Written by Alexis
Tragedy. Landslides. Death. Loss. Natural disaster. Rain – endless rain. Displaced people. And then no water. No water for four days, four very long days. Having camped for many years, I was used to filling up a water jug, and skipping a shower or laundry for stretches of time – but I wasn’t prepared for the survival mode and sense of overwhelmingness that would ensue during this water crisis. Lugging water inside, in huge, extremely heavy jugs and buckets, to flush the toilet x 6 people. Then to have four sandy and muddy children enter the house at dinner time, needing gallons of boiling water and immediate assistance (que – an hour and a half process), then a late dinner, and then … the power went out … again. Then the backup power went out shortly after, since we haven’t had much sunshine lately.
As the hours turned to days without water it was wearing on all of us, and the team was weary. Me especially. Not having running water puts you smack dab in the middle of survival mode. Just trying to keep things afloat on the home front was requiring everything from me and Patrick. And the kids were experiencing their own frustrations and confusions about the toilet, shower, and difficulty washing their hands.
But Day 3 came and the faucets were still dry. It was on this day that everything was really beginning to catch up with me. The physical toll of lugging water all over the house, helping the kids manage their bodily functions, and not being able to get cooking or cleaning done without hours of added work was mounting. I loaded up my shower supplies and walked down to a teammate’s house for a much needed, long awaited shower. It was in that moment that I thought, “Living in Bundibugyo is a a lot like camping!”. With no water, no power, no solar, and spotty internet – I felt like I was camping in our house. I mean, we don’t have glass on the windows, so sometimes I feel like we are just in a fancy yurt. All my years of camping with my family and walking to the showers when you felt like you were so dirty that there was no way a wet wipe could do the job, came flooding back to me. But the rudest part was that the shower was COLD. I would have gladly put in my shilling coins to get a warm shower. But at this point, I was getting clean and that was all that mattered. The day continued to go downhill from there, with conflict between one of our children and another teammates’ child requiring a heart talk and mediation. Then directly following teaching, the six of us had to get rabies shots at our doctor teammate’s house which involved holding down two of our children and talking Adrienne off the ledge as she tried to run away. Throw in a little marital conflict right before women’s bible study (the water was still out at this point) and you have the makings of a good ‘ole fashion breakdown for me. Our church in Bellingham has this phrase they promote to create a Gospel culture, “It’s ok to not be ok”. I’ve heard it a hundred times and I totally believe it. However, it’s still difficult when you find yourself on the side of feeling weak, completely overwhelmed, and ugly crying. The ladies on our team comforted me at Bible Study, and I fell asleep quickly that night praying for new morning mercies.
By Day 4, we were starting to be resigned to the current predicament in ways, and the weight of the disaster started to sink in more deeply. I was feeling sure that water would come back at some point, but as each hour passed I began to think that maybe I had no idea the situation that we were really in. Our team doctors were sending texts around saying that we need to have a team chat about cholera and create a response plan if the community continues to live without fresh water. But at 8pm, a trickle began to flow from the faucet to my astonishment and everyone in our house broke into a cheer!
It felt petty and stupid to be feeling overwhelmed and fed up with the water situation when there was no water for all of Bundibugyo, affecting some 250,000 people, most of which didn’t have backup rain water catchers. Hundreds of families lost everything last Saturday and are sleeping on the floors of churches and schools right now still looking for loved ones presumably dead. Hundreds of people just 10 minutes from me displaced, homeless, with nothing left. Families experiencing a life-altering disaster wiping out their house, land, livelihood and future. These people did nothing to incur this loss and have barely any way to climb out of this hole. And then me over here crying about my own overwhelmed self. How can we hold both of these realities at the same time? If I fail to acknowledge my own struggle then I feel fake and false about what it’s like here and I fear de-humanizing the missionary experience. It would boil it down to a trite Christian adage – like “Don’t complain ‘cause others have it worse” and “Be thankful, there’s starving children in Africa you know”. When you live here, actually live next door to the starving, sick, mud-thatched houses, hungry kids on your doorstep daily, you begin to have your own inner dialogue. And it goes something like this – “Life is hard, and be grateful and thankful for all that you have by God’s grace, because we see all too clearly how fragile life is and how many are barely having enough food and shelter for today.” Does that mean my troubles are trite and inconsequential to the Lord? No! He sees me and knows me intimately and cares about each hair on my head, so He definitely cares about my heart, thoughts and struggles. He also loves and cares for our Ugandan friends and neighbors too. He’s big enough and loving enough to care for both and all at the same time.