Saturday, Feb 1, 2020

After spending the last morning together with the Shareword Global team, I was anxiously awaiting Vincent to come and ‘pick me’ (Ugandan English for pick me up). He said he might be bringing his son, Eric and his daughter, Jane with him so I kept checking the parking lot for their sweet faces. I was in the front talking to one of the many new friends I met these past weeks, the doorman named Alex, when I saw Ed (my father-in-law who was the one to invite me and bless me with this trip) walking through the parking lot holding hands with two familiar faces. Jane and Eric saw me from a distance and ran to greet me, hugging me like you would any friend or family member you haven’t seen for a while. I held back my tears, but how often do we get to cry tears of joy?

I introduced Vincent and his children to the team and we took a lot of photos and then loaded the van (having to put my heavy bag through the side door because the back didn’t open) and headed off to Kassanda, a smaller village about two hours drive from Entebbe. It is hard to describe in words my feelings being back here so soon. Everything was so familiar that in a sense, I felt I was coming home while at the same time deeply missing John and his large presence being with me and the safety I feel with him. I wanted him to be there with me to reminisce and joke about the scenes, the funny signs, and the massive potholes and beat up roads that we travelled on together for so long. As we turned off the tarmac towards Kassanda, a road I have travelled many times in a van and now also on a bicycle, the roads got worse and I laughed inside about the speed at which the people drive and the wonder that their vehicles are not in the shop 100% of the time.

Because Vincent had to hire (rent) the van from a man in town, we took the day to drive to the places that were too far to walk. Our first stop was our new school, Kassanda Seed Academy, where my friends, Jacob and Jimmy, were frantically working to complete the latrine before school started on Monday. I was so impressed with the tireless work these people do with no complaining, even when the weather does not co-operate, and things are delayed. The latrine was so deep it would take 10-15 years to fill!! The new buildings, although still temporary, were such a HUGE improvement over what were there that I just kept shaking my head in disbelief. Vincent had taken out a loan to have the money to get everything ready in time. The school still has so many needs and we are going to have some meetings about what to prioritize. Things like textbooks and teaching supplies are desperately needed, but practical things like more metal sheets to separate the last classrooms, fencing materials to keep the children safe (a government requirement), and doors that lock so that things do not go missing in the night. I want to thank all of you who have been watching this story unfold on Facebook and given your own resources to make this happen for these vulnerable children. I cannot tell you how much it means to them, their caregivers and their teachers.

Despite all the needs, we were able to give the students new jump ropes, soccer balls, toy cars, and a dear friend from the past who always made people laugh and brought joy to others, very appropriately donated money for a swing set and other pieces of playground equipment (not yet purchased) to bring joy and laughter to a place that could use more of both.

After visiting the school, we went to the farm that Kassanda Children’s Aid oversees (you might remember pictures of it from before) and I cannot believe how prolific the harvest was! There was so much matoke (a type of banana eaten as a daily dish) and so many pineapples that Vincent says they no longer need to buy food and can sell the extra to make small money for KCA to help other vulnerable women and children. KCA was able to purchase the neighbouring plot of land for a very good price that has a little house on it for a security man to stay in to make sure the harvest is not stolen in the night (sadly, a very common event).

After the farm, we went to visit the woman whose house we were moved to build after meeting her last time and seeing the level of poverty and suffering that she and her grandchildren were living in. Wow, wow. I cannot believe it was the same place (see the before and after pictures below). Last time we met, I could not get this woman to smile despite many tries. This time, I got to see what her beautiful smile looked like. Upon seeing me, she immediately went down on her knees and started to cry, which is something rare for Ugandans to do – they do not show emotion like this in public so when it happens, you know there is something deep happening. I went down on my knees with her and just hugged her, helpless to communicate how proud I was of her and her resilient spirit and strength. She invited me in and the conditions that were hard to fathom before had now changed. The concrete floor was clean and organized, the roof was protective and strong, the bedroom with the new mattresses and covers (donated by another donor in the States) was colourful and cozy and the door on the front locked. This woman humbles me like no one else ever has. I gave her children and some neighbouring friends some toy cars made by one of Ed’s friends in Lynden, WA and what a hit. I don’t think they have ever had a toy before. What a significant life event to see this woman and her children again, but smiling this time.

I was dropped back at the hotel and after wrangling my bags around in a tiny room with no fan, I asked about wifi so I could tell people at home that I had reached Kassanda safely. The hotel did not have wifi but I was told I might find a network up on the patio. Because I have stayed here so many times before, I am quite comfortable and have not experienced anything scary happening to me, but I have always had someone else with me. I went up the patio and sat down like I belonged despite the place being full of men drinking and quietly saying, “muzungu, muzungu” and staring at me. One of them came over and I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he told me his name and asked to take a picture. “No, thank you! I am trying to call my very tall husband who knows where I am so no thank you!” I said it as a joke, but it was only to cover up how suddenly vulnerable I felt. I needed to hear John’s voice so I just bit the bullet and took my phone out of airplane mode to call him. I take for granted how much of my strength I get from him and it was good to fill my cup and I was feeling much better after our hour-long conversation. It’s amazing to me how much I needed to hear about the weather at home, the trials he has faced while I’ve been gone, the fact he bragged about only using three plates the entire time so far and hearing about the Superbowl hype. We decided again that three weeks is too long for us to be apart.