A few friends joined us on Friday to visit the orphanage. A friend from South Carolina I have only known online, Carla, and her friend were on a mission trip this week for the baby home where Carla is adopting her little boy Isreal. It was a great joy for me to finally meet her after a year or more of online friendship. Geore and Irene, the newlyweds, also arrived for breakfast and joined us for the day. We didn’t mention to any of our guests who joined us that we were going to the Friday Market at the railway, but this is Africa, and everyone knows to just flow with the program.
The team met with banker Mama Tonya. I traded shillings for crisp hundred dollar bills, which I promptly handed over to the house managers where I stay because they like dollars better than shillings. Working in a cash only system is something which does not surprise me this trip, but the hassle of carrying wads of money remains annoying. The adult team members chose their shoppers to keep an eye on, and off they went with an hour of scavenging and bargaining in front of them, eyes sparkling and full pockets twitching.
I could spend all day there because I love the visual stimulation of all the African crafts spread out among the people who casually relax and sell their wares. I’m stocking my online store so I bought as many beautiful things as I could, and I tried to make friends with all the sellers by spreading the wealth in a thin layer so everyone would go home that night and be able to stop at the market first. It is fun for me to see the kids shopping, they loved it, and the variety of goods is so interesting to see.
We deposited our goods at the guest house, used the clean toilet one last time, and then climbed the bus again to go to the orphanage for our farewell. I know the Ugandans, and saying goodbye isn’t something we do as we walk to the bus with hugs. It is at least a two hour event, in this case, more like three.
The first item of business upon arrival from a hot , long and crabby bus ride was to get the children’s birthdays placed on the calendar. Some knew bits and pieces of information. Many did not even know the months of the year, so they pulled out the blackboard and began to teach them. Within an hour or so everyone could say they knew their birthday. After lunch we sang the birthday song in both languages, and served everyone birthday cake that Harriet (our house cook) had happily made for the children. Sherry gave the children a gift to begin a birthday fund account so that each break during school terms all the birthdays that passed during that term could be celebrated all at once. That’s how they do it in communal living and no one expects to be singled out as we do it in America. They loved the cake! It is such a treat for me to bless these children with simple pleasures like birthday cake. It’s what makes me want to start planning my next trip to come.
The nurses set up their clinic under the blue tent for one last time so the adults who wanted to have a checkup could receive the attention they crave. No one really had legitimate ailments requiring medicine, they just wanted to feel like they had been heard and cared for and it is easy to wrap the stethoscope around the neck and have a listen, flash the light in the eye, and palpitate the lymph nodes.
Adams gathered everyone into the church for our Farewell Assembly. As soon as he did the heavens opened up and the rain poured down. We were told that when it rains in Africa it is a sign of God’s blessing and providing. The sound of the hard rain hitting the metal roof deafened the listeners and it was impossible for the speakers to raise their voices above it. Sooo…as the Africans do so well…they flowed with it and switched mid speeches to praise and worship songs. Donny took out the guitar and the kids joined him on stage and happy songs were sung until we thought the rain had let up. We repeated that process about three times until finally the rain had passed. Everyone on our team was asked to stand before the crowd and give a parting message. All the church elders were introduced and James gave a long thank you speech giving gifts to Adams and Craig. Then Rebecca took the stage, and when this woman prays it is with a passion I’ve never seen in my life. I scooched to the end of my chair and leaned in close so I wouldn’t miss a word. She dropped to her knees and raised her face to God and began to cry to him in thanksgiving using all of her body language. She said she had a personal gift for me to thank me for loving them all so much, so she took me by the arm and we ran to her house. The whole place began to whisper, “where are they going, what are they doing” and it echoed my own thoughts.
She said she was only able to give me a special thing from her heart and she wanted me to have one of her special dresses the women wear in Rwanda, a mashanana. Then she began to pull fabric out of the bag and drape me. She was so excited to give this gift to me she was shaking and her breathing was rapid. I felt like a princess, I really did. It was like being dressed for a wedding, and in a way, Rebecca and I became soul sisters in that moment. It is something I will never in my life forget, and I am so thankful Elitia took up my camera so I would have a record of that most intimate ceremony.
She presented me to the church and said, I am now jjajja to the children, as Elitia is their mummy. This is not to say I am old, it is to say I’ve been given a place of high honor in this society. Oh, I was speechless, which is a good thing because the process of goodbye wasn’t finished we had an hour or more left of speeches and prayers.
Finally it was time to make it official and end the goodbye ceremony so the older girls were invited to the stage to sing a goodbye song. It was like a funeral dirge, it was soooo sad. Adams told them in their language so we couldn’t understand, “don’t be like the Ugandan choir and sing for three hours, you have three minutes and that is all”. While they sang, some of them ran off stage to cry, the others cried from the stage. All of us watching were choked and red eyed. At the end, all of the children sitting lowered their head between their knees and sobbed. It was pitiful.
Here’s the hilarious part of this whole story: Only Craig and I and Cindy and Kira were leaving early, the rest of the bunch had all afternoon to play games with Andres and our kids. So after the crying festival they wiped their eyes and went to play. I need to process this some more before I really understand it. They seem to really express their emotions uninhibitedly and let it all out so nothing seems to be built up inside like a pressure cooker. This is healthy.
And me? I’ll be around to see them for another week, so I wasn’t sad at all, just relieved to get more of them. And thankfully when my face turns red and I blubber like a child no one will be around to see how ugly I can get. I knew parting would be bloody and it was, but that means a great love was established and a forever bond was made all because we share the common love of Jesus.
Craig and I went to dinner with Adams and Elitia to talk about land purchasing details, while Cindy happily rested at the guest house keeping a happy eye on Miss Kira. The kids played until the bus revved the engines and it was really time to go. I wonder what that was like. I can’t wait to hear the stories this morning, but that will be a while since they get to sleep in today.