Uganda Reflection Week (3): Roll with it

Anyone who has ever been on a mission trip knows that unexpected things happen and you just have to roll with it. These unexpected occurrences often make for valuable life lessons. Naturally, I thought List Wednesday would be a great time to share mine with you. So here ya’ go –

Random Stuff I Learned on My Trip to Uganda:

The stereotypical British lady exists, and she sat in the seat in front me on the flight from DFW to London. My seat was in the row in front of the toilet. I was doing okay with that fact, trying not to think too much about the close proximity of my mouth and nose to that cubicle of germy death, and then it happened. Before we even reached our cruising altitude, the lady in front of me reclined her seat – all the way back to about the length of one finger from my face. Since I was in the row in front of said toilet, my chair would not recline more than 2 inches. Naturally, I bumped her chair each time I shifted my legs, chose something new to watch on the screen, and moved my tray table. I couldn’t help it…and that’s what I tried to explain to her when she turned around to chew me out.

Me: “I’m sorry, but it’s going to keep happening. I can’t recline my seat, and yours is 3 inches from my face.”
Her (imagine heavy British accent for proper effect): “What do you want ME to do about it?”
Me: “Give me an inch or two?”
Her (incredulously): “and then ME be uncomfortable???”
Me: (thinking, “I am so going to blog about you to the whole wide world when I get home.”)

I guess she must really like the reclining position, because she kept it there the whole flight, even during the meal. That’s okay, because it wasn’t that hard holding my food under my chin in one hand and shoveling it into my mouth with a spoon in the other. And all those times she pulled the seat back up and then immediately slammed it all the way back again only made me LIM. And I may or may not have “accidentally” hip-checked her seat really hard on my way to and from the cubicle of germy death. I’m sure I couldn’t help it.

In some countries, 9 am means 11 am, and 10 am sometimes means 2 pm (or 3 pm, just depending).

Panic is a universal language. I’m not sure how it happened, but between sessions in the women’s conference, someone saw bees enter the building. When you’re in Africa, any bee is an African killer bee. Women started screaming and running over children for dear life. My American friends were ducking for cover under a bench. But I only saw 2 bees, and my translator stood calmly beside me, so I went with that.

Me: Patrick, is this a big deal?
Patrick: No, we’re fine.
Me: (lim)

If a drunk guy comes stumbling down the center aisle while you’re speaking, and then someone wearing fatigues and carrying an AK-47 comes in and drags him out, just keep on going like nothing happened. At least that’s what I did, and I think it was a really moving session for everyone. 🙂 Also, if women are breastfeeding while you are speaking, the same rule applies.

Driving on the other side of the road is a scary experience; driving in the middle of the road and forcing others off it is scarier. The lead car in the royal escort had 4 armed guards perched atop it. Anyone coming the opposite direction, whether on foot, motorcycle, bike, car, or semi-truck better get off the road. Also, drivers in the royal escort travel at a high rate of speed and follow a 1-nanosecond space cushion rule. “Shotgun!”

Humor does not translate well into another language or culture. I knew it going in, and had cut all attempts at humor out of my messages. But then I saw it firsthand, when another team member said through a translator, “I have a question. Did he (translator) say I’m the pastor of a big church, or did he say I’m a big (motions with hands to draw attention to size of belly) pastor?” At which point, the African killer crickets started chirping.

But you can put your foot in your mouth in any culture. If you try to be funny in another culture, it will probably fall flat. But if you say to a church full of African villagers, “I’m so blessed to be in your bush,” that, they’ll laugh at. (It wasn’t me who said it. Wish it was, though.)

Airplane food typically matches its country of departing flight. That’s okay when you’re leaving the US, but when you’re leaving Africa, not so much. When the stewardess asked, “Would you like the roasted lamb or the vegetarian choice?” I thought it was a trick question. The answer is, obviously, “vegetarian.”

How about you? What unexpected life lessons have you learned on a mission trip or while traveling abroad?

See the previous two posts, “Life is Hard” and “Try to not throw up on the royal family” for more Uganda Reflections (and pictures!)

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Donna McKinney

Loved your list of random stuff. I should point out the women in my couples S.S. class breast feed in class, if the baby gets hungry. I keep right on teaching 🙂

Donna Wright

I learned that ladies would listen as long as I would teach. Humbling to have them so hungry to learn that I taught everything I brought and much more. (Ukraine) Women like to chat, visit, and do crafts almost everywhere I’ve been. Women have to do a lot more manual labor in other countries than here in the U.S. They do it while the men sit around, drink tea and play backgammon (Turkey) Made me very thankful for life in the U.S and hopefully less likely to feel sorry for myself next time I get a middle seat on a long flight behind a very tall person (Chile).

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