Clares in Uganda -18th May

Clares in Uganda May update

Hi Everyone,

Thank you to all those of you who have been in touch since we last emailed. It’s been lovely to hear your news. We’ve somehow been in Arua now for just over two months, the majority of which have been spent in some form of lockdown. As I’m sure will be familiar for many of you, the days here have been passing by in a bit of a blur and even though we can’t really go anywhere, it’s a bit hard to account for where the last couple of months have gone!

Enjoying Simeon's birthday takeaway during the lockdown here in Uganda 
 

Living in Lockdown


Uganda has been in lockdown since March 30th with the following restrictions: no handshakes or hugs (a big thing in this part of the world), no public transport carrying passengers (ie cargo only), no private cars allowed on the roads (unless an approval sticker for key workers etc), nationwide curfew 7pm to 6:30am, no gatherings of more than 5 people, the closure of all non-food shops and non-food markets, no religious gatherings, no exercise outside your home.

The first of these restrictions came in before there was a case confirmed here and taking strict measures so quickly seems to have worked, with a recent community survey confirming that there is no significant community transmission of COVID at all. There have been over 200 confirmed cases of around 20,000 tested, 95% of whom are truck drivers screened at the border. There have been no deaths at all as yet.

Whilst this is great news to be celebrated on the one hand, we are also acutely aware of the impact of lockdown on communities here. Access to hospital and health centres (normally relatively easy on a motorbike taxi (aka boda)) has become very difficult. Boda drivers are afraid of being beaten for carrying passengers and one boda driver was recently shot dead, in the South of the country, by an apparently-rogue security officer when carrying a pregnant lady. Not only does the transport issue affect people who are acutely unwell, but it also places a barrier to those needing to go to the health centre for HIV services, antenatal clinics and other more routine health issues. Add to this the loss of income for hand-to-mouth workers, the increased food prices and the high levels of deprivation locally and you can easily see why the lockdown itself will be causing significant problems for so many people in the poorer communities.

We are due for a review of the lockdown in 2 days’ time, with some non-food businesses having been allowed to reopen 2 weeks ago – we pray for wisdom for those in power as they try to strike a balance between the strict measures working so well to avoid COVID in the community and the damage caused by the prolonged lockdown.
Our new swing has provided hours of entertainment (and a fair few arguments too) during the lockdown...
 

Finding a new rhythm


Although arriving in Uganda at this time has made the transition more complex, we are so thankful to God for getting us here at this time. It’s been frustrating for Tom that he can’t get stuck into work, but having him around at home to help the boys as they struggle to adjust to life in a new culture has been an unexpected benefit for all of us. Ezra has found the move particularly difficult and his mood volatility has been hard to manage at times. The boys have all really enjoyed getting to spend extra time with their Daddy- or ‘agun’ as Joel wanders around the house calling after him.

We’ve settled into a bit of a daily rhythm of homeschooling in the morning with the older two while Tom is usually engaged in playing some kind of make-believe game involving Paw Patrol or PJ Masks with the younger two. The boys don’t always come to school with great eagerness to learn but the routine has definitely been helpful for us all. Both boys loved their school and classes back in the UK and we were so grateful for the work of their teachers. It took us a while to come round to the idea of homeschooling here but we’re so thankful that we have a resource package we can follow each week. It’s been a real joy to see the boys getting really excited and engaged in certain lessons- favourites are currently English and Geography, as well as science lessons with Granny via WhatsApp. Ezra has a fantastic imagination and when we can get him to sit still and focus for long enough, to write the words down, in the middle of his constant fidgeting and beatboxing, he’s produced some great work. Eli’s been joining in for a good number of the lessons and currently has a bit of an obsession with homophones!

At times, life here can feel a bit relentless, as with four young children, there is usually at least one who’s upset, getting into mischief or needing help with something. As I’m sure many of you in the UK are finding, being in lockdown with small children brings both real blessings and challenges. I (Verity) have found myself craving personal space more than ever before, which is not really a concept that exists in the culture here.

Life here is much more communal than in the UK. We have our doors and windows open all the time and life is lived much more in the public eye. Noble, our watchman, lives on site as he’s not local to Arua and we have a lovely local lady, Milly, coming for a few hours Monday to Friday to help us round the house, arriving sometime before 8am. Whenever we leave the compound, we are watched as we walk along and often have people peering in through the perimeter hedge just to see what we’re up to. People seem to find it especially entertaining when one of the boys (usually Simeon) decides to have a screaming fit, as children here don’t really cry. We know that they aren’t being offensive or rude, it’s just part of the culture here but it’s something we’ve had to pray for grace and love for as it’s not easy to deal with.

The position of our compound is an interesting one and we’re praying into how God wants to use us in this specific place that he’s provided to be our home. On one side we have welders and mechanics, at least a few of whom chew Khat - a leaf stimulant drug, local to East Africa - through the day causing them to get louder and more uninhibited as the day goes on. On the other side we have a carpenter’s workshop and a few little shops, one of which has a bench at the back, bordering our hedge, where people hide away to drink alcohol. The owner has a large speaker which blasts out music to attract customers anytime from 6am and often, bizarrely, starts especially early on a Sunday morning, broadcasting hymns and a church service from one of the local radio stations. The front of the house is bordered by one of the main roads into town, with a motorbike station and forest opposite, where a group of men gather to smoke some kind of drugs through the day.

None of this seems out of the ordinary though - these things just seem to be an accepted part of life here and we feel very safe where we are. The position of our compound means we don’t have to go far to meet people and begin to make connections. There are a good number of little shops up the road, leading to a local market where we’re getting to know some of the sellers. We have a lovely lady, Mauri, who owns a shop outside our house and her mother, Zilipa, who is often in charge, speaks no English, which has been great for practicing our Lugbara. We go out most days for walks along the dirt roads, in the neighbourhood behind our house and are getting to know some regular faces as we become familiar with the area. Having a baby on my back or small person in tow is a great ice breaker as they love babies and small children here.
 

Prayer points

  • Wisdom for how to engage positively with our neighbours and share God’s love with them.
  • Continued peace for us all as we settle into life here.
  • Wisdom for Tom in how to spend his time in lockdown, dividing his time between language learning, being with the boys and preparing for the medical role.
  • Daily-filling-up with God’s love and grace as we interact with the people around us.
  • Thanks for David and Heather looking out for us and for the few missionary families we’ve met locally who’ve welcomed us and have children similar ages to ours whom they can play with.
I was challenged this week when I was talking (complaining) to Milly about the monotony of life here at the moment, that every day is the same and we can’t really ‘do’ much. I realised she had no idea what I was talking about – from her point of view we have so much to be thankful for and the relative stability is a good thing - no-one is ill, we have money to buy food, she has a job to go to, we are blessed with children and a lovely home. This idea of our identity being so wound up in our daily accomplishments and what we ‘do’ is something we are learning to let go of, instead trying to grow in our identity as children of God and bringing our boys up to know his love.

We will soon be sending a link to a video with some footage of our first 2 months here and we are aiming to send shorter, more regular emails on this list from now on if all goes to plan.

Thank you so much for all your support and prayers– we are so grateful to God for all of you and we really do love to hear from you and pray for you in return.

Blessings,
Tom, Verity, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel
 
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