I’ve returned to the rhythm of living here in Uganda. Plans can be detoured, work prolonged, electricity flickers and disappears, water must be boiled, eyes squeezed tight in the shower, and exercise is the mode of transportation. Call me crazy, but I welcome the challenge like a boxer in the ring, dancing around with my fists up chastising my opponent, “you can’t squelch my good mood with slipping the rug out from all my conveniences, nothing’s going to take me down”. Part of the fun of being here is discovering how flexible I can be and enjoying the surprises that come my way when I am.
We made our way in the afternoon out to the orphanage. The sights along the way are so entertaining. The children knew I would be arriving for dinner, but they didn’t know I’d meet them at their school! It’s so hard to both prepare the children and surprise them, but we managed it. First we said hello to all of the adults at the children’s home, hugs and handshakes were passed out, and everyone looked deeply into my eyes for a lingering moment and thanked me profusely. I was a little shy about receiving praise because all praise goes to God. I’ll be reminding them all week long that God accomplished his work through me, and it wasn’t me at all! Ugandans are so used to hierarchies that I know it will not be easy to let me be equal, but boy am I going to try to let them know I am exactly the same as they are with the same purpose as they have: to love and encourage these children to fulfill their God given potential. (and if this is not their purpose, they can be on their way)
For the new members of the team it was the first time they met “Mama Tonya” and so I could feel the eyes crawling all over me every minute. I’m so shy about that. I’m just a girl who rolls up her sleeves and gets a little dirty and sweaty that’s all. I don’t sit by the pool calling out orders while I sip a refreshing drink. I fall into bed exhausted from labor at the end of each day. I hope by the end of the week as they see me get down and dirty they’ll relax a little bit with me. One grandma,” jjajja”, knelt on her knees holding my hand and cried out from the full extent of her soul to thank me in a prayer that was rich with detail and praise to God. Her son is gone (don’t have that story yet) and his wife abandoned the three young children and this woman in her silver haired years is responsible for them without income. We’ve folded them into the feeding program, they stay in a room next door, and we are adding the children to the program for sponsors. We will be looking for three more sponsors. I’ll post more about them later. They are precious.
We were given a tour of all the improvements made since our initial visit in January. There’s a covered area for the cooks, a new sleeping stall for the goats, bunkbeds with mosquito nets (thank goodness!), a full storage room of food, tables, and lights. I could see they still needed a few more mattresses, I’m going to take care of that before I leave. The whole place is so puny for so many people, and crumbling, that I felt a resurgence to herd them all out of there as quickly as possible and settle them into a new home with wide open spaces, clean walls, and room for the children to have a playground. I stroked myself with patience and perseverance. It will come.
They walked me over to see the cows and the chickens and the five new goats. It appears that the goats were a very good idea (thank you Tracy for initiating this!) because they reproduce quickly, offer a little bit of nutritious milk, are disease resistant, and provide excellent meat. This investment is going to feed the children well for a long time. We are discussing adding a few more goats, if anyone is interested in providing one let me know and we can make that happen! (each goat costs $70 and the care for a year is $120)
The black cow just gave birth, and it was fun to see the baby with such a silky slick black coat, fresh eyes, and pink lips. Jack was eager to stroke him, our future bull. The black and white cow is pregnant. This means neither of them are giving milk at the moment and frankly I can understand as I’ve been a cow once before. It’s impossible to lactate before giving birth for the first time, and while having a young nursing child there isn’t much left over to share with anyone else. So milk is being purchased for the children these days, but the future is bright. We will have four cows, and they keep on making more! They are potentially a source of income as we consider selling in the future.
The chickens are really beautiful. We lost twenty out of two hundred, which isn’t so bad. They are sensitive little things, and getting ready to lay eggs by the end of this month. We might be here for the miracle. These chickens will provide about forty trays of thirty eggs a day! Whoa! That’s a lot of protein to eat for the children, and to sell. When we sell some we will buy more chicks who will prepare to be layers, and when these chickens finish laying, they will provide meat and income. It’s so interesting to see how it is to “stock the pantry here in Uganda” for a big family. It certainly requires more patience that waiting in line at Costco.
So, once the tours were complete, I strapped Kira to my back and we hiked the uneven pockmarked road to the Good Hope school where the children attend now. The administrator of the school is the same woman who allowed us to keep our cows with hers in exchange for a milking shed to be built. She waited until we were in the yard, and then the whole school was sent out to greet us. The children who knew us were so eager to hug my middle and look deep into my eyes. Oh, it was a relief, a feeling of a mama who hasn’t seen her child in a very long time. I got to meet and shake hands with the teachers, and introduce my family to them all. The children then went back into the classrooms so I could visit each room. This is a very nice school. It makes me so utterly relieved to know they are learning and growing here. We have a long way to go to teach them to be good students, but they are eager to adapt. These are such well behaved, self-controlled, and respectful children. I feel so blessed.
Next, school was let out for the day. We assembled our children in front of their school and took a photo, a momentous and important occasion. Many of the older students go to the secondary school and they don’t arrive home until nearly seven in the evening. Some of them go to vocational school and are learning skills that will be useful to the family when we move everyone to their new home. I’m so impressed with how well organized and developed the plan we had in January has fleshed out in just six months. Thank you Adams and Elitia! It has been quite a winding road, but look at the view!
We then followed the children home. They took us onto shortcut paths that were well worn through grassy fields, back roads, and side yards. It was about a fifteen minute walk. As I strolled with them I was overcome with emotion. I floated up to the cloud and sat on it and watched myself walking home with the children from school on dirt paths in Africa. I could hardly believe it has all come true. The air was fresh, the children were chattering happily, skipping, and shyly pressing alongside me hoping to catch my eye and receive my smile. Oh, this is bliss. I didn’t want the journey to end. I wanted to take a long walk with them and feel the beauty of Africa wrap us up with a ribbon and help us see the gift it is to know one another.
When the children return from school the first thing they do is go into the church building and have a prayer. They thank God for school, for sponsors, for food and for their health. ( I wish my children had this same discipline) Next, they go to their rooms and change into play clothes. Normally, they would then proceed to their chores of washing, fetching, and feeding. But today it had been done for them. We played in the courtyard together a little bit, but since dinner was ready we assembled into the church where the tables were arranged. The children sit at these tables, not the adults. This is somewhat counter cultural, but it has been clearly explained, these tables were given to the children! Wow.
While the women brought in the feeding supplies and food, we settled at our tables waiting to be called forward to receive our bowls. The children had a small competition to have me sit at their table. I did eeny meeny miny mo, and the table of girls was chosen, and they cheered and raised their arms. It was so sweet. They were a little shy at first, but we got busy learning names and telling stories. It is also highly unusual for children to be allowed to talk while eating here in Uganda. Food is such an important resource, and such a treasured gift each time that it is received silently and appreciated reverently. Well, forget that for this week! The Americans have arrived, and our dinner time is a raucous riot of laughter, sharing and fellowship. We will learn about eachother’s cultures this week as we share many meals together. (oh what an honor and privilege it is for me to lead this team into this experience. I am still overcome with awe that God has allowed me this experience.)
We were called forward to receive our meal. The children silently lined up with their hands cupped and extended as Rebecca and one of the mamas (cannot possibly spell her name) scooped rice from a large pot into the bowl, and then beans and broth were ladled on top. It’s astounding to see the portion size. It’s super sized for such bitty little bodies. I could only finish a third of my bowl before I was stuffed (and I started out famished) but the children all cleaned their plates. They are welcome to go back for more if they are still hungry. There was plenty to go around.
The children secretly admitted they hate posho (a mush of powdered maize cooked into a tasteless brick and served every single day of their life simply to fill their stomachs offering zero nutrition) and they like beans just as much as the posho. But they eat it. We talked later about how different eating is here. It is sustenance, not a source of pleasure or preference. We could hardly imagine eating the same tasteless food day after day. Pleasure must be sought some other way. I can promise you there’s no anorexia, bulimia, or emotional binging here in Uganda. Hmmm…
The children eat with their hands. Vicki sat next to me at the table and I saw her watch me eat with my fork, and I asked her if she’d like to try, and she said, no with a sweet embarrassed smile. I’ll tell you all a secret… the team doesn’t know… next week on Thursday we have planned a day in the life of a child in Uganda where our team is going to do the chores, and walk in the footsteps of these children from morning til night, and that includes eating with our hands. We’re even going to slaughter chickens, pump water at the well and carry it home. This will be a lesson none of us will ever forget. It makes me cry right now as I understand the impact it will have on my life.
So, it was growing late, and we were weary and the children had their homework to do so we each stood before them and spoke. We said our English phrase, and Adams interpreted in Lugandan. After each interpretation there was a round of applause. It had a musical quality to it after a while. I love the joy and happiness and deep broad smiles these children wear. They have certainly developed this beautiful ability since we last saw them in January. I bow low, and praise God, the Father to the fatherless for allowing me to see how much He loves the children in this world.
We waved goodbye and returned to our van. I remembered though I had carried a box of 100 blowpops all the way from America and they were in our van. I rushed back to the courtyard, and they were happy to line up for a sweet. The adults waited until I offered the first adult a treat, then they all appeared with their hand out! Everyone sucked on a blowpop and enjoyed the hidden gum. It gave them so much pleasure and happiness that we skipped back to our van, and fell deep asleep in the dark on the way home.
It was the happiest reunion, so relaxed, emotional, and satisfying for all. I am soooo eager for next week when we will spend twelve hours a day with them for five days in a row. Meanwhile, as I write, our team is in route and Craig reports the excitement is at a roar.