This is the blog post I wrote during one of my last few days in Uganda.
I’m going to take you back to Thanksgiving Day, last Thursday, before Melanie (aka Melon) and Emma left. Kim took Melon to the hospital on Wednesday while Emma and I stayed at Nansana to hand out T-shirts and we all prayed that Melon would get well enough to go to Namayumba on Thursday.
The students at Nansana were so incredibly grateful to receive their blue T-shirts, and it was really cool to see all of them wandering around the compound in the exact shirts we wear back home. This is true of the tie-dye cross shirts as well, but I must be too familiar with that sight. This one struck me in a different way. Segawa told us it would be a good idea to spend the night at Namayumba so we packed our backpacks and headed over.
When we arrived everyone was preparing for the big day, cleaning the compound and making decorations with flowers and balloons. Segawa wanted the event to be held in the main hall, a large unfinished room that will be used for national exams and big events like graduations and meetings. We built a stage in out of bricks, dirt, and a tarp. We made a long line from the window of the main hall to the pile of bricks behind the classrooms, about 50 yards away, and threw 400 bricks to each other one at a time. It was so fun! It was like a game except if you dropped the brick, it would smash on your feet and hurt. After we had stacked the bricks and constructed a short stage, we carried dirt in sacks and a wheelbarrow to pile on top to create a smooth surface for the students to act and dance on. That night the Namayumba choir sang for us and the drama club practiced. Robinah, Zainah, and Nashim helped us get water to wash our hair (a ridiculous spectacle) and then put us to bed. I don’t know how the students stayed awake the next day: they were up singing and dancing half the night!
The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, we rose with the students at 6:30 for prayers, which is a half hour of singing, reading Bible verses and praying. It’s the best way to start a day. Elijah split us all up into different groups to clean EVERYTHING. Emma and I helped clean the lawn, picking up leaves and twigs and garbage. Oh, I forgot to say that all day Wednesday and in the evening I had been using Segawa’s phone to call the hospital to speak to Kim. The diagnoses varied throughout the day, everything from brain swelling and imminent death to aftereffects of malaria and she’ll be fine tomorrow. We found out around 8 pm that she would be released early in the morning and that they would, God willing, both make it to Namayumba on Thursday. Moses picked them up around 9 and they arrived at 11. It was supposed to start at 10 but eh, it’s Uganda.
Thanksgiving Day was AMAZING. Students from Nansana and Namayumba performed dances and sang songs. Students from Royal Junior Academy, led by a man named Joseph, also performed. I’ll talk about that school a little more later: we visited them earlier this week. We all laughed during the drama club’s performance, particularly at Sarah Namuli and Dan Musisi, who played a very funny duo as mother and son. The story of the drama followed Lindah Naluwembe, the girl I sponsor (my daughter), and her trials as a poor girl trying to avoid marriage to an old man and pay for her school fees. The story ended with her attending Segawa’s school and getting sponsored by the Christian Drama School. Segawa made a wonderful speech about the progress of the school. He brought out on stage all the students who were sponsored in chronological order. It was really cool to see 40 students on stage, sponsored by the Christian Drama School. I think all four of us felt moved by the visual representation of the work CDS has done. It’s one thing to see the building or the water tank CDS raised money to build, and quite another to look at the students. I know it was really rewarding for Kim, after everything she’s been through these past few months.
All of us muzungus made speeches and the reverend from Mama Eva’s church prayed over all the Namayumba students. When the parents and guardians left, the DJ played music and we danced with the kids until we were sweating through Mama Eva’s gomes (the traditional dress of Bugandan women). Darkness fell and dust swirled up through us until we were choking on it but we couldn’t stop dancing: we were having too much fun! Even Melon, who could barely walk the day before, was dancing like crazy. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
We spent Friday in Nansana and travelled to Kampala with Job to buy gifts and paintings from the craft fair (we are planning to sell them for Heart for People). Melon haggled with the sellers like she had been doing it all her life: it was so entertaining to watch. We went back to talk to the artists together. I picked out a painting, turned to her with an eyebrow raised, and she would start arguing to lower the price. I really missed her when we went back and I had to try haggling on my own!
That night we acted out a boisterous rendition of Peter Pan. A Little Princess was a fairly calm, uplifting performance. Peter Pan was simply insane. We had a lot of girls so Wendy’s brothers, John and Michael, became Joan and Michaela, played by Jemimah and Vivian. Tendo, our resident actress, played Wendy. David (the little brother of Daniel and Florence) was Peter Pan, though he was much more interested in fighting Captain Hook (Kim) with flashlights than listening to the narrator (me). Efa, our Irish volunteer, was an amazing Tinkerbell and Carly and Emma were pirates and Indians. It turns out all of us are completely insane. Emma, Carly, and Kim entertained us all with their singing and dancing to Pirates of Pinzance, Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (Veggie Tales) and Pirates of the Caribbean. My favorite part was when everything was clapping and screaming “I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES! I DO! I DO!” and the joy in the children’s faces when Efa jumped up alive!
On Saturday we worshipped at Namayumba. Melon slept most of the day in the office: it was worrisome how weak she was. But it was wonderful and so uplifting to sing with all the students. All the older ones and most of the younger ones have the music memorized. They will just raise their hands to whomever is leading worship, say the number of the song, and the leader will sing the first line so they are all on pitch, and then they’ll start. We took a picture of each student holding a piece of paper with their name on it and videotaped them saying their name and something about themselves: they all ended up just saying their names and variations on “God bless Christian Drama School.” After worship we all gathered on the lawn and Kim presented gifts to everyone: Bibles, letters from sponsors, DVDs of recent CDS plays, CDs of the soundtracks, scripts, teaching posters, crosses, and 30 digital clocks for practicals and exams. She read Dr. Seuss stories like Yertle the Turtle (which they loved) and the Grinch (which was a little more difficult). I also gave each student a friendship bracelet (made with a little help from Emma and Melon).
Melon and Emma said goodbye to the students that evening and we took them to the airport that night. I think Kim blogged about the next few days so I’ll skip to our trip to Lillian’s school.
On Wednesday we went to Lillian’s school for a small thanksgiving. It was scheduled to be two Sundays earlier, but we had been in the hospital with Melon and unable to attend. Segawa tried to call Lillian to warn her that day, but her phone had been stolen so she didn’t get the message. All the parents and guardians and directors of the school waited for 3 hours for us before she called Segawa. The phone connection was cut off right after he told her we were in a hospital in Kampala on Buganda Road. She canceled the event and took a boda boda straight to Buganda Road with one kind teacher, a university student volunteering to teach free of charge named Daniel. The two of them went to each hospital on the road until they reached Case Hospital, the third one they visited. Seeing her walk through the door was like the entrance of an angel. Kim burst into tears immediately, Melon made it to the bathroom before breaking down, and I managed to last until they’d left. Emma had cried earlier that day so she didn’t crack but it was really emotional for all of us. While it was really upsetting that Emma and Melon couldn’t be there Wednesday, Kim and I were so grateful to have finally made it to her school and students.
Each class (nursery through P5) performed dances and songs welcoming and thanking us. The best part was clothing them. At Nansana and Namayumba we just handed shirts to each child, but at Lillian’s school in Namavundu they lined up outside and each walked across the main hall room and stood patiently waiting for us to place the shirt over their heads and their arms through the sleeves. They were so shy and sweet and so excited! They were very controlled as they walked back out through the door after receiving their shirt but once they got outside they jumped up and down and danced and clapped. As soon as we peeked outside they got shy again but it was so… it’s hard to explain. Seeing their joy both filled my heart and broke it. It was amazing to see how happy they were over a shirt, and so hard to realize that the reason they were so happy is because they are so poor. We also handed out cross necklaces. There was a HUGE difference between the students at Kiboga and the students at Namavundu. When the teachers handed out pencils at Kiboga, they were swarmed by the students, particularly the young ones who had not yet been taught manners. It was borderline violent. Several kids were in tears because they had been pushed over in the fight for a single, plain yellow pencil. At Lillian’s school every student waited patiently and calmly as we carefully untied each necklace and put it around the child’s neck. I had to set the bag down because the necklaces were tied very tightly to prevent tangling. One of them fell out and lay on the ground, and one little boy, who couldn’t be more than 5 or 6 years old, bent down and placed it carefully back in the bag. He held his hands at his side and waited patiently for me. I was so shocked. We spoke tonight to Lillian about how incredibly well behaved her students were, and she said that discipline is the first thing she teaches her students. Discipline and handwriting are her two most emphasized priorities.
We spoke to one of her directors, a man named Moses who drove us there and back. He has his own micro-finance institution. In other words, he makes small loans to business owners like Lillian and Mama Eva. But unlike banks he has low interest rates and he really cares about each of his clients. He makes loans out of generosity, not self-interest, like Mohammad Yunus, winner of the Noble Peace Prize from Bangladesh.
We’ve spent the past two days at Nansana. We were supposed to go to Namayumba today but, you know, it’s Uganda. Yesterday Adorable and Barnabas came for a five hour meeting. We went over every email sent and received between me and Adorable from March 20th through May 10th and marked what was from him and what was not. We explained to both of them exactly what happened with the thief and the debt. Barnabas is the man who originally introduced us to Adorable last summer. He was upset that we had not communicated with him earlier, because he would have been able to tell us that something was wrong before we lost all the money from the scam. It was a very stressful meeting. One of Segawa’s nieces, a three-year old named Miriam, pinched her hand and suddenly started crying outside so I just walked out of the meeting and picked her up because I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s the little things, like the feeling of a tiny child in my arms, that reminds me why I am doing all of this. It’s all and always for God and the children.
Today we had to say goodbye to Efa and Carly, which was really sad. I will miss them so much! There is a chance we will see them again on Sunday and I really hope we do. We handed out the leftover tie-dye cross shirts to the boarders at Nansana. That was really rewarding, though it was also frustrating because children I know live with their parents kept trying to get shirts. I kept explaining that we didn’t have enough for them all. I spent a lot of time with the very young children today. There was one point where I had a baby on each hip (Helena and Sam), Praise trying to climb up my leg, and Isaac jumping on my back. There were 8-10 little tiny kids from Baby Class clambering all over Segawa’s truck and whenever one wanted to get down, I had to put down a baby and carry him or her. Flora grabbed my glasses so I had to climb in the truck to get them back. At that moment baby Sam, who can barely walk, decided to climb off the edge of the truck. I had Helena on my hip, Flora by the arm, and reached over two kids to grab Sam’s overalls with one hand as he jumped! He was swinging through the air, three feet off the ground! It was such insanity. I finally got them all off the truck and they immediately climbed up on the parked boda boda. It’s a never ending battle to keep them all safe!
For me, the best part of Uganda is building relationships with everyone. On our first day, Sam ran away from us screaming bloody murder (most babies are afraid of muzungus). Helena has always loved us, but it took a while to gain Sam’s trust. Today he let me hold him and play with him until eventually he fell asleep in my arms for over an hour while Kim read Charlotte’s Web to Dennis and Trevor. Gaining the love of a child is the most rewarding feeling.
Most of the missionaries this summer wrote a last blog summarizing how they felt about the experience. I have held off on posting this because I am struggling to find words to finish off this trip. I suppose it’s never really finished. It doesn’t feel like I’m home yet, because every morning I expect to wake up to the cow mooing and sounds of Lugandan outside my window. I miss the feeling of a small child’s hand in mine and the singing of the Namayumba girls. There are many hard parts about Uganda, particularly about this trip, but saying goodbye is definitely the hardest. Someone once taught me a song about the moon. The last verse goes like this: I had a heart as good as new, now it’s gone from me to you, so take care of it as I have done, for you have two and I have none. The children of Nansana and Namayumba are taking care of my heart for me until I can get back to Uganda next summer, but there is no empty feeling in my chest where my heart used to be. It’s completely full of love and laughter, joy and hope. I’m so grateful to God that I was able to come to Uganda this summer, and so thankful to everyone who shared in the journey whether they were praying or reading this blog. I’m looking forward to sharing more with everyone, and to returning to my friends and my heart back in Uganda.