I personally believe that pets are an important part of a childhood experience. It’s quite a luxury in Uganda though. We have a German Shepherd, Samson, and he’s an amazing animal. He bows down to me and receives the attention like a small puppy. But he’s a trained guard dog and he doesn’t like the little children teasing him with the way they run and dart with fear. He spends his days in his house/cage and his nights on the property guarding. Sometimes he is on a tether and enjoys rolling in the grass. The cat, Pretty, is an affectionate and sweet thing. She is always with the children. She makes the home hers first as any good cat would do and she allows everyone else to live with her. She’s allowed to stay according to Auntie Julie because she keeps the mice out of her kitchen. We used to keep chickens at the house but during the last trip I was here I had enough of them making a terrible mess, smelling up the property and drawing flies. I banished them to the land. It was a great pleasure to arrive and smell fresh air, keep a clean compound and not find chickens in the house. The former chicken house was converted to a rabbit hutch.
Daniel’s friend at school gave him a pet rabbit and the children loved it so much showing everyone on skype how cute it was and they played with it often. But they failed to protect it from Samson who beheaded it as soon as he was free. I wrote a letter about predators and prey living together. I warned they are responsible for making the prey safe and if they could do that they could get another rabbit. So they got a boy and girl rabbit and named them “Donny and Kelli”. They did what all rabbits do so the children found eight pink wrinkly bunnies a few weeks ago. Now we have seven white tiny bunnies who are happy to be held and stroked. The children go find food in the fields for the rabbits. They hold the mama down twice a day so the babies can nurse because she’s not a good mama. The kids frequently fetch a baby and play. (me too)
They all talk about what good eating these babies will be. What a horror for me. Animals here keep their place in the kingdom. They are to be enjoyed but they ultimately have jobs to hunt, protect, or feed. Not at all like my cats who are fed in glass bowls at the exact same times each day. One of our goats was in labor yesterday. The kid was too big to deliver and by the time the vet arrived to help the kid had died within the mother. Guess who got a gourmet meal of fresh kid? Samson.
Life here is raw, basic, real. The tension between life and death is tangible at all times. Even as we fear Ebola reaching this region the people act as if it just happens and people die. In America we have so many precautions and preventions we aren’t accustomed or surrendered to inevitability of death. We don’t suffer well either. But here suffering is just a matter of degrees and everyone takes it on like a backpack.
I find my heart has dulled to the shock and pain of life here. I know I can’t go to church because I’ll be found there by my enemies. I know I’ll never be independent here and drive myself because it is not safe. The girls could be raped in an instant if they were ever to be found walking alone outside our compound. A small child can have more sexual experience than a forty-year-old man. Thieves roam at night with machetes. Mob justice is a practice where a criminal is burned on the spot at the scene of the crime. My mentor could and would steal all I’ve got while smiling in my presence and giving me advice. A sage man of God will keep a second local wife and raise children with her as if that’s natural. Pastors can be thieves. A private life rarely reflects the public one.
Sometimes I conclude that knowledge rarely makes it into the fingers and practices of the people. These truths used to make me feel distraught and befuddled for days as I grappled with how can it be?! But now I am resigned. I sigh a lot when I am here. I somehow hold a middle ground where I am not too low or too high but able to put one foot in front of the other and cope. I’d be absolutely lost without the promises of God. He is sovereign. He has a plan for every person. He loves these children more than we do. He will guide us through this. I don’t have to understand it to find the way forward. He’ll give me what I need to know just for today and the problem at hand. Jesus is enough. My faith in Him is enough. And the hope for the future of these children as we get deep into their dirty business and grapple with turning truths into habits is enough motivation to keep me undaunted.