Uganda/Cameroon Journal: Part 1
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Travel Days to Uganda – November 26-30, 2010

From Sr. Mary Wilson and Provincial Councilor Judith Desmarais:

On the afternoon of November 26, we met at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to begin the journey to Uganda. The first leg was a short half-hour flight to Vancouver, B.C., followed by a 9-plus-hour flight to London via the polar route. Upon arrival, we were met by a taxi driver, Ali, who drove us to General Administration house and the offices of the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary (LCM), where we were welcomed by Srs. Carol Pacini and Jeanette.

Sr. Carol served on the Providence Health System board and was also a corporate member during her time as provincial of the LCM American Province. After some light refreshment, we walked, in quite cold weather, with Sr. Carol to the nearby parish, St. Anselm’s, for a Saturday evening first Sunday of Advent liturgy. We enjoyed supper together, watched some tennis on television, and then retired for the night.

Cars, taxi vans, motorbikes, bicycles, trucks and buses crowd Kampala streets.

Cars, taxi vans, motorbikes, bicycles, trucks and buses crowd Kampala streets.

The next morning, Ali drove us back to the airport, and we boarded our 8½-hour flight for Entebbe, Uganda, arriving at 10:15 p.m. on Monday, November 28. Srs. Jane Frances and Immaculate, and two other Daughters of Mary, Srs. Florence and Theodosius, met us with open arms, much warmth and flowers. The driver took all of us through the night to Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Only when we got into the heart of town did we see one stop light. This was a British colony, and thus, the cars drive on the left side of the road. There are cars, taxi vans, motorbikes, bicycles, trucks and some buses that share the roads in their own inimitable style.

We arrived at the Association of Religious of Uganda Center (ARUS), where we were warmly welcomed by the director, Sr. Gaudentia of Mary the Mother of the Church congregation. We  were well fed and then sent off to bed after our long journey to arrive in the beautiful land of Uganda.

From Provincial Superior Karin Dufault and Sr. Anita Butler:

We arrived at the ARU Center the next day, in late morning, after a long flight from Seattle to Frankfurt to Istanbul and on to Entebbe. The 10-hour stop in Istanbul stretched to 12 hours when the plane was delayed for two hours. We arrived late into Entebbe, but were warmly greeted and transported to the ARU Center. Sr. Jacqueline Fernandes followed the same itinerary as Sr. Mary and Sr. Judith, but left from Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday afternoon, November 28. She was welcomed by the Little Company of Mary Sisters on Monday and stayed overnight, then came on to Entebbe, arriving very late on the 30th, and without her checked suitcase. It was good for the five of us to be reunited as we prepared to travel to Masaka with the Daughters of Mary.

Monday, November 30, 2010

ARU (Association of Religious of Uganda Center) is a place for gatherings, meetings, seminars for junior professed religious, retreats, and hospitality for the more than 500 religious women and men of Uganda and their guests. The ARU is situated behind the American Embassy in Kampala.

What a wonderful place. It is managed by the community of St. Therese. Like the Daughters of Mary, these sisters are an indigenous community founded by the White Sisters of Africa from Algeria, in addition to another African community of Little Sisters of St. Francis. They are a wonderful, hospitable, welcoming group of women and are present to our every need.

They made us feel at home immediately. Sr. Jane Frances and these sisters are our hosts at this time. Needless to say, Sr. Jane Frances is elated to “be home” among her people. She stayed in Kampala to assist us and is waiting to go to the motherhouse until all of us Sisters of Providence have arrived safely.

Sr. Mary went for a walk with Sr. Jane Frances and learned many facts about the culture and living situation as we were experiencing it here at ARU. For instance, she learned the water for ARU is gathered from the rain and stored in a series of very large drums. It then is distributed through a network of pipes and drains to various sections of the complex. This water is used for cooking, heating, bathing and drinking, as well as for watering various plants and fruit trees, washing clothes and other household needs.

One source of heat is a solar panel on the roof of one of the buildings. Sr. Pauline, former superior general of the Little Sisters of St. Francis and a foundress and director of the ARU for some years, said this single solar panel provided sufficient heat for the complex.

Next door there is a new building being built. It will be called the Bernadine House after one of the foundresses of ARU. The scaffolding is made of wooden poles framing the shape of the new building. The bricks are made by hand of cement and mud. The drying is completed by the heat of the sun. There is no garbage collection here. A great deal of the usable garbage is recycled into compost, which is used for the many items planted for food and/or flowers. What can be burned is placed in a burner which is built with hand-made bricks.

One of the trees planted here is called a MUJAJA (moo-ya-ya) tree. The leaves, when washed and eaten or in tea, are helpful for indigestion and cleaning the blood. At the end of the walk, Sr. Mary felt very well informed, had a good understanding of the workings of the ARU complex, and shared her newfound knowledge with the rest of us. We all experienced the hospitality to all religious of Uganda and their friends like the Sisters of Providence.

Sr. Terezeen shops for fresh vegetables and fruit in Kampala's street markets like this one.

Sr. Terezeen shops for fresh vegetables and fruit in Kampala’s street markets like this one.

Sr. Terezeen is responsible for preparation of the meals. She goes to the market twice a week for fresh vegetables and fruit. She is present any time of the day or night (even when we arrived at 11 p.m.) to prepare a meal when needed. Ordinarily, the schedule goes like this: 6:30 or 7 a.m., liturgy followed by breakfast; 12:30, lunch; and dinner at 7:30 p.m.

The main products used for food here are bananas and peanuts. For some of the meals we have had cooked bananas.  This dish is made like we would make mashed squash. There is a pour-over of a fruit peanut sauce. M-m-m-m … ! It is very delicious. We then had browned potatoes, beans, salad and guava for desert.

Srs. Mary, Karin, Judith and Jane Frances went for a walk after lunch. Here are some observations each of us had of our first glimpses of Kampala. On occasion, there is a happiness reflected in many faces. There are a great number of low-income people wherever one looks. However, the signs of happiness reflect that they are “weathering the storm,” which is indeed all around. They work very, very, hard to deal with life the best they can. This is evidenced by the number of very small, shops beside the roads. Goods are sold there, from fruit, vegetables, clothing, craft items, and essentially what has been made, crafted, planted and harvested in order to maintain life on an everyday basis.

Some of the products sold are paint, handmade shoes, soap, and, of course, bananas. It was observed that there is very little litter despite the lack of regular garbage collections and no visible garbage cans. Sometimes a person is hired to pick up some of the garbage. Once in a while, someone calls out, “Muzuangu,” meaning a white person or someone of another culture. We are told this is a mark of respect.

A sad note of today was that Daughter of Mary Sr. Ann Elizabeth, 69 years of age, died today of thyroid cancer. She was a nurse working in one of their hospitals. This has been very difficult for Srs. Immaculate and Jane Frances. It made it even more difficult when they were unable to get a car and driver to take them to the funeral. As their sisters, we supported them the best we could in their time of need. Our hearts, minds, and prayers reach out to all Sr. Ann Elizabeth’s sisters as they add to the Celebration of 100 Years the “homecoming” of one of their own. May she rest in peace and pray for us.

We say, “Nsanyuse okuba wana,” – “I am happy to be here” – to represent each of you as we celebrate with our sisters, the Daughters of Mary.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Srs. Judy, Mary, Anita, and Karin joined the sisters of various communities in the chapel of reed-and-seed shaker. After breakfast, Sr. Jane Frances arranged for a driver, Michael, to take us to a large mall downtown in order to exchange money, and then we went to visit one of the areas where crafts persons sell their wares. We made a few small purchases.

During our walk around, we heard thunder and headed for the car before the torrential downpour that cleared the air.  With the storm, Sr. Karin lost phone and email Blackberry contact and it has been intermittent ever since. We also  were not able to establish contact with the office email with the computers at the center in Kampala. We hope to have contact during our time with the sisters in Musaka. If you get this communication, you know we succeeded.

After lunch, the rain subsided and Srs. Judy, Mary and Karin went with Sr. Jane Frances and Michael to visit the famous cathedral. As we entered, a man who works there offered to guide us and explained the windows and the historical aspects of the church. Our guide obviously was devoted to the cathedral and the Ugandan martyrs.

The beautiful stained glass windows depict the experiences of the Ugandan martyrs as they witnessed their faith and gave their lives. Before Christianity, the place where the cathedral is now had a building that was used by King Mutessa of Uganda who invited the missionaries to come. The French missionaries built the cathedral. The son of King Mutessa, Kabaka Mwango, who ruled the Royal Kingdom of Buganda after King Mutessa died, feared that Christianity would overthrow his kingdom and he ordered the execution of the 24 Ugandan martyrs. The king heard the Catholics saying the “Our Father” and interpreted “thy kingdom come” as threatening.

The baptistery in the cathedral was the actual baptistery that was used for the baptism of the Ugandan martyrs. The cathedral is on the same grounds as the Lubaga hospital, an archdiocesan hospital where the Daughters of Mary minister. The view of the city from the cathedral steps is lovely and a statue of Mary faces the city in the courtyard.

From the cathedral we drove south several hours to go deep into the countryside to reach a rural boarding school compound that the Daughters of Mary sponsor for poor children. After leaving the main road, we traveled 14 kilometers on a red dirt road with many ruts and finally reached St. Henry High School and St. Theresa Grade School in Buyege.

The high school is named after Bishop Henry Scechier, who founded the Daughters of Mary. The large compound includes many dormitories, classrooms, courtyards, soccer fields, farmland, spaces for pigs, goats and cows, pastures, flower and vegetable gardens, avocado, banana, and other fruit trees, living quarters of sisters and for staff, and a large chapel. Several cats greeted us. The sisters and students tend the garden. We were provided a tour of the compound by a man who is the dean of studies for the high school.

After the tour of most of the compound, we went to visit St. Theresa Grade School, where Daughter of Mary Sr. Regina, the head mistress, greeted us. We walked past the classroom buildings that had instructive messages on them like “Respect between boys and girls is healthy” and “Violence is wrong.” The grounds were filled with lovely flowers, most of which we had never seen before. Sr. Regina hosted us for refreshments in her simple living quarters. Sr. Elizabeth, the matron in the dormitories, brought a basin of water to us so we could wash our hands and then she served us soft drinks, Uganda peanuts and sesame seeds. Soon we saw children congregating outside the door. It is summer vacation time for the school, so many children have returned to their families. However, the orphan children remain at the compound year-round.

What a delight it was for us to sit and watch these beautiful, animated children welcoming us.

What a delight it was for us to sit and watch these beautiful, animated children welcoming us.

The children are of all ages, pre-school through high school. A group of about twenty gathered to sing, drum and dance for us. They sang both in their native language and in English. What a delight it was for us to sit and watch these beautiful, animated children welcoming us. At one point, they even approached us in dance and invited us to join them, which we did. There was plenty of laughing and clapping.

At the end of the performance, we taught them the round of “We give thanks unto the Lord … .” They caught on quickly and seemed to enjoy it. We will not forget the loving faces we encountered there. It was clear to us how much the children love and appreciate Sr. Regina and her love for them was so evident.

We left our new friends and headed back to the center in Kampala later than we expected, so it was dark. The dirt roads were a challenge to navigate and to avoid the chuckholes at night, but our driver, Michael, did an incredible job.  On the main road, the traffic was very heavy and many people were walking on the narrow sides of the road. The sisters at the center saved dinner for us. While we ate we shared our day with Sr. Anita, who stayed home to nurse her bad cold so that she could be in tip-top shape for the upcoming celebrations in Bwanda with the Daughters of Mary.

We were anxious to have Sr. Jacqueline join us Tuesday evening. She had attended her dear niece’s wedding in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday and flew Sunday to London with an overnight stay with the Generalate of the Little Company of Mary, as Srs. Judith and Mary had done on Saturday. Unfortunately for Sr. Jacqueline, her plane from London was delayed and she arrived after midnight with no luggage in sight! She was greeted by Sr. Immaculate and a driver, who brought her to the center where we were staying. Srs. Jane Frances and Karin opened the metal gate for them to enter the complex around 1:30 a.m. We welcomed Sr. Jacqueline with great joy and got her settled in her room for a good night’s sleep underneath her mosquito net.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The round structure of the shrine depicts the shape of the traditional African hut and is supported externally by 22 copper pillars representing the 22 Uganda martyrs.

The round structure of the shrine depicts the shape of the traditional African hut and is supported externally by 22 copper pillars representing the 22 Uganda martyrs.

After Mass and breakfast, one of the sisters who manages the center offered to go to the airport in Entebbe when Sr. Jacqueline’s suitcase arrives Thursday night (no plane from London on Wednesday). She will see that the sisters from Kampala who will come to Bwanda for the celebration bring the suitcase. Everyone has been so hospitable and generous.  Around 9:30 a.m., we loaded up (literally) to leave for the outskirts of Musaka, where the Daughters of Mary live in the area called Bwanda.

Michael, our trusty driver, gave us another experience in trying to get through a light taking us around a circle. The light wasn’t observed and a police officer directed traffic, but it seemed like the other branches of the road always got preference. When motor bikes went the same direction we did, they got preference. After about 15 minutes, it was our turn!!!

Michael took us to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs in Namugongo, in the Wakiso District of Uganda, about 15 kilometers east of Kampala. An elderly sister filled with the faith of the Ugandan martyrs gave us a tour of the beautiful shrine, which was completed in 1975.

The round structure of the shrine depicts the shape of the traditional African hut and is supported externally by 22 copper pillars representing the 22 Uganda martyrs. The outside walls are covered with red brick.

Carvings on the wooden doors depict the various aspects in the history of the martyrs

Carvings on the wooden doors depict the various aspects in the history of the martyrs

Carvings on the wooden doors depict the various aspects in the history of the martyrs. At the center of the shrine stretches a large rectangular altar and in the middle of the alter is a decorated relic of St. Charles Lwanga, leader of

the martyrs. Beneath it is a red starlight, the very spot where St. Charles Lwanga was martyred on June 3, 1886, at age 25, in a slow fire. Behind the altar is a large painting of the Ugandan martyrs surrounding the cross with angels facing the tabernacle.The shrine holds 1,000 people. Individual stained glass windows all around the outside wall depict each of the martyrs. A sister explained the story of Kizito, the 12- year- old and youngest martyr, who was with the other martyrs present at the time of Charles’ execution. They were taken to another place for execution. These martyrs encouraged Kizito to run away since he was so young, but he stated he was ready to die for his faith and accompanied them.

In the compound of the shrine lies a beautiful, man-made lake which was a natural swamp used by the executioners to cleanse and wash themselves after the execution. On the grounds, near completion, is a statuary representation of Charles’ death by fire, including statues of the executioners. The experience of being there was very moving, especially as we recognize the strong devotion of all the Uganda people for the martyrs and the inspiration that they are to live the Catholic faith. These 22 martyrs are Catholic, but there are also Anglican martyrs.

At the equator a man demonstrated how the water flows in the opposite direction from one side of the equator line to the other.

At the equator a man demonstrated how the water flows in the opposite direction from one side of the equator line to the other.

After the visit to the shrine, we continued on our journey to Musaka, and much of our conversation centered around our experience of the shrine. After a distance, we joined the red dirt road under construction that we had been on the day before. The trip from the shrine took about 3 to 4 hours. We stopped at the equator and took pictures. A man demonstrated for us how the water flows in the opposite direction from one side of the equator line to the other. It was a great science demonstration.

After another hour or so, we approached the district of Musaka, and just before approaching the city of Musaka we turned on a road to Bwanda. The final road to the Daughters of Mary motherhouse was under construction to improve the road, however, it was thick red clay dirt that was passable but would not be if it rained. So we are praying for no rain on Centenary Day.

We arrived at the motherhouse around 3:30 p.m., and passed a large open area where the sisters were practicing singing for the celebration. They stopped singing and did their yulalating in greeting us and welcoming Sr. Jane Frances home.

After finding our rooms, we had a light lunch and were greeted by many sisters. As we walked to our rooms, we met Sr. Mary Lawrence and several others who had been in Seattle with us. We had free time to get ourselves settled, iron, etc. Sr. Justine greeted us near our room and she lifted Sr. Judith right off her feet with excitement. We visited until evening prayer, which we thought was at 6 p.m., but later learned as we sat and prayed that it was at 6:45 p.m. Sr. Theresa Avila and Mother Mary Vincent came to greet us in the chapel. Dinner was around 8 p.m.

As Srs. Judith, Mary, Anita and Karin entered the large dining room, the sisters all stood, shouted and did ulatating.

As Srs. Judith, Mary, Anita and Karin entered the large dining room, the sisters all stood, shouted and did ulatating.

As Srs. Judith, Mary, Anita and Karin entered the large dining room, the sisters all stood, shouted and did ulatating. They then sang to us the lively greeting, “We are happy to receive you, (times three) Welcome!” to the tune of “Coming Round the Mountain when You Come … .”

Then all the sisters (old and young, about a hundred strong) came up to hug and greet each of us with great warmth. After we sat down to eat, Mother Rosemary introduced each of us.

Then Srs. Jacqueline and Justine entered the room after having been to town to find some clothes for Sr. Jacqueline. The excitement began all over again, and Sr. Jacqueline received the same greetings, welcome and embraces. We had a leisurely supper of soup, rice, cooked bananas, greens, cukes and spaghetti, with short bananas for dessert. After dinner, we came back to our rooms, which the sisters prepared with mosquito nets, hangers and mirrors. We were ready for bed around 11 p.m. after a wonderful day. We are experiencing home here! We are greeted as “mothers” for the Daughters of Mary.

Thinking of and praying for you as we extend your love to our dear Daughters of Mary.

Peace to you,

Sisters Karin, Judy, Jacqueline, Anita and Mary