"Just a heads up . . . I think I may faint." Those were the last words I whispered to the nervous nursing student sitting next to me in the second row of a tiny church in a remote Uganda village. The rest of the story that follows is one for the books!
A bit of background first.
I had traveled to Romania countless times and visited a few other European countries along the way starting at the ripe, impressionable age of 15. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it opened the door for nonprofits and churches alike to expand into that part of the world. And I served in Craiova, Romania over a period of many years, including having lived there for a summer assisting the on-site missionaries. The following year I moved by myself to Budapest, Hungary to assist another couple and multiple ministries. And the year after that, I found myself back in Romania teaching English on a short-term trip.
So, when the woman who founded a nonprofit in Uganda asked me if I would visit the country to take pictures of the organization's work, I was honestly hesitant. I will admit. I stereotyped Africa as foreign land filled with bugs and snakes . . . not something I jumped at the opportunity to do, but the door opened and I went anyway.
(Side note: This trip is where I discovered my love for photojournalism as I had never been asked to capture life through a camera before in this way.)
I would like to report that my assumptions were wrong. Yes, lots of bugs, but I wasn't overcome by them like the scene in the Mummy and thankfully I never saw a snake. However, I did see a variety of other farm animals along the way, many times walking the same path as me.
One Sunday, our team split up between two small churches in the village . . . the majority walking to one further down the way. One of my favorite pictures (below) from that trip was captured as I walked into the small dwelling that sat among the lush tropical backdrop.
As honored guests, we were seated in the first three rows on the left side of the small church. It was an amazing experience to watch the community bring their own grown produce up to the front to be added to the pile of donations. Each week, the church chose one family to be blessed by the fruit of other congregation's labor. Although they were surviving day-by-day, they sacrificed to help their neighbor.
The pastor began to preach and I tried to stay attentive to soak in the multi-cultural experience. But, I soon found myself breaking into a cold sweat. I leaned over to the young nursing student on the trip and asked what were the side effects of malaria. To say that my question alarmed him is an understatement. He quickly reached into his bag and took out his yellow medical symptoms book. He thumbed through the pages as I found myself struggling to focus and began to feel dizzy. Before he could diagnose me, I whispered the comical intro words . . . "Just a heads up . . . (and then the reality phrase) . . . I think I'm going to faint."
The young man stood up and sat down next to our translator in the front row ahead of us. He quickly turned around, faced me and saw that I wasn't doing so hot (actually it was quite warm!). Without warning to the pastor, the two men stood up and guided me into the aisle. Each took an arm and literally carried me out of the church while I was crying. I honestly don't know what came over me. Why was I crying? I wasn't in grave pain, but I think the unknown and my symptoms overwhelmed me in that moment.
The next thing I know, I'm lying on the semi-grassy path outside the church and things are bustling. I hadn't opened my eyes yet to see the circus I had created, but I could sure hear it. I started to feel wet wipes being rubbed up and down my arms and legs while a female team member sat by my side. Apparently, people were doing what they could to help the little white girl who broke up the service. And with one simple sentence, my teammate said she knew everything was going to be okay. With closed eyes, I said . . . "Well, at least I shaved."
Those few words turned what seemed like a near-death situation into a comical incident that gave a community a story to share for generations (at my expense of course).
Sharing the rest of the story would take another long blog post to explain and it got pretty interesting at the "good hospital" that I visited. It involved being half-naked, a rat, and a bomb-like structure. And unfortunately, a series of medical tests back in the States.
But can you imagine the site?!? Not only is seeing a white person in that part of the country a head-turner, but I made quite a scene interrupting the church service and being carried down the center aisle.
What's the lesson to take away from this story?
Well . . . maybe, don't sit in the front in case you feel ill and need to sneak out to not cause a scene. Maybe it's the importance of shaving daily in case you one day find yourself being wiped down by strangers to bring your body temperature down.
Or . . . maybe it's that one's perspective can quickly alter any situation. That even the annoying phrase "turn that frown upside down" is possible even when lying in the middle of Africa surrounded by a community of good-intended, loving people who are scared the ghost is going to pass away (I made a baby cry in Uganda because they had never seen someone with my skin color. They thought I was a ghost).
When you're struggling with your day, find at least one positive to focus on. When all seems to fail, turn your eyes upon another and find a way to serve them. Expect unfortunate things to happen so you are better prepared mentally when they arise . . . and of course, good hygiene isn't a bad practice either!