It doesn’t take much in Bundibugyo to make us aware that this is not like back home. The size of the cockroaches – not like back home. The cold showers, filtering our water, hang drying our clothes – not like back home. The being stared at and called names on the road, because we are WHITE … not like back home. A recent experience with electricity and the local power company, BECS, emphasized this fact for us like a bright yellow highlighter.
About a week ago, our lights started acting up during dinner, and our overhead light and fan went kaput. We didn’t think much of it at first but since the lights were flickering I decided to shut off the grid power because it was bugging our eyes. We still had some solar backup for lights and wall sockets. A few minutes later, Beckett returned from the office a little shook up, and started crying. He had turned off the solar light switch but it somehow had shocked him pretty good. We didn’t understand why, so we started walking around, looking for any signs of what was going on. I pointed in the kitchen to a wall socket who’s surge protector lights had turned off. With this gesture I accidentally barely grazed the toaster with my finger and the electric shock attacked my arm like a crocodile strike up to my shoulder. It was like our own home was lurking, waiting to strike, attacking our family inside. I sent everyone out to the back porch and began texting and consulting with our teammates – a doctor who’s lived here 4 years and an engineer who’s lived here longer than that. They instructed me to make sure everyone was wearing rubber-soled shoes (since we have concrete floors) and essentially not to touch anything. I borrowed a voltage meter from my teammate and checked various outlets and switches. The voltage numbers were all over the place, definitely not typical or safe. But since it was bedtime, we tucked everyone in, found an outlet that we could safely charge our phones in, and retreated to our bed hoping to at least be safe in there.
As we ran a generator for the next few days, our engineer teammate and a local electrician kept searching for the problem. Apparently, the electrical current was going through our house, exiting, and then returning again rather than being grounded outside. So instead it was finding an easy grounding solution … IN OUR BODIES. As they explained the details, an electrician and an engineer, I felt like they were speaking Lubwisi even though it was plain English – like foreign language, foreign language, wait, there’s a word I recognize! Blah blah blah, neutron, blah blah blah, circuit, blah blah blah. All I really took away was, keep the power off, don’t touch the toaster, and call the power company to come take a look at the grounding rod out front of our house.
BECS, the local power company, is sort of like Comcast, in that they say they’re going to show up at a certain time but you better not make any plans to run errands, for the rest of the day. They said they’d be here first thing in the morning, and around 1pm a crew of four guys showed up. In the meantime, while Alexis was preparing pizza ingredients for our team of about 20 mouths, she got a jolt of her own by just touching the oven door. It shook her physically and emotionally. This was getting out of hand – we were on day 4 of this saga with no tangible end in sight. But as the BECS crew arrived and checked the power line coming into our house, they found the problem. It was their cable that had shorted out. This was likely causing the main problems of why electricity was leaking back into our house, and grounding itself through us. The grounding rod could still have issues too, but the cable was the most pressing issue for sure.
And this is where the story gets really interesting, and so much UN-like back home. Now imagine your own power company in the U.S., despite how subpar they might be. So they tell me, through a middle man on my team with experience in these matters, that it’s their cable that is the problem and they’ll replace it. Ok, I think, so far so good. It will be free of charge they say. Well, that’s good of course, I mean it should be free since it’s their problem and not mine. He says that unfortunately they’re out of stock of the cables right now. Ok, here we go, I think. It’s in Kampala, 8 hours away, he explains. Wow, I start to put two and two together and realize that this problem is not going to be solved today, and probably not tomorrow either. We’re going to be pushing a week on the generator, and petrol is not as cheap here as you might imagine.
So I ask the most logical next question, “When will you have it in stock?” His reply was, January. JANUARY! Two months, through the holiday season! This is a power company, who I assume deals regularly with power cables, and they are out of stock for the next 2 months! What!? That’s it? I’m just hosed?
Not quite. I’m told that they actually have the cables in stock at a hardware store, not 20 minutes from here. But they’re more expensive than the ones in Kampala, so the power company doesn’t buy from them. BUT, if I want to go to the hardware store and buy it for myself then the power company will gladly replace the cable for me. I couldn’t even. I was flabbergasted. It’s admittedly the power company’s problem, but to save a few shillings they’ll wait until January to deal with the problem. In the meantime, I have a super villain, electric shocking house to live in for two months? Uh, I’ll take door number two please. Of course I’m going to go buy the cable, I couldn’t even believe it, but here I go, grabbing my wallet and heading to Bundibugyo Town to buy a 60 meter long POWER CABLE so the power company can install it from the pole in the middle of the mission to my house. Unbelievable … and yet, somehow terribly believable I’m beginning to understand. We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.
I was recently reading in Ezra, chapters 1-2 how God stirred up the heart of King Cyrus who issued a decree that the Israelites could return to Jerusalem, ending many decades of exile in Babylon. This was amazing for God’s people, a huge blessing on so many levels. Cyrus even said that they should rebuild the temple, and returned to them massive amounts of supplies for the task that King Nebuchadnezzar had previously stolen from them. They would get to be back in the place that God had promised them, living as God’s people and not under another authority, and with the construction of the temple, have God’s presence yet again. This was a profound blessing and created a purposeful expedition.
However, the Bible doesn’t give a ton of details, and yet I tried to envision the human realities in this return from exile. Even though it was God’s plan and a truly great thing, I can only imagine how difficult it was. Here you have some 50,000 people total, traveling nearly 1,700 miles by foot! There were 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 100’s of bowls, 1,000’s of other vessels. Over 5,000 total gold and silver items that they travelled with. Plus over 700 horses, over 200 mules, over 400 camels and nearly 7,000 donkeys! I get twitchy after a few hours in the car with my 4 kids, not gonna lie. Can you imagine all the likely struggles, challenges, and things-that-didn’t-go-so-well on this journey! They were fulfilling God’s plan, and doing a truly wonderful thing – returning to Jerusalem as God’s people and rebuilding His temple. Yet the time in between must have been brutal in many ways I assume.
At the hardware store in Bundibugyo Town, I explained the diameter and size of what I needed, and used the local word of what they called it. He assured me he had it and pointed under a pile of cables to the 10mm version. I was savvy enough at this point to ask them to measure it, knowing that just because he said, “Oh Yes, it is 60 meters long” that it probably meant, “Oh Yes, it’s somewhere close to that. You buy?” I was also smart enough to take a picture of it and send it to my engineer teammate to verify. As they rolled it out in the side alley in the dirt and measured its 39 meter length, I also got a text back that it was not the right cable. So it wasn’t the right one after all, and was too short anyhow. He said that he can order it in Kampala and send it on the Link bus. Think: Greyhound meets UPS. Except I’m not sure who is responsible and if anyone tracks what gets chucked onto the pile of random cargo on this bus or not, 8 hours away. Either way, it’s supposed to be headed west across this great country of Uganda. Then a local electrician will be foreman on the operation, because he is more competent than the power company. Plus, to add to the ha ha, not so funny, humor of the situation, our team just circulated a newspaper article as I type this, no joke, that the local power company has just been shut down by the URA (basically the IRS) because they haven’t paid taxes in a while. So this whole thing might be rendered irrelevant. We’re on day 6 without power …
When the Israelites finally returned to Israel, the first thing they did was construct the altar and begin worshipping God together. Despite the challenges behind, and the doubtless challenges lying up ahead, they thanked and worshipped their Provider. There’s power in thankfulness.
Sometimes Bundibugyo feels like exile, voluntary exile. But God is working behind the scenes, we believe that. He is teaching us and creating even more dependence on Him in us. And so we try very hard to find thankfulness in this situation. We’re thankful for power at all, that was only installed a handful of years ago in this village. We’re thankful for a servant-hearted engineering teammate to help out, and other teammates who have helped along the way. We’re thankful for people who support us financially so we can purchase a generator and petrol to keep it running. We’re thankful that despite several solid shocks to Beckett, me, Alexis, and a teammate, that they weren’t more serious or severe, as they very well could have been. And really, we’re thankful for the appliances and devices that use the electricity in the first place. What’s that Counting Crows line, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. A toaster, fans, wifi … Ain’t that the truth. But some things are never gone despite the inconveniences, and we’re more thankful for that than anything. Our wonderful God who calls us sons and daughters and offers us a regular relationship with Him. Our God who promises never to leave us or forsake us, and declares that it’s rightfully His work and all for His glory, not ours. Whether back home or in our new home, it’s all His domain, and He will receive the glory He deserves.