There has never been a moment when I’ve appreciated a mosquito net more than I do in this one. An army of mosquitoes is swarming outside my net and they are so furious their whining has prevented me from falling back to sleep after a little one took a short call in the dark morning hour. Even though I am religiously taking my malaria medicine, I still don’t want my body to have to fight it. And I can’t stand the itch so I scratch, make a sore and open up myself to all sorts of infections!
I have spent the night sleeping on a mattress in the living room of the house where our Kirabo Seeds children live with Auntie Julie. I tried to arrive in time for some silly fun before bed, but the Kampala traffic was knotted and blocked. A twenty minute ride took an hour and a half. Sigh. What can you do? But I did come in time to read them a story and say prayers with them.
This is a four bedroom house with two bathrooms. There is a dining area and a living area. It was a duplex, but before we agreed to rent it they put a passage between the two sides. There is one kitchen and the other space that was meant to be a kitchen is now called the “store”. This means it is like our pantry. And there’s a great sense of gratitude when someone walks into a “store” here and it is full of food. Phiona has told me that these children are over eating. We know this is common for children who have gone to bed too many nights hungry and spent too many days working without nourishment. I told her not to scold them about it and let them slowly come to their own conclusion that they won’t have to worry about having food to eat for the next meal. There will be food. Soon enough their own appetites will regulate. It is shocking though to see a dinner plate so piled high with food and somehow they fit it into their little growing bodies.
When I arrived they’d been waiting for me for a long time and I received timid hugs. Up to this point all of my interaction with them has been in a crowd. I hardly know them at all! My first matter of business was to get their names straight. I’m horrible with names. But when they are your own kids, somehow it’s not so hard. Some of them passed out for the night before I arrived and I felt sorry for that. But those who were awake were very interested in the storybook I brought along. When our children were young we read a cute little book: Stories that Jesus Told by Inkpen and Butterworth. It has simple ideas and funny pictures and helps to open the mind on the parables of Jesus. My boys still remember the merchant with the felt hat and the floppy feather who sold all his riches to purchase the pearl of great worth. What a pleasure it was for me to share this story last night with the children here and explain that it is better to give up all the riches in this life to have the security of eternity with God. The truth is I could see in their faces that was a hard sell. They have been taught that God is more important but the idea of having a lot of money is all together too wonderful. Thankfully, we have a long time to teach these stories. And the beautiful thing about story books is that they get better every time they are repeated and the child can think more deeply about the story the better they know it.
I brought some microwave popcorn and filled cupped hands with a buttery bed time snack. They liked it a lot. I shooed them off to brush their teeth and prepare for bed while Julie arranged my mattress on the floor. She tucked in a perfectly made bed for me and tied the mosquito net on the curtain rod. When I arrived Julie was concerned and really wanted me to sleep in her bed. I said “NO WAY, I’m perfectly comfortable with a mattress on the floor.” And I am. Phiona laughed and told me, “I really love how flexible you are.” That was sweet, but there’s nothing uppity about me. I only need my coffee in the morning and enough time to sit and be alone with God and write my stories before I am required to enter my day.
I entered each of the children’s rooms as they prepared for bed. I enjoy just watching them interact. It’s quite a marvel to me that these children are now acting like brothers and sisters. Phiona insists they use their English and so I could hear them telling each other “Mama Tonya uses English you must use your English.” It made me laugh. While they scrambled between their sheets and tucked in their mosquito nets I looked around the room. Phiona spanks them for being messy and they have learned quickly to put their clothes away. That’s the thing about things, they come with responsibility and learning that responsibility can be difficult. What caught my eye was the coloring pages they have made since our arrival. They have all been carefully arranged on the walls as artwork. They ripped up the sticky name badges we put on them the first day and used the bits as tape to hold it up. And their coloring is beautiful. There’s so much beauty inside a child screaming to burst out. Their instinct to make their home pretty by displaying their own work intrigued me so much. I brought them a big world map to put on their wall in the dining room. Phiona wants me to print photos of memories for the walls. We will use some of the photos of all the people who come to love on them and arrange their living room with memories. And now that I see them trying to arrange their own artwork we’ll make it possible to have a gallery for their creative expression. I’m thinking a wire with clips they can change out their work as often as they create it. We’ve brought more coloring and art supplies than they could ever imagine. It’s enough to wallpaper the whole house. Art projects are always on my list to bring when I travel here. I love to see a child put all they have into making something and then feel so good every time they look at it.
I stood in the door way of the big boys room where six of them sleep. We said prayers and they wished me to sleep well in their own language, and then someone said, “no say it in English!” I am careful not to force myself on them. I want them to learn that I am approachable and that I love them deeply. I know from experience here that giving them things is not the right way to express love. They will only see me as the deliverer of things they didn’t have before. I want them to know I will give them my time, my mind, my heart and my soul. And I have been doing that for endless months they just don’t know it yet. This is why I am here with them. I want to share my deep love. I want them to know I care about them and want to be with them. It is not easy to have all the business work to do for the organization and manage the team when I am just meeting them for the first time. I feel spread so thin I know I’m probably not doing any one thing very well. It is difficult to stuff a year’s worth of work into one month. But we will do the best we can and know that in time it will all be done just right.
In the middle of the night little ones jump out of bed and hurry to the bathroom for a “short call”. This of course stirs up the children into a semi conscious state and that’s when the coughing commenced. There’s a lot of coughing here. Immediately everyone suspects tuberculosis. And that’s a good possibility. Just stepping into Mulago hospital is an invitation to take home TB. Phiona is coughing a lot. The dust in the air from dirt roads is the first suspect. Allergies come next. But TB is not out of the question. Last year we brought a medical mission team here to Uganda to immunize the children and working with Dr. Cindy and Craig’s brother Dr. Don was so inspirational for me. I wish I had medical training. But I’m so thankful I have a devoted Dr. Cindy who will guide and advise us how to care for these children. I just have to convince Phiona to contact me with every symptom so we can see if it requires consult with the good missionary doctor. I hope she will make the next solo trip I take here so we can immunize these children and train the caretakers how to triage. Phiona has contacted a nurse she knows well who will come to our house and look in on the children for us when there is need. Then we can pay her transportation fees and house call fees once a month. This is ideal. I’d like Dr. Cindy to train her when we can get her back here. This is why it is so important for us to have three sponsors per child in our home. One sponsor is to help get the feeding projects sustainable. One is for education. And the other is for health care and prevention. Otherwise Craig and I will be draining our accounts trying to keep these kids healthy.
One of the boys, Boniface, has been sick over the weekend. He spent yesterday at the hospital as his grandmother came to stay with him there because Phiona had to accompany us in court. The doctor met with jjajja and Phiona in the morning. Jjajja gave permission for the HIV medicines to be given out to Phiona, his new guardian so now she can go herself for the refill. He’s been coughing and lethargic all weekend. The doctor didn’t do much for him at all to look into his malaise and refused to give a referral to a specialist. I’m not one to fold when something I know is necessary is refused to me. So this morning Phiona and I will take this child to Wentz medical clinic, a private care hospital, and we will get to the bottom of what is ailing this child. I’m most concerned because he collapsed yesterday. I don’t know if he was offered any water or food all day at Mulago Hospital. I only know a sick child is an urgent situation and we will knock on every doctor’s door in this town until we find out what is hurting this child.
The thing I am struggling to understand is how the grandmother can sigh and say to Phiona, “let me know if he dies.” In this culture death just happens so regularly. Joel Anthis showed me an internet article the night before we flew out which reported on how, “16 women die in childbirth in Uganda every day.” Really? A person can die at Mulago just waiting to be seen by a doctor and everyone says, “oh, that is sad” shrugs and somehow accepts it. The acceptance doesn’t come without great mourning and painful wailing. They feel the hurt and sting of death as greatly as we do in the west. They just cannot prevent it as well as we’ve been able to do. It’s impossible for me to accept a child’s death without a strong fight. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t exhaust every possible way to help a child. So much here could be prevented and that’s one of the hardest things for me to accept when tragedies happen and they could have been stopped.
This fact alone is another reason why our children’s home will have a small and limited number of children in our care. Our three acres will keep no more than forty children. That feels like a lot to me to manage but the orphanages here usually house hundreds in a fraction of that space. We have already begun to cultivate food on our land. Someone from Abdul’s village is living in a small hut and working our land. We are discussing building chicken coops soon. And we have gone from believing goats were the best way to raise meat to finding out that pigs are better! I’ll write more on that soon. We’d like to have a fish pond eventually. The important thing for us is to go slow. Do one project at a time and do it well. The ultimate goal is for us to have a guest house for students to come stay and teach the children. We want to grow enough food to feed everyone and sell to keep it going on its own. We hope to build a school so children in the community can come for a good education and we can manage and control the quality of our own children’s education. We are learning as we go, we are open to the wisdom and help from those who have gone before us. And most of all we believe God will direct our paths as long as we keep him in front and on top.
I hear the children chatting in their beds. It is a happy sound. This is one of the reasons I have spent the night here. I wanted to enjoy the sounds of their play, the happiness of their friendships, and their joy in making a family. I always feel so torn when I am in Uganda as I wonder how I will be able to leave and go back to America. I’m sitting here and I just want to cry at the thought of not being able to experience their daily lives. Their joy and innocence feeds my soul so much. Sigh.
Someone just found me! “Oh Good morning Mama Tonya”!!!! That means I say goodbye to you.
I’m now posting this at the end of another long day. After spending the morning hours with Julie and the fourteen children I quickly came to the conclusion that Julie needs babysitting help! We are going to pray that someone from the church will be interested in a part time job to help us teach the chidlren a good routine. They beat on each other, shout, leave their clothes all over the place and ignore Julie. Then again they wash their own clothes by hand, help serve the meals, clean up the dishes and put them all away. I’d say they are normal children. And fourteen kids need a lot of help so we’ll find some. I believe God will provide.