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>> Thursday, April 30, 2009

I know it's been awhile since I've posted - life has been a little crazy these past few weeks. Shortly after our return from Florida, Chris' dad Stanley was admitted to the hospital as he had fallen down the stairs and injured his leg. While his leg is going to be okay, due to his age (88), they did a whole bunch of tests and determined that he has had two strokes in the last couple of months (one of which they think caused him to fall down the stairs) and also has a large aortic aneurysm in his chest. They can't operate on the aneurysm due to his age, but said they aren't sure how long he has had it, so he could possibly live another 10 years with it and still be relatively healthy. He is currently in the geriatric rehabilitation ward, and will be working to get his strength back over the next week or so and will be assessed to see if he can continue to live on his own, or if he needs homecare or even 24 hour a day care (which would mean him moving into a nursing home). It's been a bit of a waiting game these last few weeks - just waiting to see what happens, but still trying to plan as much as we can ahead of time so we're ready for whatever the doctors decide. Please keep him and Chris in your prayers, as this is a stressful time for the Judge family.

Besides that, I've been busy both at work and also at home trying to get my house ready for my sister's bridal shower on May 9th - it's amazing how messy 2 people and 1 dog can be! I don't really know what's happened to me over the last year. I used to be super organized and a total neat freak, and was always the type of person who had everything together and was on time for everything and had every single thing planned out. This past year though, I really think I've let myself go in several ways. Not only have I not really taken the best care of myself physically, but I've also let things pile up to the point where I don't even know where to start! I'm supposed to be cleaning the house right now, but am a little overwhelmed as I still have several rooms that need both cleaning and re-organizing!! Ahhhh!!!! I know that once I do it I'll feel a lot better, it's sometimes just the getting started that I find really hard. I'm glad I have the shower coming up as it means I have to clean and don't really have a choice in the matter.

Okay - on that note I think it's time to wrap this sucker up and go get started. On the agenda for this afternoon/evening: clean and reorganize my office, clean the upstairs bathroom, clean the kitchen, and get caught up with my laundry. Fun times! Pledge and Windex - here I come!


Uganda - Smiles, tears and a lot of hard work - Part 1

>> Friday, April 10, 2009

So after quite the long journey to Uganda, we had finally arrived and were ready to start our actual work in the field on Wednesday March 11th. We usually spent the bulk of our days focused on one or two of the following tasks: delivering "family kits" (each kit was made up of things like a foam mattress, water jug, mosquito net and cooking pots), helping out at one of the primary schools or orphanages, or painting a school. Most days we would divide up into our family groups and decide which group wanted to do what task and when. We were normally out of the guesthouse by 9am (after a 7:45 morning devotional followed by breakfast) and would return typically around 5:30pm or so.

Our first day started with a quick trip into the shops in Jinja so that all the females in our group could buy some sarong skirts. It is common-practice in Uganda for women to have their knees covered, and for the entire leg to be covered when out in the rural areas. Ryan said that if one of us went out to a village wearing shorts above the knee, the locals would view us in the same way we would view someone if they came to church on Sunday morning wearing a thong bathing suit! Needless to say, that was not the impression we were hoping to make, so we all made sure our legs were always covered up while we were out (although wearing shorts - albeit longer shorts - was acceptable when in the actual town of Jinja or in Kampala).

After we were all decked out in our Ugandan finery we were off for a visit to Welcome Home Orphange, which is located right in the heart of Jinja. Welcome Home is a orphanage that takes care of children from birth to age 6, and the kids there are from all parts of Uganda. Sadly, many of the orphans mothers died in childbirth or from AIDS or other complications, and many are just abandoned from families who either don't want to, or can't afford to care for their children. They also provide a safe home to babies who are born in prison and wouldn't otherwise have a chance to be raised in a loving, compassionate environment. On a positive note, Welcome Home is an amazingly clean, modern, and well-funded orphanage that has over 40 people on staff and average 1 "Mom" (care-giver) to every 3 children. We were all really excited to get a tour of the orhanage and then to be let loose for a few hours to just walk around, play with the kids, and help out in whatever way we could. I spent some time playing with the toddlers in the playground and pushing them on the swing, then ducked into the baby house in the back to spend some time holding and playing with the really little ones. The high-lite of my morning at Welcome Home by-far was bath time! They had some of us help bathe, dry and clothe the girls and it was the cutest thing ever. They were all so excited and ran to the water hose when one of the mom's yelled that it was time for a bath. They were also so cute and well-behaved as we dried them off and found clothes for them to wear. There was a really sad moment for me though as I dried off one of the girls. She must have been around 3 years old, and as I wiped her off I noticed scars all over her back and her legs. I didn't get a chance to ask one of the moms what had happened to her, but I imagined the worst. I was glad though that whatever her past had held for her, she was now being well taken care of at Welcome Home and was clearly now happy and healthy.

A little later on in the early afternoon, after many thank-you's and waves, we all boarded the bus and drove out of Jinja into the more rural areas for our first of many visits to God's Gift Primary School. We would spend a lot of time there in the days to come, as God's Gift was the school we would be painting, and it would also act as our "hub" or starting out point for handing out the family kits. Pulling into God's Gift was an amazing moment - the kids were all in class but when they saw the bus pulling up they all rushed outside cheering and waving. The excitement in the air was palpable. I got off the bus as quickly as I could and was immediately surrounded by kids who wanted to shake my hand, say hello and even give me a bug hug! The lady who runs God's Gift (an amazing women named Baby Justine) ushered us all over to an open area in front of the school as the students had prepared a welcome song for us. This was our first time being welcomed in song and dance and for many of us it completely took our breath away and had some of us wiping away tears (yes, me included). One of the amazing things for me was looking at the complete and utter expressions of joy on the children's faces as they sang and danced, and then looking behind them at the school. God's Gift was the complete opposite of Welcome Home. While Welcome Home had been in a nice, clean, big house, the main school area of God's Gift was basically a run-down schoolhouse with only a few classrooms - peeling paint, dirt covered, only a few benches to sit on, and a roof that looked like it would fall off the minute the wind picked up. That was probably the first time (out of many on this trip) that I saw how joyous and hopeful and happy the Ugandan people are, even when they have so little and are continually in the face of such poverty and struggle.

After a rousing round of applause as the welcome song came to an end, Baby Justine and some of the teachers showed us around the property. My family group was going to spend the afternoon getting a start on the painting, so she showed us around the office building (which also had 2 classrooms) that was going to be the recipient of some new paint. A small building with pretty much no air circulation, it broke my heart to look into the classrooms and imagine them trying so hard to learn while sitting on a hard bench and trying to do their work on a broken table (and in that heat!). Being a bookstore manager, what really broke my heart was poking my head into a completely emtpy room and then Baby Justine telling me that the room was their library. It was their library but they didn't have any books! They were calling it their library as they were hopeful that one day they may have a few books to keep in it, but until then it would remain empty . . .

Chris, George, Nicolle, Jamie, Katia and I started painting as the other two groups gathered supplies and headed out for family kit distribution. We spent a good several hours trying to get as much done as possible, but I'm pretty sure the best part of the day for all of us was when each of us took a break from painting and got a chance to just play and hang out with the children outside. The kids were fascinated by us (and us of them). The little girls seemed particularly interested in my hair (some of them had never seen a white person before, so a blonde white person was quite shocking I'm sure), and I would constantly feel little hands stroking my hair or touching the skin on my arm. It was also the most heart-warming thing ever to just be walking along and feel little fingers grab your hand or skirt. Most of the time, whenever I was walking around I had about 5 to 10 kids attached to me in some way, and I loved every minute of it! Most of them spoke a little bit of English, but the typical response to any question or comment I had would be a shy "yes" in the most adorable accent you've ever heard. We all quickly learnt that that would be the standard response from kids when you spoke to them - either because they were shy or because they didn't understand what you were saying to them but didn't want to be rude. Some did speak a little more English, but I found that I could communicate perfectly with them just through gestures, facial expressions and by smiling and laughing.

I could have spent hours and hours playing with those kids, but soon enough it was time to pack up and head back home for the night. We promised them all we would be back soon to continue our work (and of course for more play-time!) and got back on the bus for our journey back to Mto Moyoni.

It was an amazing first day and I was filled with both joy and sadness throughout dinner and our nightly "de-brief" (when we would all get together and talk about what we did that day and what we were feeling). After looking forward to going to Africa for so long, it was a little surreal to actually be there and be seeing the kind of poverty we had seen (and just in that first day!) I had never been to a third-world country before and had only really seen extreme poverty on the news or portrayed in movies. To see it in real life, and to be interacting with people who lived in these situations was very different and shook me up a bit. I kept thinking "I'm 28 years old - how can I just be seeing this now?"

It would not be the only time throughout this trip that I questioned myself, my faith, my country, and the world . . .


We're Back . . . Again!!

>> Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chris and I are back from our mini 3 1/2 day vacation in Florida! We were invited down by a very generous family from church to stay at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, a members-only club that's situated on over two thousand tropical acres right on the ocean. It was absolutely breath-takingly beautiful and was the perfect place to relax and take it easy. Chris had never been to Florida before, and the last time I was there I was about 8 years old - so needless to say we were very excited to be there and be back in the warm weather once again!

Our hotel room had a great view of not only the ocean, but some of the docks where the really big yachts were moored. As Ocean Reef is a private club, most of the people there are quite wealthy and we definitely saw some very big boats and some very big houses. It's not only a resort with pools, tennis courts and amazing restaurants - but people can buy property there, so there are also whole communities of houses, condos, townhouses and inns. It's kind of like its own mini-city - they have a school, grocery store, shopping stores, a movie theatre, huge medical centre, private airport - they even have their own police and fire departments! Some residents live there year-round and some just vacation there. It's an amazing place 'cause it's located right near the only living reef tract in North America, which means some amazing diving and fishing.

Yours truly went on a little reef-fishing expedition and caught her very first fish (a decent-sized bluefish, thank-you very much), but then I felt really bad so threw it back into the water. :) Chris caught a huge fish one morning and was in his element out on the boat. We both love water and were this close to buying a boat a couple of years ago, so we both were excited and thankful that we got the opportunity to get back out on the water, especially off the coast of the Florida Keys, which is just the most beautiful shade of turquoise and rather soothing to the soul.

We ate at some great restaurants and spent some time just riding around on a golf cart taking in all the sights (everyone there drives around on golf carts all the time as it's the easiest way to get around). We were definitely sad to drive back to Fort Lauderdale to board the place back to Toronto, but I'm glad we went and am soooo thankful to the Alloway family for this experience - their generousity and hospitality were amazing!!

We are back in town now for awhile - or at least I am (Chris is off to Mexico for awhile soon for another Missions trip). I'm hunkering down now and am excited to focus on my sister's upcoming bridal shower and wedding (June 27th - yay!!) and will also be trying to figure out where my hubby and I will go for our third wedding anniversary coming up in August. There is a possibility that we may be going back to Uganda for a couple of weeks, but if that doesn't pan out, we'll probably go somewhere in the States to have a little adventure - maybe rafting in the Grand Canyon or back down south - we'll see who has the best deals. I'm glad that summer is on it's way and hopefully we've seen the last of winter's wrath for this year (I heard the GTA got hit by another snow storm while we were gone - ewww).


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