Friday, May 18, 2012

Predictably Unpredictable

At times living in Uganda can be an adventure.

Among other things, "adventure" can be defined as "an exciting or unexpected event or course of events." This post focuses on the latter - an "unexpected event or course of events."
As I rode home from a village yesterday evening, I thought about this aspect of Uganda that I find sometimes interesting, sometimes humorous, sometimes frustrating.

Circumstances, events and schedules can be "predictably unpredictable." Don't set your plans or ideas in stone as they are apt to be adjusted, rearranged, broken, or entirely canceled.

For instance, yesterday I escorted a young island boy, Geoffrey, up to school. In my planning this morning I imagined it would be a simple affair. Take a boat from the island, buy the few things he needs in town, like soap and sugar, board a taxi to the village, meet up with the contact, go to the school, get the boy settled, and return to Jinja by perhaps 3 or 4 in the afternoon. However, things did not go as smoothly as my "best -laid plans."

After my morning chore of sweeping and mopping, I realized I had only a few minutes before the time the public boat would arrive to take  us off the island. I quickly showered, packed my things in my backpack, grabbed breakfast (instant coffee and a protein bar) and quickly headed to the lake shore. Near the shore, I was relieved to realize I had not missed the boat and in fact would be taking a different private boat. So, I decided to reset my pace to "leisurely" and wait for the new departure time.

Some time later, on the way to Geoffrey's new school, we realized we didn't have all of his things - like a mattress, an essential for staying at a boarding school. We called the  former school's headmaster (principal), then the boy's older brother, then the headmaster again trying to figure out where his things were being stored. When we arrived at the old school to pick up his belongings we found it locked as tight as a drum, with not a soul on the premises.

Realizing we would not easily get the items back and seeing Geoffrey needed something to sleep on that night, we ventured into the "trading center" of the village. After visiting four different shops, we bought what he needed (spending more than I anticipated) just as it began to rain.

Geoffrey at his new school.
We were graciously welcomed at the new school, but as Headmaster Alan checked the boy's things, he noted some items were missing - pencils, brooms, toilet paper, a mathematical set. Okay, so maybe Geoffrey wasn't as ready as I had thought.
By this time it was after 2 p.m. and none of our group had eaten lunch. But it was also now pouring down rain. After debating whether or not to wait out the storm, our hungry stomachs won out and we dashed to the car. It took careful navigation for the driver to move the vehicle along the narrow roads (paths) that were now quite muddy and flooding in some parts. After picking up some other hungry folks, we ventured back to the trading center for lunch at a small cafe.

After a nice meal, we made our way back to the office of the organization with which I was working to get Geoffrey into his new school. I was told there would be a 15-30 minute wait until we headed back to Jinja, about a 30-40 minute drive away. I didn't track the time, but my guess was that the 30-minute wait s t r e t c h e d into longer. (Which is why I have learned to carry a book with me.)

Finally at about 6 p.m. I arrived back home in Jinja - only two or three hours after originally planned. Although my "plans" were not executed as I had envisioned, there were the unexpected blessings as well, like protection on the journey and from the rain, sunshine on the boat ride, help from friends, a nice lunch and a free ride back to Jinja.

While I would call America a structured and orderly society, Uganda is definitely "fluid."You can't set your clock by hardly anything, which is one reason I don't wear a watch. Store hours, power, water, Internet, cellphone networks, boat and taxi services, meetings, activities, the weather, what is available in the supermarket and more are all fairly flexible and apt to change at any time.

A boat may depart at 5:30 a.m. or several hours later at 8 a.m. You may find your favorite coffee in the supermarket, or you may not. (However, you may find Pringles or Oreos that weren't there the week before. ; ) That rainstorm may last several minutes or several hours, and will likely severely delay or sabotage any plans. The power might be off for a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days. You may show up "late" to the meeting, and wait an hour or two more for it to begin. You may find your water supply is lessened or not there at all. Your favorite shop may be closed in the middle of the day, perhaps for lack of power or because the owner decided to take a break. You may have forewarning about a speaking engagement or other commitment, or you may not. Many Ugandans do not live by the clock.

For someone who likes and even thrives in a structured environment, Uganda's fluidity and "predictable unpredictability" has taken me some getting used to. But God is using it to teach me flexibility, patience and is providing the nearly constant reminder that He  is still in control, despite circumstances often out of my control.

And, honestly, I actually miss this type of "adventure" when I visit home in the states. Structure can be predictable and even boring. ; )

One Ugandan "predictability" - breathtaking sunsets.