Settling in to Uganda

Pardon as I do some catch-up bloggin’, friends. I’ve hit some high and deep notes here and here regarding my 12 days in Uganda, but there are some details in my heart and mind begging to be worked through as I write. 

The Mercy for Mamas team was made up of 13 ladies from 5 different states, plus the most wonderful Ugandan nurse Agnes and our drivers Godfrey and Julius, with the famous and beloved Billy playing the lead male role. You’ll hear more, much more, about them later.

I do a strange head tilt thing. I have no explanation for this. I shall blame tiredness. Why can't we all be suave and dapper like Billy? 

I do a strange head tilt thing. I have no explanation for this. I shall blame tiredness. Why can't we all be suave and dapper like Billy? 

We all took our own roads to get there, but my personal flight path involved a five-city chain. It took two full days of flying to get from Birmingham to Miami to Paris to Nairobi to Entebbe. My people dropped me off in Birmingham around 9:30am on a Thursday morning and I arrived in Uganda approximately 32 hours later. It was an eventful journey, I must say. 

That Bham to Miami flight was beyond all doubt the most miserable I’ve ever experienced (and I have flown A LOT), when I was struck with a horrendous pain in my right ear. The excruciating pressure directly inside my eardrum was so intense that it spread to the entire right side of my face, back of my head and neck, and shot down the right side of my neck and seeped down into my molars. I could not move my jaw or arm to call for help and the pain was so severe and paralyzing. The internal pressure pushed my right eye outward, and I went into a bit of shock as I took inventory of those scary symptoms. I told The Captain after landing in Miami that if I had not been able to feel the pressure straight in my eardrum, I’d have sworn it was a stroke or an aneurism. As it turned out, what happened on that first flight was a wicked case of sinonasal barotrauma. I was scared to death that the remaining four flights would involve the same or worse pain but, thankfully, with many prayers and decongestants, the only lasting issue from that awful hour was moderate pain in the right side of my head and neck for two days with fluid leaking from my right eye for three.

So after surviving that mess, it was a beautiful, beautiful sight indeed to meet up with my girl Staci in Miami. She and I are so different, so the same, and I love her like a sister-for honest and for true. If grown up Michelle didn't regularly practice the art of self-control, I’d be signing off off our texts and emails and gchats with LYLAS. It’s like that with us. We snapped this picture and I'm so glad, because we looked and smelled a hot mess 12 days later.   

And this was proven time and again over these 12 days, as we were the best of seat-mates on 9-hour flights, periodically talked through our observations and reflections of the Very Big things we were seeing and feeling, and coached each other through international travel woes. Y’all, you don’t know friendship until someone shares their probiotics with you in a third world country and that is a fact. 

We met up with the rest of the Mercy for Mamas team in Paris, after a very strange experience at the first international airport of our journey. The enormous jet basically landed, pulled into a big ole parking spot on the tarmac, and they said “Get out.” We had to wait a while just to get outside the plane, then slowly drag our bags down some sad metal stairs (though a flight attendant and rebel-without-a-cause did entertain the crowd with a show of the girl insisting upon smoking IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO JET FUEL and the flight attendant addressing it incredulously). Then, I kid you not, we had to wait for a bus that could only carry a few of us at the time, be taken to some far corner of the airport, where we began the 20 minute journey of finding our gate and getting the next rounds of boarding passes printed. It took nearly every moment of the 2 hour layover just to get from plane A to plane B!

Welcome to Paris, we said. But at least they were good for 15 minutes of free wifi.

So then we saw the rest of the team approaching the gate…in their matching blue travel Mercy for Mamas t-shirts. And I remembered that though I had worn another very comfortable t-shirt to get me thus far (See, what had happened was...my MfM shirt was great and I love it, but…it touched my neck and I am very weird about things touching my neck. I could not spend 30 hours in a shirt that touched my neck or I would lose my ever-loving mind; I know, I know. Weirdness. File it away. There’s plenty more where that came from, people.) but I had intended upon changing into my matchy matchy shirt before we met up. Only after that weird deplaning experience I didn’t have time and even though I’m sure I concocted it in my head, I felt like I gave a bad first impression. Like I was anti-team shirt and therefore anti-team. But I really wasn’t! I just couldn’t very well say, hi, where are you from? What’s your name? Love that bag you are carrying! By the way, I know we just met, but I can’t wear a shirt that touches my neck.

I was between a neck-touching shirt and a hard place, y’all.

Speaking of the name game…Staci and I were at a distinct disadvantage because 90% of the rest of the team knew one another well. We were trying to learn names quickly, which is absolutely a terrible personal weakness of mine. Thankfully, she came up with the seat row strategy. We had another 9 hour flight ahead of us, so we learned our girls’ names row by row. Hannah-Beth-Patti were our first three and I'll never forget it.

Just soarin' over the Mediterranean Sea. No big deal...

We got to fly on Kenya Air's new DREAMLINER. Ooooohhhh, aaaahhhhhhhh! Ok, it was pretty stinkin' cool. 

We got to fly on Kenya Air's new DREAMLINER. Ooooohhhh, aaaahhhhhhhh! Ok, it was pretty stinkin' cool. 

Space, you do not have. Movies and your own personal color tunnel? Check. 

Space, you do not have. Movies and your own personal color tunnel? Check. 

Anybody notice anything interesting about the safety instructions on Kenya Airways? Anybody? 

Anybody notice anything interesting about the safety instructions on Kenya Airways? Anybody? 

By the next day we had everybody's name down pat, which was super helpful in figuring out how to fit together within the grand puzzle we we were all supposed to make up. We may not have known all the details about the ladies we were living with for the next two weeks, but the first and overwhelming thing we noticed was that everyone was really nice, very positive, and completely eager/willing to do whatever. That would MORE than prove to be a spot-on first impression. Team MfM for the win! :) 

Landing in that last airport, in Uganda, was so remarkably wonderful. Everything was familiar, only better. Same lines, same organization, same forms, same poor lighting. It felt like it could have been just a moment before when my family of three landed in 2010 to become a family of four. Just as my people had when we came to adopt Pearl, we Mercy for Mamas chicks gathered our bearings in that airport, then collected our luggage, danced a silent jig in our hearts/said an internal prayer of thanks that it all arrived intact, and made for the door.

Every person traveling to another country to serve has an adjustment period where all they can focus on is orienting to the culture. For many people that takes several days, but for me? Thanks to our previous stay in this precious country, that drive from the airport to the guesthouse was my adjustment period. The darkness, the obsession with bottled water, the driver being on the wrong side of the van, traffic on the left, the insanity of Ugandan roadways, the unfamiliar language flowing smoothly between natives, that distinct Ugandan smell of burning trash and a touch of BO and dirt and maybe some incense and also some rain since it’s June (I realize that description doesn't sound like a smell to love but IT IS). It all washed over me like a tidal wave.

And I missed my people so deeply. I felt guilty that I was there without my Captain, without my Sass, without my Pearl. It hurt to process being present in this incredibly special place without them.

And then, because it was like 2:00am local time, the fatigue won the battle with guilt and I crashed under my “moskwito” net.