Tag Archives: challenges

2011: The year of learning

I just said goodbye to the hardest year of my life so far…


I know that doesn’t mean much, considering I’m actually only 26 and have lived a pretty cruisy life by world standards.

But this year has been really tough. For a thousand different reasons. There are lots of other more positive adjectives though too, like rewarding, fulfilling, exciting, adventurous, unexpected, validating, and of course…learning. Learning, learning and more learning.

It’s a funny thing, how you learn a lot, develop your character and get over yourself a little bit when life is challenging and you get out of your comfort zone…

Even Paul from the early church agrees with me: ‘We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling short changed. Quite the contrary – we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.’ (The message)

I have learnt so much this year. Sometimes I wish I could go back and visit myself, that naive girl at the start of the year, and tell her that it all works out ok. That things will be difficult but that through all the hard stuff, I ended up learning what I needed to learn, to be able to live in Kamwenge…

So how am I different from last year at New Years?

I’ve learnt about moving to another place. I’ve learnt…

How to say goodbye to some of my closest friends and still remain involved in their lives

How to live apart from my family

How to open my house for inspection and rent it out…

How to move my entire life to another part of the world

I’ve learnt about how to live in Kamwenge. I’ve learnt:

How to speak (a little bit) in another language

How to make friends in another culture so different from my own

How to cook using only food available in Kamwenge, including Uganda’s famous Matooke dish

How to use a cigiri (a traditional charcoal stove)

How to wash clothes by hand at a break neck pace

How to bargain so that I don’t get mzungu prices all the time

How to live without a fridge (something I’m still working on…)

How to light a Kerosene lamp

I’ve learnt a lot about running an organisation. I’ve learnt:

How to manoeuvre through a million bureaucratic-red-tape-scenarios

A LOT about construction, materials, and all sorts of building-related things.

How to manage staff with Michael (10 at last count…!)

How to work with the police to arrest someone who is stealing from you

How to conduct job interviews and board meetings

How to import a shipping container

How to use Quickbooks, manage finances, sort out legal issues, and put on a great event…

How to avoid paying bribes (although I certainly don’t have a 100% success rate with this one!)

I’ve learnt some extra bits and pieces that have made life easier. I’ve learnt:

How to grow cassava, matooke, zuchinni, garlic and a whole bunch of other food

How to drive a massive old hilux ute –reluctantly, even on Kampala’s chaotic streets.

How to pick milk from the dairy, boil it, and scrape the cream off the top for later

How to work 9-5 with my husband and still have a great marriage

How to (begin) writing a thesis – including all sorts of useful stuff about methodology, field research and ethics, things I use to have no idea about.

How to enjoy cold water showers!

How to LET GO of my drive for efficiency, timelines and plans and embrace ‘community’…


It’s been a big year. Here’s hoping next year is a little more chilled…


Although I have enjoyed the ride immensely, it has been a tough few months, since we arrived in Uganda. Michael and I went away last week to south west Uganda for a much needed break. We went back to the lake where Michael proposed to me on a canoe at sunrise, almost exactly 3 years ago. This time away offered us a time to reflect on what’s been happening  over the past few months.  It also made me realise that I am exhausted. Since this blog is supposed to be an honest account of my life in Uganda, I thought I would share with you some of my reflections and struggles, just in case you were thinking life over here just sounded like one beautifully exotic national geographic article!

I won’t bore you with all the gritty, ridiculous details of the frustrations and struggles that are (mostly) behind us, but here’s a snapshot:

  • Obviously leaving Australia was tough – we miss our families and close friends in Australia an awful lot, and are still getting used to conducting a lot of our relationships over an incredible spanse of land and ocean!
  • The registrations processes for setting up an NGO/clinic/organisation have been incredibly frustrating. I have never spent so much of my time listening to ‘big men’ behind big desks in big offices telling me why they could not possibly sign this or that letter/form/recommendation right now because we obviously had not satisfied ‘abc’ requirements (that cannot be found written anywhere…)
  • Life in Uganda just isn’t life in Uganda without a good land dispute. One of the borders of our land was a point of contention and of course to clear up the ambiguity, we had to involve village leaders, what felt like half the Kamwenge community, and the family that had held the land for generations. It is now resolved.
  • A thousand visits to the work visa office
  • frustrations with electricity being off 50% of the time for a few months, and having to humbly (read: enviously) ask the staff at the World Vision compound next door if they would please let us charge our laptops with their new generator that runs constantly when the power is out
  • The difficulty of learning construction in another country and trying (seemingly much more than other foreign NGOs) to build cheaply, which basically means doing what every Ugandan does: bargaining for and being responsible for sourcing every last bit of construction material ourselves.
  • Experiencing the unavoidable reality of corruption in Uganda: being ripped off and having money stolen from us by lawyers and pubic servants. It sucks. I have decided my least favourite thing in the world is corruption.
  • Making decisions around planning and building our house; trying to maintain the delicate balance between trying to live as much like Ugandans as possible while also being aware of our limitations in this.
  • Problems with funding coming on time, and when we especially need it…

Don’t get me wrong – I love life in Uganda and I feel so privileged to be a part of Maranatha Health and I would never choose to live anywhere else right now. Life is exciting and fulfilling and shapes me more into who I want to be. But we are bracing ourselves as we realise that the challenges so far are a foretaste of the mountains ahead, as we move into the operational stage of MH – managing staff, launching governance structures, carrying out activities, ensuring good procedures, and coming across more ‘set up’ requirements. It can be overwhelming and the other day my husband in his incredible wisdom reminded me of a guy who knows exactly how I feel (this is VERY paraphrased for simplicities sake):

‘Suddenly, God appeared to Moses as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames but it didn’t burn up.

God called to him from the bush and Moses replied: ‘Here I am’

God then says: I am the God of your ancestors, and I’ve heard the suffering of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries and I will deliver them from slavery. So, I’m sending YOU to Pharoah to ask for the freedom of my people. You will lead them.

To which Moses replies: But who am I to do this? Do you really expect me to lead the Isrealites?

God replies again and again: I will be with you. You can do it. I have called you to this. I will give you the words. This is important … etc…

The dialogue continues pretty much like this, with Moses continuing to protest and God continuing to say he will be with Moses and speak through him. Moses protests: They won’t believe me. They won’t listen. Who am I to do this? I’m just not a good speaker. I fumble my words. Basically – I’ll screw it up.

And in a final plea: ‘Lord, please send someone else.’

As most of you would know, Moses does end up being pretty suited for the role God asks him to play…


God is clearly very interested in redeeming life and fighting poverty in Kamenge. Michael and I are constantly aware of His intention and vision and action in this little ‘idea’ he gave us.*

But over the course of the past week, I feel as if over and over  again, I have had this same conversation with God as Moses did. Why me? Why do you think I can actually do this? Am I even remotely capable of this?

Lord, please send someone else.

But alas, I am unable to shake the feeling that I was made for this. That every event in my life up until now has been about shaping and preparing me for living the life that I’m now in. So what’s left for me to do?  Chill out. Enjoy the ride. Keep my eyes on the horizon. And remember that God was the instigator of this vision. As clichéd as it all sounds, it works for me. Here’s something I wrote in my journal on the island:

“There is a big part of me that’s scared about this next part of the journey. I’m not sure quite what to tell her, the little girl in me that is wondering if she can really move to Kamwenge and Direct this project. I don’t have any proof to offer her- she hasn’t done this before. I don’t have any guarantee of her safety or success – it could all fail miserably. I don’t even have a road map for her to follow – just a set of principles that Michael and I have decided to live by and a God who feels strangely familiar and unfamiliar, both far away but somehow involved in allowing this girl inside of me to be courageous (or perhaps just remain silent) while I make the decision to live this life that He has called me to.”

*I am in no way comparing myself or the task set before us as ANYTHING like the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. I am just saying that I can relate to his reaction!!

The island where we stayed - a place of magnificent tranquillity...