Daniel and I traveled to the airport in Entebbe last Sunday to pick Adam up. I was so excited to have him here and watch him experience this incredible country and these extraordinary people. We left early from Sabina, allowing twice the amount of time to get to the airport because the traffic in Kampala is ten times worse than what you will find in LA. We made it to Kampala in good time and decided that the two of us would enjoy some Ethiopian food together while waiting for Adam to arrive. Daniel and I sat in an empty, outdoor, Ethiopian restaurant and watched one of the World Cup games (I have no idea which one) on a huge projector screen. During commercial breaks, we talked about travel. Daniel had some questions about what it was like to be in an airplane. He asked, “when you are up in the sky, what does it feel like? Do you feel dizzy?” I told him “no.” I asked him what he thought it might feel like to be in the sky, finding myself at a loss for words to describe the feeling of flying that I had grown so accustomed to and at this point, completely take for granted. He said, “I’d imagine you feel dizzy and sometimes vomit” with a gleam in his eyes that seemed as though the price of dizziness and vomitting would be more than worth it to him, for a chance to travel by plane. He asked if passengers can open the window, while they are flying. I explained the dangers of that while he listened closely and trusted every word. He asked if I can see big cities while I am in the sky and I explained how you can during take-off and landing, but not when the plane is flying above clouds. He told me that he wanted to drive us to the airport when we leave Uganda, saying that he would wave to us from below. Then he had a thought: “can you see me waving from the ground when you are in the plane?” “No” I said, disappointing him. I assured him that he would one day experience travel by flight. He reality checked me, explaining how impossible it would be for him to get a visa. It is so rare to be accepted for a visa from Uganda to the USA with no prior travel, let alone the cost of a visa and flight. A man with Daniel’s openness to all and his ever burning sense of adventure is meant to travel the world. But he cannot cross the border because of the country he happened to be born in. When I leave Uganda, I will wave to Daniel from the sky and say a prayer for those I leave behind.
A mosquito ending up on the inside of a mosquito net is like winning the lottery in mosquito society. That lucky bug gets to feast on my flesh all night long while the others watch from the outside, dreaming of being in that guy’s place. He’s impossible to catch. I have already turned off the lantern and I can hear him buzzing around, but I am not willing to untuck my mosquito net, get out of bed, and turn on a light source. That is too much work for one little bug and I am not willing to risk letting other ones in when I lift my net. So I cover my body with the sheet I have been provided, convincing myself that I will be protected from the lucky winner. In the morning, I find a dozen bites on each foot swollen and itchy. I should have worn socks…
This is malaria season in Uganda. Children and staff left and right are falling sick from the deadly illness. My student friend, Sophia, has been bed ridden for the last few days. The last time I saw her we were on the football field and she said, “I am feeling bad with maladia” with a shrug as she kept her eyes on the grass below her feet. I said I was sorry and suggested that she go rest and drink a lot of water. She said she doesn’t have “tablets” and therefore, resting and hydrating would do nothing for her. I’ve always found that rest and hydration help with sickness, but what do I know? I’ve never been sick with a fatal illness. Uncle James just walked by as I was writing this blog post. He stopped to chat as he often does when I am stretched out on my yoga mat in the shade of my favorite tree. I asked him, “Olyotya?” (“How are you?”) and he replied, “I am fine. But I have maladia.” He told me that it is very common for many of them to get malaria when the rainy season comes to an end. I take my malaria prevention medication every morning along with my multi vitamins and my Allegra. My insurance covered most of the cost for that prescription. Here, health insurance is too great a luxury to even dream of, let alone a magical pill that assured them immunity to this deadly, yet common disease. And here I am complaining about my itchy ankles from the one mosquito that crept into my net.
The way people explain causes of death here are extremely vague. I often here someone tell me how a person died, simply saying that “she died of a disease.” I may respond, “what disease?” And then will say, “yes she got very ill from disease and she died.” As if that answered my question.
Just today, I was talking to Auntie Deborah about Rose’s family. Rose is a 3 year old girl who I hope to find a sponsor or sponsors for. She was brought to Sabina when she was only 3 weeks old. Her mother had died the morning of that day and her father had left town immediately after. Her mother was a sort of bartender in Sabina’s village, Sanjai (she sold beer and sodas for people to drink outside of her shop (shack)). When Deborah and the other aunties came to give their condolences to the family, they found Rose screaming and crying after having not been fed for 8 hours. They asked the family if they could take Rose to Sabina for a few days and care for her there. The family was quick to hand her over, knowing that they did not have the means to nurture the small human into health. A few days turned into a few weeks, a few weeks turned into a few months, and now Rose is 3 and still lives at Sabina under the care of the loving house mothers. I am buying Rose the things she needs such as a mattress, bed sheets, underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a “flask” for her porridge, shoes, and clothes. When I brought some of the things to Sabina, auntie Agnes smiled big and hugged me, thrilled to have some of the essentials for Rose. She has become Rose’s primary caretaker. She has two young girls of her own, but her hands weren’t full enough to deny Rose the love and attention she needs. Rose isn’t officially under the care of Children of Uganda or Sabina, so she doesn’t have a bed. She sleeps with Aunt Agnes on her tiny mattress every night. I have decided to feature Rose as one of the two “Day In The Life” shorts I will be filming. This will be done with the hopes of having someone see her, hear her story, and open their hearts enough to sponsor her through her education. If she were to find co-sponsors, it would cost a little over a dollar a day to send her all the way through primary school. She has a year until school begins and if we find her sponsorship in time, she can join Children of Uganda and be under their care and protection through out her childhood and well into her adulthood.
This is why I was inquiring about the day Rose was found mother and fatherless. Auntie Deborah told me that Rose’s mother died of stress. She said her husband was “going with other women” and causing Rose’s mother a lot of “stress”. I said, “but what killed her?” And she said, “it was stress. If she wasn’t so stressed by that man, she wouldn’t have died.” I have heard of people dying prematurely because they are overworked and neglect their own mental and physical needs. But a healthy, new mother dropping dead one day because of marital struggles seems a little fishy to me.
“An insect bit her and she died” is another common explanation for death of women over here. Daniel told me about how his sister had died soon after I left Uganda 4 years ago. I asked what had happened and he said he didn’t know. He speaks of her with fondness, painting a picture of them being really close friends while she was alive, but he said he couldn’t be sure of her cause of death.Then he startled me, saying in a quiet voice, “her husband was a bad man. I think he killed her.” I asked if it was ever proven and he said no. He said that he got the call from his aunt who told him about his sister’s death. He didn’t believe it at first because his sister was a healthy woman with two young children, working as a nurse in a clinic. They buried her a few days after, resigning to the idea of her dying from an insect bite. Then, as time went by, Daniel began to suspect that his sister did not die from an insect bite, but was murdered by her husband. They never got an autopsy because it was too expensive. And for this reason, another man may have gotten away with murdering an innocent woman and mother.
Daniel’s brother in-law disappeared after his wife’s death and now Daniel pays the school fees for his orphaned niece and nephew. Orphan here seems to mean something different. 9 times out of 10, the mother is dead and the father is no where to be found. The “father” may still be alive and well, but he is as good as dead to his children.
Despite the troubles I see people facing in Uganda with disease and injustice, my anxiety level plumitts here. It is washed away by the joy, freedom, love, and hope that I feel in this place. It’s strange how I have to travel to a country that doesn’t allow me to show my legs, in order to feel free. A country where I am constantly singled out as “muzungu” when I walk through any public space. A country where there are laws against mini skirts and homosexuals. A country where there is a substantial language barrier between me and 99% of the population. A country where I pee in a bucket and see with a lantern. For some reason, I feel completely whole and at peace here, free from any luxury “problems” and the pressures of being number one. This is a place where I can remember how insignificant petty problems and social rankings truly are to the quality of my life.
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My bags came this morning and we finally have the first of our instruments at Sabina. Adam and I had purchased 3 ukuleles, music books, and strings. We are buying 4 guitars and 2 keyboards in Kampala when Adam flies in this weekend. Then next Tuesday, we will be teaching music during school hours, after school, and hanging with a jam session every night from 9-10.
I wasn’t planning on beginning music with the kids until Adam was here, but while handing out shoes, belts, bags, and underwear today to the Children of Uganda kids, they spotted the ukuleles and I had to promise to sing with them tonight. Christine, Vivian, and a few other students who were at Sabina when I was here 4 years ago, remembered a few of the songs I like to sing. One of them is You and I by Ingrid Michaelson. For those of you who were at the concert to benefit the Children of Uganda this past May, Max and I sang it together. For some reason the children love that song and even remember most of the lyrics from when they sang it with me 4 years ago.
The older kids are taking exams and studying until 9 every night. They have barely any free time during the week days but they all flocked into the library as soon as they got out so they could sing songs with my accompaniment on ukulele. Two girls got there first and I thought to myself, “ok, this will be a low key sing along and the big stuff will happen next week.” The next thing I knew, over 50 kids were in the library swarming around the table I was perched on. I sang for them and Sophia clumsily strummed along on a ukulele that she didn’t know how to play. Christine sang along to You and I and followed along on other songs such as Old Fashioned Hat by Anais Mitchell and Brave by Sara Bareilles. Then I had an idea.
I had written a song that stole from a Ugandan song they sing at night during their prayers. I call it Ugandan Lullaby. In the chorus, I use their Liganda lyrics and melody. During the verses I describe the troubling stories of some of the girls who used to be here. The song spoke of struggles revolving around AIDS and sexual abuse. I did not want them to hear the sad song I turned their lullaby into, so I didn’t play them any of the verses. But I began, “Aba Africa…” and everyone chimed in. They sang the whole song together and it brought tears to my eyes. I have been hearing their voices singing that song in my head for the past 6 years and it was breathtaking to hear them sing it once again. Different voices but the same hope and devotion rang through. We will meet again tomorrow night at 9 pm.
On an embarrassing note, there was a football (soccer) game scheduled this afternoon for staff against students. I thought it would be an easy going game; one that I could play for 10 minutes and drop out whenever I got sweaty. Man, was I wrong. I showed up to the field and people were stretching. Every student from Sabina lined the field to watch the match. One of the teachers threw me a jersey and told me to stand middle field. The game began and I quickly realized I was out of my league. I played soccer growing up for the westside soccer league. We were a team full of chubby pre-pubescent girls who hated to run and cried at half time when our mothers forced us to get back onto the field. I thought this would qualify me to play on the staff team, but I was quickly humbled. The kids and the teachers are FAST. Faster than I ever knew a human could go. The ball came at me several times and I am ashamed to admit that I flinched and missed every time. Still, the children cheered for me on the side lines (or maybe that was laughter?) I did get one kick in, but the ball went straight up, hitting my flaring arm and giving the other team a fowl shot right in front of the goal. From then on, the staff kept the ball away from me and I don’t blame them one bit.
I am learning Luganda. I am learning enough to earn some street cred in the village. It’s really exciting. Here are some of my vocab words and phrases from today that are completely misspelled:
O mani auntie Deborah jaaadi: Where is auntie Deborah?
Omwana omoto: young baby
Oh gambee otya? : what did you say?
Koody kayo: welcome back
Oh va wah: where have you been?
Neh mee low: the garden
Bogo molingi: hot!
Kweega: to learn
Oh ko lachee?: What are you doing?
Integedah: I understand
Sitegedah: I don’t understand
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Blog post #3
I was told last night that we were leaving with aunt Deborah at 9 the following morning for an event. So I woke up at 8, did my morning routine Uganda style (peeing in a bucket, brushing my teeth with a bottle of water then spitting in the grass, putting on a long skirt, and eating cold eggs and freshly milked cow’s milk). Now, there is something called Uganda time which I had forgotten about. When someone says 9, one should always add on at least two hours. We left for the African Child event at 11:15. There were 6 of us in a tiny car, which is a very low number of people to fit in one small car in Uganda (usually it’s at least 12).
We made our way down a long, bumpy road to the African Child memorial event. This day is remembered by many Africans to honor the children in South Africa who fought in the war during the apartide. We finally made it to the event where there must have been several thousand people gathered under tents. When Emma and I got out of the car, we became walking exhibits in a museum. The children gawked at us as we walked by. Our friend, Jane, reminded us that some of these children have never seen a white person before. My first instinct was the be offended by the way they stared, pointed, and called me muzungu. Some of the children even pulled my hair as they ran by, tempted by their curiosity about what my muzungu hair might feel like. Then I thought about it. It isn’t racism, it’s complete and utter amazement. They rarely have the opportunity to study a person of my color and when they do, they take advantage of it. Fair enough; I would do the same thing. So I smiled and greeted them with the one exchange they are guaranteed to know: “how are you?” and they reply “I am fine”.
We sat and enjoyed the event for four long hours. School after school came out onto the open grass and performed a song, poem, and/or dance. In between performances, adults would speak into the crackly, screechy microphone and give half hour long speeches in Luganda. The MC acknowledged the “visitors” (Emma and I) and made a point to make his announcements in English and Luganda. That is the way so many Ugandans are, 100% welcoming. There were only two out of several thousand people there who didn’t speak the local language, but he was sure to translate for our own benefit. During the long speeches, I made a habit of putting on my sunglasses and taking a snooze until my head tipping me forward woke me in a sudden awareness of my surroundings.
One older woman (a jaja) gave a speech about her newly adopted child. I had Jane translate this speech for me because it seemed to be important. A three year old boy stood by her as she told the crowd about how he had been dropped off at her place 8 months ago by people who refused to care for him. She asked the audience if anyone recognized him because she is trying to find where he belongs. She said she is willing to care for him, but she cannot afford his school fees. As she delivered her message, she seemed to be passionate with a touch of anger. But to me, everyone sounds angry when they speak Luganda so I am not the best judge of her emotion. The boy was so small. He was not phased by her words and stood there obediently throughout his new grandmother’s speech. Someone came up to the microphone after the jaja and the boy sat down. She was heavy and she was one of the only women there without a weave. I liked her immediately. According to Jane’s translation, this woman told the jaja that she would pay the boy’s school fees up until 7th grade and the crowd exploded in applause. That’s what people do here. They take care of each other even when they cannot take care of themselves.
On the way back from the event, we continued our conversation about the excitement children here get when they see a white person. I remembered seeing an albino Ugandan student in church yesterday. I asked Jane how people here might view her. She said that the albino girl is surely “humiliated.” Many people here fear albinos because they fear the unknown. She asked if we had albinos in the USA and if we did, “do they look any different?” I described the albinos I have come into contact with and she listened closely. Then she asked if I had ever seen one die. I had not, and “why do you ask?” She said that she has heard that when albinos die, their bodies just disappear. I laughed at this, sure that Jane was joking as she often does. Bob piped in to say that this is a common belief among the community. Jane is remarkably intelligent, but she was serious about the disappearing albinos. I explained how albinos are human beings and therefore, die just like everyone else. She said, “but have you seen one die?” No, I hadn’t.
There are so many myths in Uganda. There is a myth that if a mother touches the bed of their sexually active daughter, she will get Parkinson’s disease. There is a myth that having sex with a virgin will cure a person’s AIDS (which has began to be debunked over the last several years). And there is a current myth that gay men and women are going into schools and converting students to their sexual preference. One of the most troubling ones I know of. There are certain myths I can laugh and talk about with people here. Then there are certain myths that I have to be very careful about discussing. Those are the myths I wish most to talk about. I have chosen certain people, like Daniel, to safely discuss these deadly and hateful myths and policies within Uganda. But I have decided that the safest place to talk about these things is here, on this blog.
When we returned to Sabina, we prepared for that evening’s party. Anne, a fellow volunteer, put money toward throwing the children and the staff a party. A DJ from the village came to spice up the dance floor. The children all had a big meal full of matoke (a delicacy here and a favorite among the children) and chicken. Two foods that the children rarely taste and always crave. After eating, we danced our hearts out. Deborah sat lovingly and watched the children dance. She turned to me and so genuinely said, “it is my favorite to see the children dance”.
I’m going to be honest here. I was not looking forward to this evening’s festivities. I am a bit out of practice when it comes to partying and I am still pretty jet legged. But as soon as one of the children pulled me off my chair and onto the dance floor, my bum did not touch another seat for the rest of the night. I didn’t have to be rested, I didn’t have to speak the language, I didn’t even have to dance well; I just had to let go and have fun. And that’s exactly what I did. I danced with so many children. Most of the young ones do not yet know English so it is harder to get to know them. But dancing did the trick! Their personalities shined through the way they moved with me. They showed me Ugandan moves and I showed them cheesy American moves such as dipping and twirling. Our communication was made possible by the language of music. And that is what Adam and I have come to Sabina for, to connect through our common love of music.
At the end of the night, one of the teachers had the DJ put on a song and dedicate it to him and I. We danced as the children gathered around laughing and cheering. The teacher had a very unique way of dancing. He’d turn out his feet and walk like a duck toward me as he frowned and kept his glance down at the floor. I didn’t know how to work with this at first, but we found our groove as the dance went on.
What a day. I am full of adrenaline and it is almost 1 in the morning. I am so happy to be alive and so happy to be here at Sabina in Rakai, Uganda.
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After 20 hours of airplane travel, one night at Emmanuel’s house in Entebbe, and 5 hours driving to Rakai with my dear friend Daniel, I finally arrived to Sabina late last night. As usual, the children greeted me when we drove into the school with hugs and “welcome Aunt”s as they took my bags from my hands. Auntie Deborah, an incredible house mother here, power walked over to me and swept me off my feet in a warm embrace. She shrieked, “Maderine, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you so much!” as she spun me around. I had to hold back tears when I looked in her eyes. I have worked very hard for the past four years at not thinking about specific people from Uganda too hard, so as to avoid the feelings of longing and loss. Auntie Deborah is one of those people. She is a beautiful and authentic woman. She is a mother not only to her own three children who live at Sabina, but to all of the children here and even all of the staff members and volunteers. When my mother left Uganda while I remained when I was sixteen, my mother told Deborah that she was to look after me. For the next month or so, Auntie Deborah kept constant track of me. I rode a boda-boda (motorcycle) into the next village one day without her knowing. When I came back, she scolded me and made me promise to not set cheek (butt, that is) on another one of those dangerous things again. She was my mother, just like she is for everyone else. Seeing her again last night was a gift I was not sure I would ever receive again.
Let’s talk about Daniel, the man who is more than a driver. He tends to have an angry masculine look on his face most of the time. But when he smiles, he lights up a village. You ask Daniel how old he is and he says, “thirty…thirty-five… maybe thirty-seven? I don’t know…” His favorite hobby is to sit on the side of the road and people watch. He says, in an unknowingly humorous tone, “I just like to watch people pass by. See what they are wearing, how they are walking, what they might be thinking.”
When Daniel met me at Emmanuel’s, he too swept me off my feet in a powerful, manly hug. He did this three times in a row as he repeated. “oh, Maderine. How ah you? How is USA? How is mum?” On the way to Sabina, we caught each other up on the past four years of our lives. Daniel now has a new son, Frank. Frank is “one…maybe two.” His second wife was behaving poorly so they had to split up. I told him six years ago that having two wives was not a good idea, but did he listen? No. I made this point at least a dozen times.
We stopped at Daniel’s one and now only wife’s house to see her and his four children. His wife, Sarah, is beautiful. I told him to tell her that I said so. Sarah does not understand English and I can only say a handful of things in Luganda. Beautiful was not yet a word in my vocabulary (mulungi?). He refused to tell her what I said. He said he doesn’t want her head to get big. I scolded him for this, saying that she deserves to hear compliments, then proceeded to charades “you are beautiful” to her. After eating fene (jack fruit), seeing Daniel’s pigs, dog, and cat, and playing with his children, we left for Sabina. That’s where I saw Deborah and the children.
Fast forward to today. I woke up at 7 (midnight in NYC) and went to church with the children and the two other volunteers here from Chicago (Anne and Emma). The service was done mostly in Luganda. Since it is father’s day, the priest wanted to talk positively about the fathers in these children’s lives. He pulled Lisa up from the aisles and conducted a mini interview with her in front of the 300 Ugandan children and three awkward white people in the audience. He said, “who is your favorite parent?” She replied “my mothah” He asked, “what do you like about your mothah?” She said, “she breast fed me when I was young” Then he asked, “what do you rike about your fathah?” She said, “he died when I was very young”. He quickly wrapped up the interview and thanked her quickly as she returned to her seat. I later found out that both of Lisa’s parents have been dead for some time now. I don’t think things went the way the priest had hoped for that segment of his sermon.
After church, the Kenyan nun came to greet me. She shook my hand which turned into her pulling me, within that handshake, into her house. She wanted to show me, Emma, Anne, and Jane (a Sabina graduate) the church’s property. Four of us ended up staying for hours drinking tea, eating biscuits, and laughing constantly. She reminded us that “laughing for one houah a day will make us live loong” and assured us that we were doing well for this day.
We had lunch with the staff after our visit with “sister Angel” (the Kenyan nun). Afterward, we went off to have a fun afternoon with the children playing football (soccer). Kareem (a student at Sabina and a good friend of mine) made the teams before I even got to the field. He strategically left all of the girls out so he could have two teams of older boys. I quickly vetoed his choice of not letting the girls play and they all frolicked onto the field in their dresses and skirts. These kids can RUN! After 20 minutes on the field I was pooped. I ended up playing monkey in the middle and singing songs with the younger ones on the side of the field.
Sophia (a student at Sabina and a new friend of mine) and I sat on the side of the football field and washed my clothes. While we were by the water tank, I saw a young boy pump water from the faucet and drink it. I asked Sophia if it was safe for the children to drink that water and she laughed and said “no”. She casually said the water could give them malaria and proceeded to scrub the one pair of clothes I have while Jane cleverly wrapped my body in an African scarf.
My luggage was left in Amsterdam on the way over to Uganda. This stressed me out at first, but as soon as I landed in Uganda, I couldn’t have cared less. I have just been informed that my luggage arrived safely to Emmanuel’s house today and that someone will bring it to Sabina for me on Tuesday. One piece of that luggage is carrying close to 30 pairs of shoes and three ukuleles, all donations for the children. For now, I’ve got my one pair of undies, a skirt, a tank top, and this scarf that is currently holding onto my body for dear life.
That’s all for now! I will go meet with the staff now and talk about how best to use the $2,000 we have left to spend on Sabina and the Children of Uganda. Which reminds me, thank you so much to all who donated their time, talent, money, clothing, and shoes to the cause. It is going to help so many children here. And thank you for reading!
PS: Happy Father’s Day!!!
thanks mom, that’s it! Up to after the PS. xoxoxo
I am sitting at gate B25 in JFK airport, waiting for my flight to board. It’s been a crazy experience getting everything together for this trip. So many people offered their talents, time, and money to the Uganda concert. From that, we raised nearly $4,000. Then there were the clothing donations from teachers, friends, and even my therapist! Suzanne and Stephanie Windland came over to my place one late night with about a dozen garbage bags filled with beautiful clothes and shoes for the children. From there, I was able to pack 100 pounds worth of much needed supplies for these kids. The bags just made the cut at Delta’s baggage check and here I am, ready to take flight.
My sister, Natalie, came by earlier today to help me with last minute packing things. She frantically asked me why I was so calm, while I sipped on my smoothie and stared off into space. I replied with, “I went to yoga today”.
As as I drove to the airport and watched the city pass me by, that question kept repeating in my head. “Why are you so calm? Why are you so calm?!”. Then the answer came to me. It wasn’t the yoga, it wasn’t the fact that my bags were packed and I had gotten all the necessary vaccinations. It was because I had been waiting for this day for the last 4 years. The day I could return to that far off land which hosted those beautiful people I had grown to love. The place that changed my life for the much better when I was 16 years old. The place that haunted my dreams and those that place with those smiles I see every time I close my eyes. That place is Uganda. And that is my flight boarding announcement.
So long NYC! Welaba!!