Friday we packed up baby Rhonah and went to visit the doctor so she could be tested for HIV. Check-ups are unusual for children here and even when they are sick it is difficult to afford taking them to the doctor. I wanted her to have a check up. I got looks like I was asking for a weird American thing. The lady doctor ordered blood tests for malaria, anemia, typhoid and HIV. By checking her teeth we could see she’s three years old though she’s small like 18 months. Thank God she’s negative for HIV and typhoid. She has mild anemia and a very bad case of malaria. She showed no signs of being so sick other than being weak. When we hold her she is dead weight and she doesn’t run and play, she likes to be held and cuddled. The doctor said her body is so weak she can’t fight the disease so the parasite is free to take over. I learned malaria is rated on a scale of 1-4 with four being deadly. She’s a level three. They put a port in her hand and began malaria treatments. We brought her home with stacks of medicines and careful feeding instructions.
Five-thirty in the morning on Saturday Donny joined Robert to return to the hospital for her second malaria treatment. Otherwise, it began as a relaxing Saturday in Uganda. We had a few projects we could accomplish but nothing was pressing. We spent the morning with the children playing and doing crafts. I love to find them washing clothes and happily chatting or peeling potatoes in groups and talking about their ideas. Some who are not on the chore chart for that morning have their legos spread around and they create amazing structures and motor cars. Jjajja Gloria was captured by a game of matching with Marvin and then moved onto an ABC puzzle. He’s bright.
I took Phiona and the big girls shopping for new clothes for Rhonah! They always buy their clothes in the local markets on the street for cheap. But we splurged for the baby and got her two brand new pair of pink shoes and five dresses. I wanted Victoria and Angela to enjoy picking out dresses, but it was Robert who had the biggest opinion of how she should look. He’s got a daddy’s girl in the making and he doesn’t even realize it yet.
The day was open but not to be wasted. I decided let’s go get the paperwork signed and have legal custody of baby Rhonah. All interested climbed into the van and journeyed through the tea plantation to visit Jjajja Denis. She would take us to the father and then we could see the Local Council woman to witness and approve of our taking the child to our home. It is the simplest procedure in theory, but this is Uganda and nothing is simple or accomplished quickly.
When we arrived Jjajja Denis wasn’t clothed yet, she poked her head out the curtain door and asked us to wait. I’ve been greeted by topless jjajjas more times than I can count. They run to us while assembling their dress from their waist to over their shoulders with wide happy smiles as if this is normal. There’s never a dull moment on these adventures.
Once she looked like a queen she informed us the grandfather of Rhonah was this minute at the police station opening a case against us for either stealing the baby or buying her from his son for a child sacrifice ceremony, and she made the gesture of slicing the throat. I’m sorry to say out in the bush the witch doctors are making a living by recommending their clients to snatch children for a sacrifice ceremony in order to get rich or remain rich. In the bush anything can happen and evil is real. And once again we are reminded that the love of money is the root of all evil.
Donny, Christopher and Jjajja Gloria were alarmed. The police! I sighed, here we go again to the police station to unravel a problem that should take ten minutes to understand but will surely cost four hours of circular arguments, accusations, assumptions and emotion. I’m convinced now that people here go to the police when they need a mediator or therapist. The grandfather didn’t believe the son gave us permission to take her. Nor was he convinced he had the right to give us custody.
There’s a strange living situation in this family. The grandfather has two wives who live on either side of him but he is removed from relations with them. Rhonah’s father stays with his mom. Rhonah however stays in the home of the grandfather alone. He’s the one who “looks after” her though her condition indicated he had no skill or ability for it. That doesn’t negate his love for her and he could be justified for his concern and that’s God working in my heart.
After an hour of looking for Rhonah’s father and taking comments from his mother about the situation we convinced him to get in the van with us and go to the police. Robert said he looked very afraid to go to the police as if he has some case open against him. Before he would get in the car he changed his clothes and put on the little girls flowered beanie. Entertaining. Christopher was quick to note some little girl in America donated that hat, and it found its way here and this man counts it as his bets style item. This time his shoes matched. As I watched his behavior and looked at him carefully I realized he is probably Donny’s age. We found out he is 20 which means he became a father at 17. How could he be expected to know how to raise a child on his own especially with the suggested mental condition or disturbance? I had compassion for him pushing out my anger.
We spent hours in the tin box of a police station as two officers sorted out our mess. It was fascinating for Christopher, Donny and Jjajja LaTorre. These are heated conflicts. One thing I admire about the Ugandans is that they do not withdraw from a heated battle the moment it arises. There’s no pretending “everything is ok”. They have a big row, and then return to laughing and sharing as if nothing happened. You’ll see what I mean by that. Not once since I learned we were accused did I lose my faith in what God meant for us to do for Rhonah. I even enjoyed great peace. And just like God would do my good friend Karen Bradshaw was having her prayer time in the morning in Connecticut and felt the need to encourage me with a bible verse. 1Timothy 1:12, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.” God is my strength in these situations and I do enjoy a peace that is heavenly here on earth.
The officers sent our problem to another tin box structure with more officers to begin all over again. They had a public mob justice on the grandfather shaming him for living alone with a baby girl. They said a father and a grandfather who have no wives should not be left alone with a baby girl, she is at great risk and they will block her return if necessary. The grandfather was viper mad and ashamed. I felt horrible for him. The man is a walking skeleton. I’ve never seen such sharp cheek bones. I could even see the outline of his veins in his face. He gave me the hardest stare and I’m sure it should have killed me if his thoughts had the power.
Meanwhile Rhonah vomited on everyone several times. This was right after the baby went to her grandfather and kneeled before him to greet him. Every Ugandan adult gushed with admiration for her proper greeting. They said, “she has been trained well.” But she also showed them how sick she is and how much she needs our help.
The second set of police was able to calm the grandfather and get him to see this is a good situation for the child. He agreed and was willing to drop the case and sign over custody of Rhonah. It only took three hours. While this was good news, the baby needed to be rushed to the doctor so Robert, Donny and “nurse” Jjajja LaTorre drove away with her leaving the rest of us with our accusers to wait. For me, an American this was awkward. I was still offended. But the father and grandfather were smiling, laughing together and relaxed. Their problem was solved and it was all good now. Just like that. Before we knew it we were sharing photos of my family with them and I was serving them snacks and soda. I noticed the grandfather pocketed the snacks and ate only a little. I was sad to think he had to make it last knowing there was no other food.
Phiona informed us after being doused with baby vomit that she was going home to change. I shrieked. You aren’t leaving us! She said, “this dress is chiffon and it is soaked to my panties. I’m changing now.” Ok fine, then we shall walk this road and find you a new dress but I am not letting you out of my sight. Oh she was happy with that and in five minutes was changed and strolling feeling so pretty.
The medics returned for us with a very sick child who vomited more at the hospital. She was limp. We had two more tasks to complete before our day was finished. I fretted a bit because Kira was at the home with Jack and I was sure she was complaining that her mama went lost. The police insisted on checking out our home which we were proud to oblige and sure they had never seen such good conditions in their career. (That was true) We also still had to go to the Local Coucil woman’s home and get our papers of custody signed.
We brought the two police officers, the father and grandfather, and Jjajja Denis to our home. We arrived with the children in devotion singing praise songs to God. The lady officer said, “oh you are bringing them up right.” They loved our home, made sure we had followed all the legal procedures to establish ourselves and measured the child to adult ratio with great admiration and satisfaction. They really loved our trained guard dog that provides security. “Oh you have thought of everything!” She got out her notebook wrote down our names, Phiona’s number and said, “now, can we come to you when we get abandoned children?” I was speechless. Phiona said, “No I am sorry we do not have a program for that, maybe in the future.” The lady was so disappointed. I was deeply horrified to remember how many children were abandoned here.
Satisfied they prepared to leave. Robert would drop the police at their station and proceed to the Local council with the father and grandfather. I remained behind because Kira had a death grip on my skirt and proclaimed “mama time”. Of course. I asked Phiona to make sure the grandfather knew we would check in on him with visits and bring Rhonah to see him. We are not taking her away; we are just extending his family in a God way. Now I see God has in store for us some ministry in his life. I don’t have to sort it out or understand it, I just know God will show me what to do and when to do it and I’ll be willing.
We had a fine celebration at the end of the day as Rhonah was officially signed over to our custody. Every member of Kirabo Seeds family rejoiced. I personally feel this child has glitter around her. There was this sense when she was watching us from her bush that her soul reached out and touched mine. Her eyes asked us for a new life. She’s bright. I can only imagine what if she grows up to be a woman of great influence in her community? God has a purpose and plan for every child and what a joy it is for this team to work with all we’ve got to help them reach their potential. We serve a God who is here, now at work in our lives in every detail with great love.
And that my friends is how we spent our Saturday in Uganda.