Alyssa Stephens
Alyssa Stephens
Uganda, 2022-2023
Grace and peace to you! My name is Alyssa, and I am spending a year in Jinja, Uganda working with HEAL Ministries. HEAL is an organization that offers wrap-around services to champion sustainability and family preservation. I graduated from Belmont in May 2022 and feel abundantly blessed to embark on this new journey. Read More About Alyssa →

my first day at the village

Hi from Uganda once more!

Hehe it has taken a few weeks for me to join the bandwagon, but I am writing this post while sipping on a Ugandan staple—chai! Essentially (as I understand it at least), chai is what locals refer to black tea. The tea leaves can be boiled in milk or water, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger may be added to the drink too. After letting the drink cool down for a few minutes and adding some sugar or honey, the drink is ready to be thoroughly enjoyed…hehe at least for as long as it remains in your cup! When I first arrived here in Uganda, I felt fairly indifferent to the beverage. A few months and cups of tea later, and here I am, quite enjoying it!

About two weekends ago, I joined my friends C, G, and G’s son to go to G’s village for the day! Though the technical reason for the trip was a burial—and in turn, I expected the day to be somber,—our time at the village was quite joyful and fun. It was a beautiful celebration of life! After piling into the car and making the journey along less-traveled roads, we finally arrived and were ushered to meet all sorts of people. Family, family friends, neighbors, and other people who lived in the area or were connected with the family showed up for the day—what must’ve been about 150-200 people in all. After spending about 3 hours chatting, playing with kids, and walking around the village, the ginormous pots of rice and cooked matoke (plantains) were ready to be served! We ate until our bellies were full—and then ate more. Once the meal was over, the afternoon was spent listening to music, dancing, and carrying on with conversation. Though we decided to head back to Jinja at around 5:30, G told us that the celebration of life would continue until 6:00 the next morning!

Another experience that stands out from the past few weeks is the time the HEAL Executive Team and I spent at a Compassion Fatigue workshop. A trio from Nashville who work as therapists and missionary mentors came to Uganda to guide us in a time of learning and reflecting last Wednesday. While sipping coffee under a large gazebo, we discussed burnout, brainstormed individualized self-care practices, and spent time in prayer. It was a gift to hear some of the stories and experiences of people who have been working in helping capacities in Uganda for substantial lengths of time. Here are a few quotes that resonated with me most from the day:

  • “It is not the load that breaks us down but the way we carry it.”
  • “Often what we see as the problem is only a symptom of the problem.”

One other moment that I wanted to share about is the afternoon a few ladies from HEAL, the Executive Director’s kids, and I spent enjoying jackfruit after work one day. Though I had never eaten jackfruit before coming to Uganda, I realized that I had tasted the flavor of it before—in none other that Juicy Fruit gum (hehe so even if you haven’t eaten it before either, consider yourself to be not completely in the dark if you’ve munched on this gum)! After work, I was planning to head back to the place I stay but saw everyone sitting at a picnic table and heard the kids cheering, excited for the afternoon treat! The ladies invited me over, and we enjoyed! For me, the most meaningful part of the time were our conversations about flying in airplanes, playing in the rain, and the different games and activities we played with neighbors as kids. It was a special time of sharing about where we come from and reminiscing on fond memories. 

Though I am digressing, I must say that I am SO grateful for the moments and experiences that have formed my life—both the highs and lows. To you reading this, know that the memories we share are the little gifts that help me persevere when I feel lonely, overwhelmed, or homesick here in Uganda. I hope that you too can find strength and hope as you look back at your journey to where you find yourself now. And that you can rest in the faithfulness of God who brought all the moments to pass. 

With love,

Alyssa

High: One afternoon at the James Place, there was a pile of suds in the grass that was leftover from washing toys earlier in the day. One of the kids and I played with the suds. Haha we even found ourselves having suddenly rapidly aged as we used the suds to put white beards and mustaches on one another. It was a sweet, pure memory! 

Low: In the likeness of so many people, I was frightened and filled with sorrow at the shootings that took place in Memphis this week. While thankful that my friends and family were safe, several people lost their lives. Oh how devastating that the special way they lived and colored the world is no longer here…and oh the anguish their families and friends must feel. Any life taken by another is a tragedy, and for this we must mourn.

Buffalo: Earlier this week, I walked to a store in town and smelled every single smellable bathroom-related item on the shelf. There were candles, soaps, and hair care products for me to delight in sniffing. Hehe once I had sniffed them all, I proceeded to head on to the market!

Words of Wisdom: “It’s okay to not be okay.” 

When I first heard this quote, I quite honestly thought it was a little bit cliché. However as I continue to ponder it, I realize just how wise it is. It can be hard to allow ourselves space to sit with negative emotions and not feel like we need to change them, to acknowledge difficult feelings without solving them. May both of us give ourselves space to not be okay—and to be okay with that.

walking through the village with these sweet peeps

the delicious food we ate at the village after hours of cooking

haha YES, even squishmallows enjoy chai😜

a few of the boys running to greet me at the end of the work day

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