Back to School With a Smile

Today’s dusty but beautiful 75-kilometre ride was for Nanyonga Edith and Nanziri Viola. We have five kids left to ride for and then all fifty-four will have been represented. I hope you have had a chance to check out many of their stories on our website.

We were so happy to wake up to relatively clear skies this morning. We had our last breakfast on our island rest stop, said goodbye to James and starting riding around 8. We stopped at a store/bank to get some money and there was no one around inside. A few other teenagers gathered inside the store as well that sold radios, TVs and other electronics. We waited for about ten minutes, and while we were confused, everyone else just patiently waited when a guy finally rolled up on a motorcycle. It was his store, but who knows where he was or why he opened shop before he could be there. What we were really struck by though was that no one was looking to steal anything. They just all waited for the owner to return.

The actual riding has gotten easier over time, although I can tell that the repetitive nature of pedalling is breaking down my body slightly. I’m looking forward to mixing things up by hiking and paddle-boarding when we get home. The bike though, has become a wonderful tool to bring us to the next lovely soul, heartbreaking story and unique daily experiences.

We pushed hard to get to the ferry, but thought we had just missed it. We had been passed by the oncoming cars that had just come across the lake and still had about a half an hour of riding to go to the landing site. Well, our timing was perfect. We rolled up, brought in our passports to register on the manifest and the horn sounded for loading. On the ferry we noticed a teenage boy who slowly edged closer and closer to us as we stood next to our bikes on the deck. Finally, he must have mustered the courage or his curiosity just got the best of him so he started talking to John. We chatted with him for the length of the journey. Emmanuel, a high school student, had to go back to Kalangala town on the island to get his school fees before he was allowed to return to school on the mainland. His mom and dad are fishermen and he has to wait until they catch enough fish to sell to make his school fees. He says it takes a long time sometimes, but he was excited to return to school now after a month of work with his father. He was very happy to be getting back in time to complete his final exams and see his friends. He was very interested in hearing about Canada, especially the climate. He got my email address before we parted company, us on our bikes and he crammed into the back of an overloaded car.

We are back in Masaka, but staying somewhere different this time as our last place was in a pretty sketchy part of town and above a pretty popular bar. We rolled in with the familiar relief that comes with seeing the name of the hotel we’ve been looking for and I went in to register. The room they showed me looked just fine, but at the time I failed to notice that they were still building an additional floor on top and all of the construction that was going on in the building. They were literally working on every single room around us for hours, hammering, sawing, sweeping dirt off the roof that fell onto my clothes I had hung out to dry. It was a loud operation with lots of commotion as they were trying to get a huge water tank lifted up three stories to the roof. There were multiple men on the roof with ropes that cascaded down to the tank that they attached to a stick that they put inside. There were a couple of guys on the middle floor with long skinny logs that they used to push the tank away from the building so that it could get pulled up and over the rooftop’s three-foot lip of cement. Keep in mind that as they hung over the roof, there were no safety harnesses or precautions. The boss was yelling directions from the ground as the men lifted and struggled and yelled at each other while the housekeepers all laughed at them and joked from the ground. Everyone cheered when they pulled it up and over the lip, the ending to what was, no doubt, a long work day. Although it was loud and a little annoying, I was impressed with their problem solving skills and ingenuity. Plus, meeting Dennis has made it worth it.

I could see immediately that Dennis had grabbed John’s heart when I saw his face after I came out from registering. John usually uses the time that I’m getting the nigh’s room to strike up conversations with the workers who are curious about us and come to check out our bikes. I could hear it in his voice that he thought this boy was special. Dennis is an 18-year-old who is in his last year of secondary school, studying hotel management. He works and studies intermittently because he is sometimes forced to take long breaks in his studies to make money for school fees, sometimes as long as a year. He feels guilty about depending solely on his mom’s hard work for school fees so he does what he can, when he can, to help. He makes only $26 a month for working eleven-hour days and he is very good at his job from what we saw. He cried when he spoke of his mom who has trouble making money enough for him and his siblings to attend school. His father left them and “doesn’t care about them” but he says he still loves him because he is still his father and he wouldn’t be here without him. Dennis is bright, animated, hilarious, hard-working, and loves to talk. He was so authentic and vulnerable that we were deeply touched by him. He was shy when he told us about a new girlfriend and tried to hide his tears when he spoke of his parents. He couldn’t believe how old we were and acted out what a regular 50-year-old lady in Uganda looks like – bent over and hobbling with one hand on her back. He said John looked 35. You can see why we liked him so much. He said, laying his hand on his heart, “My troubles are African troubles, but I have hope and I am so happy.” He had a soccer game this evening. He plays as a striker and promised to score a goal for both of us and then proceeded to show us the victory dance he will use when he scores.

I cried a little when he left. Let me tell you his, education is the number one thing these kids desire and the number one thing their parents work so hard to provide. I am so encouraged to confirm our purpose here and with our project. Paying for a child to attend school, who has no other means to achieve that dream despite the tireless work and sacrifice of the entire family (if they even have one), is a sacred act. I am convinced. There is no better gift.