Sunday, October 15, 2017

And then there were five...

We have a son! Meet Maz - he’s 7.5 months old and the newest member of our family! We are deeply humbled and grateful to God for the honor of being his parents.

What’s his name?
His name is Amaziah (Maz) Kyamagero Isaac Manson
Amaziah is both a Swahili and Biblical name that means, “The one who has the strength of God, is unusual and extraordinary”. But we will call him Maz in the day to day.
Kyamagero means Miracle in Luganda and refers to the name the babies home gave him at birth.
Isaac means he who will laugh.

When did this happen and was it a surprise?
We only met our son in early September after working alongside a reputable babies home here in Kampala for just under 6 months. Tim and I both decided at the beginning of this year that we’d like to “knock” on the door one last time. Finally, we were matched with a little boy that was 6 months old. Over the past few weeks our family has been visiting him daily at the babies home and beginning the bonding process.  Then, about two weeks ago everything became official through paperwork and we were able to have him begin living in our home.

How did he come to the babies home?
He came to the babies home at birth with no known family and has lived there up until now. Adoption is a precious, complex and beautiful thing and his story is just that, his. We will respect that.


How are the girls adjusting?
Hope is adjusting beautifully and slipping into her oldest sister role with ease. She’d been praying for a baby brother for a very long time and it’s been really special watching them form a special bond. The first thing she did when she saw his picture was gasp, “He looks just like me Mum!”  Eva, on the other hand, expresses her love through pinching and sitting on him.
With her full weight. She also may or may not have rolled him off the couch and onto concrete tiles, “accidently”.  Other than those few incidents, she’s obsessed.






What is the process for adopting this time around?
The process has changed significantly (for the better) since we adopted Hope. With Hope we had to live in country for 3 years before we were able to proceed to adoption. With Maz, the process is only one year. We are just a couple of weeks into that. In one year from now we hope to be applying for his adoption in court. Later on, we hope to apply for his New Zealand citizenship by descent.







What’s it like for you guys having three kids?
Wonderful, chaotic, crazy, beautiful, fun and exhausting. We are so grateful to be raising our children in this laid back country. Our families are lining up to visit their nephew and newest grandchild and we stand in awe of God for his kindness in giving us a son.

Love,
#Mansonpartyoffive
#oursquad







"Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, yet somehow - miraculously - all my own. Never forget for just one minute, although you didn't grow under my heart, you grew in it." Fleur Conkling Heylinger






Monday, September 25, 2017

Raising little kids in Kampala, Uganda.

I’ll never forget the look on the ladies face at the supermarket in New Zealand when she realised I was serious about moving back to Uganda tomorrow with my three month old baby and an almost two year old.  Eva was peacefully sleeping and we were just winding up our conversation when she said, “But what will you do with her?” “Bring her with us.” I said. “But, but, but it’s not safe! She protested.

To her credit, her sentiments probably echoed the views of many. So here’s the real deal on what it’s like raising our little girl squad (Hope - 3.5years and Eva - 23 months) in #ugandababyuganda. Whether you’re considering a move to Africa, you’re interested to know what it’s like raising young children in a third world country or you’re just curious, I hope this helps.
  
FOREWARNING* - My Parenting style: I need you to know that I find parenting to be a lot like walking and talking while rubbing my stomach and patting my head.  Only instead of it being my head, it’s Eva’s head, who also happens to be running after our dog with a pair of scissors. Also, I’m holding snacks, a dirty diaper, two kid’s water bottles, Hope on the hip, and a phone that won’t stop ringing because I won’t stop calling. So if you cannot relate to any of that - we should part ways now.

My children eat all three meals outside on the balcony and often wander around half naked as they do it.  I usually feed them with my hands as utensils are overrated and that’s how everyone does it here. Our house (and 99% of houses here) are made of tiles (no carpet) and so the warm temperature (27C or 80F year round) means I don’t care if they spill water or drop rice. Which they do. All day errrryday.  I kind of slipped into parenting in such a carefree way and didn’t notice it until I went home and saw how kids in New Zealand do not behave in this manner around mealtimes. #facepalm. Perhaps I’ve become a little too relaxed though. The other day my Canadian neighbour. Courtney, was over at my house and watched on in horror as her daughter peed in my yard. I didn’t even notice (or care) but she was like, “WHO ON EARTH TAUGHT YOU THAT!” To which I sheepishly replied, “my children”. Meh. Our girls end most days hot, dirty from the red dust and sticky from Lord knows what. We bath them every single night in disinfectant.

Accommodation – I live with more lizards than people. I live with more cockroaches, enormous wasps and gargantuan ants than people. But ultimately, I don’t live in a mud hut, I live in a beautiful four bedroom home made of bricks, fairly straight walls and a simple kitchen. I have a washing machine and a fridge. And when the power is on, they are really useful.   Almost every week we have a power cut for anything from a few hours to a day or two. I have two people on speed dial - my husband and our power company. Every few months we have a water cut. We had almost all of our furniture custom made as there’s no Ikea’s or traditional malls to buy furniture from. 

Leaving the house – I buckle my kids into their car seats (brought in from New Zealand) inside our 4x4 (for the bumpy roads), lock the doors, beep my horn and the guard comes to open our metal gates. As we drive down our road made of rocks and pot holes I can only see the high barbed wire fence that surrounds our compound and hear our dog barking as we leave. We head out not knowing how long it’ll take to get back. Traffic is horrendous in Kampala. I can barely handle it. It feels like I’m driving in a video game. Hazards abound. Secretly I love it. Apart from when I don’t.  Going 15 min down the road can be a two hour journey. I’m not exaggerating. I fear police for the bribes they ask for 9/10 times that I get pulled over. One of my girlfriends taught me to wear sunglasses while driving so you can pretend you don’t see them trying to pull you over. The windows stay up, the air con on. Often the smell of trash or dust kicks into our car. We drive down crowded streets, hustling our way through multiple lines of traffic, motorbikes and people coming against us – on our side of the road. Defensive driving at its finest. Bodas (motorcycles) knock our car at least once a month. And the trouble of pulling over to get their ‘fake’ details and make them pay with money they don’t have is too much of a hassle so we shake it off and let it go. One day we were pulled over by a police officer and yelled at because we had our infant in a car seat. “What is that? That is not safe.  You take her out and hold her right now.” True story.

Security - I feel safe here 99% of the time. Promise, Mum. When we eventually reach wherever we’re going, my car (and every car) will be checked for bombs by security. Often, they will even make us get out and go through a metal detector and search our bags. Every.Where.I.Go. Can you imagine trying to accomplish a few simple errands? At my daughter’s pre-school, the gate drop off ordeal is a daily dance in security checks as our car is checked for explosives. There was a murder in our street last year and once a week or so we hear gun shots in the distance down the road at night - but other than that – it’s fine.  

Househelp – Certainly the greatest personal blessing to living in Africa is having someone in your home that helps your family with cooking and cleaning. You really should move here immediately. This is INCREDIBLE.  The majority of people in this country, expat and local alike, have househelp. One of the practical reasons is that the dust is so bad here, the floors need to be mopped daily. But I also love how having a househelper gives a woman a chance to come out of poverty in a dignified way by making a living and enabling her to put her children through school.  Our househelper is also my children’s honorary Grandmother and I would be lost without her. I actually mean that. That woman is a God send. Because we have no family here, Jane has become our family. She also helps if we need a babysitter one night or when I’m traveling for work.

Activities for kids – Our home is our haven. With no public parks or playgrounds, we’ve made our home a place our kids want to hang out at. We had a mini playground made by a local carpenter, bought a trampoline and have a small inflatable pool. We don’t own a TV as there is nothing to watch on TV here and so if Hope wants to watch Peppa Pig she watches it on the laptop for 40c by the guy who burns her a copy down the road. Organised classes like Toddler Rock or Baby Gym are unheard of but we did recently arrange for a local woman to put on a music class for our kids! My friend, Alicia, reminded me today that she was recently at a restaurant where a few play pieces of equipment were set up. Only to watch on in horror as the ‘playground’ fell to the ground almost crushing the children below. “Not to worry” she said, “the fear factor helps develop character”.

Grocery Shopping – Is a weekly challenge in patience and resilience. I go to four stores over two hours.  A supermarket for staple items (about the size of a large 7/11 or 4Square, a bread shop (options are sweet or salty otherwise), a meat shop and finally the local market for fruit and vegetables. There are hardly any fast food restaurants. No McDonalds etc…so most meals we cook and eat at home.

Healthcare
– is a challenge. Today I took my child to the doctors and it took us two hours from start to finish. I was the only patient. We have medical evacuation insurance. Enough said.  My kids are vaccinated with almost everything you could imagine because we go into slums and refugee camps. In order to keep our girls as healthy as possible we vaccinate at a place called ‘The Surgery’ where we have confidence in the cool supply chain. Before I moved here, I never thought twice about a so-called ‘cool supply chain’. You better believe I do now.





Stroller/Pram
– Going for a walk in this country with your stroller means taking the lives of yourself and your children into your hands. No sidewalks. No road rules. Just lots of stares from very confused people as to why you are pushing children in a “wheelbarrow”.

Buying Clothes - Two options. Firstly, the local markets. Sift through piles of clothing laid out on tarpaulins for approx USD$1-5 per item. OR go to the one store in the country where you can buy clothing, Mr Price, and pay $20-$60usd for a t-shirt.

  Buying Toys – Nearly impossible to get anything good quality other than $2 shop trinkets. Once I was so desperate for a Christmas present for Hope I bought her bubbles. They set me back a whopping $20USD. Learnt my lesson.

School – There are about five international schools in Uganda that expats usually send their children to. Fees are expensive (USD$6000-12,0000 per year, per child).

Playgroup – is once a week at my friend’s house. We play outside with the kids under her massive mango tree, enjoying whatever Pinterest perfection she’s baked in the kitchen. It’s hard to buy biscuits that taste ‘normal’.  The kids are a mixture of races and many of them are adopted. We talk about, traffic jams, power cuts, adoption, garage sales for expats that are leaving and what different work projects we’re working on.

Final thoughts
Because we’re raising our children in a third world country, we’re constantly surrounded by extreme poverty. I feel like that leaves us with no other option but to be deeply grateful for what we do have. As I look out my window each day I’m reminded of how lucky I am. The difference is crystal clear. But that constant mindset also leaves us equally concerned with the welfare of those around us. It is our hearts desire to raise girls that realise that the rest of the world does not look like New Zealand or America. Beautiful as those countries are, there are cultures and tribes and countries to explore, there are friends to meet and people to come alongside.  And living here enables us to do that for them.
And for us.
xo


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Good Magazine Article September 2017

Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed. I think its a combination of things but one of the biggest parts for sure has to do with my job. I think being given the unique privilege of coming face to face with some of the worst stories humanity has to offer does something to a person. It certainly has for me.Their stories stick with you, ya know. I don't go home and sleep easy after long days on the field.

And so recently when an amazing publication in New Zealand called Good Magazine came alongside me and said they wanted to give me an opportunity to talk to their readers, I was so touched. Someone cares. Someone is listening. A magazine that could choose to focus on the top 10 secrets to healthier looking skin is instead choosing to lean into social justice issues like these.

So I wrote this http://www.good.net.nz/article/refugees-of-the-world and I hope you get a second to read the online version of the print story. And when your done the skincare story is probably on page 73. Because you know, that also matters. Just second to these people.

xo







Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The sentence that confirmed I'm having Reverse Culture Shock

Hope whizzes down that flat black driveway next to that darn perfect grass underneath the patriotic flagpole in front of the most amazing house.
You guys, I'm in America. Wisconsin to be precise. We're here as a family for Tutapona work for a week and then onto LAX for my little brothers wedding. And the SECOND I stepped off that plane onto American soil my eyes could barely take in all that was happening around me. But it was last night when I stood over the kitchen sink in a daze and said, “This kitchen sink is absolutely gorgeous.” and our host, Sherri put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Hunni, I think you’ve been in Uganda too long,” that I realised what was happening. Reverse culture shock.
 
See, when you’ve been living somewhere like Uganda for 3.5 years, certain things become normal. And then when you come back to your own culture, you realise that in fact you’re the abnormal one. Let me try bring it to life for you. Here’s my thoughts over the last 24 hours.

  • Everyone and everything is SO clean.
  • Goodness gracious this place is ridiculously orderly. Where is everyone?  
  • Man that girls skirt is high. 
  • Lock the doors. Especially the boot so no one can grab a suitcase and run.
  • These cars are ginormous. Seriously who needs a truck that size?!
  • Why are you staying in this traffic Carl? There’s a huge grassy area to the left you should just whip up the side.
  • Since when did road signs have restaurants logos on them telling you which restaurants are at this turn off? 
  • There is literally one person in each vehicle. Max, 2.  Why don’t people carpool? 
  • Man that woman looks comfy sitting in her air conditioned car right now, sipping on her latte and chatting with her friend in her 4x4. Oh look, she’s pulling off the road to buy a donut. Of course she is. 
  • Man, this neighborhood is stunning. These houses are like out of a movie.
  • This driveway is so flat, the grass is so green and everything is perfect.
  • This house has carpet that looks like one gigantic rug. Usually, you would have a shaggy pile rug but these people have their entire house in this soft, plush carpet. And it’s white. Shock horror.  
  • We need to allow at least 15 minutes to run the bath for the kids and allow it to heat up (water speed resembles a drip and I usually forget to turn the water heater on). Oh wait, no we don’t.
  • My children have left a ring of red dust around the perimeter of the bath water and we left Uganda three days ago. #bonedeep
  • This couch is ridiculously comfortable. And it has a lever where I can put my feet out. Oh yeahhhh.
  • This kitchen sink is absolutely gorgeous.
  • Their fridge is incredible. Everything I could ever want is in this fridge right now.
  • Out of the shower. Straight onto a bathmat that feels so soft I can barely handle it. There are three of them in the bathroom. And that shower was PIPING hot.
  • These sheets are so freakin’ soft that I can’t get into my normal sleeping position because my knees are slipping on them!  I prefer sheets with bobbly bits on them for the grit.
  • It’s 4am, I cant sleep. Lets have a look in that fridge. Queso (cheese dip with nachos). Tick.
  • Yes, I’d like to try that Cinnamon Swirl bagel. Let me get a knife to cut it in half. Oh wait, it’s pre-cut!  
  • Must stop using my car horn. This is inappropriate. 
Here's to the next 24 hours.

h.




Thursday, June 29, 2017

When Starbucks and Syrian refugees collide

A little Syrian girl peeks out from behind the curtain of her tent
NOTE: All photos are from my iphone until the 'real' ones come out in a few weeks. 

What a burnt out Syrian school bus looks like before it gets bombed
So, for the last few years I’ve been feeling really disillusioned about the church in the West. Because from where I’m sitting, it looks to me like most of our Western churches care about things like building bigger campuses, installing better sound systems and tossing a few crumbs from our table to the poor when we feel guilty enough to do so. But before you get your knickers in a twist and all offended. Relax. I know many incredible pastors and churches - my Dad is pastor and not like this, our home church in NZ is not like this and countless others are not like this. But many are.


And so for years as I’ve held the hands of mothers in refugee tents with tears running down their cheeks I’ve found myself repeatedly thinking, “Where the HECK is the church? Cause we sure aren’t here. And I am so deeply sorry that we have failed you. Our Western church has failed you miserably. We’ve done a little, we’ve done ok…. but it’s not nearly enough. So you can only imagine how happy my heart felt last week when I arrived in Lebanon and I saw the actual church. Hands and feet of Jesus stuff. Christopher Wright sums it up,
“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church, the church was made for mission. God’s mission.”I don’t know about you, but for me, the Syrian refugee crisis has certainly captured my attention for the last four years. The chemical weapons attacks, the burnt out school buses and the images coming out of Aleppo are ones I can’t forget and so the opportunity to spend a week with the people who’ve escaped these horrors was one I would never miss. I’ve wondered what it was like for these people to be in a warzone.  I‘ve wondered what life’s like for them now. I’ve wondered if the money we’ve sent got there and helped. This trip was the chance to answer those questions. 

But first, a quick recap. Syria used to be a country of 25 million people. But because of the war, 11 million have either fled the country or been displaced within Syria. Most have gone via boat, bus, foot and car to the borders of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Some have resettled in Western countries. For this trip, I was in Lebanon. Lebanon is a tiny country bordering Syria with 4.3 million people in it. But today, it has an extra 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in it too.  

25 day old Amina sleeps in her Mums arms as they wait
for a food box at the church

If you’re a Kiwi, Lebanon is approximately the size of Northland. Can you imagine if 1.5 million people showed up there? How would the public health system fare? The transport system? Employment opportunities - especially when Syrians are willing to do your job for cheaper. This is part of the extremely complex nature of a refugee crisis. Although it is good and right that Syrians are able to come to Lebanon, the host country has a big job. Especially when a mere 12 years prior, the Syrian Army had just ended its 29-year occupation of Lebanon. 

To now see Syrians turning around and knocking on their doors for help was an ironic twist of events. Many Lebanese—including church pastors—felt fear and hatred towards them. But as they chose faith over fear they began reaching out and providing food, blankets and support to their once oppressors. I was reminded of a quote by Dorothy Day, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer”.


Money that's been donated provides
mattresses and blankets

The Syrian refugee crisis is like nothing I’ve come across before, and quite frankly it messes with your mind. I think it was somewhere on the road between Beirut and the Syrian border where I found myself sipping on a Starbucks Frappuccino that I knew this trip was going to be way different. 

In my job I get to meet a lot of refugees, from a lot of different crises and the environments we meet in are, for the most part, the same. Formal refugee settlements, accessed through a security team, white tents in rows, long lines for food, and tens of thousands of people crammed into a small space. UNHCR provides shelter, World Food Program provides food and other NGO’s chip in here and there to make life better.  Lebanon is different.

For starters, there are no formal refugee camps. So when a Syrian refugee crosses the border they are left with little other options than to ‘rent a tent’ or rely on the kindness of a stranger to set up some kind of shelter on their land and pay rent that way. If one particular orchard owner allows it, you may see up to 15 or 20 tents on one piece of land. These refugees also have to truck in their own water and provide for most of their own food. They are unable to work legally and are encouraged to go back as soon as they can. All very hard for a family who’ve just fled a war zone and come with nothing.

But what messed with my mind the most was the urban refugee situation. In central Beirut you’ll find hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living in garages, unfinished buildings, back rooms and abandoned houses. These refugees are given little to no assistance, are surviving hand to mouth and yet could easily live next to a Dunkin’ Donuts. Lebanon is fondly called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ and so shops like H&M, Zara and Topshop sit in malls next to buildings riddled with bullet holes (from the Lebanese civil war). And inside those bullet-ridden buildings are, you guessed it, Syrian refugees hanging out their washing. Some of the tents I visited were even using billboards featuring ads for Pizza Hut or shampoo as the external covering of their house. It is SO weird to interview someone about ISIS with a picture of a mouth-watering pizza behind you. My two worlds collided. This isn’t how it was supposed to look.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that our field car was not the large white eight seater UNHCR vehicles I’m used to. Ours was a Kia. The Syrian crisis was also the most personally challenging environment I’ve ever had to photograph in because hardly anyone wants to show their face for fear of serious repercussions. Faceless portraits are certainly not an area of expertise for me.

I was there to photograph the work of three different organisations serving Syrian refugees. But the one I want to talk about right now is the one that is using the local church network to reach Syrian refugees because my goodness, I was blown away by them. I walked into churches on a weekday afternoon to find the pastor and his volunteers buzzing around like bees in a bee-hive doing food distribution to 1500 Syrian refugee families.  And that’s for a church with approximately 80 members. I found another church doing clothes distribution to those who came with just the clothes on their backs. Yet another church is giving diapers and milk to stressed-out young mums. I saw the church in action, doing what it was made to do. Not sitting around pointing fingers, judging or offering help with an agenda. Simply being the hands and feet of Jesus.

But the coolest thing of all was that the ones actually giving food to refugees were Syrian refugees now attending the church and working peacefully alongside Lebanese locals. The dignity in that was really beautiful. You see, many Syrians came from middle to upper middle class backgrounds. But when bombs started hitting their towns and cities—they left everything behind and ran.  To humble yourself to receive a food box or a blanket is hard. But knowing you have nothing left to support your family as someone stole it or burnt it is harder.

The Syrian crisis has layers upon layers of complexity woven through it and there are no easy answers. The geo-political climate is a historical nightmare to wade your way through and the cultural differences run deep. I don’t know much, but I do know that the Syrians I spent time with were some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Survivors of a war they want no part in. As my plane took off this verse was ringing in my heart.   “Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness, rivers of it. That what I want. What I really want.” Amos 5:24 Message Version

h.
I interviewed a 70 year old lady with a tattoo.
She's got serious street cred in my books.
#photoop

Monday, June 19, 2017

20 photos that bring to life what the USA is doing in Uganda

Earlier this year I was thrilled beyond belief to be given a job working for USAID as their photographer. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the United States Government agency which is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. Their budget is a cool 31 billion each year....My job was to bring their work to life through photos. #nopressure

Together, with my colleague, AnneAckerman, we spent the next two months travelling around the country photographing their work here. Considering they deliver a whopping USD$865m in assistance to Uganda every single year, we certainly had our work cut out for us! Each week we'd take turns heading out to the field visiting a selection of their projects in every region of the country.

In total I think I personally visited about 28 projects. It was so incredible to see the work they are doing with so many different partner to do their part to help build a healthy, prosperous, inclusive, educated, empowered and stable country. In total I delivered 1700 edited images from about 10,000 that I took. These are a small selection of some of my favourite photos from our time together creating the Report to the Ugandan People from the United States Mission to Uganda.


Full report can be found here.