By Alexis McClure
Author’s note: If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, stop reading this and go buy it on iTunes now! Then you’ll better understand this post, and your life will finally be complete.
Since we live on the Equator, the sun rises around 7am and sets about 7pm each day. During these windows, small invisible bugs called obhukukuni come out and eat us alive. They leave these little red circle-raised spots that itch like crazy and make you feel like crawling out of your skin. Since the weather is warm and humid most of the time, I am usually in tank tops and flip flops. When we first moved here I couldn’t imagine putting on long sleeves because I was just too dang hot and sweaty all the time. But I watched and learned from my teammates who would religious throw on a button up or wrap a katenge around their waist at these bewitching hours. We do use bug spray from time to time but it definitely isn’t always a sure fix for these bugs, and the worst part is…. the bugs are so small that they can even get inside the screened in porches. Depressing!
Remember the scene in Princess Bride where they are running from prince Humperdink and they decide to try and live in the Fire Swamp. They start to list off the dangers of staying in the fire swamp – R.O.U.S. (Rodents Of Unusual Size), flame spurts, and lightning sand. But Wesley keeps calmly reassuring Buttercup that they can overcome the odds and they will be just fine. Every couple of minutes one of these dangers attacks them but they keep pushing through determined to survive and maybe even thrive. So the other day, it dawns on me – Bundibugyo feels like the living in the Fire Swamp.
Bundibugyo is on the equator in Uganda, in an extremely humid and jungly climate west of the Rwenzori mountains. For the first 2 months we lived here I kept learning about another new bug or another biting insect. We usually learned through being bitten or encountering them on us or around us. Our teammates seemed so calm as they explained how some biting ants come out after the rain and form army ant rows through the grass. “Just keep an eye on their trails and you should be good to go”. Sure enough- just days later Zane was bitten, then Hadley, then me, and so on. They are nasty aggressive little ants that attach to you/your clothes/your shoes/your privates… and don’t let go unless you literally pull them off. It’s intense! And it hurts!
The following week someone told me, “Oh, don’t forget that once you pull your clothes off the line, you probably shouldn’t wear them for 2 days because you don’t want the mango flies’ eggs to burrow into your skin”. Yuck, and fully noted. At least I was already really good at folding clothes but not getting around to putting them away for a few days before moving here- this one I can definitely do. Leave clothes in basin for a few days. Ok, check. Another evening we were collecting our kids for dinner and bringing them in from their free-for-all time of playing around the open mission space. As our kids came towards us barefoot and dirty, another mom on the team says, “Oh yeah, make sure you really scrub their kids feet every night to keep them from getting jiggers”. Lovely. We added that to our bedtime routine: take anti-malaria pill, brush teeth, wash/scrub feet, potty, story, lights out.
But obhukukuni have to be one of the worst little critters because, get this, they don’t just come out in the evening and morning hours, but also when it’s overcast. When you live on the equator in Africa you welcome the overcast or rainy days occasionally. Except not like right now when rainy season feels like it’s never going to stop and everything is muddy because the heavens open up and dump daily making drying clothes nearly impossible, our new school yard a literal mud fest, and general dirtiness has increased by 10. However, on the welcomed overcast days, these bugs come out just when the temperature and humidity give you a break from their sweltering suffocation. Meaning, this is literally a daily reminder of living in our fallen world after the curse – full of death and suffering. Yes, this suffering is minor relatively speaking but it makes the coolest part of the day full of its own trials just when you’re feeling ready for a little exhale from the intensity of this place.
So this brings me back to the Fire Swamp. Maybe in part living in Bundibuygo is like making a home in the Fire Swamp. As teammates, we all keep looking and giving each other the I get it smile, the knowing nod, the compassionate shirt-lending or bug spray sharing moment, because we are all determined to be here. To survive in the Fire Swamp, and I know it’s cheesy to say but not just to survive, but to thrive, we need God’s daily grace. It’s hard living here. I’m not gonna sugar coat that. We experience the loss of comforts, heartache to be away from family and friends, the painful yet worthwhile dying to self to enter into another culture. Then of course there are the more physical frustrations like very inconsistent electricity, lack of access to foods or entertainment we like, no organized activities or sports for our kids, difficulty to keep in touch with our U.S. loved ones due to the time change and slow technology, rough roads, lack of access to medical care, and did I already say bugs and critters?
Yet God has us here. God moved our family here. He made it abundantly clear that this is where we are supposed to be right now. It felt like he opened up the flood gates and brought the resources in at an astonishing rate as well as took care of every last detail for our family to close out our life and commitments stateside, just to remind us that He’s got this. So this is our home now and these people are our community. We are making a home and life in the Fire Swamp and we do it with confidence, not in our ability to overcome the obstacles or remain strong in the face of the barrage of daily struggle, but in our Redeemer. He is the one who took our hand and led us here, and he is the one who continues to carry us over the flame spurts, and rescue us from the lightning sand when we feel like we’re being pulled under. It’s for His glory and His fame that he will preserve our family and show off his goodness while in the Fire Swamp.