I open my eyes and see nothing but black. It must be early. My other senses slowly awaken. I smell something fresh. Sweet. Pancakes? No, they don’t have pancakes here. I hear the sweet sound of our house mother singing quietly somewhere outside. Her soothing voice provides comfort as I awaken in a bed that I’m not used to. I hear the rooster off in the distance. He’s awake and ready to start his day. I feel a bit chilly. I pull my sheet up as my eyes adjust to the early morning darkness and my heart remembers: Africa.
My roommates begin to stir. Five of us are in a room together. We’re in bunk beds. Thankfully, I have my own bunk. I’m on the bottom with my mosquito net covering me. My belongings are strewn upon the top bunk and in a suitcase on the ground in front of my bed. We’ll be here for several days. I need to organize, I think.
But first, I need to shower.
We have two showers for 8 of us women. Each shower is small and shares it’s room with the toilet. The water is cold. It is a take your breath away, only wet yourself long enough to wash your hair and get yesterday’s bug spray off cold. I don’t like showering after other people because the floor is already wet and messy. While I am okay with a cold shower with mosquitoes flying around and geckos on the wall — I have trouble with a shower that’s already been showered in. So I get up early and the first thing I do is head to the bathroom.
Slowly in the dark I gather my shower bag, my shower flip flops, my towel and quietly leave my room and step outside.
The sun is starting to come up in the distance as I head to the outdoor bathrooms. I glance into the Gazebo and I see one of my teammates reading his Bible. I see another typing on her cell phone. The WiFi box is located in the Gazebo and when it is working its our connection to the world back home.
I walk into the women’s bathroom and open both stall doors. Which one has less mosquitoes? I pick the one that does. I place my belongings on top of the toilet. I place my towel on top of those. I turn on the water and the cold hits the bottom of the bathroom floor, landing on my feet and flip flops. I take a deep breath as I feel the water splashing on my toes. Here goes…
* * *
If there is one thing I’m always thankful for while in Uganda… it’s a shower. Even a cold shower. I feel wonderful after my shower. You will feel that way also after cleansing yourself after a day of heavy bug spray application, walking around in dirt and sweating while you sleep.
Once I’m finished showering I quickly dry off, put my pajamas back on and head back to my room. I see the security guard on my way back to my room. Good morning! I’m secretly hoping a few of my roommates are awake now because it’s hard to be so quiet while trying to get dressed. The breakfast aroma fills the air as our house mother is fully underway with her morning preparations. We’re going to church this morning at the high school and need to be ready for breakfast in an hour. I see our trip leader in the outdoor dining area pour his coffee. Coffee.
Inside my room I brush my hair to let it begin to air dry. There are no blow dryers here. I quickly dress in a skirt and t-shirt. I leave my room again. Outside, I apply natural bug spray (made of lemon and eucalyptus oil) to my feet, legs, arms and neck. I don’t want to use Deet for bug spray this year. Did you know it’s a neurotoxin? I’m adamant about not using it this year. I’ve always had good experience with natural bug spray in Colorado. I know this isn’t Colorado… but I’ll take my chances with malaria.
Our Ugandan morning breakfasts usually consist of plain omelettes (cheese isn’t really a thing in Africa), a fruit (watermelon, banana or pineapple), yogurt and a pastry or plain bread with peanut butter or jelly for a topping. Sometimes we’ll be treated to breakfast burritos or samosas. Our house mother does an amazing job of keeping our team of 14 fed.
* * *
It’s time to leave for the high school. Our group slowly gathers together and we head over. We’re walking. I love walking. To get to the high school we need to step outside of the guest house area gate. Walk down the road. Step back inside the gated high school compound.
We leave the protected area of the guest accommodations. One cannot forget she’s in Africa once stepping outside of the nicely groomed guest house area. The road is dirt. There are cows and goats tethered to various areas on the grass. Their day has begun and they’re chomping away on the lush grass that can be found throughout Uganda. Across the train tracks I see small Ugandan houses. Huts. Children playing. Men riding their bodas (motorcylces). A bustling Ugandan Sunday.
* * *
The high school Sunday service is held outside in a covered auditorium like area right across from the classrooms. The music has already started. I see instruments. Children are singing and leading the worship service. This is Musana’s high school. Most of the kids attend the school as boarding students. This means they live — eat, sleep and attend school — there. They’re dressed so nicely in their uniforms this morning. Skirts, pants, t-shirts, sweaters. These children are put together. They are not staring at their phones or complaining of boredom. These children don’t have cell phones. They rarely complain, if ever. And boredom? This is their life. This is their Sunday. Not to mention, the Americans are here and the kids are ready to watch us make fools of ourselves as Haril, one of the founders of Musana, tells each of us that we’ll need to be introduced via a dance move of our choosing. We’ll then announce our name and what we’re doing there.
I cannot dance! I think to myself.
But when it’s my turn I do a little dance towards the center of the stage area where Haril is standing with a microphone and as Moses, one of the original Musana boys, plays a fun tune on the drums and the music blasts over the loud speaker. This is so awkward I think as I take the microphone from Haril. But what is a trip to Africa without leaving your comfort zone? And it made the kids laugh, my team laugh, and I even laughed at myself. You must laugh at yourself every once in a while.
Hi everyone! I’m Jennifer. I’m a nurse. This is my second time visiting you here in Uganda. We love you very much and I am so thankful to get to come back to Musana for a second year.
The message is good this morning. The pastor speaks in a heavy Ugandan accent but if I listen closely enough I can make out just about every word. The music touches my heart more than the message, but I’ve always been one who loves worship music. I look around and I see the kids singing. Some with their eyes closed. Some flipping through their torn bibles as they sing. This is why I came here.
It will change your life when you see other people of other races, cultures and countries worship the same God with such reverence. It brings me to tears every time. I reach up and touch my face to ensure my sunglasses are still on. They are. I don’t like tearing up in public.
The church services in Africa run long. 2 hours? 3 hours? Worship, message, worship, tithing, prayer requests, worship.
Our team says our goodbyes and heads out. It will be a busy day today.