A Christmas in Uganda

Twas the night before Christmas in our Uganda house,

And everyone is sweating including the mouse.

The heat’s quite oppressive in this holiday drought.

The fans would be turning but the electricity is out.

The children are sleeping, or pretending to be,

Dreaming of morning and the presents they’ll see.

I work on a bike, carefully tightening a spoke,

Even knowing as I do, in a week it’ll be broke.

Then I hear a great racket and jump up to see,

What wonder or miracle it might happen to be.

Could it be Santa with gifts in his sack?

No, it’s just our guard snoring, sleeping out back.

Then a bang and a rattle, something flies through the air.

I rub both my eyes not believing what’s there.

It’s a flying taxi van all decked out in lights,

Pulled by seven Marabou storks in red and green tights.

The sight is so appalling that I let out a scream,

And awaken myself from this yuletidish, nightmarish dream.

I drag out of bed and to the living room go,

Thinking, Christmas in Uganda is not what I used to know.

Our tree’s artificial, a white Christmas, only dreams.

And Santa’s sleigh’s been delayed at the post office it seems.

No fireplace for stockings so by the window they sway.

We play Christmas music and think of loved ones far away.

So many differences, Christmas doesn’t feel quite right,

And yet the core essentials are the same this holy night.

God’s love still abounds, and the victory’s still won.                                   

Our hope is still found in the giving of His Son.

So let our hearts rejoice and our voices ring.

May we sing with the angels, for the coming of our King.

Wherever we may be over all this wide earth,

Let us cling to Christ our King and celebrate His birth.

(by Bob Peterson)

An American Thanksgiving Tradition in Uganda

Thanksgiving in Uganda, you say? Cultures collide once more. Living in a country not your own means the opportunity to adopt new traditions, but having a taste of your past traditions can also bring some comfort in the absence of normal, or at least what was once normal.

Recreating your home country traditions in a place where you may not be able to access the normal products can be challenging. Perhaps you are accustomed to a particular brand of candied yams or always bought a Butterball turkey. Relying on the readily accessible now becomes a challenge. Those products are simply not available. Culture shock may settle once more as you seek to recreate the same tasty experience for you and your family. Missing loved ones that you normally share this time with only compounds the experience for some. One’s values are certainly challenged as you consider what is truly important.

But opportunity abounds. Creativity calls. Or perhaps advance planning prevails. Bringing some of those products with you in your suitcase could certainly help in recreating that perfect dining experience. More than likely, some of those have already been consumed on previous occasions. Maybe you received a CARE package with some of those items you are missing. For us, the packages were few and far between. Postage is just so expensive to send something to Uganda from the states.

For me, the search was on. Could one even find a real turkey in Uganda? Yes! They are there for the committed researcher, always with a promise of a nice fat, big turkey underneath all of those feathers and worth every penny. Not only that but they were range free, grass fed turkeys left to forage to its heart’s content. Hmmm. Looks can be deceiving and the purchase of the perfect turkey might just be more challenging than the seller is advertising. But! I found one! The purchase is made. The seller will even kill it and remove the feathers! We are in business!

Next? More research. How to prepare a turkey, essentially a wild turkey, in Uganda so that it is perfectly baked with its juicy interior preserved? For someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy cooking, this is an extra challenge. I had never heard of using a brine in advance to help tenderize a wild bird. Another education to experience. My best advice came from fellow missionaries who had already experimented and perfected the technique. Of course, the turkey arrives with most of the feathers removed and far smaller than I was lead to believe. But! It’s still a turkey. I must admit that my turkey never looked like the perfection in the photo above or even close to my seasoned missionary colleagues. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. (Perhaps I should have just gone with chicken.)

Of course, this is just the turkey! Still so many other items on the menu to figure out how to replicate. Pumpkins are readily available, so pumpkin pie will be easy, I “think.” You can buy canned green beans or buy fresh ones. Of course, I prefer French cut, so that will become labor intensive compared to the canned ones I bought back home. Potatoes. Check! No worries over that one. Plenty of “Irish” potatoes in the market. Now the traditional family fruit salad may not happen, but we have tropical fruits galore. A new fruit salad will simply have to be born in its place! So many items to consider.

I don’t know about you, but recreating something in a foreign culture with different ingredients can be challenging. It can also be fun! Inviting in some of our national friends to help us with the challenge and then sharing in its abundance together is rewarding. Uganda with its own cultures and traditions met these Americans with new culture and traditions. What are your non-negotiables for your Thanksgiving holiday regardless of the culture you are in? Is it people and sharing together? After all, preparing all of that food wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding if there were no one to share it with!

One of the things I realized in my quest to recreate the perfect Thanksgiving meal for my friends is the reminder that it really isn’t about the food. Thanksgiving is about being grateful and remembering. This is something God asked the Israelites to do over and over again throughout history. Hold festivals to remember and to celebrate with your friends and family. We would do well to follow this tradition wherever we go and whatever culture we live in.

So on this Thanksgiving day as I remember the years we spent trying to recreate our Thanksgiving traditions in a different culture, yes, Uganda, I am grateful for those who experienced them with us and shared in the abundance together. And I am grateful for all of my friends and family wherever God has brought them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Reverse Culture Shock … It’s A Real Thing

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Reverse culture shock is no laughing matter. Well, perhaps, but it is also serious.  It can occur without notice and blindside the most seasoned missionary. Perhaps it is trying to get in the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road, or maybe it’s using an expression that no one understands here in the United States.  Maybe it’s being overwhelmed at a grocery store because there are just.too.many.choices!  Supposed you were living in a war-torn nation, the sound of target practice by nearby hunters can suddenly be alarming. For me, sometimes it’s realizing that I am talking with my eyebrows and all of a sudden I become self-conscious.  (Normally no one notices, or perhaps they are extending me grace by not saying anything, but I notice.)

Some say that the longer you are on the field, the longer it takes for reverse culture shock to disappear. Some say it takes one to three years. Still others say it depends upon how enculturated you were in the foreign culture you were serving in. Some folks even claim it takes just as many years as you were on the field to fully transition and reverse culture shock to completely leave. But truly, it is completely unique to the individual. While people make predictions of how it will go, the life of the missionary themselves must face each challenge as it surfaces.

At the heart of reverse culture shock is the reminder that you are no longer in the place that you call home, your new home which is not in the United States or wherever you were “from.”  You are suddenly very aware that you are no longer “there.”  It is as if your physical self has arrived but somehow your soul has not quite caught up with your body yet.  So strange to feel like a stranger in your own home country.

I remember as if it were yesterday when we arrived in the Atlanta airport. I rushed to the rest room as quickly as I could because I did not want to hold up the family who was ready to go through immigration and get our bags as quickly as possible. I take care of business and try to wash my hands and think, ”Where is the soap? Oh, in this pretty dispenser right next to the faucet embedded in the countertop. How nice. Okay. Got the soap. But, how do you turn on the faucet?  There is no handle! Hmmm … this must be automatic. Surely, I can figure this out. I wave my hand here and there. No water. I wave it again in another location. Next to me someone quickly goes to the sink, gets their soap and I observe as they just stick their hands under the faucet and the water rushes over their hands. Oh! That looks easy, as I pretend that I have not been trying to make the faucet go all this time. I put my hands underneath. Nothing. Phooey! I move them around and still nothing. Man, am I feeling dumbfounded.  My family must be getting impatient out there waiting on me. If I did not have my hands full of the soap, I would just leave … well, so I give in. The next person who comes to use the sink, I simply ask for help and she is kind.  She just moves my hands to where the water begins. I guess I just needed to hold my hands still longer for the water to begin.  I am feeling silly now. That was so easy. Well, yeah, easy once you know what to do! Reverse culture shock. I was in my own country but things were not as I was used to anymore.  In fact, things had changed over the last decade quite a bit.

To define reverse culture shock, or re-entry as some people coin it, is simply this: it is the process of returning home and feeling disoriented, out of place. It no longer feels fully home. Isolation, depression and hopelessness are common. The book Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back Home After Serving Cross-culturally by Melissa Chaplin is a guided conversation and workbook to help missionaries work individually at their own pace on tackling reverse culture shock and all that re-entry brings. I highly recommend that you gift your returning missionary with a copy. If they take the time to work through it, they will definitely thank you since it will help guide them through their reverse culture shock immensely.

You see, reverse culture shock goes deeper than just certain physical actions and reactions that manifest themselves. It affects the emotional and psychological well-being as well as even cultural implications. You see, adjusting back to American life can be difficult. You no longer value things the same way you once did. You may even have negative feelings toward your own country for a time. You find yourself longing to be back where you were, homesick even for what was – for what you have become accustomed to.

Sometimes it is the expectation, or lack thereof, that catches one off guard when reverse culture shock hits. Keeping in mind and just having the knowledge of its existence can help stave off some of its ill effects. Having good closure at the place you are leaving is extremely important. This involves saying goodbye to friends and favorite places. If this was not possible, it is a good idea to find someone to talk through this with.  Personal debriefing may be helpful and/or seeing a counselor.

Another way to elude deep impact from reverse culture shock is to avoid the comparison game. It can be easy to be critical of your home country. If you are constantly comparing your home culture to the old culture, you are only adding insult to injury. The truth is that each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like apples and oranges. There is no real comparison, so it is best to just enjoy each culture all on its own. Over time, your critical spirit will dissipate as you reintegrate and reverse culture shock fades. But it does take time, so give yourself grace.

When family and friends do not understand what reverse culture shock is or much of your cross-cultural experience, it can be isolating even further. That is why it is important to process your thoughts and feelings with someone who does have some knowledge and cross-cultural experience themselves. It is key to share with someone who has been there, who understands and can normalize your symptoms. Because it “is” normal. You “will” come out on the other end. There “is” a light at the end of the reverse culture shock tunnel. You can and will reintegrate back into your home country when it is time. I encourage you, brother and sister, reverse culture shock is a temporary condition.  It will pass and know you are not alone.

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What are Your Eyebrows Saying?

One of the things that I didn’t expect when moving to a new culture was just how easily I would adapt to certain aspects and sometimes without even realizing it.  For instance, I thought body language was pretty universal. But now, when indicating for someone to come, I don’t just use my pointer finger. I understand that you can use all four fingers to communicate that and your hand is positioned differently.

One day my daughter suddenly pointed to something in the kitchen with her lips. Yes, with her lips! I was surprised but then realized that both of her hands were busy. How else do you point if your hands are full? A nod of the head is a little too unspecific, but now using your lips and your head in the direction of the item … well, it is much easier to see what one is pointing at! Try it!

It’s actually a real thing!  In fact, www.semanticsscholar.org defines it this way:  “‘Lippointing‘ is a widespread but little-documented form of deictic gesture, which may involve not just protruding one or both lips, but also raising the head, sticking out the chin, lifting the eyebrows, among other things.”  It is so much more involved than just pursing your lips!

When I came back to America for a visit, I also realized that I was using my eyebrows as a primary form of non-verbal communication. I am not sure if my American friends noticed, but I would respond to them by raising my eyebrows.  (I guess they would have noticed if they actually looked at me in the face long enough, but this isn’t really culturally appropriate there.)  I think I most often use my eyebrows as I drive down the road or in a conversation. Ugandans often look at me in the face even when I am driving and I somehow don’t notice them soon enough. I have just enough time to respond with a lifting of my eyebrows to acknowledge and greet them briefly. My hands are busy on the steering wheel and it is just easier! Raising your eyebrows can be an acknowledgement like that or it can be made in agreement during a conversation. It shows you are engaged and listening. It really is a great skill to acquire!

If you read about ‘eyebrow raising’ on the internet, psychology websites claim that it is a universally unconscious acknowledgement of someone from a distance wherein one is possibly preparing for social interaction.  Perhaps you do this without knowing it yourself.   Simply put, it says, “Hey, there!”   Some even claim it means other things like, “I’m surprised to see you.”  Or perhaps it’s a fear reaction like, “I’m intimidated by you.”

There are likely other nonverbal communication responses that I haven’t even realized yet that I am doing.  Think about it.  We do them all the time and it helps us understand one another more thoroughly as we communicate.  Have I made you feel self-conscious yet?  Pay attention as you converse with others and see just what expressions do you do that complement your verbal communication?

But if you see me and I “greet” you with my eyebrows or say “yes” in agreement while you are speaking to me, now you know what my eyebrows are saying to you!  Give it a try!!! You might just pick up the habit, too!

A New Perspective on Time

Before I moved to Uganda, I didn’t really “get” (what seemed like to this ignorant American anyways), the seeming disregard for ‘keeping time.’ What I have come to understand, at least in part, is that it is not so much a disregard for time as it is a cherishing of relationship. People and relationships are extremely important and play a key role in just about every decision made in life. Whoever is before you is priority!

For instance, it’s not so much that church starts promptly at 10 am as it is that it starts when the PEOPLE arrive … the drums may start “calling” everyone at 10 am, but if the people aren’t there until 10:30 or 11 am, then church doesn’t necessarily start until 10:30 or 11 am. This is especially true in the village, even today.

This also means that if you are on your way to somewhere and you happen to cross paths with a friend … well, you stop and greet that friend! Just because you only have 5 minutes left to get to your next appointment doesn’t mean that you don’t stop and greet! Remember – it’s the relationship that is key.

One cannot simply say ‘hi’ and move away without further conversation. After all, how is their family? How is “there?” So much more to know and appreciate about one another than a simple, “Hi.” It takes time to ask, listen and acknowledge. Then you give time for them to also ask, listen and acknowledge. One cannot simply do that in a few minutes if you see one another on your way to your next appointment! One must stop and cherish the other person or risk being rude.

So friendly!

It was also extremely helpful to give me a little perspective when a local friend pointed out something. “You know, it’s 3 o’clock until it’s 4 o’clock!” Think about that. It’s actually 3 o’clock until 3:59 is over … whoa! It’s 3 o’clock for 59 minutes! That was revolutionary and helped me to relax a bit on expecting on-the-dot timing. I was able to realize something new!

Once again, the western influence of ‘time keeping’ has had a large influence on the culture here, especially in towns and larger cities. You can see it as they adapt to on-the-dot time keeping for appointments’ sake. But the value of relationships carries on!!! And Ugandan culture is no where near what my own culture has taught me about keeping time. Definitely a lesson being learned here by me … and I hope that I can grasp it by putting it into a practice that becomes a habit.

While time is important, relationships are far more meaningful to cultivate. A new perspective could perhaps benefit us all. Slowing down enough to visit with a friend may be just what we need. And perhaps allowing this new perspective on time can help us not to be so stressed out with our schedules. Think about it.

Uganda English … Uglish

Before we moved to Uganda, I didn’t realize a nation in Africa would call one of their main national languages “English.” I just didn’t know! But in Uganda, just about anyone who has been to school knows English, at least to some degree. And English is considered one of the national languages here.

It is not unusual to see Ugandans walking down the street speaking English to one another even though they may know another African language.
English is required in school here, especially after a few years of the primary grades. Secondary school students are supposed to only speak English to one another and all teaching is received in English. So it is easy to understand why everyone speaks English that has gone to school.

If there is a group gathering, there is often interpretation in English and not just because foreigners might be present. There are many, many languages in Uganda (in our area one of the primary ones is Luganda) but the common language throughout the country is still English with Swahili more prevalent in some areas. Where we live, Luganda is the more prevalent language. However, the deeper you are in the village, the less English you will find (same within the islands of Lake Victoria) as less people have completed secondary school education.

If someone has not gone to school (or perhaps only had a few years in primary school), they might not know English. But nowadays (especially the nearer they are to bigger towns and cities) one need not go too far before finding someone that does speak English here. As an American, this has made communicating easier for me overall. But here in Uganda, there is a special kind of English. It’s called Uglish.

But what is Uglish, you say? Well, it is a word coined for the English that Ugandans speak here. With a heavy British English history because of colonization by England, many British English words remain. But Uganda English is definitely not purely British English. Uglish is Uganda’s unique way to express itself in English. As unique as Uganda itself, some of its words are as well.

I may not know British English very well, but it has been fun to learn the “Uglish” spoken here. “Smart” doesn’t mean intelligent or witty; rather, “smart” can mean that you are “looking good!” When one is dressed up in their Sunday best, they are called “smart.” One doesn’t use “blinkers” on their vehicles here, but rather, “indicators.” Closing the “boot” of your car is actually what is referred to as closing the “trunk” here.

Some common sayings might include: “You are lost!” This means that they have not seen you for a long time. Speed bumps are called “speed humps.” A “bath room” is where you bathe. “Toilet” is for other business. When you move to a new place, you are “shifting.” And “well be back” means welcome back after an absence. And “chips” are French fries, not potato chips as we know them! (Those would be called “crisps.”) Or get this: “Extend a bit.” That means you need to move forward some. How about this one: “It’s paining me.” In other words, it hurts!

A “store” is not a shop or supermarket. Rather, it is a pantry or any place that you store your items really. “It’s over” or “It’s finished.” There is no more of whatever you are discussing. And, “I am about.” This means you are about to finish or about to reach, whichever the context refers to. Or get this one: “You are looking fat!” This one is actually a compliment here. You are healthy and looking well.

One of my memories involves the “You are looking fat” phrase. I was walking through the market and looking at a food stall. The lady was being quite pleasant and made the comment. I smiled and said, “Thank you.” Then she said started giggling. I looked at her inquisitively to which she replied, “You are with child.” I told her no and explained that I am already 50, and that I could not be pregnant. She just shook her head and continued to giggle under her breath. Later I learned that it is not the custom here to reveal that you are pregnant until you are about to pop! Surely the lady didn’t believe me when I said I was not pregnant … because she knew otherwise! It was only a matter of time … oh, my!

So yummy!

One of favorite Ugandan English (I mean Uglish) words is “rolex.” A rolex is definitely not known as a fancy, expensive watch in Uganda. Instead, a rolex is a rather scrumptious street food that you can purchase for way less than $1.00 at a small stand. It is a chapatti (a flat bread, thicker and oilier than a tortilla) with eggs and some vegetables. The eggs with small pieces of tomato, onion and sometimes other vegetables are prepared something like an omelet. Then the eggs are placed on top of the chapatti and it is rolled up. Rolled up … rolled eggs … thus, ROLEX!!! Actually rather tasty!

Oh, so much fun learning the different meanings of similar words! Uganda is full of treasures and pleasantries … an endless Uganda English dictionary to learn! So come visit Uganda and learn some Uglish! Uganda will not disappoint.

Wood … a Temporary Structure

Buildings built out of wood are temporary structures? What? Not in Oregon, the green state full of trees where I lived for the first 40 some years of my life! But in Uganda, there are termites here, there and everywhere. Building with wood can be an expensive choice here in the long run.

Structures built out of wood are temporary and often only last a few years. It is only a matter of time before the termites do their thing. You see, the termite population is huge here! You might think it is just a pile of dirt, but more likely, it is a termite mound.

Two of our sons on a termite mound

More permanent structures are built out of red clay bricks with a layer of flat cement stucco over the top. It reminds me of the story in the Bible that talks about the wise man building his house. In Uganda, if one has the money, a firm cement foundation is poured. Houses here can take years to be built. You see, most people don’t borrow from the bank and then build it all at once. Instead, as the money is available, different stages of the house are built. When we first moved here, I wondered at all of the houses that looked like they had been started but then forgotten. I didn’t realize that this was actually just a house in progress. Now some were completely abandoned and all hope lost of finishing. But most of them were just a work in progress, it seems. It takes some real commitment and tenacity to finish a house here. Would that we would be so intentional about building our relationship with God and building a firm foundation.

After the house is completely built, a suitable section of cement veranda is then placed around the base of the house to help protect it from storms to prevent deterioration of the foundation. Houses that skip this step are in danger of not only corrosion from the surrounding soil conditions but also damage from storms. It is a layer of protection that is key to the survival of the foundation for a long future. Would that we put priorities in place to protect our relationship with God in such a way that it is preserved for all of our days.

If wood is used, it is often just thrown together without a foundation. Either sticks are used exclusively with mud thrown over them. Or sticks are used to frame it and wooden boards are nailed to the sticks. Then either grass or tin is placed on top for the roof, depending on the budget. But it is known that it will be a temporary structure and there is no reason to invest in a firm foundation. It is only a matter of time before either the termites eat through the wood or a storm knocks it down. Would that we choose the right materials to build our foundation with, the Word of God and not that of mere man whose words will pass away.

Yes, it reminds me that God calls us to cultivate our relationship with Him in much the same way. We should be building upon His foundation with purpose and resourcefulness. We need to put protections in place to preserve and continue nurturing/caring for it. When the storms come, that foundation will not waiver and the house will not fall. Instead our faith will give us hope and help us rely on Him Who truly builds the only foundation that will never fail. May each of us build our homes (and our hearts) on His foundation that withstands whatever comes our way!

Is that your real hair?

Before I moved to Uganda, I didn’t know that most of the women’s hair was not all theirs … let me explain. For some reason, it seems that Ugandan women’s hair (as a general rule, certainly not everyone) doesn’t grow very long like mine does. Because of this, it limits the hairstyles available to the ladies. Therefore, hair style changes are usually due to varying extensions that are plaited into their existing hair. Sometimes they are even attractive wigs. They look just like the real thing and are beautiful!!! They are worn for something like up to a month or two at a time and then removed or changed after a brief break.

The different looks though can fool you if you aren’t paying close attention! After all, you don’t want to not greet your friend just because you didn’t recognize her … (not that I have ever done that before …. tongue in cheek … oops!). Actually, it has been rather embarrassing when someone I have known in one context shows up in another context with a new hair-do. I must admit that there has been more than once that I didn’t recognize them in their new hair-do! Even driving down the road, I may pass someone before I realize it is someone I know …

It may seem like a simple thing to add extensions to your hair, but wait! It can take as much as eight hours for someone to plait in all of the extensions into your own hair!!! In fact, I read online that it takes an average of 5-8 hours to complete a new look. Imagine the commitment. But, oh, they are ever so beautiful! It’s no wonder they leave a particular style in as long as possible even though the average is only between 4-6 weeks at a time.

Not only is it an art and fashion statement on the part of the recipient, not just anyone can plait hair extensions well! While this has been done for centuries now in Africa, the hours it takes to transform a woman’s short hair into long braids is short of a miracle. Once the braid or weave is done, the braids can then be styled into a further fashion that literally transforms the look! For the look to be perfected, it requires some skill on the part of the beautician. While some hand down this skill from mother to daughter, most attend beauty school in Uganda to learn it well. The braids are tightly woven purposefully in order for the style to last.

No matter the budget, women seem to have a deep need to look good and this is one innovative way that is relatively inexpensive in Uganda to obtain it. From corn rows to extensions braided to perfection to wigs, It seems Uganda has again demonstrated its ingenuity to do well with what is available!

Now just think of the possibilities and versatility of adding extensions or wearing wigs that one can have. It could offer you similar options like changing your wardrobe! You don’t need to cut your hair into a new style. Just try a new one every month or two! Settle into one of your favorites or go back to a preferred one now and then. Have some fun! I can’t believe I haven’t already tried it myself! Ingenious.


Welcome! I am glad that you stopped by!!! My hope is that by reading this blog, you will be blessed through the tales, tidbits, trials and testimonies from our time living abroad as missionaries in the Pearl of Africa (Uganda) that God has taught me.

We have lived in Uganda nearly ten years now. Our eyes have been opened to new ways, new people, and a new culture. Through it all, God has been faithful to teach us regularly and we are still learning. While our perceptions may not always be perfect, they are our experiences. We will share some of these perceptions and lessons as I blog.

My husband and I have joined the Missionary Care movement after having been on this journey ourselves as missionaries in Uganda. This journey has taken us to countries like Ethiopia, Senegal, Zambia, Angola, Kenya, and South Africa, to name some. Our eyes have been opened, our perspectives widened, and our lives changed. Just as our hearts have been impacted, we hope to share some things with you that will inspire you to love more deeply, understand another culture, widen your worldview and be challenged to embrace what God has for you!

Traversing the continent of Africa has yielded many insights, but none for me as great as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda, where we have lived. As you get a glimpse of our life here, may you find the treasure of this place, its people and the passion.

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