Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Celebrating 11 years with some primates

July 30th is our anniversary, and this year we're celebrating 11 years of marital bliss! I mentioned this to a friend, and she kindly offered to keep our girls for a few days. I think I might have shed some tears at the offer. I really miss having family near-by to help us raise these girls. But I'm so thankful God has provided people like Elise who are willing to step in and act like family. Thanks, Elise! You earned an extra jewel in your crown.

Since our girls were in good hands over the weekend, Terrill & I trekked out to a place called Kibale Forest. It was located in west Uganda, about an eight hour drive from our Kampala home. One of the most special moments of the entire trip was when we drove on this canopied road on the way to our lodging. Seeds were falling from the treetops and looked like little parachutes floating to the ground. It was magical, and reminded us of the canopied roads back home in Tallahassee.
 Not knowing how much longer we'd be in Uganda, we sold our vehicle to the girls' Uncle Hillary (new Ik Member of Parliament) back in June. Since then, we've been driving rented and borrowed vehicles. A big thanks to a new friend, Kelly Rompel, who is letting us use her vehicle for our remaining time in Uganda. We love this little truck!
 Our time in Kibale Forest was spent mainly relaxing and taking walks through the rainforest. No responsibilities except avoiding snakes!
 Oh yeah, we avoided the safari ants as well...
 We took several guided walks to locate and view the local primate population. These are red colobus monkeys having a snack. We saw five other types of primates as well.
 And in nearby Bigodi Swamp, we saw this pygmy monitor lizard sunbathing:
 When we weren't walking, we were reading and having tea at a lodge called The Chimp's Nest.
 11 years...we feel older, but are trying to embrace the process of aging, and look at our relationship as a fine wine that is just getting sweeter with time.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Exile and Exodus

For a couple of years now, we have often felt like we were in exile, stuck in a foreign land, stranded away from home. It started two years ago when life in Ikland went from being an open-ended adventure (with its difficulties, nonetheless) to a situation that was almost intolerably hard for us. It was around that time that the ambition to 'make it' in Ikland slowly morphed into a desire to 'get out'. In late 2014, four months after gaining legal guardianship of Mercy and Immaculate, we applied for tourist visas for our girls so we could take a furlough with them in the USA. To our astonishment, the visas were denied by the embassy in Kampala.

Since then our yearning for home has not lessened at all, and we have had to learn how to cope and how to live in the present when our minds and hearts constantly drift elsewhere. But as so often is the case, our time in exile has been a time of growth and productivity. And when it has been the most difficult, God has supplied doses of grace and hope to keep our spirits alive.

Last December we got the opportunity to complete our adoption of the girls several months ahead of schedule. We took that as a sign that a way may be opening for us to leave in 2016, so we quickly filled out applications for the girls to have immigrant visas to the United Sates. Invigorated by the hope of an impending exodus, we were somehow able to ride out the rest of December in Ikland. But during that month, it seems the Adversary threw everything at us but the kitchen sink. Our days alternated between gutwrenchingly hard to inexplicably peaceful. Then, at the end of the first week of January, all the hard things we had undergone for eight years finally caught up with us. Ironically, a breakdown in our ability to cope with stress provided us the way out of our difficult circumstances.

Little did we know, we were heading from one place of exile to another. We have been in Kampala since the beginning of February. Through a series of bizarre events that I won't go into here, those applications we filed in December didn't make it to US Immigration until March 15. Three precious months had been wasted. In January, thinking we had a good chance of leaving by the summer, I (Terrill) applied to a graduate degree program at FSU (in the history & philosophy of science). I took the GRE exam in March and just barely got the score I needed to qualify for a research assistantship (that pays a small salary). Then in April, I was accepted into the program as their only new student for Fall 2016. To keep my scholarship, I need to show up at the university on the 23rd of August.

Also in April, seeing that time was getting short, we applied for our visa applications to be expedited. Going through a Florida congressperson's office, we sent our request letter along with supporting documentation. For the next six weeks we waited in suspense, and in vain, for a response. On May 31, I had to give a definitive answer to FSU as to whether I accepted their offer. For the second time in two months, I told them 'yes' in faith, without any certainty. Finally, on June 2, we found out that our case file had been opened and was under review. This gave us a surge of hope, and we began taking bigger steps to get ready to leave. We sold our vehicle. We went to a flea market and sold a lot of our other stuff. Then, on the morning of Saturday, June 18, we checked our visa status online. Amber's eyes started at the top where it said a decision had been made. I can still see and feel her light up with excitement. But my eyes quickly skipped down to the next line where the word DENIED stood out. Yes, our applications had been denied. Our hopes were crushed yet again.

Something died in me that day. Something that needed to die, I suppose, something God wanted to die. A striving, a will to resist. I was tired of the fight, weary of the struggle. For the first time in ages, I knew I could accept living in Uganda for six more months, for eighteen more months, for years to come. It didn't matter anymore. But I still just wanted to know either way: We are leaving by August or we are not. Even at this very moment as I write this, we don't know the answer to that question. If we knew we were leaving, it would energize us to plan out our remaining weeks, to make the most of the limited time we have left. If we knew we were not leaving, we could make the needed adjustments to our outlook and lifestyle and settle in for the long haul. But we don't know.

The visas had been denied because the US Immigration didn't recognize the first year we fostered the girls as part of the two required years of 'legal custody'. We were led to believe that fostering counted, but as it turned out, we had permission to foster from a government representative instead of from a family court, and that was the issue. Curiously, on June 2, the very day the officer looked at our case, we reached the two-year mark of having legal guardianship over the girls, which definitely counts toward the requirement. And so, on that basis, we decided to put together two brand new applications for the girls' visas and send them with friends who were flying home to the US that weekend. That's what we did, and this week we found out the applications have been accepted into the system and are now in the service center in Nebraska. Once we found that out, we wrote our congressperson's office again to ask them to ask the Immigration people to expedite our applications...again.

And so, we wait. From a human standpoint, getting home by August 22 seems nearly impossible. It would probably take getting a positive ruling on the case in the next week or two, when it took them two and half months to open the case last time. But we believe that if God wants us home by August, he will make a way. I won't stop believing until it is September and we are still here.

When the Israelites finally were able to leave their captivity in Egypt, it says they plundered the Egyptians, not with force but peacefully, asking for and receiving riches from their neighbors. Whenever God decides to release us from our own personal Egypt, we will also go with our own plunder. During this season of waiting, longing, and hoping in Kampala, we have not been idle. By the end of July, Amber will have led the girls successfully through all of kindergarten, preparing them for first grade. I will have finished the Ik-English dictionary that I've been working on for eighteen months. Our house in Timu and our vehicle will be set to bless the Ik community for years to come. We have changed some of our less healthy eating habits and have gotten back in shape physically. We have taken up tennis as a fun way to get exercise and spend time together as a couple. We have made good friends in Kampala. We have grown in our marriage and grown as a family. The list goes on.

We still don't know what the immediate future holds. If we get the visas in the next six weeks, we plan to fly back to Florida where I will begin my studies/work and Amber will homeschool the girls. If we don't make it back by then, Amber will keep schooling the girls here in Kampala, and I will have to find something useful to do. One possibility would be to help the Tepeth community of Karamoja (related to the Ik) in their desire to begin developing their endangered language. Our medium-term plan is to settle back into Tallahassee for a season of at least a few years. Eventually we'd like to put Mercy and Immaculate in school, but only after they've adjusted to America. We also see ourselves going overseas again, but probably not for several years. We need time to recover. Our dream is to be based in the US and make shorter field trips to language communities, for example during the summer months, as a family. This degree program I want to do is part of what I believe God is leading me into, which is helping heal the rift between science and faith. I want to study the origin of science in Christianity, the events that pitted them against each other, and what might be done to repair the relationship. But whether that means a second career after linguistics, or a dual career with linguistics, I do not yet know. I am simply following the 'golden thread' winding through my heart and mind. As for Amber, she would like to get back into the medical field again, but hopefully part-time and at a more low-key level, possibly hospice or home health.

Many of you reading this have prayed for us, and many others have given financially so we could continue living in Uganda. For that we sincerely thank you. I don't know what we would've done had we been unable to leave and unable to provide for ourselves. If you think about praying for us, please pray that we'd treasure each day we have to be in this country and in our circumstances. Pray that God continues to refine our characters but with a touch of gentleness for our fragile condition.
Pray that we learn to put our faith and hope in nothing but God himself, the source of our lives. Pray that whenever we set food on that airplane, we will have allowed God to shape us to the utmost our exile could have made possible. And lastly, please pray for the rapid coming of our day of exodus.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

More on Kampala life...

The girls' uncle Hillary has been sworn in as a Member of Parliament. A group of Ik were transported down to show their support. Hillary is the man in the middle.
Terrill & Uncle Hillary after the ceremony
This is Janet's first story. She just started stringing words together in sentences this month.
Janet & Lemu also made a menu for their cafe.
Someone gave me the idea of photographing the girls art and saving it digitally instead of keeping every piece in storage.

We decorated gingerbread men at a local bazaar. Grandma Marilyn would be proud of their decorating efforts.
Getting comfortable on Silver Queen
Sitting confidently on her horse, Heath
Doing a flip on the trampoline
Flying high
We seriously need to nurture the girls' athletic abilities.
We've been cooking with different foods (like cauliflower as big as my head). Having access to better nutrition in Kampala is really improving all of our health.
We also get out once in a while for a cup of cocoa.
Yep, still in Kampala...but not having the worst time either.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Amber and I used to pride ourselves in being the kind of people who couldn't and wouldn't live in a city like Kampala, with all the noise, activity, and pollution. We were 'bush people' after all. It's funny how perspectives change, often very abruptly. After eighteen months waiting for the legal permission to leave this country, and after our nervous breakdown in January, Kampala seemed like paradise.

It's not paradise, but our time here has been very good for us overall, and we are grateful for that. It's given us distance from so many stresses that used to be part of our daily life. No more people at the gate wanting this or that, no more medical crises, no more dreading weekends, no more soul-wrenching loneliness, no more undernourishment...and the list goes on. Instead, we have a lovely place to live here that affords us almost total privacy and anonymity, a place where Amber can homeschool the girls and I can do my linguistic work undisturbed, a place we can buy the foods we want, cook the way we want, and get adequate exercise, a place we can go to a racially diverse English-speaking church and a weekly home-group meeting less than a mile away, a place we can enjoy simple pleasures like Lebanese food, ice-cream, playgrounds, swimming pools, bookstores, internet access, school plays, and meetings with friends over lunch or coffee.

In this less-stressful environment, we are beginning to see more and more the physical, emotional, and psychological healing we need. Years of dreaded human interactions, years of exploitative relationships, years of mind-numbing humdrumness and soul-starving isolation, years of immersion in a world of mistrust and misunderstanding--have left their mark on us. Even in Kampala, we still feel very much like foreigners, strangers, people who can survive only by carving out a narrow niche in the seething possibilities of African city life, a life that still feels quite threatening to us at times. Our hearts very much desire a long period of rest and recuperation in our home country, but we are very thankful for this period in Kampala that seems like a valuable transition for us and the girls.

It's funny, we joke that the place we live in Kampala is as close to being in Timu as one can be in Kampala. And it's true: we live high on a narrow ridge, in a cluster of trees, with a magnificent view of the valley below. Only this valley is covered in brightly-colored buildings instead of woodland:

the view from our front porch
views of the sun are comparable too
The house we are renting is the guesthouse of some British doctors that have lived in Uganda for decades, giving their careers to help Ugandans through reconstructive surgery. Normally they reserve their guesthouse for short-term guests, but they were generous enough to let us rent for longer-term. The property has a pool, a sauna, a trampoline, a tree-house, and a lovely shaded yard. It's an ideal environment for our little family to pass the days in peace and security. It also provides enough props to let either me or Amber parent alone for a few days.

For example, in late February, Amber got to go to Dubai with some friends to attend a Christian women's conference. For several days, she enjoyed being pampered by a care-team from America. This included counseling, prayer, make-overs, massages, etc. After the conference, she had a couple more days to shop in the city's amazing malls and dine in some of the many western restaurants. It's pretty amazing how the Emirates have built a modern city literally out of the sands of the deserts!

enjoying fellowship with Christian women
at an aquarium
Dubai skyline
When we were having such a hard time in January, Amber's mother, Marilyn, and sister, Ashley, offered to come over and lend their support for a few weeks. This was such good news it brought tears of joy. An amazing part of it was that Marilyn's employer allowed her to use sick leave time to come over instead of using up her vacation time. So for the last three weeks of March, Marilyn and Ashley (who had never been to Africa) lived with us through the ups and downs of emotions and the realities of living in Africa. It meant a lot to us to have close family with us during that time! Toward the end of their stay, we went on a safari to Queen Elizabeth national park in southwestern Uganda.
the journey took us across the equator
Mercy & Immaculate waiting for dinner
Marilyn and Ashley soaking in the 'bush vibe'
cape buffalo
our family in safari spirit
Ashley and Amber taking coffee at a safari lodge
riding on top--look out for elephants!
the gorgeous Rwenzori mountains on the drive back to Kampala
We even got to celebrate Easter with Marilyn and Ashley, which was a bonus!
Mercy & Macky in their Easter best
Later in April, we celebrated Lemu Immaculate's 6th birthday. She's growing up so fast: we got her when she was 2 years, 1l months! Somehow, she ended up having two birth-days: one pool party shared with a boy from our church and another quiet celebration as a family on her actual birthday. Come to think of it, having two birthdays a year kinda suits her personality!
our girls having a blast in the pool
some pool antics from the 6 year old
birthday party shared with little Benja (on the left)
Another fun aspect of living in Kampala has been hosting our girls' uncle Hillary, his wife Lilly, and their young girls. Hillary was just elected the first Ik member of parliament in history, so now he and Lilly are transitioning to a new life in many ways, including having a home in Kampala. It's a privilege to walk with them and support them in small ways as they make this huge change.
Lilly, Amber, and the girl cousins
As some of you may know, we are planning to move back to the United States for an extended period. We'd love to be back in Florida by the beginning of the next school year. We were all set in December to apply for our girls' immigrant visas to the U.S., but through a bizarre sequence of events, our applications weren't processed until March 15. Recently we found out that the average processing time for the visas is five months, so that still puts us home sometime in August. But we have applied for expedited visas and are waiting for news on that.

In the meantime, Amber is homeschooling the girls, trying to get them through kindergarten so they'll be ready for 1st grade in the fall. For someone who never wanted to be a teacher, she is doing a great job, and the results are evident in the girls' progress. While she stays busy with that, I am slaving away at an Ik-English dictionary that I hope to finish by the end of June. And so we plod through day after day, eager for the news we long for but determined to stay present where we are, not to miss the blessings and growth God has for us in this season of waiting.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Last day in Timu

For us, 2015 ended and 2016 began with a premonition and resolution. I, Terrill, had a premonition that the new year would bring about significant changes in our lives. And Amber made the resolution to meet new trials with more faith than fear. Little did we know what was about to happen.

The second week of January, Amber was a struck with bout of anxiety and insomnia that left her a wreck. I also struggled with some sleeplessness and irregular heart-rates. After a week of misery and tears, Amber told me she couldn't take another week like that, and I agreed. So we packed up and raced to Kampala for a week of doctor's visits and recuperation. Midway through the week in Kampala, it dawned on us that we could, and should move out of Timu. By then circumstances had coalesced in a way that allowed us to cease our service activities in Timu, vacate our house, and move into a rental home in a quiet(er) neighborhood of Kampala. It became clear to us later that only something as bad as what we went through could've dislodged us from our lives in Ikland.

With the new and urgent goal of moving in mind, we raced back to Timu, packed up our home, and uprooted our eight-year-old roots in a matter of two weeks flat. Our last day there was Thursday, February 4th. That's what this blog post is about.

Our last day in Timu began like most of our days there. I got up, made tea for me and Amber, and headed outside to one of my favorite quiet time perches, a large boulder partway down the valley. Amber remained inside, comfortably ensconced in bed, gazing out our bedroom window. Knowing it was our last day, I intended to have a special, final meeting with God in the pristine nature of Ikland. But just after I sat down, greeted the world, and turned on my Kindle, I heard footsteps padding up the rock behind me. It was a teenage boy named Guti who I had seen coming to this spot every morning to check his hyrax traps (in vain). This was the second time he had interrupted my quiet time, and I was incredulous that he was doing it again. He sat down beside me, picked up my journal, and began reading it. For a moment I honestly tried to empathize cross-culturally, but then I just reached over and took it out of his hands and said, "Those are MY stories." After a few moments, he brought up a sore subject: how we had repossessed a motorcycle from another Ik young man who had stopped making payments for it, and how this young was very angry with me and threatened to take me to court for 'stealing' the motorcycle. My mouth turned sour. For you to appreciate the situation, you must understand that this motorcycle fiasco, which took place in December and January, was a major stress factor for us, probably one of the things that pushed us beyond our ability to cope. And here I was, hoping for a last moment of peace in Timu, and here was Guti bringing up this most distasteful topic in excruciating detail. Well, we chatted my quiet time away, and I headed back home.

It has been relational unpleasantries like this one that have left us lonely, humble, and weary.

Terrill's quite time 'gear' on a rock

Amber's quiet time view from our bedroom
 Back at the house, I greeted my family and made breakfast. Since this was to be our last day in Timu, I was cutting it close work-wise. For the entire last year, I have worked almost exclusively on collecting data for an Ik-English dictionary. This work involved meeting with some Ik men two or three times a week for the morning. I would come with a list of words whose spellings and definitions we'd go through one by one. Amber would make tea, and then lunch, and we men would have a great time hanging out together. My 'guys' included three partially blind old men, as well as a young man who knew English and helped me understand the nuances of Ik semantics.

Well, dictionary work is literally endless, but I had come to an acceptable stopping point. On this final morning, the guys all came, and we started our work. But then a stream of visitors filed up to our gate wanting to say 'good-bye' in a way that consisted of saying, "What are you leaving behind for me?" We were so bombarded with distractions, we had to move to the far side of the house to continue working. Amber graciously handled the visitors for a couple of hours, while at the same time handing out a few more pills and putting on a few more bandages.

The 'approach' to our home where people came with their many wants and needs

The unrelenting responsibility of community healthcare had left Amber worn down and tired.

Despite good progress, I actually didn't finish the work I had to do, but at noon, I could wait no longer to talk to my guys about how we were leaving and how much I had loved being with them and getting to know them. In all the years spent working on the Ik language, I have been burnt many times in relationships. But these old guys were pure gold: they were faithful, humble, patient, cooperative, helpful, and very, very thankful. And I thank God so much for allowing me to spend my last year in Ikland with (from left-to-right) Iuda, Simon, Gabriel, and our translator Clement:

The Ik dictionary team 2015-2016
Dictionary guys enjoying the last of Amber's fine lunches there
 Now that the data-collecting phase of the dictionary work is closed, I am gearing up for the writing phase. My plan is to spend March-June writing a book called Icetod: The Ik Language, Grammar Sketch and Dictionary. Since the writing is done on my laptop, it makes the work highly mobile. I can work from home or a coffee shop, just about anywhere...including a suburb of Kampala. Had we not reached this stage in my work, moving out of Timu would not have made much sense.

After this extremely hectic morning, we spent the early afternoon trying to pack up the remaining stuff. We thought we were anti-clutter and simple-livers, but still the piles of things to process seemed to never end. But through it all, we had a deep peace and confidence that kept us going. Our AIM friends, the Germans Christoph & Heidi Rauch, agreed to feed us supper that night so we could pack up our kitchen. When they first arrived in Ikland last July, we had fed them a couple of meals so they could set up their kitchen. Now they returned the favor. The Rauchs are leading a team of 8-10 missionaries that will settle in groups along the Timu ridge for two years, starting in July of this year. We are sad that our moving now separates us from them, but we are so thankful for the wonderful times we had to spend together over the last few months. In the next photo, we are saying good-bye to the Rauchs. Lemu, who always wears her emotions openly, is obviously grieving in the moment. Mercy is showing her deep empathy for her sister, and the joy of Jesus is radiating from the Rauchs:

 On the one hand, we hated to uproot our girls from their Timu home which they had grown to love and feel secure in. But on the other hand, we believe God has wonderful things in store for them in Kampala and America. We tried to stay very positive about our move, focusing on the things we can enjoy in the city, and thankfully they have followed our lead. One thing they'll miss especially is their daily 'lunch club', where 2-6 neighborhood children came to play in our playground and eat lunch:

Kids' lunch club on the last day
Little masters of the tire swings
Though we'll miss our girls' little friends, we won't miss their negative influences of lying, grabbing, using foul language, etc. We are grateful for the amount of exposure Mercy and Immaculate got to Ik culture and language, but we are eager to have them interact with more people who share our morals.

After getting back home from the Rauchs, I worked feverishly until well after dark dismantling our extensive playground system. This included pouring used motor oil on the legs of the swing-set, picnic table, and tree-house ladder to prevent termites from eating them up. Most things we left with the house, but one thing we did bring to Kampala is the zipline! When I was done outside, I joined Amber inside for the final round of packing. Amazingly, we crashed into bed around 10:30, exhausted but happy. We slept fitfully and awoke early enough to leave around sunrise. The moment depicted below represents us leaving a period of darkness in our lives under the light of a new sun:

Sunrise during our exodus
We drove down to Kaabong and stopped to say good-bye to the girls' mother, Adupa Alice. Mercifully, the good-bye was smooth and no tears were shed at the time. We will try to see Alice once or twice more before moving to America. She'll probably be summoned down to the US Embassy when we have our interviews for immigrant visas.

Adupa Alice

Lemu with their half-sister, Akello Prisca

Mercy with Alice
 After parting ways with Alice, we spent the rest of the day in Kaabong and then left at 9:00 p.m. and and drove all night to Kampala. It's like having waited at a red light for months and months, when we finally got the green light to leave Ikland, we punched the accelerator. It's not that we didn't love it there. We did love the place and do love the people very much; we even have that bitter-sweet affection for the instrument of so much personal growth. It's just that we were burnt out, tired, weary, lonely, and as of the beginning of this year, unhealthy. And it's incredible how God arranged everything at just the right time to make our move to Kampala possible and practical. How many times did Amber and I tell each other "We will NEVER live in Kampala!" Hmmm...funny how that works. Living in Kampala presents a whole new set of challenges, but in our current circumstances, our stress levels are much, much lower on average. And that is a huge relief--God is kind to us.