Interesting week in Mbale, Uganda

By Curtis K. Shelburne

“Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown.”   

That’s how storyteller Garrison Keillor begins his weekly “News from Lake Wobegon” tales.

I thought about beginning this column similarly: “Well, it’s been a quiet week in Mbale, Uganda, where two of my sons serve as missionaries.” I’m just not sure about the “quiet” part.

Maybe this is better: “Well, it’s been an interesting week in Mbale, Uganda. …”

That’s true enough, though I have no doubt that things can get a lot more exciting in Uganda.

First there was the cobra behind the couch.

Before spinning that tale, I might mention that one of life’s ironies is that Stephan, our son who has always been particularly spooked by spiders and insects in general and creepy, crawly critters of any sort has fallen in love with Africa, a continent completely conducive to really formidable critters of just the sort that make his skin crawl — now literally. We still laugh about the time we heard Stephan hollering from the upstairs bathroom for Joshua, his younger brother, to come kill the wee spider that had found its way into the bathtub before Stephan did.

So I guess it’s a good thing that Stephan had a brother with him in their house in Mbale, Uganda, recently.

As I understand the tale, Joshua was making his way through the living room when he saw something dark flit, or slither as it turns out, behind the couch. Josh was tempted not to worry about it, but decided he probably ought to pull the couch out and have a look. He did — and found himself eye to eye with a young 16-inch forest cobra. Those things get a lot bigger and a lot longer, but a cobra is a cobra, and this one had the hood and the unwelcome look in his snaky eyes to prove it.

Josh picked him up with salad tongs (I’d have preferred something with a lot longer handle and, preferably, a trigger) and dropped him into a trash can (I’d have preferred a deeper trash can). He and Stephan photographed him, took him for “show and tell” to some colleagues, and then dispatched him to cobra heaven. Cobra case closed. We hope.

Then yesterday after we’d talked awhile on the phone, Stephan, the son of creepy crawly critter fame, told me that he has a new pet of sorts: He’s got a mango fly. Or maybe it’s got him for now. This is evidently an African rite of passage, as certain as malaria and dysentery. You see, if you hang your clothes out to dry, outside where mango flies live, and don’t get them ironed properly to kill mango fly eggs, well, up will come on your skin a fair-sized bump or a few where mango fly larva have made a home. The home remedy is a piece of tape and a day or two for the thing to come up for air and then get pulled out — use No. 102 for duct tape. Stephan said he’s trying not to think about it.

Oh, well. Serving the Lord carries with it some inherent challenges wherever you live.