Saturday, August 29, 2015


You’re probably thinking, “uh, yes, Stuart, that is indeed a cake.”

But, you see, it’s not just any cake. It’s my first cake from scratch. You’d think that with all the cooking I do, this milestone would have been reached a long time ago. But it wasn’t. Growing up, I always heard how difficult it was to make a cake from scratch (or at least not worth it when boxed mixes were readily available). However, I’ve been spoiled by those around me baking their cakes from scratch, which means I realized that there’s an additional component to the boxed cake mix flavor profile: chemical.

So, what to do? Conquer those fears and learn how to do it! Oh, and sign up to bake the cake for a coworker’s retirement party, because a one-and-a-half week deadline tends to motivate me quite well. He requested a white cake with chocolate frosting. So, a white cake it is.

Of course, I go to my first reference, The Joy of Cooking, and open to Cakes and Cupcakes. What I love about this cookbook is the About [insert category name of what you are cooking] lessons before the recipes in each section. In this case, it’s five pages. Oh, dear. Now I’m really getting worried. Oh, but at least there are two more pages of About High-Altitude Cake Baking, which is good, because living at 4700 feet above sea level puts me in that category. But then it starts with, “Cakes baked at high altitudes are subject to pixielike variations that often defy general rules. … The only real rule is, alas, that there is no rule.” and I begin to think I’m doomed again. But, and here’s another reason I love The Joy, there follows a collection of the sea-level recipes modified for high altitude cooking, complete with modifications for 5000, 7000, and 10,000 feet.

Anyroad, above you see that my High-Altitude Two-Egg Cake from last weekend wasn’t a complete and utter disaster as I feared. In fact, I’d even venture to say that it was a complete and utter success. My experimental test subjects fellow church members at Sunday potluck seem to have agreed. Yay! Cake baking fears banished! Press on to baking tasty things!

Monday, May 18, 2015


Sometimes there are advantages to an early drive to work, and this morning was no exception.

It’s been rainy the last week or so, and this weekend the weather was such that the temperatures dropped a bit as well. Not by much, but enough that the rain here on the plain was snow in the mountain peaks. That, combined with the perfect break in the clouds at sunrise, provided a glorious pink/orange hue cast upon the mountain peaks to the north and west.

It’s one of those sights that I love about this place. Some say the Snake River Plain is desolate and boring. I find it beautiful. It’s actually the second time that’s hit me in the last week, oddly both related to rain, something we don’t actually get much of around here except at this time of year. That was last week when I stepped out of the building at work, on my way home, and was greeted by the aroma of sage immediately after a rainstorm. Perhaps beautiful isn’t the best way to describe a scent, but I think you get the idea.

A couple of wonderful scenes in the orchestra of God’s creation.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Spring Arrives

There were already the signs of spring here when I returned three weeks ago, but this week they really broke out in full. Or, in some cases, I finally saw them.

It was yesterday when I came home from work that I saw the first blossom on the plum trees. It turns out that this other tree, which receives more sunlight, had a head start. This morning, the blossoms were bursting forth in abundance.

And the non-tree flowers are in bloom, as well.

Even the raspberries joined in the show, putting their first leaves on.

And, finally, the chickens started laying while I was gone. By now, they’re up to full production again.
It’s funny - I’ve only had chickens for three years now, but they’ve become such a normal part of life. The sounds, the sights, the routine of watering and feeding them, and especially their eggs. It would be strange to not have chickens…

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Few Final Photos

For descriptiveness’s sake, here are a few final photos.

Since the entry on the Nakaale church didn’t have a photo, here’s one to give you a better idea of what I was writing. Notice the awesome church bell made from a plow disk hanging from the tree at the right. Ingenuity at work!


This tree on the main compound was blooming the entire time I was there and it seemed to get prettier each day.


My room was on the main compound. Pretty simple, but that was fine by me. The building with the toilet and shower are just barely visible to the left. The wardrobe shelves look bare because I forgot to take photos until I had already begun packing. OK, so there were a lot of things that didn’t come to mind until I was almost gone…



Finally, here’s a group photo after my last Wednesday night Bible study.


Sunday Hike

Finally, with a repaired flash card reader, I present photos from the Sunday, 08 March, hike!

Jim, Joshua, and I took an afternoon hike up one of the rocky points near the clinic between Sunday church services. From this point, we could see four districts, each with their own mountain, although Mt. Moroto was only barely visible through the haze and required some imagination to see the outline (which is why I have no photo of it here).

Here’s a few photos to get the idea (as usual, all can be expanded by clicking on them). The full album is available here.




Around Here

On Wednesday afternoon, Christopher, Taryn, and I went to Namalu for the weekly market day. I hadn’t yet made time to go, and so the day just before leaving the country was my last option. Great planning, huh? ;) I did manage to find a couple of blankets that I liked, as well as a good example of the local footwear - tire sandals. Good items for show and tell. :) The market pretty much lines the street in the center of town. The photos here also show a bit of the more permanent set-ups.



On the way down country to Entebbe on Thursday, we encountered a herd of cows in the road. Not your everyday event at home, right? You pretty much drive really slowly through the herd, it seems.


Also on the way down, I was reminded of one of my observations from the first day in-country: how direct the advertising is. A perfect example is this beer billboard by the side of the road. Instead of implying that the beer is a good value, which is what I’m accustomed to, they come right out and tell you that it is.


On the flight over the Atlantic, the flight attendants had us close our window shades after crossing over the northern British Isles, I suppose so people could sleep if they wanted. Thankfully I looked up at the flight tracker in time to realize we were crossing over the southern tip of Greenland. I’m glad I did. It’s kind of crazy to think that I went from seeing banana trees to the Arctic in less than 24 hours.




Let’s say you’re working on a vehicle and you discover you need a special tool to complete the job properly. What to do? Well, in the States you go to the store and buy it. Or, if it’s a really special tool, you buy it online and get it that week. However, that’s not an option in Karamoja. That nearest store might be in the States. Or, if you order it online, it’s going to take weeks and a hefty shipping charge to arrive to a town hours away.

So, here’s what I did: I made my own. I’d never done shielded metal arc welding (colloquially known as “stick welding”) before. Four years ago I made of few beads on a plate using a wire feed arc welder, but that’s it. So, I took a morning and taught myself enough to get the job done, with help from an online photo tutorial. Not pretty, but functional, and the welds got better (read “not as many burn-throughs”) as I continued needing to make things. It beats the local mechanics who would be wailing on it with hammers. There’s a phrase for that: Jua Kali, literally meaning “fierce sun”, but would be akin to our “shade tree mechanic”, with the strong implication of a short-term solution done poorly, often creating more problems in the process. It pays to be your own mechanic! So, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, here are the details.

[Read more…]

If Home Is Where the Heart Is

AKA: The Entry I Didn’t Think I’d Be Writing

How can it be possible that I’ve only been here for a month? Or how did the month go so quickly? Yes, it’s a strange mixture. Bear with me if you can; things are connected.

On the one hand, I just got here, but it feels like it’s been ages since leaving the States. The routine definitely contributes to that. It’s a five and a half day work week, punctuated by the Sabbath on Sunday. The strong missionary community also contributes to it. If you want to be a loner, this isn’t the place. When your close community is composed of five families and four singles and you interact with them every day, not once a week, you build relationships more quickly. Yes, of course I long for those back home. I miss those relationships dearly and I’ve treasured the simple conversations held by e-mail. But to have what has felt a second home - that I never anticipated.

On the other hand, I just got here and it feels like I’m leaving so soon. Which is very true. It really only has been a month. And a month wasn’t nearly long enough.

Which brings me to the title of the post. I never anticipated that I’d fall in love with Karamoja this much. Whenever I’ve moved, the new location pretty quickly comes to be home. Home isn’t where I grew up or where I used to live. Home is where I live. I’ve never before had the experience of visiting a place and thinking of it as home, especially a place to which I had never been and about which I knew very little. But so it is.

There’s the aspect of the basic functions of life here, too. There’s so much uncertainty amidst the known. Sure, I may have plans for the day, but far more often than I’m accustomed, those plans fall apart. I really have no option but to place my reliance upon God and His promises. It’s something that should be no different based on the location, but here you must. So much is out of my comfort zone, but His grace abounds. He has granted confidence to me like I’ve never experienced before, yet I didn’t realize it until my departure began looming. To not be confident in His plans as better than my own would result in frustration. And that’s hard for this engineer who likes to plan things in detail. It’s something that both worries me and serves as hope for my return - that I would continue to put my plans in perspective. I know God uses trials to form us, but in this case it feels like He’s using a gift to do so. A gift He intends me to carry home with me.

Going, my expectations were few; I wanted to start figuring out how I could use my background/skills as a missionary. He did more than that. It’s hard to describe the joy I’ve felt, but after eight years of feeling that particular missionary call, and then to actually be doing it is simply wonderful. It’s that feeling of “this is what I was made for”.

There’s a vulnerability in going somewhere completely unfamiliar. Typically, I close up when overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. But that didn’t happen. Rather the opposite, actually, and that caught me off guard. What might have been overwhelming became comfortable, and it wasn’t a conscious effort on my part. It’s like He set me up to show that He provides in ways far exceeding what I would ever imagine. And He provided more than confidence, more than joy in the work, and more than being open to the unfamiliar. And this is the part of the entry that was never even a possibility in my mind. Why should it have been? Who in their right mind expects to travel two continents away, for only a month, and find someone with whom he shares so much? Especially me, the guy who is quite particular. And for the feeling to be reciprocated. I couldn’t imagine such things a month ago, yet here I find Taryn and me deciding to date. So, there, it’s public. I can be as dense as a brick at times, and this is no exception; apparently everybody else at the mission saw it before I really realized it myself. We’re going to have to figure out how this long-distance relationship is going to work, but knowing that we have so much support is a blessing and reassurance. If this is meant to be, as we believe it is, those challenges become what I like to call “just details”. Even to hear myself say that reminds me of the work God has wrought in me over the last month - forming me to trust in Him. So if home is where the heart is, that makes two homes here on earth for this one heart.

Note: While this entry was technically written after I had already left Uganda (on the flights), the topic has been heavy on my mind for the last few days, so that’s why it’s written as if I haven’t yet left. Indeed, a big part of my heart hasn’t left.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Going to School

In another chapter of “finding out what else the mission does”, I took my last day, Wednesday, to attend with Taryn Dieckmann both the Nakaale primary school and the preschool. Both works are part of the Karamoja Education Outreach (KEO). By the end of Tuesday I was able to wrap up my normal work, so it was a nice conclusion.

Primary School

The Nakaale Primary School is one of the government-run schools. For a couple of hours in the morning, KEO teachers help teach lessons and train the teachers. Classes may not be quite what you are accustomed to - light is provided by what comes through the windows, the buildings are brick/concrete and topped with corrugated steel, and the chalkboards are smooth, dark concrete embedded in the wall. Well, smooth assuming they aren’t damaged and full of pock marks. Class sizes vary widely, with P5 having about 15 students and P1 having more than I could count. The P5 lesson that I observed involved using Bible stories to build literacy, particularly vocabulary. The lessons involve both English, as the official language of Uganda, and ŋaKarimojoŋ, the local language.

For reference, here’s a couple of photos of the school (thanks to Taryn, since I totally forgot to take photos while I was there, even though I had my camera).




KEO also runs a preschool next to the clinic. When I think of preschools, I think of very young children, but that’s not always the case. You’ll find that where someone is at in the school system really depends on at what age they started. If a child is kept at home to help take care of siblings, they may be starting school later than others, so students studying the same subjects may be of different age ranges but similar capabilities.

Since I went to the primary school first, it was getting towards the end of the preschool day, which is only held in the morning, by the time we arrived. I got to observe the last bit of the teaching rotation, especially the “top class” which was practicing their writing. Then we broke into “free time”, when the teachers get out picture books and discuss them with the students. Here’s a photo of me holding a book on oceans. It turned out be be a bit complicated, so we switched to a book of African wildlife as we discussed the names for local animals and the differences between a few of them. Yeah, that’s about the limit of my teaching capability in this context. Thanks to Erika for taking the photo without my knowledge. :)


We closed the day with singing and dismissal. I didn’t know the words, so I just hummed the tunes and clapped as I picked them up. :)

I’ve always had mixed feelings about preschool. But here it definitely has a place. Consider the difference between maybe eight students per teacher, in a very nurturing environment, at the preschool and the dozens of students in the P1 level (the entry class) at the primary school. The interaction and attention levels are vastly different. So too are the students’ interest. For example, during free time at the preschool, some of the students wanted to continue to practice their writing on the chalkboards. And that’s an option. How you could I not smile at that request? Sometimes joy is found in the little things. These students will enter P1 far more prepared than their counterparts who did not have that preschool preparation.

Oh, and I have to admit, it was fun spending a morning with a whole bunch of excited kids. :)

Akuyam Bible Study

Last Thursday (the 19th), I had the opportunity to head out to one of the local villages, Akuyam, for the weekly Bible study there. Akuyam is about a half an hour walk north of Nakaale and is one of the more spread-out villages.

The studies are prepared by the pastors, translated to ŋaKarimojoŋ, and then presented by teachers. There’s a significant advantage to having local teachers present the lessons - language familiarity. For this study, Lokeris was leading. Typically, one of the pastors attends, but on this particular day both were engaged in other church business, so Pastor Al gave me a copy in both English and ŋaKarimojoŋ so that I could follow along a bit more easily.

Akuyam, being rather spread out, actually has two studies in the afternoon, back to back in different locations, both held in the shade of trees. For those who can read, a copy of the lesson is provided and attendees are occasionally asked to read a particular paragraph. At the end of the passage, there is the “lesson” portion, where the discussion really happens, followed by a memory verse.

The first lesson was primarily attended by men, whereas the second was primarily attended by children and mothers. Even though I couldn’t understand the bulk of the lesson, except where I could follow along in my copy, I could still tell where Lokeris was interacting differently with the two groups, just as you’d expect. Overall, I like the format and how well it integrates with the mission work as a whole. This week covered Saul and Barnabas and the lesson included an explanation of how the missionaries on the field in Karamoja are following in their footsteps.

On the way out and back, I had the chance to get a better sense of the area, as well. The route crosses a river, which now at the very end of the dry season is completely dry. But in the rainy season, I learned that it is chest-high and full of moving debris like logs, making it impassible from the bank I stood on taking this photo to the far bank (the trees with the green grass around them end up in the middle of the river). So, instead of a half-hour walk, it’s a much longer walk around via the road, which has a bridge. Such are the challenges of “footing it”.


It was nice to get out and see more of the mission work, particularly the teaching aspects. I’d been spending pretty much all my time within the compound, since that’s where my work was.