Tuesday in Uganda

Vincent had to travel to Kampala today to meet unexpectedly with a team about getting children heart surgery, so my friend, Nelson, was in charge today. I am not sure if you remember reading about him, but he is the humble man who took in four orphans and works closely with Vincent…the one who fed us delicious jackfruit in his home when we were here last time. These guys are very protective of me and I know I am in capable hands. The only way we could get to the school was by boda boda – the motorcycle taxis and they knew I was not too keen on that. I’m not sure I can think of much worse than having a motorcycle accident in a small village in Uganda. So, they have a friend named Jared who is a boda driver whom they trust very much, and I agreed. He showed up with a brand-new helmet because he didn’t have one before, and I was again humbled by the care and concern my team over here shows me on a daily basis. They instructed him (as did I) to go mpola mpola (very slowly). Well, I’m not sure we could have gone much slower without falling over. Jared took such care and I felt very safe going the few kilometers to the school. I left him a ridiculous tip because of the helmet, and he left with a smile to go do his job until we called him back to ‘pick us’ at 4pm.

Now there were six teachers and an administrator so I can see how the staff is slowly filtering in, but it was still so strange to me to see children sitting there in their classes with no teacher. I cannot imagine students being so well-behaved and actually staying in class, when there is no one there to teach them. The kids sang songs for me and I passed out some small gifts that my school had provided in the form of coloured pencils and some toy wooden cars. I was thankful we had enough for everyone. I couldn’t bare the thought of the kids just sitting there all day with not much to do until their teacher arrives, so I passed out paper and they all drew pictures and signed their name and age so that I can take the pictures home to my office and remember them (as if I can forget). The toy cars were s huge hit and many of the boys wanted one that resembled a van as that is the form of taxi here in Uganda. They said they wanted to be a ‘driva’ (driver) when they get old enough. I encouraged them to aim higher than that now that they have such a good school.

One of John’s cousins also had sent some skipping ropes along for the new school, made by her Grade 4 class out of old t-shirts. I can’t tell you how much fun they had and how they share so freely with each other. Even in large groups when they have two people turning the rope, each child only jumps four times and then goes out for someone else to have a turn. They are like this in every area of their lives. They really do take care of one another and it doesn’t matter if you are a friend, a relative, a stranger. They share what little they have; they make sure everyone can play; they include each other. I really admire that about this culture.

After a lunch of kawunga (posho) and bijanjaalo (beans) that I ate with my hands (new experience for me), Nelson and Jacob took me to see the water source used by the school. I knew it would be bad, but I was not expecting it to be as horrible as it actually was. It was about 2 kilometers away, first of all, and downhill…not so bad when you are fetching water and your jerrycans are empty. The source itself was not much more than a rancid pond, covered in scum with cranes and cows nearby also using (TBH – pooping in) the same water. It was disgusting. And dangerous. Not only can a child fall into the water while filling a jerrycan because they have to lean in so far or just step right into it, but there are also tomato plants surrounding the swamp that are treated regularly with toxic insecticides. The children of the school fall sick on a shockingly regular basis with typhoid. As we trudged back to the school with the sun beating down, I imagined children doing this with jerrycans in tow, full of dirty, toxic water, and again wondered at the resiliency and fortitude of the Ugandan people. They never complain, do hard things with a smile and don’t ask for much. This, for me, is what makes it so easy to give. I take everything in my life for granted so often. I’m ashamed to admit that I even asked John to replace my kitchen sink while I was gone because of the bad water pressure.

After school, we went to Vincent’s house to say goodbye to his girls, heading back to school in nearly Mityana. His children have become like my nieces and nephews and I will miss them even more this time. Mama Jane (Vincent’s mum) was also there, weaving mats to make money as she can no longer tailor because of the painful build-up of water on her knee. She is always a delight and this time, she made for us some mats with our names on them. Wow – I can’t even imagine how she did this. She made five of them for various people at home she wanted to appreciate, and I will happily deliver them. She is 61 years old and I know for me, my sight started to decline at 40 so I asked her if she could see very well. She said, “Not so good.” I asked if she would be willing to try on my glasses and she was shocked at the difference they made so I gave them to her. She was so happy that now she will be able to read, write and weave more easily. She is not used to them, so she kept forgetting to put them on. J

I went to bed feeling more content as tomorrow I start my way home, but I was reflecting on my time here. In some ways, I feel it was too early to come back. I realized I still have not processed our bike trip completely and my mind and body were not prepared to come back so soon. But my heart? Now that’s a different story. This is how Africa gets you… the laughter, the tears, the images, the sounds…it stains your heart like the red sand penetrates your clothes and shoes, getting in so deep that you cannot wash it away. And then you come to realize that you don’t really want to.