Before I can do the normal, healthy stuff--I feel I need to account for the nearly six months that have gone by since my last binge. I’m sure, if people are severely interested in Lousie and Lily and me, they’ve gotten whatever information they’ve needed from somewhere. Regardless, it wouldn’t make sense to just start talking about now, without bridging the giant gap.
Denise Kane, Louise’s sister, came back to Uganda just before University Games in December 2007. She arrived and quickly became Lily’s favorite aunt (sorry Anne, access is key). Denise came to work for the Kampala office of Fields of Life, and to hang out more with Rory Wilson (CMS-Ireland missionary bush doctor in Kiwoko)(see point no. 12).
A team of 15 or so men from Ignite--the Charity Louise and other started in Ireland in 2000--came out to paint a school they’d raised money to build up in Lira. We stayed here in Mukono, but they came over one night and we grilled out burgers and everyone hung out with Lily and talked about how big she was. This might have been the first time I talked to anyone except Louise and Lily and Denise after University Games.
Louise, Lily and I flew to Ireland January 21st for a month in N. Ireland. We stayed at a nice little place in Portadown (courtesy of Jeanette and Noel Gibson), met several times with CMS-Ireland people in Belfast, establishing the particulars of what it meant for CMS-Ireland to take the lead in our support. Lily loved the cold weather. We hung out with Louise’s old friends, Steven and Julie Hamilton and had some major laughs. Walked to shops in Portadown with Lily--sometimes for baby clothes, sometimes for chinese, sometimes for pizza, sometimes for fish and chips. I think I ran twice. Got together with Louise’s family a couple times. I took a train to Dublin for a basketball tournament--got VIP seats from a Irish Federation guy I’d met the year before--pleasantly surprised at the level of Irish Basketball--a couple steps above the Uganda League, with guys who are more disciplined, shoot better, though are less athletic. Still reassured that some of my UCU guys could play in Ireland, frustrated that coaches only seemed to be interested in NCAA Div 1 guys or 6’ 10” Africans. CMS-Ireland tried to send us a way for a nice Valentines Day in Donegal, but our borrowed car blew out the water pump 17 miles short of Derry--but luckily found a great place, Dungiven Castle, with a room and had a very nice night and morning after, before the three of us piled into the front of the tow truck at noon the next day and rode back to Portadown--Lily had a ball. February 21st we borrowed another car and drove into Belfast to see Nanci Griffith--really good show. The next afternoon, we flew back to Uganda, very refreshed and newly CMS-ed, February 22nd.
4. Earl and Rosemary
February 26th, I drove out to Entebbe to pick up my parents at the airport. In probably the wildest development of my time in Uganda, Earl Mehl is the UCU Bursar (CFO, Controller in US terms). Earl and Rosemary came out in November last year for two weeks to visit and see if the job would be a fit. It was great, and crazy enough to have them here for 2 weeks--but it was really crazy to pick them up at the airport, knowing they’d be here for 2 years. All I can say is Earl’s doing a very difficult job, and doing it well, and Lily and Rosemary dig each other with equal excitement whenever they’re together. And it’s great for Louise to get to know Earl and Rosemary with more than the typical daughter-in-law, every other Thanksgiving and Christmas arrangement--we get together for dinner at least once-a-week, and that often involves at least one game of Rook--can’t get any more Mehl than that.
5. Makerere Open
The Ugandan National Basketball League didn’t actually start until April 18, but there was plenty of action going when I got back. I’d been appointed as a FUBA (Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations) executive member the previous year when a completely new group of Federation Executives had been elected. So I had a year under my belt of frustrations, combined with a few accomplishments, and was eager to get involved in more accomplishments with FUBA, as well as, of course, the UCU team. Before the league started, I almost closed a huge deal by almost transferring the biggest player in the League from the team who knocked us out of the playoffs and won the championship last year, to UCU. Long long story (actually still ongoing), but we didn’t get him signed before the deadline. We didn’t play in one poorly organized tournament, instead opting to put two men’s teams in an even more poorly organized tournament--Makerere Open--and annual tournament hosted by Makerere University, the largest and (arguably) most disorganized university in East Africa. We now have a J.V. team at UCU playing in the 3rd Division of the League, but instead of entering the 1st Division team and JV teams in the tournament, I thought it’d be good to divide the teams equally between 1st team and JV guys. Both of our teams qualified for the semi-finals. One of them was beaten by the Makerere Team (all guys from different 1st Division League teams), the other team won their semi-final game so it was UCU B against Makerere in the Final, which began under the lights on Makerere’s outdoor court at 11:30 pm. Again, long long story, but our team of combined 1st Team guys and JV guys was beating Makerere’s team by 12 with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Makerere called a time out, we came back on the court and there was no ball. A Makerere fan had come onto the court, taken the ball, and run back to his dorm. Rationale: no ball, no game, no loss for Makerere. Makerere guys asked if they could use our ball, I said no. There’s no way to keep that guy’s buddy from doing the same thing with our ball--people line the court on all sides like it’s a huge cock fight, but with no fences or rails to stay behind. When fans started realizing the ball was gone, they started crowding the court. A fan who’d threatened to kill me last time we were beating Makerere, came up to me, with respect, and said, “You need to leave now. Anything can happen. Get your bus to drive somewhere else to meet you. You should all leave.” I didn’t trust the guy, but then a Makerere Administrator found me and said the same thing. We weren’t really in danger, it was more our bus, and the driver. We followed instructions. The next day I got a phone call from the same administrator apologizing, and informing me that we’d been declared winners and asking if I could come to Makerere and pick up the trophy. I’ve been in Uganda long enough to know that you don’t just go to some office and pick up a trophy. The official declaration of the Makerere Open Champion has yet to be made. We’re never playing in that tournament again.
The UCU 3-on-3 tournament will hopefully become an annual, pre-season event. This year it was well-publicized, and we had fantastic t-shirts, but the turnout was poor. Even so, the tournament was fun for all until a really disappointing thing happened--another long long story (that can be read at www.cmsireland.org/blog/mehl). Next year we hope to host a UCU Invitational pre-season tournament, as well as the 2nd Annual 3-on-3 tournament--hopefully less eventful.
7. Opening Night
Opening night of the league was April 18th. The featured game was UCU vs Falcons--last year’s regular season champions, against the Champions. Plenty of hype and anticipation. We beat Falcons by 13. At one point we had a 24-point lead. Plenty more hype after the game. Lot’s of people thought this was going to be the year UCU would be truly unstoppable. The following week, we were stopped--by Kampala International University--same team who beat us by 10 in the University Games Championship Game. A couple of our guys had to leave for various reasons over the course of the next few games. We lost two in a row at one point, one player was suspended four 4 games for shoving another player--an action that deserved a technical foul, but not a suspension. We won a couple easy games, but lost a couple we really should’ve won. It’s hard not to go into it all with names and situations, but I can’t try to explain it all. We finished the first half of the season at 5-4, in a third place. Three teams are tied for 2nd place at 6-3. The second half begins July 27th.
June 3rd was UCU Graduation Day. Before the big events of the day, the night before found us hosting Bishop Muneer Hanna Annis--Bishop of Egypt and North Africa and the Horn of Africa (referred to at www.cmsireland.org/blog/mehl), an incredibly humble and discreet and committed man of God. The next day, Bishop Muneer quoted me (though thankfully without naming me) as the guy who told him the night before that most of the graduates will be thinking more about celebrating than about his speech. I was really just trying to get a laugh--he got a bigger one. Later that day we had a graduation party at our place. Six basketball players were graduating, most of them didn’t have family or money to throw them a party, so Louise and I had both ladies and men’s teams over for burgers. A great afternoon, and emotional as we wrapped things up with speeches by the graduates, all of whom emotionally explained ways in which their basketball experience impacted their UCU time, for the better. It was important for everyone to hear, not least of all, me.
June 12th was Louise’s birthday. We celebrated by going up to Murchison Falls National Park for two days of safari. Aunt Denise came out to Mukono and split Lily time with Grandma Mehl, so Louise had almost three full days without diaper changes and nighttime feeds and head-bump cries (we missed Lily, but not so much those things). Louise had never been on any kind of safari, I’d been on a small one in Kenya, and a decent one at Queen Elizabeth National Park back in 2004, but everyone says Murchison is the place to go if you’re in Uganda. We went, and weren’t disappointed. One lion, many buffaloes, water bucks, Uganda kobs, Jackson’s Heartbeasts, hippos, many elephants, many many giraffes (at one point we stopped and had a panoramic view of 40 giraffes at once), baboons, monkeys with neon genitals, and a dung beetle. We also took a 3 hour boat trip down/up the Nile to the waterfall where the entire Nile squeezes through a few yards between rocks, on it’s way from Jinja up to the Mediterranean. Saw many hippos and alligators and great birds. Louise was thrilled with the whole time. Though we both missed Lily like crazy and were just as happy to see her as we were to see the mama lion the day before, and as she was to see us.
10. All-Star Break
The day before we left for Murchison was the last day of the first round of the League. Normally, we take a week off, have an All-Star game, then pick things back up again. It’s been six weeks now. Still waiting. One noteable event that’s happened during the All-Star break is I resigned from my position as an Executive Committee Member of FUBA. There were many contributing factors, but the main one was that I found myself feeling like I wasn’t able to give FUBA the energy it deserved, while also giving UCU and my family the energy they deserve. If anyone’s gonna suffer out of those three, it should be FUBA. Also, the Executive Committee was dragging it’s feet on a serious issue involving UCU and I was finding it difficult to be part of team that was unable to legislate justice or even take any action for, or against, another team I’m part of--again, UCU is more important than FUBA.
In spite of my FUBA resignation, I was asked to help coach the Under-18 National Team in the upcoming FIBA Zone 5 U-18 Championship being hosted by Uganda. At the same time, I lost my voice. Not from a lot of yelling, just a slight cold, and laryngitis and the voice disappeared. I went to a couple meetings and practices, without the voice hoping it would come back in 2-3 days like the doctor told me. But it didn’t. I was by the doctor not to work at all until the voice came back. I realized that, again, I needed to put UCU ahead of non-UCU stuff. So I told the FUBA guys I needed to back away from U-18 until I could get healthy. Still, my voice is very weak. FUBA moved on and replaced me and it’s been good for me to be able to stay in Mukono and work with UCU guys and pray for my voice to recover. Louise and I think that stress and anxiety are contributing to the slow-healing of my voice, and we’re doing what we can to keep me relaxed and focused on accomplishing necessary things only.
12. Dependance Day
4th of July. Denise said yes when Rory proposed. Wedding in Uganda in early December. Everyone’s thrilled, no one’s surprised.
July 6-16, Uganda hosted All-Africa University Games. This is the same event in which I coached the Uganda University National team in 2006 in South Africa. This time, I wasn’t asked to coach, and I didn’t give anyone any hints that I’d be interested. I knew the event was going to be poorly organized and didn’t want to have any official part in it. The event was poorly organized, but it still allowed for some fun. The basketball part of the Games had only four teams (in South Africa in 2006 there were 16). Women: Mozambique and Uganda, Men: Senegal and Uganda. So the teams played each other twice and that was it. The first Uganda v Senegal game was huge. Everyone was out to see what Senegal’s two 7-footer’s were gonna. The 7-footer’s weren’t nearly impressive as the whole Senegal team was--well-disciplined on offese and defense, focused, trusting each other, well-coached. Good basketball. Basketball that doesn’t exist in East Africa--UCU might be the closest to it, but we’ve got a long way to go. Senegal won by 24. The second game, two days later, Uganda played very very well, the refs looked away a few times, and Senegal slowed the game down and missed several key opportunities and Uganda won by 6--it was a huge triumph. I talked to the Senegal coach after that game--he blamed the refs--I asked if he was willing to come to UCU for a scrimmage the next day--he said o.k. So Senegal came out to UCU the next day. We had more people there for that scrimmage, without advertising it, than for any other single sports event UCU’s ever hosted. And it was embarassing. The 1st quarter score was 24-8. We couldn’t score. Our guys were nervous and thinking too much about their size. We put together a decent fourth quarter, lost 24-23, and lost the game by 31. But all of our guys played and it was a great chance for them to see how good we’re NOT--yet. I like to think we could’ve cut it to 25 or so or even 20 points, if I could’ve talked during a time-out. I’m not much of a coach with my voice, but even less without it.
There. Bridge. Anyone willing to read all that must be my mother.