All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Special Kids

Here are a few pictures I promised of the Christmas party for special needs kids.  We were invited to join and help with the party by our friends and fellow MAFers, Margaret (who attends the Ugandan church were the party was held) and the Eagers (who are one of our newest families to the program and have a special needs daughter.) 

I was asked to take pictures of the whole event, so that later each child/family can receive one or more printed pictures of themselves.  Apparently they'll really like that!  Although I was expected to take the pictures, I still didn't want to be distracting or obnoxious or scare the adorable kids by getting too close with a big camera or shooting with a flash.  So I used only the natural light (what there was of it) and generally stayed off to the sides with a longer lens...the few exceptions being when the whole group was excitedly singing or cutting the Christmas cake, or things which kept them preoccupied, like the above shot.

There were a variety of children of different ages and disabilities--each one special and unique and loved by Jesus, even if often rejected by by their own family and society.  I have to say that while some of the children were brought to the party by caretakers, there were a number of them who were there with their biological parents.  That is a HUGE deal here in Uganda, where kids with special needs or disabilities are often seen as a liability, or a curse to literally be thrown away.  I'm going to do one more post after this one, where I show you some of those parents and caretakers--true heroes in my opinion, for loving and caring for these precious ones in a place where it's definitely not easy!

Our own little foster boy, Gift, is special needs, being deaf and having cerebral palsy and delayed development due to extreme malnutrition and lack of care in his very early years.  Gift absolutely loved the party, and, as he often does, he was all too happy to make friends with everyone around, albeit without speaking or hearing a single word.

After initial introductions there was food! What's a party without food, right? 

While people were enjoying the food, dozens of balloons were being blown up (yes, many of them did in fact literally blow up--they just don't seem to make them as thick and "durable" here) and passed around to the kids.  Ain't that just the cutest balloon blower-upper you ever did see?

We really appreciate how our kids are not afraid to jump right in, and show love and care for those who are less fortunate, or different.  

The balloons were a big hit!

There were a few games, and songs, and speeches, and a little talk about of who Jesus is and what Christmas is all about, and then the cutting of the cake!  Everyone cheered!

After that, each child was called up one at a time, by name, and given a special little Christmas gift, and a hug.  It was precious to see their beaming smiles and the sparkle in their eyes!  Someone cared and loved them enough to give them a party, and a present.   You could see that it meant the world to them!

In this shot below, the daughter of the Eagers, who herself is a special needs child, is handing a Christmas gift--her own Christmas gift--to another little special needs girl who had just arrived late to the party.  With the last minute arrival of the new guest, they were one present short, so she decided to give her own gift away.  So fun to see the joy and laughter and love permeating the room!

I think each child left the little party feeling that someone cared and loved them that day, and even more importantly we pray they felt the love of Jesus through it all.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas In Uganda

Merry Christmas!  This was our first Christmas in Uganda, and we celebrated the birth of our Savior with some old traditions, and some new.  One of the really neat things we got to help out with was a Christmas party for special needs children at one of the local Ugandan churches. (In the photo below, our oldest son, Britt, pretends to listen to music with one of the sweet little girls at the party).  I'll do another post in a few days, specifically about that party.  It was certainly a very special event that reflected the heart of Jesus and brought a huge smile and genuine joy to each of the children who attended.

Christmas in the tropics is certainly a lot different than Christmas in the wintery U.S.  But there's also a lot that's the same.  We miss being with our immediate and extended family and friends back "home", but we celebrate with our "family" here.  We enjoy people, food, fellowship and traditions.  But most importantly, we celebrate Jesus!  And it doesn't have to be a white Christmas for that to happen! :-)

Here's a few of the things we've done over the past few weeks.  Our old, plastic Christmas tree was shedding pretty dramatically, so it got left behind in Indonesia when we moved here.  Faced with the choice of either decorating a live banana tree, or buying another fake pine, we opted for the pine.  We keep things simple--just a few lights and basic decorations, though they do include (if you inspect closely enough) a handful of tiny red and green Tabasco bottles, and some pine-scented car fresheners for ambiance.  

Decorating the tree is always a fun family time.

One evening a few weeks ago, we had a few MAF families over to decorate some Christmas cookies.  We also attended the school Christmas program, and went to several different Christmas and caroling parties.  It was all good fun and fellowship.

On Christmas morning, our family enjoyed some special treats for Christmas breakfast--things that we don't get to eat very often b/c of our tight budget, and/or desire to not get too fat.  But boy do we enjoy them on Christmas morning!!  Bacon!  Bacon-friend eggs!  Orange juice!  And this year--the favorite that we called "Cinnamon Monkey Buns!"  They were sort of like Monkey Bread, but made in the shape and pan that Cinnamon Buns would be made in.  So they were a cross between the two, and hence the name Cinnamon Monkey Buns.  And boy were they delicious!

By their own choice, there weren't many presents under the tree for our children this year.  A few months ago they came to us with a "unanimous decision" that they wanted to give up their Christmas presents this year, so that the money could instead be put towards helping our gardener/day guard, who's two cows were stolen (that was his entire life savings) and our house helper who's always dreamed of going to school so she can work in a hotel or in the tourist industry.  So with help from both sets of grandparents, other family and friends, and us, we were able to do both of those things, and it was not only potentially life-changing for the recipients of those gifts, but was also a fantastic opportunity for our kids to see and experience the real joy of Christmas and of giving, rather than receiving.  

Our little foster boy, who's deaf and has other special needs just could not stop laughing and giving us his million dollar smile Christmas morning.  Although he can't hear, he reads people well, and picks up quickly on the moods around him.  He can also influence the mood--often bringing much needed perspectives and smiles to situations that otherwise would be frustrating or depressing.  He just seems to enjoy life right now!   For him, the simplest of things--being loved and accepted--brings great joy and he just can't seem to contain it!  So anyway, although although our kids expected nothing this year, in the end, each of our children still got a few small wrapped gifts from grandparents that just couldn't resist. :-)  

But the biggest gift they got this year could not be wrapped up and stuffed inside a box.  This Christmas I think they learned what it's truly all about!  I hope they always continually bubble over with that joy that comes from knowing Jesus and giving His love to others!  Indeed, that's what was happening at the Christmas Party for special needs kids that I previously mentioned, and it's been happening right here in our home as well!  It's a joy to see and experience!

This is our 8-month old South African Boerboel puppy.  She's already about 90 lbs and if she grows as big as her mom, she'll wind up being about double that when she's full grown at three years.  She was thrilled b/c she got a little present for Christmas--a foam mat to sleep on.  She always wants to be with the family--right where the action is.  But now that she has a "bed", she stays on it, rather than trying to lay on the sofa or chairs or us.  Everyone wins! :-)

In the afternoon, several of our MAF friends came over.  They brought along two grills and a bunch of food and a water slide and we we just had a great time hanging out in the yard and visiting while the kids played.  We did Mongolian BBQ, where everyone fixed their own plate of desired veggies and meat and sauces, and then you dumped it on the grill to be cooked to your liking.  Fun stuff!  And yummy!

Our yard has a general slope to it, so it was the perfect place to put this old vinyl street sign, all soaped and watered up, so the kids could slide all the way down.  They had a great time!  Probably not the kind of thing most people in the U.S. or Europe would be doing on Christmas day. :-)

After a while, though, it clouded over and got rather cool.  For those that had been water-sliding it got down rite cold (photo below).  The thunder rumbled and the skies grew dark!  During all the years that we've lived overseas, we've always dreamed of a cold and rainy Christmas day--the tropical equivalent of a "white Christmas" in the U.S.  It never happened--until this year.  This year we were woken up on Christmas morning, very early, when it was still dark, to the sound of pounding thunder and the blindingly-bright lighting strikes.  The wind was howling, the rain was pounding on the tin roofs, and we loved it!!  Of course, the down side was that we lost electricity, but that was a small price to pay for the "white Christmas" we had hoped for.  It kept storming for quite a while eventually fizzling into mist and overcast.  It was the perfect morning to stay inside and drink coffee and pretend it was a cold and wintry day.  In the middle of the day the overcast thinned for a few hours, just long enough to enjoy the outside activities with our friends 

But by 4:30 pm it had started to rain again--hard!  We quickly rushed to bring everything inside.  Only Hudson was crazy enough to stay out in the cold, hard rain.  He was having a blast, and wasn't about to let a little rain end his fun!  That's my Hudson--crazy and adventurous, a kid after his dad's heart!

It was a great Christmas!  We missed our families back "home", but we're so thankful for the friends and family that God has given us in this, our new home in Uganda, and we're thankful for the old and new traditions.  But mostly, we're thankful for Jesus, and the fact that He came to earth to live and die for us!  

Stay tuned.  I'll soon be posting photos from the Christmas party for the special needs kids.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Broken Femur Medevac

Late Friday afternoon, just as the MAF Uganda Christmas party was about to start, I was told of an impending medevac for a lady who had broken her femur.  So yesterday, Saturday morning, I left bright and early to go pick her up from one remote location in Uganda, and take her to another where there's a great mission hospital, Kumi Hospital, known for having a a fantastic orthopedics department. 

I took Andy along, one of our fabulous MAF engineers (mechanics), so he could see how the aircraft he helps repair and maintain are being used.  After we arrived at 9:30 in Kalongo, where we were to pick up our patient, we found out that the 4x4 ambulance that was to transport her there hadn't even left yet.   On Friday, Lois, a sweet elderly lady from New Zealand, who runs a children's home in Kitgum, slipped on some wet concrete stairs and fell, resulting in a badly broken femur, just below the pelvis.  Although there is/was an airstrip in Kitgum, it's in disrepair and totally unusable.  So the best option was for her to be transported by ambulance to the closest available strip where we could pick her up--that being Kalango.  Unfortunately, the only ambulance available in Kitgum was sent out on a call during the night to another remote location, and hadn't yet returned to Kitgum.  The drive from Kitgum to Kalongo is several, long, bumpy, dusty hours, so we closed up the plane and prepared for a long wait. 

Kalongo is known among the pilots as being one of the strips where hundreds of kids swarm the airplane upon shutdown.  But unlike other places, these kids can be very ornery and bold, trying to pull, push, tug and hang on every surface of the plane they can get ahold of, if allowed.  Usually, there's guys that come down from the local Catholic hospital there to keep them at bay.  But due to a miscommunication I found myself, after landing, completely surrounded by hundreds of kids--all smiling and laughing and having a grand ol' game of "attacking" my plane on whichever side I wasn't.  It was a losing battle!  For obvious reasons I have no pictures of that--I was way too busy chasing kids away to be taking pictures!

Fortunately, within a few minutes, help arrived.  It's amazing how quickly the kids suddenly "respected" the plane, when the men showed up with their long, hardened, cattle sticks in hand, swinging them and shouting at the kids in their local language.  It was like the parting of the Red Sea, as these guys walked into the crowd of naughty kids, everyone staying just outside the reach of those ominous sticks of "discipline".  It was obviously great fun for the kids, as they squealed and jumped, staying just out of reach.  Clearly none of them wanted to find out what the "rod" felt like.  Within a few minutes they lost interest and all was quiet, with the guards relaxing under the shade of the plane and promising to keep it "protected" until we were ready to depart.  The sky was clear and the sun was piping hot--a typical day in Northeastern Uganda.

Off to the side, a few shy and well-behaved kids remained.  I don't at all mind having kids hang around if they're respectful of the plane and simply interested.  After all, kids love planes!!  They also usually love having their picture taken, especially if they can see the results.  So I snapped a few and then they laughed and laughed with joy as they saw themselves on the camera screen.  Perhaps next time I'm here I'll give them the printed images.

Meanwhile, our new freind, Kamilo, (below) offered to show us around the local Catholic Mission Hospital, also known as the Dr. Ambrosoli Memorial Hospital, where he works.  So we spent a few hours slowly milling around the various wards of the hospital and then sitting under the shade of a tree by the little canteen, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  I'll do a separate post soon, showing you pictures of the Kalongo Hospital.

When the ambulance finally arrived, I was obviously too busy overseeing the transfer of Lois from the vehicle to the aircraft, and her care and comfort (as much as could be offered to a lady with a broken femur) to worry about taking photos.  However, I know Andy was taking some pictures, so perhaps I'll get a few of those to share with you in the future.

When Lois broke her femur she was in obvious need of advanced medical treatment.  Unfortunately she was in a remote part of Northern Uganda and there is nowhere close that could provide the care she needed.  She couldn't afford a Medevac flight, and the trip overland from Kitgum to the Kumi Hospital would have been an excruciatingly long and painful journey for someone in her condition.  MAF-International, upon finding out about the situation, covered the cost of the flight.  It would be an extreme understatement to simply say that Lois was grateful.  She continually expressed her deep appreciation to MAF and to the donors and all who help make flights like this possible.  She practically begged us to express her gratitude to ALL who play a part in MAF's ministry.

Upon arrival in Kumi, there was a large crowd gathered there to see the airplane.  They were extremely kind and respectful, and very helpful. (Photo below)

The medical team was there too, well-equipped and waiting for our arrival.  The doctors were handed an x-ray from Jackie, the young lady who was accompanying Lois from her Children's home.  They immediately examined it, right then and there under the tail of the plane, wanting to know what the situation was before moving Louis from the plane.  Everyone was very deliberate and careful in the handling and care of Lois, and again, she continually expressed her appreciation to all, both from MAF and from the Kumi Hospital.   The doctors and nurses there also repeatedly thanked me, and MAF, for providing the transport for Louis, clearly expressing that the alternative would have been awful for someone in her condition. 

Kumi Hospital, originally started by the Church Missionary Society in 1929 as a leprosarium, describes themselves today on their website as a "preferred destination for the poor, for those who have not been reached, a centre for hope, healing and wholeness bearing witness to Christ."  I know Lois will not only be well taken care of there at the Kumi Hospital, but will also join the staff there in shining brightly the love of Jesus to many.   We pray that she'll soon recover fully (as soon as can be expected for someone with a broken femur) and be able to return to her invaluable work and ministry at the children's home in Kitgum.  It was a real privilege to be able to help Lois yesterday, and to be able to serve many like her who sacrificially and selflessly live out their lives serving those "less fortunate" in some of the most neglected and remote parts of East Africa.  Thank you for YOUR part in helping to make this possible!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Really Random Stuff

Here's some really random pics and words from the past few weeks.  

Recnetly I was up in Arua, waiting for some passengers from South Sudan to arrive.  As often happens there, a large group of school children came to the airport for a field trip.  They were so excited to see the airplane--just sitting there.  I wish I could take them all for a spin around the circuit.  Can you imagine how excited they would be?  Well, that's not an option, but I could stop and engage them.  I asked if they had any questions for the pilot.  They were super excited and, after singing me a song--something about a butterfly and wanting to be a pilot--they asked me a few random questions.  But what they really wanted was a group photo of them with me.  (There was a guy from their school taking pictures of them.)  

So I handed my camera to a lady who was standing there watching, and then I stood where I was directed by the teachers.  Immediately the little boy in front of me turned around and looking up at me, held up both his arms, clearly indicating that he wanted me to pick him up.  So that's what I did.   It seemed like a smart move on his part--he was a short, little, kid in the back that couldn't see or be seen.   But now he could! (Photo above).  At some point the little guy just sort of put is head down on my shoulder and got all comfy.  He seemed oblivious to the camera.  But the lady who I had handed my camera to--well, you would have thought she was the paparazzi.  She was snapping pictures like crazy, which was good, because most of them were out of focus or had motion blur.  But there were a few good ones in the end, and I thought this one, in particular was a nice shot.

A different day when I was flying up to Arua, I fought some seriously ugly weather.  I was very glad for weather radar, but it took a lot of close attention to navigate through the "nice" parts of the bad weather.  That said, when you're descending or climbing below certain altitudes, unless there is an instrument approach (which there's not, except at 2 locations in Uganda) you must be out of the clouds.  This is what it looked like as I was approaching Arua--and this was the "nice" part of the trip.

Coming back at the end of the day, almost the entire center half of Uganda was smashed with weather.  There was heavy rain and thunderstorms that were very wide spread.  Again, I was very thankful for both the weather radar and the new avionics panel that made it much easier to navigate safely around the bad stuff.  What a feeling it was when I finally broke out (underneath the stormy weather) about five minutes from home, and saw this!  Can you believe my camera battery was dead though?  Yeah, rookie mistake!  I can't even remember the last time I've had that happen.  Anyway, I still had my phone, so these next two were taken on my phone.  This was looking off towards Southwestern Uganda, as the sun was sinking low in the sky and sending golden shafts of light through the very, very dark clouds.  And yes, they really were that dark!

Meanwhile, off to the other side of the airplane was our home city of Kampala, shrouded in a low, wispy, eerie-looking fog of sorts, from the rain that had obviously passed through.  It was a very surreal scene, and all of the passengers were clearly enjoying it--especially after an hour and a half of looking at nothing at all except for the dark clouds and rain that we were flying in most of the time.

These next two shots were taken up in Kaabong, way up in the Northeastern corner of Uganda, near the Kenyan border.  I love how almost every single boy that I ever see in these parts always has a stick with him.  It's their version of a Leatherman!  These are cattle and goat herders, and this particular group of boys had a herd of a few hundred goats and cattle they were moving along the strip when I landed.  I had to wait here for a passenger for a little while, so they were checking out the plane.  I was equally as interested in their herd of goats and cattle.  :-)

A few weeks ago I had a lunch meeting with our Operations Manager.   We're good friends from waaaaayyy back in our flight school days.  Anyway, we had to discuss some work-related stuff and decided that we'd get more done without the distractions that often happen at the office.  So we walked down the street to a little diner.  Now, this is not the finest restaurant you've ever seen, but it's actually not that bad either.  Quite a few ex-pats that eat there, and they are known to have good food that's pretty cheap.  No wonder it's cheap!  Haha.  Well, needles to say we didn't exactly get a distraction-free lunch, as this cat was playing with a dead rat right beside our table the entire time we were there.  The cat was having a grand old time, tossing the stinky rat into the air, (once it even landed on the couch) and batting it around.  Disgusting? Yes!  But did it ruin our appetite?  No.  After many years of living overseas, it would take more than this to ruin our lunch.  Besides, we were having the chicken, not the rat...I think.  Did I tell my wife about it?  No.  Well not for a while anyway...she likes that place and I didn't want to ruin it for her.  But eventually she saw the pictures on my phone.  And guess what?  She just laughed.  That's my kind of woman!

This is a not-uncommon sight along many of the roads around Kampala--a bunch of Acholi cattle with their HUGE horns walking down the center of the dirt roads, going from who knows where to who knows where to find some grass to eat.  I'm always amazed at how they can hold their heads up with those massive horns.  They must weigh a ton!  I always have to resist an urge to jump up on their back and grab the horns and try to ride one.  Yeah, probably not the best idea, but I keep thinking it would be fun to try.  That's probably the kind of thing you only get to do once!