Anglican Communion were notable for that.

At any rate, Archbishop Ndungane has a thoughtful piece about the recent G8 summit, which points out in its own way how issues of hunger, poverty, and disease get highjacked by sexier concerns. Ndungane reports that the G8 countries are way under target in meeting promised levels of aid; at current levels, they will fall an estimated $40 billion dollars under their target. Ndungane writes, "Notably, collectively, the G8 has delivered just $3 billion of the $25 billion that was pledged to Africa in 2005."

He goes on to say,

Africa’s problems were eclipsed by the Zimbabwe issue. There is nothing wrong about focusing attention on Zimbabwe- there is certainly a need to be concerned. However, to allow one country’s problems to take precedence over the rest of the continent, given the gravity of problems in Africa and the vastness of the continent was a big disappointment.


***

Archbishop Ndungane was not in the Telegraph's Top 50. I have no idea whether that's a correct assessment or not. But I do think allowing the issue of sexuality to overshadow everything else of interest and importance to Anglicans in the Anglican communion is, ultimately, a disappointment.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the top 20

In case you were wondering what happened with the last of the 50 most influential Anglicans, etc., etc., here are the Africans in the top 20:

10. John Sentamu - Archbishop of York

Yorkshireman of the Year in 2007, the Ugandan-born John Sentamu has become immensely popular in Britain - his adopted country after being forced into exile following incurring the wrath of dictator Idi Amin.

A high court judge in the country, he was locked up for 90 days and beaten before he escaped to England, where he read theology and trained for ministry in the Church of England.

His enthusiastic brand of learned and muscular Christianity quickly brought him to notice. He was appointed Bishop of Stepney in 1996 and at that time served as advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Enquiry, he later chaired the Damilola Taylor review.

In 2002 he was appointed Bishop of Birmingham and in 2005 became Archbishop of York.

In an interview before his enthronement he gained the affection of the British public by calling for a rediscovery of pride in their cultural identity, warning against multiculturalism. He has also become well known for his symbolic protests.

In 2006 he pitched a tent in York Minster and fasted in solidarity with those suffering from the Middle East Conflict. In a BBC interview with Andrew Marr, he cut up his dog collar as a symbol for the way President Mugabe is stripping Zimbabweans of their identity. He also campaigned for the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

He is a loyal supporter and friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury and widely tipped as a potential successor.

6. Desmond Tutu - Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

The Nobel Peace prize winner is widely regarded as the greatest Anglican of the 20th century, and still commandss enormous influence, affection and respect today.

His courageous stand against apartheid gained him unprecedented support for the better part of three decades.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the infrastructure and closer links within the Anglican Communion grew precisely to support him as he personally risked life and limb in the struggle.

He later earned even greater kudos when he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which became the litmus test for effective mediation work between divided factions.

In retirement he became a champion of the cause of gays and lesbians comparing their liberation to the struggle against apartheid.

5. Henry Orombi - Archbishop of Uganda

Leader-in-waiting for millions of Anglicans in sub-saharan Africa as Archbishop Akinola gets closer to retirement. Archbishop Orombi represents a younger generation of evangelical leaders in the Anglican Church presiding over growth and commitment to mission and social work.

The Anglican Church in Uganda has been at the forefront of halting the country's HIV/Aids pandemic and has experienced significant growth in the number of churchgoers.

Ugandan's opposition to homosexual practice is defended in terms of its history.

Archbishop Orombi is one of the few Anglican leaders to unequivocally condemn violence against homosexuals, but recently said he didn't wear his dog collar when he is in countries where there are supporters of homosexuals.

He described "these people" as "dangerous".

3. Peter Akinola - Archbishop of Nigeria

Peter Akinola represents for many commentators an epochal shift in the centre of gravity for Christianity from western dominance to what is now commonly known as the 'Global South'.

With 18 million committed churchgoers, the Church of Nigeria dwarfs any other in the Anglican Communion. After his election as Archbishop in 2000 he outlined a clear programme of evangelism, social work and self-sufficiency in the sectarian and troubled country.

At first he appeared to have a close relationship to the American Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, but that changed in 2003 when the General Convention ratified the election of Gene Robinson to New Hampshire.

Since then he has upset the American Church by intervening in its affairs with the creation of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America that he brought under his leadership.

In 2006 he was named as one of Time magazines leaders of the year, but since then his stock has fallen.

He failed to be re-elected as Chairman of the 37 million-strong Christian Association of Nigeria, and has attracted criticism for inciting violence in the Cartoon riots.

His defenders argue that he was doing no more than voice the frustration a leader of a Christian community whose members are routinely attacked in some parts of the country.

However his support for draconian anti-gay legislation has made him a favourite bete-noire for liberal anger. He has also referred to homosexuals as an 'abomination'.

One of the key leaders of the Gafcon movement, the Church of Nigeria was a trailblazer for removing the link to Canterbury from their constitution.

He is believed to be behind Gafcon's own revision of the office of the Archbishop, as merely an 'historic' one rather than an instrument or focus of unity in the worldwide church.

It seems now that after Akinola's frequent gaffes other leaders are taking over the leadership of the Communion's conservatives but as leader of 18 million of the continents Anglicans, Archbishop Akinola remains one of the most influential Anglican leaders - for better and for worse.

***
#2 and #1, by the way, are Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Update on Ugandan bishop at Lambeth

An alert blogger noticed that the story in the New Vision I quoted a few posts ago isn't quite what it was made out to be. I have cast false aspersions upon the Archbishop of Canterbury--mea culpa!

The Anglican Mainstream--yet another Anglican blog--reports the story here. Apparently, Christopher Ssenyonjo has been invited by Integrity USA to come to Lambeth and be at the Integrity booth.

Remember that thing about money? The Integrity website notes that "Bishop Christopher's trip is being underwritten thru the generous donations of IntegrityUSA's members and friends."

Let's be clear: both sides of the debate are funding both sides of the debate. And it very much complicates the relationships between the West and Africa in the Anglican Communion.

#25

From the list of 50 most influential figures in the Anglican Church.

25. Benjamin Nzimbi - Archbishop of Kenya

Archbishop of the four-million strong Church of Kenya, Benjamin Nzimbi is among those who will not be attending the Lambeth Conference.

He has backed his fellow Archbishops of Rwanda, Uganda, Rwanda and Southern Cone, in providing alternative leadership to conservative congregations in the United States.

He has also supported the formation of a new Anglican Church in North America, and has said that he will help as many churches in America as he can.

What the Archbishop doesn't know..., or thoughts on money

Archbishop Orombi stated that he didn't want the Church of Uganda accepting tainted money from those who support homosexuals--"with strings attached." Well, apparently he doesn't know his daughter, Sally Orombi, at whose home I spent Maundy Thursday and had Easter dinner, accepted a donation from me. Horrors!

But money is a very sticky business and I do think the Archbishop has a point, even if I don't agree with his stance. There's still an incredible patronage system that's apparent in Uganda. There are lots of strings attached to money: "We'll give you money if you do it our way." And it's understandable, too, because the patrons, whoever they may be, don't want to see their money wasted.

As far as the church goes, this is a very, very complicated issue--complicated by morality and perceptions of the wealth of the West. This is second-hand, but one church here in California with long-standing ties in Uganda was told they could no longer donate to a diocese there. The bishop told the rector of the church, "When elephants battle, the ants suffer," as I recall (I'll need to ask if that's the exact quote).

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed "orthodox" Anglicans are apparently offering a great deal of financial support, according to the Archbishop. A quote from the aforelinked interview: "... they support us, they give us money. Oh they give us money. Since we began to relate with our orthodox brethren they have given us much more money, much more money, oh yeah, much more money. They have given us more money."

Are there strings attached? And to what purpose is that money used? Here's hoping and praying it goes to relieve suffering and help those in need. I'm not sure I care where the money comes from as long as it's going to that purpose. I doubt that any money from anyone is totally pure.

How most people spend their time

 
This is a picture of the store next to my apartment in Bukoto. I went there all the time to buy vegetables or fresh eggs (one egg cost 200 shillings). My neighbor who worked there would be there in the morning when I left for the office and there when I got back in the late afternoon. Occasionally I would go out at night, and I would see her there in the dark with a kerosene lantern for light. Most of her day seemed to be spent sitting and waiting for customers to come by. She sat on the floor behind the counter where she had half-cakes (a kind of fry bread) in a glassed in case.

If there's one thing I learned in Uganda it's that life is hard there. I got an email from my friend Joseline describing how she is probably going to have to choose between transport to and from the beauty college and lunch (I'm working to make sure she doesn't). This is not an exceptional choice. God only knows how many thousands of people are making choices like this all of the time.

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Bigger fish to fry

"The Lead" led me yet again to another worthwhile story entitled "Mwamba dismisses doomsayers." They quote Musonda Trevor Mwamba, a bishop in Botswana, who spoke at the Modern Churchpeople's Union in England on July 9.

Among other things he said, "The simple reality is that the majority of African Anglicans, about 37 million of them, are frankly not bothered with the debate on sexuality."

My own experience is that the subject never came up in my personal interactions in Uganda. I never heard it spoken of in churches I attended. No one asked me about it, even though they asked about a lot of things related to the U.S. The issues of homosexuality was in the papers and I heard about it in the church on a macro level, but on the ground, this is not on the top of people's lists. It's really not headline news. There were too many headlines related to (violence in) Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia and South Africa to bother with this rather obscure scuffle.

And as far as most people go, they have other things to occupy their time. I'll have something to say about that in the next post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

#39

From the London Daily Telegraph series on the 50 most influential Anglicans:

39 Ian Earnest - Primate of the Indian Ocean, Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA)

Based in Mauritius, Archbishop Earnest represents a small Church in comparison to Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa, yet his chairmanship of CAPA gives him a considerable influence over troubled relationships between the Churches of the West and the developing world. Chosen as a member of the Covenant design group, which was set up to restructure how the Anglican communion operates, many believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury regards him as a leader who can mediate in the current crisis.

One Ugandan bishop (maybe) at Lambeth

Man! So many articles! So little time!

I found this article on The New Vision website, dated July 6, with the mild headline, "Bishop Ssenyonjo invited to Lambeth."

The contents, though, are a bit more interesting: "In 2002, Archbishop Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo (now retired) defrocked Ssenyonjo because of his support for homosexuality.

"Ssenyonjo, formerly the bishop of West Buganda Diocese, in 2004 formed a new denomination called the Charismatic Church of Uganda and was consecrated bishop.

"In 2004, Archbishop Luke Orombi wrote to Ssenyonjo informing him that he was 'no longer entitled to wear the robes of a deacon, priest, or bishop in the Church of Uganda.'

"He was later excommunicated."

Excommunicated??? I didn't know we did that in the Anglican Church.

Although I'd like to think that Bishop Ssenyonjo was invited because the Archbishop of Canterbury supports him, I suspect it's because the Archbishop wasn't au courant with the doings in Uganda.

Not much room for disagreement here, is there? Makes all those complaints about how MEAN PB Katharine Jefferts Schori has been to Bishop Schofield, et al., seem silly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

#44 and #42

As the Lambeth Conference approaches, the Daily Telegraph is publishing a series on the 50 most influential Anglicans in the world today, can you believe. Two Africans are in the list from 41 to 50, published today:

44 Esther Mombo - Dean of St Paul’s theological college, Kenya

A vital member of the Anglican Communion’s doctrine commission, Esther Mombo has taken issue with the view of many African bishops that homosexuality is a Western phenomenon.

She says that it’s not a Western issue but a human rights issue.

She was also a member of the group that produced the Windsor Report, which attempted to heal divisions in the Church after the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual cleric, as the Bishop of New Hampshire. A campaigner for women’s ordination.

42 Davis Mac-Iyalla - Changing Attitude, Nigeria
One of the few black Anglican gay activists, Davis Mac-Iyalla, has endured death threats and attacks since he founded Changing Attitude Nigeria in 2005.

He now lives in exile in Togo but remains the most visible critic of the anti-gay Nigerian leadership.

Originally accused by Archbishop Peter Akinola of being a con-man, he has shrugged off these claims and is to be found campaigning at Synods, Bishops’ meetings and will be present at this month’s Lambeth Conference.

***
Which just goes to show that "The African Church" is not one huge block with one perspective. I'm thinking some more conservative Africans will be higher on the list. I'll keep you posted.

A lead from "The Lead"

The Lead is a newsy bit of a website called "The Episcopal Cafe" which had a relevant entry today entitled "Archbishop Orombi believes gay people are out to kill him."

Archbishop Henry Orombi is the Primate of Uganda, in case the name doesn't ring a bell. He is quoted in the New Vision, a Ugandan daily, saying that he doesn't dare wear clericals when in countries that have supporters of homosexuals. “I am forced to dress like a civilian because those people are dangerous. They can harm anybody who is against them. Some of them are killers. They want to close the mouth of anybody who is against them.”

Lead has this trenchant comment: "One might have supposed that Henry Orombi could have walked down any street in America wearing a t-shirt that said, 'Hey, I'm Henry Orombi' and people still wouldn't have recognized him." Here's his picture so that you can indeed identify him, though I guess he won't be wearing the purple and collar.

A couple of thoughts:

One--one of the things I came to realize during my time in Uganda is that the perception is almost (and I emphasize almost) as important as the reality as far as the West is concerned. (More on this later.) Now, it is possible that the Archbishop has received threats, and if so, that is deplorable.

Two--on the other hand, is this merely demonizing "those people"? This is the same kind of language used to support bigotry the world over: Those people are dangerous. There's a significant difference between saying, "I am afraid" and "People are trying to kill me." It's the difference between saying honestly where I am and projecting motives onto other people, and it is an important and significant difference.

Three--I think he's in more danger for being black than for being anti-homosexual in most of these supposedly "gay-supporting countries." And, as the Lead says, "the instances of violence against gays and lesbians are likely to remain more numerous than the instances of violence by gays and lesbians against Anglican archbishops." One comment I read on this is that this kind of speech may very likely spark violence against homosexuals in Uganda (because, of course, they are threatening killers, the Archbishop says so) than it is to provide the Archbishop with any needed protection, if indeed he needs any.

Four--it seems like the way to counteract this kind of perception is for the Archbishop to meet and know gay and lesbian people, to love and be loved by them, to take away the demon mask that he sees them wearing.

And finally, on a different note--I didn't take my clericals to Uganda, not knowing how the people there would react to a woman in a collar. I was fearful, and it turned out to be unnecessary. And I did the very same thing I suspect the Archbishop of doing: instead of saying, "I am afraid," I immediately went to "What will they do when they see me?"

Perfect love casts out all fear. That's what I'm praying for. For all of us.

Polygamy and homosexuality...discuss

A brief note.

Last Friday, July 1, there was a press conference at All Soul's, London, held by various leading lights of GAFCON, now FOCA (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans). I was struck by this portmanteau question during the panel discussion:

"Q: Would the panel unequivocally condemn violence against lesbian and gay people, and how do you handle issues of polygamy in African culture."

(courtesy of notes from "The Ugley Vicar.")

This seems like a typically Western question to me. It's a real slap against Africa, isn't it? The question about violence against gay and lesbian people is very worthwhile (and unfortunately necessary), but why is it instantly followed by a question about polygamy? I would propose it's because tacking on polygamy to any debate is meant to put African speakers on the defensive.

I am constantly amazed at how any critique offered by the African church against Western mores is met with, "Well, yeah, but what about polygamy?" As if any imperfection in one culture means it may offer no rebuke to any other. To which I would like to say, "Pot? Meet kettle."

These two issues are both large enough to warrent their own discussion. I would like to see a moratorium on putting homosexuality and polygamy in the same sentence.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Listening Process

As many of you know, every 10 years the bishops of the Anglican Communion are invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to what’s called the Lambeth Conference. The next one is coming up in mid-July; some bishops are refusing to attend, including many African bishops. But more on this later.

Right now I’m more interested in looking back at Lambeth 1998. Although lots of other business got done, I would guess nothing has gotten as much attention as Resolution 1.10: Human Sexuality.

Now, I’m not doing a whole lot of research here, but as I remember it, the general feeling was that the group that had spent the entirety of the conference crafting language for this resolution was outvoted by a new Global South majority. Ten years earlier, in 1988, the North and West still held most of the seats, but that had changed by 1998. A more moderate view that allowed for differences of opinion on the subject of human sexuality was taken out of the resolution and replaced with the unambiguous stance of “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.”

I’ve been looking the resolution over again as I write this and it’s a much less violent statement than I remembered. The debate at the time was so very impassioned--even harsh. But looking merely at the language that is left in the resolution without the painful context of the actions around it, there's a lot that is commendable. That statement I just quoted is not the sum total of even that subsection of the resolution, which says “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.” Certainly there’s some of value in that, if one could indeed minister pastorally and sensitively to people under these circumstances.

Reading it now, I was intrigued by a statement from the resolution offered by the West African region that I had never seen before, which “accepts that homosexuality is a sin which could only be adopted by the church if it wanted to commit evangelical suicide.” I’ll want to think more about that.

The main reason, however, that I called up Resolution 1.10 was to talk about the “listening process,” oft mentioned when talking about homosexuality in the Anglican Church. Certainly this part of the resolution is both hopeful and charitable. Here’s what the resolution called for:

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

A couple of things. First of all, this resolution says the bishops will listen to the experience of homosexual persons, not vice versa. Oft times it has seemed that there’s been serious resistance to that with a call for equal time for those who have (truly) suffered under colonial powers. But the resolution doesn’t say this should be a two-way street.

Second, one of the struggles in this listening is that the experience of homosexual persons very often comes from the West. I’m generalizing here, but some African bishops refuse to listen to anyone from the West saying homosexuality is a Western deviation and doesn’t exist in Africa. And anyone who is gay in Africa is assumed to be corrupted by Western influence. It’s kind of a no-win situation, there. Katie Sherrod who writes a blog called Desert’s Child out of Fort Worth, Texas, has gone to Africa to interview LGBT Africans. You can read about what she did here.

I have to go back to the West Africa resolution’s comment on “evangelical suicide,” because I do have to wonder what the African church loses by listening, or by changing its mind. I’ll be curious to learn more about this. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What "liberal" means

My first Sunday in Kampala, Palm Sunday, I met with the Provost of All Saints Cathedral. There was nothing special about this; each week, newcomers are invited to meet with the Provost in his office.

There were just three of us: a woman visiting Kampala whose brother had been buried from the cathedral, my then-new-acquaintance Joseline, and me. The Provost was very amiable and talked with each of us about our interests and backgrounds. Since this was during the presidential primaries, he asked me about Clinton and Obama. “The only problem with Obama,” he said, “is that he’s too liberal.” Diplomatically, he added, “Of course the conservatives can be too conservative.” I just nodded.

What I wish I had said, just to blow the Provost’s mind, was, “I had no idea that the Ugandan church was so liberal.” I doubt I could have ever said that; it’s so far from my nature. I certainly couldn’t have said it my first week there.

But I had been astonished when I showed up at the cathedral that morning to find that their vicar was a woman. In my mind, I had linked “conservative” with opposition to women’s ordination as much as with opposition to homosexuality. From my perspective, that whole liberal-conservative continuum has a lot of room on it with little side alleys. But at this point it seems to me that “liberal” in the Anglican Communion is a code word for support of gay rights, no matter what else is on the table. It’s not a particularly traditional definition of liberal at all and I think it explains both the hard-line refusal to share the table and the strange bedfellows that the “conservative” churches make.

The other day on the BBC, the Right Rev. N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, had this to say about the recent GAFCON thingeymajigger (conference? pilgrimage?) and its final statement:

"The coalition of Gafcon is a very odd combination of hard-line evangelicals, who would never use incense in a communion service, who would never wear Eucharistic vestments, along with Anglo-Catholics from America for whom those things are absolutely de rigeur.

"You've also got people who are totally and passionately opposed to the ordination of women, and others who are not only happy with it, but promoting it. That's not a coalition that's going to last very long, to be honest. The idea that they have a monopoly on Biblical truth simply won't do and we must stand up to this, it's a kind of bullying.”

I’d add to Bishop Wright’s statement that it’s also an odd coalition of people who claim to be resisting the last gasps of colonialism and very colonial style bishops and church leaders.

More about all this later, but the point to be made here is that calling the African church “conservative” is a very sketchy definition at best. It’s a rather dishonest shorthand for the issue of homosexuality, which is why homosexuality will get a lot of virtual ink in this blog.

Introduction and disclaimer

This blog is going to take quite a turn at this point.

Up until this point, as you see, I have been writing about my experiences during a brief sojourn in Uganda. But for a long time, I have been very interested in the political imbroglio in the Anglican Communion, much of which involves the Anglican churches in Africa. With some trepidation, therefore, I’m going to offer my opinion on the subject.

First of all, a disclaimer: I do not claim to be any sort of expert in the areas of Africa, politics, the Anglican Communion, or even the Episcopal Church. All I can claim to be is an interested observer and an informed layperson, except for the being ordained part.

Second, this is a blog and a hobby and so my entries are likely to be limited in scope and fairly infrequent. I’m not quitting my day job to write about this. Blogging simply doesn’t pay the bills.

Third, if you’re reading this, well, I’m astonished and pleased. I’d be very grateful if you would identify yourself at some point. It’s a thrill to know I’m not talking in an echo chamber. And I hope you find this a worthwhile use of your time.

Video! Entrepreneurs

These last two videos are clips I took of two of the women I interviewed about their loans. One woman makes mats woven from drinking straws. The other is making paper beads.
video

video
I continue to say that the very best thing about my time in Uganda was meeting women like these, being invited into their homes, seeing how they live, learning what they do and how they accomplish it. For that I will be eternally grateful. I'm glad you get to see a little glimpse of that in these videos.

Videos! The Ndere Center

Alternate title: My Hips Don't Move Like That
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Videos! Children's program in Acholi Quarters

Now that I am back in the land of high speed internet access, I can upload the videos I took at various points during my time in Uganda. Let's see how this works.
videoIn this entry, I hope to upload three short videos I took during the Saturday children's program in the Acholi Quarters. You'll see two songs they performed plus a traditional Acholi dance.
videoThe dance is accompanied by a whistle and drums. The round hollow drums that you see are made from a dried pumpkin shell. One of the things I thought was very cool is that kids there still did learn traditional tribal dances, and that everybody seems to know them. And that whole conception of African drumming? That is real. Enjoy!
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just tidying up

I will probably have a couple more things to post as a develop film from a disposable camera I bought in my last weeks in Kampala, but if anyone is still checking out this blog and is interested, I'm going to be switching back to my other blog, "The Infusion," a miscellany of baseball, books, and obituaries.

It's good to be back.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A post from home

I got back on Wednesday afternoon and have done pretty well, jet-lag-wise, until I finally hit the wall last night. I went to bed at 7 and woke up this morning at 4, which is still far closer to PST than Kampala time, so no complaints.

I expected it to be more of a shock to return, but for the moment it almost feels like being in Uganda was a dream. I have some evidence that I was there--most importantly an email from Joseline saying she misses me. But it's also hard to imagine that I really spent three months away from home.

Keeper clearly missed me. I went out to do some grocery shopping yesterday and when I came back, he was so glad I was home he stuck his head through a window pane in the door. Luckily, there was a curtain over the window on the inside so the only damage was to the glass and not to Mr. K.

Strange things have pleased me. I was thrilled to be able to use my credit card at the Amsterdam airport to buy things like...tea and a croissant. That made me happy. It was refreshing to see cars that stay in a single lane. I was so happy to have a turkey sandwich, turkey being largely non-existent in Uganda. Though I had a hot shower in my Kampala apartment, hot shower plus water pressure is a wonderful thing. And big box stores. I was coming back from the airport and kept saying, "Look! It's Circuit City! It's Target!" I guess I'm more a product of my consumerist culture than I knew.

I've also been startled by the light. It stays light until well past 8:00, which is unnerving, and I've been waking up when it gets light in the morning because that's what woke me up in Kampala. I think I've mentioned this, but being close to the equator, daylight hours are 7:00 am to 7:00 pm year round. At first I found that weird, but I'd gotten used to it.

I miss the roosters.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Last post from Uganda

There's a lot more to report, but I'm not going to get the chance to do so before I get home. For a while there I had internet access in my apartment, but it has vanished again. I am posting this from an internet café in Ntinda as I go out and about doing errands on my last full day in Uganda.

There was a time there a few weeks ago when I was ready to call it quits and come home because I was pretty miserable here. Now I’m ready to come home because I think I’ve done what I needed to do, my time here seems complete. At the last I think I was able to offer something to MCDT despite my spotty attendance record. I made some friends here. I got to see pretty much everything I desperately wanted to see. I didn’t get to Jinja, but I still hope to see the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe tomorrow before my flight. I didn’t have a rolex (a breakfast burrito made with a chapatti), but I’m not going to push my stomach to accommodate it now. Overall, I feel satisfied. I’m both sad to be leaving and happy to be coming home, which is a pleasant if slightly melancholy mix.

Saturday, coming home from lunch with Fred, I stared out the window of the matatu trying to take everything in so I could remember: the vendors at the taxi park, the stalls with bright fabric, the feel of bouncing over potholes, the intersection at Wandegeya, the vendor at the corner of my street selling maize grilled over a charcoal brazier with the husks all around her. I won’t be able to hold it all. I think I’m going to miss it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Last day at the office

It was a bit poignant, actually, and accidentally I was allowed to be generous and I'm glad of it.

I brought in a cake to say thank you. The biggest cake I could find was about the size of a travel box of Kleenex, but it did the trick, and people seemed really pleased. But I had also brought the books I had read that I had no need to drag back to the States. The staff fell upon these like ravening wolves. I was surprised. I'd actually brought them thinking Taryn would like them, but I realize too that new books are an incredible luxury. They are expensive here. A new paperback mystery costs almost 20,000/= (about $12), and if your salary is 200,000/= a month, books are not going to be on the top of the list.

At any rate, the books disappeared far faster than the cake. And then Olivia, the head honcho, made me stand up so we could get a photo, while Susy brought out a present for me! I really hadn't expected it, given how little I have done in my time here. But it was a substantial gift: a lovely basket, and a plaque made from wood showing zebras under a thorn tree.

The loan officers headed out for a day in the field, Taryn with them, and I waited for Justine who arrived about a half hour later. Her son has been suffering from malaria, as I said, and won't eat or drink because he can't keep anything down. Poor Justine! Especially as this was a particularly busy week. With the holiday, they are fitting in extra meetings on the other days, and Justine needed to go out to the field.

I asked if it was OK if I gave her an American-style hug. She assented, but afterwards also shook my hand. She bustled around getting stuff together to go out to the field while Sissy, the office assistant, told her all sorts of things that needed to happen.

Justine and I went out together, but her route took her to the left and mine to the right, so by about 11 a.m. this morning, I was done.

I had a good talk with Olivia, too, while waiting for Justine's arrival. I told her I was glad for the opportunity to work at MCDT for a reason we both agreed upon: we got to meet the people. It's off the main roads and in remote neighborhoods and they are people I would never have met otherwise. Some I liked a lot, some I didn't, some I simply felt neutral about. But I got a chance to meet them, and that is the gift that this fellowship has offered me. I'm very, very grateful.

A prayer request

I'm in Justine's office hoping she'll come in before I leave on this, my last day at MCDT. She was late in yesterday because her son is suffering from a bout of malaria. We're hoping he's not worse today. Please keep Joseph in your prayers, and all those who suffer from malaria.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Barack Obama's nomination as seen from Kampala

Here's the article from the front page of the New Vision today.

At St. Joseph's Primary, Ndeeba

Today I went with Susy, one of MCDT's loan officers, to a meeting held at a school in Ndeeba. Just off the room where we were meeting with borrowers was a preschool class. Most of the teaching seemed to be call and response in form, with this wonderful rhythmic character. I didn't understand it at all, of course, until we got to the point when the teacher said, "How are you?" and all the preschoolers in unison shouted, "I AM FINE!"

"How are you?"
"I AM FINE!"
"How are you?"
"I AM FINE!"

over and over again.

When I came out at the end of the day, a few children, probably not from that class, were standing in the yard. I said to one, "How are you?" He promptly answered, "I am fine," and seemed pleased and startled that this actually worked.

I feel the same, actually. This morning a woman walked in and said, "Sebya tyano, nnyabo," to which I answered "Bulunji," as is proper. She said, mmm. I said, "Sebya tyano, nnyabo," and she said, "Bulunji." Mmm. Then she started saying all sorts of things I didn't understand. I'm sure I goggled a bit and turned to Susy for help. "She said you are doing very well," Susy told me. Mmm.

Now THAT'S a Gospel procession!

This was on the front page of both The New Vision, and Bukedde online (the Luganda daily).



From the Martyrs Day mass at Namugongo yesterday.

Don't tell the folks at St. Gregory Nyssa or they'll get ideas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Martyrs of Uganda

A friend of mine who is preaching at the midweek service at his church this week noted that today, June 3rd, is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. He asked if this was an important observance here.

The answer to that is that it's a friggin' HUGE observance in these parts. It's a national holiday, for one thing. Banks, post offices, government offices are all closed. MCDT is closed. Walking around the neighborhood, more of the small shops around here are closed today than were closed on Good Friday.

Here's the deal, very briefly: in the late 1800's, various pages and members of the Bugandan court became Christian converts, both RC and Anglican. In 1886, the Bugandan king, or kabaka, Mwanga II, told them to give it up. When they refused, these converts were tortured and killed in various nasty ways, leading up to a group of some 30 Christians being wrapped in straw mats and then burned at Namugongo, about 10 miles from the city center.

The observance is bigger than just Uganda, too. This event is credited as the beginning of indigenous Christianity in Africa. I read in the paper last week about a group of pilgrims from Kenya who were walking 600 km to the shrine in Namugongo. People come here from all over the continent.

Various miracles were attributed to the RC martyrs, leading to their canonization in the 1960's. I'm not sure when the Anglican martyrs were canonized; the whole process is different. But the general sense I get is that these martyrs are important, not only for their great faith and sacrifice, but because they're "some of our own." I'm not sure how many other great holy sites and pilgrimages are in sub-Saharan Africa, but this certainly is one of them.

I decided to pay my respects and make a short pilgrimage as well. Below is a picture of the shrine that I lifted from the web.



Only imagine it so thronged with people there were parts where you couldn't move. One man walking near me told me that 3 MILLION people come to the shrine. I don't know about that, but I have no doubt tens of thousands of people were there.

I took a boda boda (see below) to the base of the hill leading to Namugongo and walked over a couple of hills, following a trickle of people headed that way. Once I reached the area of Namugongo, the people filled the streets, walking on the left side, like traffic, with no cars allowed through. On either side of the street were vendors of all descriptions. Lots of them were selling paper visors with a depiction of the martyrs surrounded by flames on it. There were also some pretty graphic T-shirts with the slogan, "Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us." There was also lots of other stuff: clothing, umbrellas, cooked grasshoppers--you name it.

But as far as the religious part of it went, this seemed to be a Roman Catholic celebration. Even though the martyrs were both RC and Anglican, I didn't see any Anglican presence there at all.

I went to the shrine and walked all around the grounds. The shrine itself wasn't open, apparently, but there was a service going on from an open-sided grass thatched hut by a large rectangular pool. I couldn't quite tell because I could never see it, but my guess is that's where the service was coming from. Again, thousands upon thousands of people sitting on the grass or the muddy ground to listen to it from loudspeakers all over the grounds. I heard some of the prayers of the people, offered in all different languages: Swahili, Luganda, Luo, etc. The grounds of the shrine, too, were packed with vendors. Many were selling religious tracts, rosaries, and things of that nature. But I also saw some Manchester and Arsenal underwear for sale. Behind the toilets, there were people cooking matooke, beans, and other food.

I also saw one child with a badly burned face, sucking his thumb as a vendor tried to sell him and his mother something.

There was something about it all that was incredibly moving. I was of course reminded of Jesus' cleansing of the temple, but I also got at least an inkling of what that might have looked like, of how important it was for people to come to that one location, of what a huge windfall it was for the vendors as well as profitable for the temple.

One boy tried to sell me a certificate, signed by the bishop (I think), that certified that I had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda. I was very tempted, too. But I don't actually need a certificate. I've still been there. And it was mighty powerful, too.

Via boda boda

I leave a week from today and I'm starting to consider my list of "Things to do before leaving Uganda." Riding a boda boda, or motorcycle taxi, was tentatively one of them. Thus far I have refused to take one, having already seen two accidents involving boda bodas. But today the opportunity arose and I took it.

I was on my way to the shrine at Namugongo, but had given my Kampala A-Z map to Taryn, so my directions were a little sketchy. I knew I needed to reach the Northern Bypass and go beyond it.

At the top of a hill in Kiwatule, I could see the Northern Bypass in front of me. It didn't look quite right on the map. I asked a man standing in front of the police post in front of me if following that road would take me to Namugongo. He started to give elaborate directions in decent English, then flagged down a boda boda. Giving quick directions is some language that was most certainly not English, he then turned to me and said, "The boda boda driver will take you where you need to go."

Well, OK, then.

Here's the thing: if I was going to take any single boda boda ride, this would be a good one. There were decently paved roads and little traffic and a short ride. So I got on.

I was terrified the whole time. Helmet? Are you kidding? I just kept thinking, "If we come to a sudden stop, I'm going to die." And even though the roads were decent, there were still potholes, bumps, and general unevenness. A matatu passed us close on the right, beeping at us. Turning corners, I was never sure whether to lean into the curve or away. And my other worry was, "If something happens to me now, the people at home are going to kill me."

But I arrived safely at the foot of the road leading to Namugongo and I can check "boda boda" off my list. I promise I will not be doing it again.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Another disappointing day at church

I haven't had communion since Easter. Did you know that? The 8:00 service at All Saints Cathedral has communion every Sunday, but otherwise it's a once a month deal, and with one thing or another, I haven't been at a service that offers communion on that one Sunday a month when they do.

But this morning, I was going to get communion. St. Andrew's Bukoto a short walk from my apartment announces on their sign that communion is on the first Sunday of the month. I was really looking forward to it.

And so I went to the 8:30 service at St. Andrews. I arrived a few minutes after 8:30, thus unfortunately missing the confession and collect for the day and arriving just in time for "Praise and Worship." Here are the words to one of the songs:

How wonderful is your name, O Lord.
How wonderful is your name, O Lord.
How wonderful is your name,
How wonderful is your name,
How wonderful is your name, O Lord.

How excellent is your name, O Lord... (marvelous, beautiful, etc.)

This music lasted for 20 minutes. At which point we had someone lead us in a prayer that lasted maybe 5 minutes but probably less, followed by our Scripture reading: Genesis 1:1-3, 26-31. That was it. That was our Scripture for the day. Then we said the Apostles' Creed, which was the one time I heard Jesus mentioned all morning.

After that, we all sat down for the notices, aka announcements. The notices were introduced by a clergyman (at least he was wearing a clergy collar) who welcomed us to St. Andrew's Bukoto on this, the second Sunday after Lent. WHAT??? No one in the congregation flickered an eyelash, though apparently someone seated behind this clergyman brought the error to his attention because he turned around, listened for a few moments, then turned back and said, "The second Sunday after Trinity."

The notices then proceeded to take--I am not exaggerating--30 minutes. Twenty minutes were spent on the building appeal, inviting people to come forward to purchase a prospectus of the new building for a minimum donation of 5,000/=. When people came forward they were to take the microphone, say their name, and announce how much they were donating towards the building fund. We kept doing this until all the prospectuses (prospecti?) had been sold. Then the head of the building fund said that now was the time for people who had questions or comments on the new building to stand up and offer them. No one did. He said, "Since no one is ready for that right now, I will conclude." The vicar then continued with more notices! He concluded with an impassioned invitation for everyone to attend Bible study at 10:00 which ended with everyone singing "My Bible and me," while holding up Bibles in the air.

The notices finished at 9:40, followed by two offertory hymns, followed by the sermon! It wasn't the worst sermon I'd heard in my time here. It actually looked at the Scripture and applied it to people's lives, for one thing. I figured he was a young seminarian, though, given the style of his preaching: "In verse 1, we see that God created the universe. That means that God is a creator..." That kind of thing. So he wandered on for a bit, making some good points about how God shares creative power with us, and some strange points about how a meat-free diet helped his backache, at which point he shared that he was in his 50's. Now, maybe he's still a newbie priest, but it becomes a question.

At 10:00, a warden in the front row passed him a note that he glanced at and quickly wrapped up the sermon. The vicar gave the benediction, we passed the peace, we sang a recessional hymn and we all left.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO COMMUNION? If I am allowed to ask. As we left, though I wasn't about to cry, my throat felt constricted and I felt once again a deep disappointment in the church here. There were many things here that I did not expect. A lack of both Word and Sacrament in the Church of Uganda is one of them. It has certainly come as a shock to me. I would never have guessed that it would be in the liberal Bay Area where I could more commonly hear stories of Jesus' life and ministry, find churches that minister to the poor, and receive the sacraments.

I asked another parishioner who was walking out at the same time I was why there wasn't communion. She said, "I think we'll be having it next week." I'm not counting on it. Assuming I can get myself up and out of bed, I'm going to the 8:00 service at the cathedral next Sunday where at the very least I might be able to partake of the sacraments. Or it may just have to wait until I'm home in two weeks.

The new Fellow

The time for my fellowship is drawing to an end, can you believe it? I'll be coming home on June 10 and this week is my last at the MCDT office.

A new Kiva Fellow arrived in town on Friday who will be working with MCDT starting next Thursday, ensuring a very smooth transition for everyone, I think. Her name is Taryn and she's getting an MBA from Cornell so you know she knows a heck of a lot more than I do about finance, micro or otherwise.

We met yesterday for lunch so I could fill her in a little on the background. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, taking a couple of matatus, first up to my apartment in Bukoto and then back to the Garden City Mall to see "Sex and the City" (as I talk about in the next post; very strange experience, seeing that movie here).

At one point, our matatu, full to bursting with people, was chugging painfully up the hill to Ntinda when it stalled and died. The driver got it started, promptly turned around and zipped back down the hill. Taryn asked me, "What's going on?" I said, "We're going to the Shell station." She said, "How did you know that?" And the strange answer is, I just knew.

I knew exactly what had happened. The matatus don't get a full tank of gas, usually buying 5,000 or 10,000 shillings-worth at a time. The matatu had about run out of gas, so they needed to head back to the gas station that's strategically placed halfway up the hill. That's just what happens here.

Taryn asked how I knew what the fares would be for the matatus, and that too has become something I've gotten a feel for. It's strange to me that it's in this very little thing, the matatus, that I am so aware of nuance and etiquette while other larger issues are still rather monolithic. Probably because I have spent a lot of times using the matatus, more than I have, say, visited people's homes, I have a slightly better sense of the complexities of the social interactions there.

As we headed back downtown, I pointed out various neighborhood: the stop where you get off to go to MCDT; Wandegeya where Taryn will catch matatus from the place where she's currently staying. Taryn said, "How do you know all this?" And the thing is, of course, I didn't at first. I told Taryn, wait 10 weeks and you'll know all this, too. I mean, I knew absolutely nothing when I arrived--certainly less than Taryn does, who spent a month in Tanzania last year. But I certainly now have proof that I have learned something in my time here. And it is satisfying to know that for a newcomer, at least, that knowledge appears to be impressive.