The flights and transitions between airports went smoothly. I found the correct terminals in Chicago and London, and I even found my taxi at the Entebbe airport that would take me to the guesthouse for the night. Friday morning I woke up expecting to find private hire driver, Dennis there to pick me up and take me to Mbarara. But much to my surprise the Skinner family was with him! Excited to get to Mbarara, I cuddled up between Dara and Dade for the five hour trek.
One of the landmarks on the way from Kampala to Mbarara is the equator, and almost every visitor or resident who passes through takes a picture there. That being said, I already have a couple pictures at the equator, but I wanted another one. So Dara, Dade and I wandered over to the spot, I took off my purse, and Joel took the picture. He handed me back my phone, and we walked back to the vehicle admiring the photo and greeting the police officer on duty as we went.
Two and half hours later we arrived in Mbarara. Jill greeted us and told me that some of my university friends were anxious to see me. After chatting for a bit and settling in, I decided to grab my purse and go meet them at the church. But when I went to look for my purse, which held my passport, license, debit card, and all of my American money, I couldn't find it. Suddenly, I had the flashback moment where I realized I set my purse down at the equator and never picked it back up. Knowing this was 3-4 hours ago, panic began to arise in my heart as I thought about how slim the chances would be that the purse would still be there.
If you look in the picture above you can't see my purse, but it is literally just to the left of the concrete slab. Golden rule: "Keep those (passport and money) on you at all times" - broken. A high price to pay for a picture.
Because they are so relational, the Skinners have made friends in so many places, and we were able to contact a woman who works near the border at the restaurant we had earlier stopped and ate chappatis. She went out searching for my lost bag. There hadn't been enough time for real hopelessness about the situation to set in, but the circumstances weren't promising. As we prayed about it, I felt at peace with whatever would come, but even though no one said it, finding everything seemed so unlikely.
There wasn't anything I could do at this point in time so I went to Mbarara University to see the girls I'd been longing to see. Together we laughed, hugged, and then prayed as we discussed the sarcastic pros and realistic cons of losing my passport. While I was there, our friend at the equator called back to let us know that the police officer, who Joel and Dade had greeted earlier, found the purse. She said the police officer claimed everything was there, and I would have to be the one to come back and get the bag. At hearing this, I was encouraged. We devised a plan to have Dennis drive me and a couple of girl friends to the equator again the next day to retrieve the purse.
The drive back to the equator was full of deep conversation and catching up, a great gift in the midst of a stressful situation. When we arrived at the equator, our friend met us and introduced us to the policeman who had my purse. He led us to a locked quarters, where he proceeded to ask me what my name was and what was in the bag before turning it over. When he gave it to me, I opened it to check my belongings. I first noticed my passport and breathed a sigh of relief; however, when I opened my wallet the chunk of dollars was not there. Reading the disappointment on my face, the officer asked if I was missing something. I told him that I was and he asked how much. When I answered correctly, he handed me the cash, had me sign a statement recording everything I had reclaimed, and had my friends sign as witnesses of the transaction.
I cannot explain the level of how impressed I was at the thoroughness of it all. To come across people with such a high level of integrity, character and honesty filled my heart. Full of pride in Uganda and with our belief in the goodness of people restored, we went to take another picture at the equator - this time with my purse in hand.
Later that evening, I checked my email and found an email that the officer had earlier sent letting me know he had my belongings. Apparently, he found my business cards in my wallet and used it as a way to contact me. Once again, I was blown away at the way this man did his job with such integrity and thoroughness.
Lessons from the experience:
1. Live by the golden rules of traveling.
2. Peace from God is a reality as a child of His, even in the craziest of scenarios.
3. Not everything in this world is under the influence of corruption.
4. God is so good. His grace is sufficient. He's got me covered especially when I'm in the wrong.