Growing food is as natural to a Ugandan as getting in the car to go to the grocery store is for an American. Gardening is called “digging” in Uganda. Children can’t remember being taught to grow food, they watch, copy and perfect their techniques over time. Some of the smaller children in our home have been given a few seeds from our garden and they dug out a corner at the house, bordered it with rocks they found, and planted their own crops. Every day when they come home from school they check on their babies, looking for growth, removing weeds, watering when necessary. One of the older boys decided to “fertilize” their tender plants by urinating on the garden. The plants burned up and died, and he got big trouble. They started over like the good hardworking Ugandan children they are and now new plants are flourishing again. They are learning to nurture, develop patience, and appreciate participating in God’s nature. Christine was eager to show me her little beans that are growing. What joy she will have when Auntie Julie cooks them up and serves them to the family.
Taking good care of something helps develop character. This is why the children love to run to the land and work in the garden on Saturdays. I believe children benefit greatly from having a pet. A plant might be a good start, but I’ve been introducing the idea of getting a kitten for the children. All of the adults, except Robert who is an animal lover, wrinkle their noses and say that cats are used by the witchdoctors and carry curses. I rolled my eyes. We are Christian, we don’t believe that nonsense. A kitten is born in the animal kingdom created by God and can’t carry a curse. Robert grew up with dogs and is eager to get a puppy. I told him I will bring dog training books for him so he can teach the children consistent training methods for raising a puppy. I selfishly want to be there to introduce the puppy. They want a German shepherd, which is a breed that is easily available, and a great guard dog at night. I am all for that! Someday we will bring home a puppy but not until we are all ready to train it with good manners.
One afternoon while George was filming Phiona for the video we walked to a quiet restaurant. She forbid me from watching her because I made her nervous so I walked around the garden. This little calico kitten came over and began purring and rubbing against my leg. I picked it up and we got acquainted long enough for me to get attached. The people at the restaurant laughed when I asked if I could have it. In a place where the people hardly get enough to eat they don’t have much sympathy for an animal if it starves. I understand that, I really do. They find it offensive to listen to someone talk about a pet as if it were a person. So they said yes I could have her, and then probably talked about how absurd Americans are with their pets. (we are.)
I didn’t take her home right away. I gently began to introduce the idea of bringing home a kitty to the family. The adults were unenthusiastic. Robert was willing to try though he has no experience with cats. The children were excited to have a pet. So after days of talking and setting rules, such as, no one picks the cat up, and how to gently shoo it away they were ready for their first pet. The main rule is they must sit and wait for kitty to come for petting. It will teach them patience and self control. And it will protect the cat from getting squeezed, scared, and ready to defend with claws.
On my last morning we stopped by the restaurant to get kitty, but she was nowhere to be found. Sad. They took Robert’s phone number and promised to call him when it reappears.
A lady from the restaurant took us to a woman who has a cat. We met her and there was a tiny baby kitten that looked just like my Coco at home. I wanted her so badly! We offered the old woman a lot of money to have the kitty and she said no way. The person who gave her the cat would be angry if it wasn’t there when they visited. I couldn’t believe it! In the same place where people beg me to take their children I couldn’t buy a cat. It was mind boggling. Phiona and Robert nearly ran over a cat one morning so they chased it down and brought it home. But this one was feral, unfriendly and afraid of everyone. She went to live on the land and help us with rodents.
On Sunday while I was in the air over the Atlantic ocean Robert got the call and picked up calico kitty from the restaurant to take home. Phiona named her Grace and the kids are crazy in love with her. After two days in her new home, kitty went missing for two days. Everyone, even the naysayers were depressed at the loss. Robert found her three kilometers away and brought her home, and there was a great celebration! Everyone was happy to have kitty back, now she is Amazing Grace.
Teaching children to nurture whether it is plants or animals will help them develop good character traits. I know for me, when I am being quiet with my favorite animals it has an immediate calming effect on me. I am reminded that love is simple. A soft touch is a gift. Giving affection is good for the heart and can cure lonliness. Talking about feelings isn’t a cultural practice in Uganda. That doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t there. I have a “feeling” the children will work out some of their feelings by loving and nurturing both plants and pets. I’m happy that the kitty who found me found its way into our home with the children.