At six-thirty in the morning Jack departed with Robert to go wash the van. Never in my life would I imagine a child of mine waking at that hour to wash something. But when there are sixteen friends working together on a project it can’t be missed. I had a lucky streak with internet yesterday morning as he sloshed and scrubbed, I’m hoping for the same gift to share photos with you today.Buckets of rain are dropping all around. Mud. I tried to walk after the rain yesterday and each step I took the mud sucked the shoe off my foot. I arrived such a mess I had to clean and wash everything. Thankfully I keep rain boots here and that’s what I’ll wear for my treks today.
Before church the lunch has to be simmering on the charcoal stove outside the kitchen. Children must present themselves before Robert for inspection. “Eh, Lydia smear your legs.” …”I did.” … “Go do it again, the right way.” And the boys tend to mix patterns in a way that hurts the eyes. Girls try to go without socks. Someone gets dirty. Everyone must look his or her very best on Sunday. It is a sign of respect to one another, and especially to God. That’s why the van must arrive sparkling clean. The whole parking lot was full of spotless cars. In America it never occurs to me what my car looks like as I arrive at church.
I am learning clean is an achievement hard won here, especially in the rainy season. I find I struggle to keep the dirt out of the apartment. Before bed I hand washed the laundry from the day and hung it in the shower to dry. It was such dirty brown water. I feel so grimy at the end of the day that I have learned to nearly idolize that warm shower before slipping into my CLEAN white sheets. So when I see people everywhere appear spiffy and perfect I am so impressed with the effort they have put into their appearance.
Respect is ingrained into children at a young age. It is coupled with fear because failure to respect is high treason and cause for the more severe forms of punishment. When the children go find something for me in the home they present it to me on their knees with their head bowed. To thank someone for something they always bow on their knees before the person. Honestly! I can’t imagine a child in America ever conforming to this behavior. It’s hard enough to get southern children to learn to say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am”. I’m not sure if kids in the north even bother. If a child here answers a call from an adult with: “What?!” They will get a punishment for disrespect. One never ever answers with “what?” here in Uganda. People’s faces crinkle and they are embarrassed… for me in general because I say it all the time. Their answer is , “wanji?” which means, “yes, please.” I’m learning. But my children answer me with “what?” each and every time I call them, and the shock on faces is entertaining as I don’t notice the disrespect.
Church was packed as usual. The children enjoy children’s church and return to the car singing Sunday school songs I learned as a kid. It is a small world. Kira sat on my lap and when the pastor began to preach she went from dozing into deep sleep (jack too…seems he arose too early) I was admiring her beautiful peaceful face, thankful for the quiet moment together and then her bladder released and she peed all over both of us. I stood immediately and left a puddle on my seat. The ladies around me muttered, “look what she has done.” I didn’t have more clothes with me or anything to wipe up the mess. So we stood outside the church tent hoping the breeze would dry us off. I was not so happy but I kept a calm demeanor. My friend Tarah Thomas found me there and as I greeted her I asked her not to hug me for fear she too would wear the pee perfume.
I met Tarah and her family on the first mission trip I took to Uganda. We stayed I in the same guest house. It is fun that I seem to bump into her nearly every trip I take here. She’s from the Midwest and they have three children. They’ve been living here for three years now. Her husband, Wayne is the director of technology for Watoto. It is such a treat for me to speak to someone of my culture about trying to fit in and do work here. We can encourage and support one another.
After a delicious lunch where we enjoyed Auntie Julie’s chicken stew and white rice Phiona and I sat down with skeins of yarn and crochet hooks. We didn’t announce anything to the children about an activity. But within minutes we were crowded with curious faces watching intently. Desire pressed hard against my legs to see closely what I was doing. He has a burning curiosity and fierce determination. It’s no wonder he’s both one of the brightest students, and most mischievous of the children. Phiona and I taught whoever wished to learn this craft. We decided to get them to make squares and then we’ll assemble the squares and make a blanket. She wanted it perfect, but I said, “the more mistakes there are in it, the better it will be. This is a learning project and that makes it precious.”
Robert walked through the room and he was quietly horrified to see the boys doing ladies work. I assured him it is ok they won’t convert. It is good for their minds and hand eye coordination to learn to do this. I stated that all of my boys learned to knit. Once all of the crochet hooks had been passed over to eager hands I taught Phiona to knit. She was thrilled! She was so quick to pick it up and loved it very much. Occasionally she would frown and say, “Oh I spoiled it some how”, but she carried on with the task.
Jack assembled everyone to learn to play capture the flag. The explanations required Phiona’s translations. She put down her knitting and became the animated fun Feefee we all adore. She’s so dramatic and playful with the children. This is her true calling to stand before children and lead them. They soak up her enthusiasm and I can see their adoration for her in their faces. (Thankfully she labors through the finances for me.) The game turned out too complicated, arguments broke out, and Jack said, “Whoa! If we can’t get along we can’t play. Game over.” And so it was.
To lighten the dark mood we retrieved the home made mango juice popsicles from the freezer. The kids lined up and waited for their treat. Of course Phiona and Robert wanted one as well. What a delight this simple treat was for the children and when they learned it was just juice put into the freezer they were so happy to know they could make more and more!
Being here with these children is an overwhelming joy for me because I am always amazed how appreciative they are of the simplest things that we take for granted and dismiss at home. They motivate me to restore my own interest for the simpler things in life. Like… a home made popsicle…clean sheets…puppy breath…boys willing to crochet with pink yarn…a new bike…friendship…hula-hoops that can also be jumping hoops…hot food piled high on a plate…someone who is looking out for you…a great love from God shared by all…children once lost and in despair assembled to create a loving family….faces I am learning to know intimately and love deeply.
These simple joys bind my ankles and tether me to the earth. They become roots that will grow deep into this foreign soil and as much as I try to go home to life in Texas these roots will pull me back again and again. I won’t resist.