This sweet boy is the one who would light up my day when I came home from working at the school. He was my littlest brother. Like so many of the kids I met there, he was such a curious, silly and playful person. I couldn’t upload any of the videos I have of him grabbing my hands and dancing with me. But he very much enjoyed dancing. I would play music from my phone, often times Sade or Bobby McFerrin, and a grin would come across Junior’s face as he began to do a sort of jig. Then he would reach for my hands so that I would join him dancing. My other brothers would dance also. I feel sometimes in the US we grow to a certain age and our courage to be fully ourselves evades us. I see little kids dancing or singing and doing the things that bring them joy without consideration of how others might perceive them, but as we are grow older I feel we don’t have that same carefree energy to follow through with the things that bring us joy. But in my time in Uganda I didn’t just see little ones dancing. My brothers that were older also loved to dance I would put on music and everyone would sing. It is pretty cool to be surrounded by joy in that way, actual physical expression of emotions.
One brother that would dance for us all when my music came one also loved to wear my backpack. For the first bit of time I didn’t understand his interest in my backpack and school supplies. Then I found out that while he loved school, he only had the money to go every couple of weeks. So then he got to wear my backpack like it was his whenever he wanted. He also tried on my sunglasses and become the videographer a few times, which he also seemed to very much enjoy.
My home was right next to the CCF office where I would work and also the CCF café. I would eat breakfast with the CCF team every morning in the cafe. I became good friends with the girl who worked in the café. I would watch her cook and she would teach me how she did it. Her stove was low down and made of mud. You cooked from it using the heat from the burning coals. She showed me how she flipped the rice before she cooked it to let the wind take away all the loose shells she didn’t want cooked in with it. She is the one I would go with to the market daily to buy more supplies for the café.
The market was a pretty cool place. I very much enjoyed the time I spent there. The women selling in the market would be so excited when I came back day after day gradually learning new words in Acholi to be able to speak and respond to them. The same women would be at the market throughout my days there. They would sit in their same stalls; arriving before I was fully awake I am sure and staying there till sunset sitting with their babies strapped to their backs, joking, laughing and talking amongst themselves as they sold their goods. I made friends with one little girl who spent her days running around playing with the other kids at the market. We never exchanged any words, but often I would look down while shopping in the market and there she would be staring up at me with her big brown eyes. She would grab my hand and bring me to the other kids who would all laugh with joy when I chased them around the market.
My mom and sister from the United States came to visit me and spend 10 days meeting my family and working in the school with the CCF girls. They happened to arrive in Uganda the day I began having a fever from malaria. So someone was looking down on me with good graces and decided if I were to get malaria I would get it at a time when my mom could take care of me. I am thankful for that. The whole laying in bed not being strong enough to lift my head up part of malaria would have been a little more troublesome if I hadn’t had someone there to pick me up. But it all worked out in the end. I had had them bring an entire extra suitcase completely full of art supplies because I couldn’t find a good art supplies store in Uganda and then I also made them fill the rest of it with fun silky fabric to use sewing with the girls.
So once I wasn’t glued to my bed by weak and aching muscles my mom, sister and I went to work in the Nwoya Girls Academy together. On our first walk back from the school, the bottom of mom’s shoe came away. But then we walked to the market and there was a boy and his friend sitting down fixing shoes. Mom showed him her broken shoe and he took it and went away on it. He sewed all the way around the thick sole with a needle and thread. It was pretty awesome the work he did and mom’s shoe ended up better than new.
This is my Ugandan family. Only part of it could actually fit sitting on the mat with my mom, sister and I. This was simply because my family was so immense and others were away working at the time photo was taken. My Ugandan mom sits in the middle next to my mom and to the other side of her was her mother. It’s a photo of many things, two of which are strong and inspiring Ugandan women I had the pleasure of sharing my summer with.
After that photo with my family there was a pretty difficult goodbye. In those final moments my mom and sister helped me pack up my hut and fit it all into backpacks and then somehow I had to find a way to say goodbye to some of the most generous, warm and welcoming people I’ve known. My family and my friends in the café and CCF office all became very important to me. It’s a pretty awesome, but also difficult feeling to have such close friends in distant places. It’s awesome because they will always be part of your strong connection to a place and culture that was once new. But it is also difficult because after sharing yourself with others in such a meaningful way, it’s hard to fathom the fact that millions of miles separate you and for many reasons seeing each other again and sharing time as you did before may not come for a very long time. But I hope and believe that it will come, sometime in my future I’ll find my way back to that distant village in that beautiful place that is Northern Uganda.