On 23rd July a group of 18 youth and leaders from my church arrived in Mbale. As the coach approached, hooting away, and as I opened the gates to the compound they were staying in, I saw 18 excited faces grinning at me and 18 sets of hands waving at me. Despite the long journey they were fresh faced and the excitement was palpable. We had been planning this trip for months, and had even been discussing it before I arrived here in November. And there they were. Faces to put to the names of those I hadn’t yet met, a reunion with those I had met before when I was a part of the youth team as well as those who are some of my close friends.
The next ten days passed in a flurry of excitement; introducing the team to many of the different projects which Jenga runs and apparently transforming me into Tour Guide Barbie in the process. I loved the deep conversations and the external processing, facing the challenges of, “How can I reconcile the things which I am seeing here in Mbale with my life back in the UK?”, “How can I continue to get involved once I’m back home?” and “What is my role in all of this?”. Questions which don’t have any easy answers.
But what was most exciting and special to me was introducing the team to my workplace and my colleagues. The Jenga team is made up of some of the most amazing people who are full of love and joy and they have some of the best sense of humours that I’ve come across. So many of the staff have opened up their hearts, homes and families to me and have become my home away from home. They do this tirelessly, for all volunteers, even though we come and go consistently at different times. It is difficult for me to fully share why I love my new home, my colleagues and my work so much through photos and blog posts and so to be able to show a group of people this in person is particularly special.
It was also a sign to me of other’s interest in what I’m doing and the support of my home church. When I’m so far away, it is easy to get caught up working on my projects in a very different place to my family and friends. Of course I know that there are many people who are supporting me in so many different ways and I am so grateful for that. But here it was, a very real expression of interest, wanting to understand what I and Jenga do, and why we do it. 18 People wanting to be a part of my world, even for ten days. It was a demonstration of love and support from my church. A very real pat on the back and a confirmation that they are behind me and supporting me. And that meant so much!
And as they left, it seemed to highlight some health issues which I’d been pushing to the background for the previous two months. It turns out that when you’re busy arranging schedules, and transforming into Tour Guide Barbie, it’s surprisingly easy to ignore health issues and to continue the British tradition of sporting a stiff upper lip and just getting on with life. I’d been having real problems with my stomach. Despite multiple trips to the doctors, rounds of antibiotics and different laboratory tests, we were none the wiser what the problem was. I was getting up to five bad stomach aches a day, some which kept me in bed. We were all perplexed. What was causing it and why had it suddenly begun?
Thankfully, after contacting friends who I knew had had similar struggles, the doctor advised that I try an exclusion diet. That started with avoiding gluten. Things aren’t perfect, I’m planning a full exclusion diet after my parent’s have visited and I can manage my diet more easily, but it is amazing the transformation I have already experienced. And although I have found it tricky to navigate this new diet, and am sad to miss out on yummy treats such as brownies and cake, I have been so touched by the community who have come around me. Thankful for those who have advised me about exclusion diets, sent me recipes and given me gluten free goodies (Give me cake and I’ll love you forever)!! Those who have specifically made food which I can eat so I don’t have to miss out.
So these last few weeks have largely been about community. And for whatever way you are a part of that, I want to thank you. Whether you are a part of the Mbale community, those who have helped with my diet, the team who visited, my church at home, those in my whatssapp group, those who I facetime or message regularly and those who I know are praying. Thank you so much!
I’m notoriously bad at taking photos but here are some of the few I managed to take of the last few weeks!