These last two days have been busy! On Saturday morning, I spent time washing my bike, doing laundry and trying to organize the chaos that erupted in our room once we got back. John went to clear his head on a bike ride, but the continued over-attention and dust make it hard to want to travel very far.
Yesterday, after making a lunch of chipati and avocado with mango bought from locals around the area, we went with Vincent and Jacob to see the Steven Baker Farm, a seven-acre plot of land purchased for them by a woman in the US in memory of her son. Here they grow bananas, sweet potatoes, coffee, groundnuts, pineapple, carrots, jackfruit, cassava, squash, eggplants, and various greens. Kasanda Children’s Aid then uses the produce to provide for people in the region who cannot feed themselves, selling any leftovers to put back into the farm, which they admit is very little once they care for immediate needs. We walked to every corner of the property, the boundary being marked with little (one-foot tall) planted trees.
On the property, they had built a house for a young mom who is HIV positive whose husband died of AIDS. She is the mother of two of our Get Schooled students who live there with her: Prossey (in the picture with me below) and Fabian. Kasanda Children’s Aid has been able to build three houses in the last five months or so through various donations from the US and Canada and local grants. It costs $2500 to build a two-room house with a solar light, a safe steel door with a lock (as opposed to a cloth sheet which is the typical door), a solid rainproof roof and an outhouse pit toilet. Our friend Jacob is a jack of all trades and he voluntarily builds these structures with a helper in a matter of two weeks. They are solidly constructed out of bricks and, compared to the thatched ‘bathroom’ (which was really just a small three-walled enclosure made of sticks and grass) and the deteriorating structure that was falling down around them in which they lived before, it was the Ritz. They also bought her a popcorn machine so she could make a little money for her family (see picture below). Another one they had built had a little shop in the window, showing the honest effort of the woman who lived there and her desire to try and provide what little she could for her family (also pictured below).
While driving to these houses, we came by a woman who was sitting on the side of the road in a field of corn who goes to Vincent’s church and sings in the choir. She invited us to come to her house to see her grandchildren. She had inherited a small plot of land through someone’s death and had four of her grandchildren living with her. Her own grown children had left their kids with her and she never heard from her children again. She tries to find where they are just so she knows how their lives are going, but hasn’t been able to find them and they have not checked in on her or the children they left behind in her care. Her traditional gomesi dress was fraying at the bottom and her sweet face was etched with sorrow and hard work, caring for toddlers and young children as a woman in her late 50’s. The kids looked happy, but sick. One had an eye that looked infected and their noses were running as they sat on a tattered blanket together in threadbare clothes. She invited me to look into her house and not only was it pitch black in the middle of the afternoon, but also dirty and tattered, pitiful and in shambles. I have not seen such poverty before. The pit toilet (that she had to dig on her own) consisted of two large rectangular holes, too big for the small children to use without spreading their hands and feet in the human waste and filth to keep from falling in (pictures below). My heart broke. I could see that John’s had too. I wanted Vincent to tell her how proud I felt of her – how thankful I was that she was taking care of these children the best way she could. I choked on my words and couldn’t speak. John leaned over to Vincent and quietly said through tears, “Please don’t tell her until we’re gone, but we will pay for her house if Jacob will build it.” I am so honoured to be married to a man who can’t help his compassion and is moved to action for strangers, but with great humility.
Church had already been going for two hours when someone was sent to fetch us. John and I both got onto the back of a small motorcycle with the driver and drove through town. I was wearing a skirt so had to sit side saddle and hung on for dear life even though it was only a kilometre or two. I have been to this church before on a previous trip with Martial Arts for Justice when we met with local ladies to do a little self-defence training and trauma counselling. Nothing had changed. The walls were still sawn logs that hung crookedly with huge gaps between them. The colourful fabric still hung in big sheets around the one-room building and the pineapple party favours made in China still hung crazily from the ceiling. The uneven stage still sagged with each movement of the dancing choir. The children sang and danced in the front rows while women breastfed their babies and the men danced and clapped with sweaty faces. And of course, we were sitting right up front with all eyes on us and awkwardly trying to keep up. They honoured us greatly with their words of thanks and the choir sang a song for us. Although it was uncomfortable to say the least to be the centre of such attention and the topic of the sermon, their hearts were on full display and all we could do was take it all in with humility and gratitude for their prayers and acceptance. I talked a little after the sermon about the ride and the children, but mostly thanked them for their prayers and encouraged them that hundreds of people in the US and Canada care about them enough to give resources to the children of Uganda whom they will most likely never meet in person. The magnitude of that kind of love was not lost on them. After the service most of those in attendance came up to shake our hands or share a hug. One sweet older women placed two eggs in my hand as a thank you…one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.
After the four-hour service, we went to Vincent’s house where he had lunch prepared: fried chicken, rice, greens, noodles, squash, potatoes, and beans in sauce. It is meaningful in every culture, I believe, to share a meal together and as we all sat around and ate, joking and laughing but also talking about the suffering these people have seen, it further bound us together. They appreciate John so much and use him as an example of what a supportive husband looks like. I agree. They recognize the sacrifice it took for us to leave our jobs and our friends and family behind to complete this project. And although we appreciated their kind words, it was very humbling when we consider the North American wealth and safety that we get to return to. Soon, we have to say goodbye to our Ugandan friends, knowing of their continuous struggle, having seen the poverty in which even the pastors live and knowing our big friend Jacob (the former heavyweight champion of Uganda) sleeps under a tattered blanket in a top bunk with two children in the bunks below him.
You know, the ‘greeting’ that I heard coming from the mouths of children more often than any other across the entire country was, “Muzungu, byee! Muzungu, byee!” I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because we foreigners come…but we always get to leave.