It’s nice when I am here and I get to give the team their salaries, especially Phiona because she is so hard working and grateful for her job, which she calls her ministry. For most women here the first thing they want to do when they get their month’s salary is get their hair fixed up pretty. But Phiona’s first instinct this payday was to give the children a treat. She wanted to take all the children to Wonder World, the amusement park, and she would treat the children herself.
First thing in the morning she had teacher conferences at their school. So when they finished they met our team at the park. We had made dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone, bought bananas, potato crisps and water bottles. We had lunch in the parking lot. I still can’t get passed how easy going everyone here is about plans. My own children would ask for a restaurant meal and snub pbj but everyone here was perfectly fine with the meal plan for the day. I get this really strange, awfully strong sensation of deep satisfaction when I am putting food in the hands of our children. I love to see them eat. I love the prongs of hands reaching out patiently, expectantly for the food.
Time for play! Kira saw that all the children had an orange arm band and she was looking everywhere for hers. At the entrance it cost ten thousand shillings to enter, about 5 dollars, and then she and I got our bands. Phiona paid for all of the children. I paid for the drivers. I am pretty sure that all of the Ugandan adults had at least as much fun in the park as the children did, especially Auntie Julie. That was great fun to experience.
The first ride the older kids did was the swinging pirate ship. I remember that ride from Cedar Point in my childhood. They were all fine until it began to swing. When the swinging got really high there was panic and crying in a couple of the older kids, and some looks of “I’m going to be sick or die” in the adults. I hate to admit this, but we were on the ground hysterically laughing. Musa especially was a wreck after that ride and couldn’t be convinced to go on anything that looked risky again.
They loved the bumper cars, swings, teacups, and octopus. We had a great time staying together as a group and following the happy crowd. One thing I’ll never forget is how they went through their new clothes and chose to wear their best clothes for this day! They had the biggest family in the park. They also had the best manners, and widest smiles. I have to say I was really proud of them.
We discovered there was a movie theater in the park, and we arrived to see the last half hour of a movie on a really big screen. It’s like what we have at home in America at the movie theaters, but here, they’ve never seen it. After the movie finished we sat and had sodas and popcorn. We bought 27 bottles of soda and 27 bags of popcorn for 40 dollars!!!
Phiona and I discussed their progress reports, and three of them who are smart are not doing as well as they could and we’re going to give them grace for this first period. But we’re going to expect their best for next period. We are going to tell them that if they perform well this next term they can have another trip to Wonderworld, but anyone who doesn’t do their best and get good marks will stay home. What they will find out about Mama Tonya is she means what she says. I hope they will all work hard. I would not like to know someone suffered missing a trip to the amusement park because they didn’t take their school work seriously. But I believe in firm boundaries for consequences. It’s how children learn. It’s why my boys are the way they are now, I kept my promises and let them face their own consequences of bad choices. I’ve got tried and true parenting in my experience.
On a final note for the day, I was proud of Phiona because she confronted a teacher who was verbally abusing our children and hurting their feelings by saying degrading things about them. The children all reported to Phiona about it, so when Phiona met this teacher she told her what the children were saying. The teacher began to cry for the shame of being caught. Phiona said, “I’m just telling you first because I intend to go to the head master about this matter.” And that’s what she did next.
It is not in Phiona’s nature to confront someone, nor is it culturally practiced here in Uganda. People tend to take a bad situation for a long time rather than believe they can make it change. Phiona has worked with me in really tough situations where I have confronted some seriously difficult behavior. And she saw it was the right thing to do to make the change rather than live with the problem. She has the personal strength and soundness of mind to do it. And in this case, the instincts of loving these children as a mother hen rose up and she stood up for her kids! Bravo! There aren’t many young women here in Uganda who are made of the goodness that her mama built into Phiona. He mother is one of my personal heroes because ten years ago the dad died of AIDS, and with five children she managed to work her own business and keep them all in school. And she sleeps at the church several nights a week only so she can pray and have intimacy with God all through the night. And Phiona is fiercely protective of loving her special mama. I can see why.
Phiona’s last words when I congratulated her on confronting that teacher were, “well, I work for an American.” I wish you could hear the way she accents it, it is precious and sounds like what else could possibly come of that? Phiona takes a lot of grief from people in her own culture because she is strictly honest especially when it comes to ministry money. George suffers the same problem. The two of them go against the flow here and this can be lonely and hard to bear. But God sees their hearts and their choices, and their honesty will always be rewarded.
I thank God for her devotion to this ministry and these children, and for our friendship. I miss her so much when we are apart. She starts counting the days now, and tries not to get sad at our separation. I feel the same way.