A Walk in the Bush

Saturday – a more relaxed day and chores do not start at 5am or even 6am. In he afternoon the interns and the other consultants went to visit some of the kids who now study at a nearby boarding school. As I haven’t previously met these former full care kids I decided to continue to my sewing project and go for a walk. I asked many of the younger (elementary school) kids if they wanted to go with me. My plan was to go on my usual 2 mile walk in the Neighborhood. Oscar however had another idea and we decided to take a path going back to the school another way. The shortcut through the bush weaved among many yards, around mud huts with grass roofs, and the kids ducked under laundry to continue on the path. We were pointed the way to cross over the stream. As with any good trek there must be an obstacle to make the adventure complete.

We came to the stream, or more of a muddy ditch and the the choice needed to be made about crossing. Oscar ran and jumped it with ease. The girls walked to the edge and considered it. I asked if they wanted to walk back to the road, a wavering yes by one or two by the girls, and then another boy jumped. It was time for me to make the leap and lead the way. A run and jump and one of my feet landing squarely in the mud to my ankle Laugher all around. More jumping and a hand lent to help dear little Beatrice and we were all over. The children laughed and the walk continued as my toes squished with each step in the mud and water soaked sneaker. Finally as we all reached the school building I asked them to wait.

A line up, each inching forward to get an edge. Ready, Set, Go! We raced the final 200 feet home as the rainstorm began. A perfect Saturday adventure in Uganda.

20130714-124035.jpg

20130714-082200.jpg

20130713-223742.jpg

Advertisements

You’re all Fat

Saturday I was sitting with a group of girls. I was helping one sew a skirt by hand. She is about 8 and we were putting a simple stitch in to make a seam (thanks Mom). If I didn’t look at them, rather focused on the sewing, they kept touching my skin and each freckle. If I happened to look up they would suddenly realized I knew they were studying me and possibly could feel them touching me. I let them stare at my skin and run their hands over my white arms as I sewed. Then they informed me “you’re fat.” Thankfully I had already had a conversation with Jimmy one of the fantastic National COTN staff. He had informed me that it’s a complement in Uganda to be called fat. To be be fat means that you look good, healthy, nice, etc.

Without a doubt I’m sure you all look wonderfully fat today.

20130714-123831.jpg

20130714-123856.jpg

With Joy from Uganda

20130711-194027.jpg

Pictures from Uganda

20130711-192218.jpg

20130711-192235.jpg

20130711-192248.jpg

Girls Group – Uganda

Though I’ve been working on the Child Profiles that were a primary task of my trip I’ve also been connecting with many of the girls. They are full of life and joy and range from ages about 5 to 17. As students get older and pass their exams the cultural norm is to head off to a boarding secondary school, which COTN continues to sponsor for the children. This week national staff will go to visiting day for some of the boarding students. They are preparing special food to take to them.

As I prayed it became clear that running some girls groups/meetings could work out really well. So Tuesday night we prepped the P4,P5,and P6 girls. They are adolescents (late middle school – early high school girls). We decided on the topics to discuss and the idea of talking about boys was met with giggles. They also want to talk about feeling very sad or angry, the future, and we plan to lead them in some exercises to help them talk about their God-given strengths and abilities.

Yesterday Chelsea, who is an Intern/Consultant, and myself headed in to meet with 11 girls. We were armed with some activities, and candy. Our first meeting went well and we plan to meet with them again Friday and a couple of times a week during our time here. Though there was sadness when they talked about losing parents there was also joy as they talked about dreams. In this group of girls there are many many who want to be accountants, nurses and doctors. They want to learn to drive, fly to America, and to have many children they open their home up to. They are hardworking girls, fully of life and hope.

20130711-193018.jpg

My Ugandan Neighborhood

My new neighborhood, a Ugandan village. I wake up on Monday morning ready to work. It is rural Uganda however and it takes a while for the daily chores and tasks to be completed. The children in the COTN Children’s Village start getting up at 5:30 and 6am. There is water to be pumped, food that must be prepared, clothes to be washed, floors to be swept, beds to be made, and most importantly a time to have for prayer and devotion. I woke to Kumbya being song at 6:30am one morning and other mornings the children and staff sing songs to God as they work. But if music and pots clanging don’t wake me up the roosters are like the back up alarm clock.

I have started working on the child profiles and getting just a glimpse of the children’s stories. Parents who have died to HIV/AIDS, grandparents who have been unable to care for their grandchildren, parents lost to the Barlonyo massacre (the word alone is difficult to write), parents who have committed suicide, or some who have abandoned their children. I need much more information from the teachers, Mamas, counseling staff, sponsorship coordinator, and interviews with the children themselves yet I feel that I have a plan that will hopefully get much accomplished. After connecting with many of the adolescent girls I’ve decided to run some counseling groups with Chelsea, an intern who is in school for a master’s in counseling. She is excited and we have some fun activities planned with the girls for the next couple of weeks. The girls also seem very positive about the idea of meeting together.

The past few days I have woken up early to take a brisk walk. It’s not a common sight here in Uganda, they don’t walk for exercise rather they conserve their energy and walk with purpose as so much of their day involves physical labor of some sort. (It’s quite possible all the pumping of water I’m doing must work some muscles that would rival any gym workout) As I head out just before 7am the sun is rising children are starting to arrive to school. The song that is playing on my headphones is God of Brilliant Lights by Aaron Shust. As I walk around the school the children are shy and try not to stare at the white person exercising, however the do. If they are more bold they practice their English and wish me a “Good Morning.” As I walk down the road past one of the local wells I exchange greetings with children, mothers, and men and women on bikes and motorcycles. This afternoon I also went out for a brisk walk which turned into a run as Guito, a village child who attends the school, grabbed my hand. He would not let me slow to a walk rather we ran to his home. Thankfully it was only about 1/4 mile away. It was a mud hut with a straw roof. He entered it to grab a stool and have me rest (clearly I looked like I needed it). I offer thanks for the rest and get up continuing my walk. I’m greeted by name by a woman from the church who is riding her Borda (motorcycle) down the road. Then a number of primary school boys begin following me, clearly talking about the white (Muno) person walking, and from the shadows I can tell they are attempting to imitate how I walk. At one point I turned around abruptly startling them and we all break out in laughter. They are like any other elementary school boys full of curiosity and mischief.

I look forward to more days to see and talk with my new neighbors. As the brilliance of God’s light is shining here in Uganda, breaking through the darkness, may it also be as brilliant in your life as well.

God’s Great Dance Floor

Imagine a favorite song playing. Your finger starts tapping or maybe even your toes start tapping. In Uganda very quickly your whole body would start moving.

Dancing – a beautiful Ugandan tradition. There is freedom for the children to dance and they are encouraged. There are girl’s dances, boys dances, and traditional dances. They encourage us (anyone white or “muno”) to join in. After a night at the guest house I moved to the Children’s Village at COTN . I settled in and spoke with the national counselor, Rose, who is a strong industrious woman (she makes and sells beads, employing other women, for extra money). The children presented a welcome and sang songs to the newly arrived Americans (I arrived with the Flood Church medical team). Finally we joined them in dance and laughter which went on for 2 hours. Friday again there was dancing at a neighborhood celebration/”centre day” which essentially was an open house for the children’s parents who attend the school. The children had killed 7 chickens for the meal which served hundreds (there was also goat and the chickens were in an event in themselves for the children). There were sack races, I attempted to balance a pot on my head (attempted is the key word as I didn’t last more than a few seconds each time), class recitations, and “gymnastics.” Finally there was dance, and more dance, and more dance. Again today after a trip to Barlonyo (wikipedia it) where it is estimated 800 were brutally killed in broad daylight in a few hours (2004) we returned to Lira town. Barlonyo is a sad place and the spirit feels heavy as the community members live at is what is now a memorial site. There is not yet dancing.

We returned to Lira where the church community celebrated the master’s degree of their pastor. There were speeches, greetings, and dancing, and dancing and dancing. I danced with Ugandan women who told me I was good dancer and tried to teach me new moves (with laughter on both sides as I’m not a quick learner). I saw children imitating my moves and I couldn’t help but smile at what they should unlearn when I depart. We danced to worship music, songs of freedom and praise to God.

Yesterday I played one of the children the song “God’s Great Dance Floor” by Chris Tomlin. I used to play it with a finger or toe tapping. Now it has new meaning.

20130706-195912.jpg

20130707-112256.jpg

Why am I Going to Uganda?

That was the question asked Friday afternoon of me of a young adult I have known since she was 12. I realized I muddled through. I didn’t want it to sound like a canned church answer “because I felt God asking me to go.” She wouldn’t have understood that anyway and neither would I. What I really wanted to say to this young adult is that I’m going in part because of her. Eventually I did tell her that after more muddling.

As a social worker I’ve heard a lot of stories, and when the opportunity has allowed I’ve walked with people with them for a time as their stories have unfolded. My hope has been that I have walked alongside them as they heal and grow. From my observation there are 2 significant types of brokenness in the world, the injustice kind and the “imperfect world” kind. I believe there is is some much more theological term for the later but work with me here I’m sitting in an airport with sleep depravation.

The injustice kind of brokenness. It’s about war, violence, greed, hate, corruption, meanness, and lots of “uncaring.” Broken systems that don’t hold people accountable for bad behavior and systems that don’t look out for those that can’t care for themselves, that’s injustice.

The imperfect world kind of brokenness. Accidents, sickness, and destructive weather patterns.

If the 2 collide then it’s overwhelming chaos. The Haiti Earthquake was a prime example – a country filled with a government that has historically been injust and people struggling to feed their families and educate their children is further broken by a natural disaster.

Uganda has been ravaged by injustice and the challenges of a developing country. Yet the hope for all of us is brokenness can mend. Often when something like a bone is broken it will heal and actually become stronger than before. That’s my prayer, that’s a bit of why I’m going to Uganda because healing and growing the heart and mind is messy business. It’s the journey I am humbled to take with people.

Grateful Kids – a few thoughts

I have been sharing with friends, family, and co-workers about my upcoming trip to Uganda. In my office I have pictures of children from Moldova, Haiti, and Mexico that make me smile. The children are smiling, and the times I pause long enough to think of the circumstances they live in I am humbled.

A co-worker mentioned in passing that the children in Uganda will be so grateful for whatever I bring and share with them. It was implied that they will be so much more grateful than so many of the kids here in the U.S. My response most likely was unexpected. I don’t want them to be grateful. What? Huh?

Let me explain, yes I do want them to be thankful and have an attitude of gratitude. Yet I want that for any kid, any person, and for myself. I want kids to be grateful for a beautiful sunny day here in New England or in Uganda. I want my students here to be thankful for extra help from a teacher just as I want the same for a student in Uganda. I hope that a teenage girl getting a new pair of shoes here is full of smiles just as a teenager in Uganda would be. Will they be more grateful in Uganda? I don’t want them to be. We should all be challenged to have a grateful heart in all circumstances. We are challenged: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
All circumstances, running water and electricity or not (feel free to remind me about running water in a few weeks). However I also don’t want the children in Uganda to need to be grateful for adult attention, medical care, clean water, education, or a loving home. I want all children to have these basics, and even more, and to be grateful in those circumstances never experiencing the lack of them.

I don’t want children or myself to be grateful as I compare my circumstances to others rather to be thankful in the circumstances I know to be my own.

Enjoy the pics… A sampling from above my desk.

20130624-204225.jpg

20130624-204252.jpg

20130624-204307.jpg

A Uganda Theme Song

Downloading new music about 6 weeks ago I came across my theme song for the summer. It was apparent as soon as I heard it the first time. Audio Adrenaline’s song Kings and Queens speaks to the hope of children, to be loved but also to change the world.

A few of the lyrics, both a challenge and prayer to God:

Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these

I wondered why Audio Adrenaline wrote this song and found they have a connection with Haiti supporting the Hands and Feed Project
On the website a video by Jeremy Cowart one of my favorite photographer/artists highlights children in Haiti. However he also has a video from art therapy in Lira , Uganda with former soldiers. Check in out Here . I believe I had originally heard about this project on Catalyst Podcast (though I couldn’t find the episode). Though my work will be with Children of the Nations I also am headed to Lira, Uganda!

Red Sox player’s have a theme song playing as they come up to bat and many Olympic athlete’s are shown listening to music just before they compete. As I get ready to go to Africa and my playing field is Lira Uganda my theme song will be Kings and Queens because that is who I will be spending time with.