The afternoon sun streams down on me as I trudge through the bush with Christine, on our way to visit Sidonia. I've missed these two ladies who became such a part of our lives in the first house we stayed in.(Christine was our inside worker and Sidonia helped with laundry). Christine is still surprised that I'm able to walk this distance and tells me, "Aunt you are a serious walker!" I laugh and try to keep from stumbling over vines and rocks along the path. There's a boggy part and I do my best to follow Christine's footsteps but the inevitable happens and I sink ankle deep in wet muck. Never mind it actually feels rather refreshing.
We often come upon small thatched houses, their inhabitats puzzled by my sudden arrival in their neighbourhood. Christine shouts out explanations to the curious as we go along and stops occasionally to make introductions.
At one point we meet a young girl in a torn dress clutching a small bundle wrapped in a blanket. She shyly holds out the bundle and I see a tiny face not a week old. "The mother...?"
"I think," answers Christine.
I can't helping thinking of the baby born over two thousand years ago to a mother in circumstances not unlike these.
We finally emerge through a clearing in the bush and catch sight of Sidonia's house. Her oldest daughter catches a glimpse of us and comes running her face beaming. She then disappears in a flash in the opposite direction calling for Sidonia. We are finally all ushered into the tiny home with its dirt floor and wooden bench carefully covered by a woven mat. "You are welcome Auntie!" .
Smiles and laughs all round as we settle down to admire baby Lydia and share what's been happening in our lives. Christine and Sidonia chatter happily back and forth in Luganda and then Christine translates for me. As I watch them interact I'm struck again by their joy. Their lives are tough: beyond anything I can even imagine and yet they face their circumstances with courage. I share some Christmas gifts I brought and watch the excitement as clothes are examined and then carefully folded away. The children climb up on my lap to say thank you.
I walk home along the main road my backpack heavy with the papaya, collards and lemons which Christine insisted I take home with me. A truck roars past and I'm showered with dust but it doesn't really matter. I'm remembering the greater joy of giving and how the friendship of these women has enriched my life.
Quiet has come to the New Hope site as many children and staff have headed off to visit relatives for Christmas. It's especially quiet on the secondary school site where we live. The shutters in the school are tightly closed and many of our closest neighbours are away. On Tuesday I did drop by to visit Aunt Jessica, one of the teachers at the primary school, who is awaiting the arrival of her fourth baby any day now. We chatted about this and that as she sat with her wash basin between her legs handwashing her children's clothes. She'd been to her garden earlier in the day as well. Life goes on even when you're nine months pregnant. I also met her sister's daughter who has come to help her over the holidays. Susan was working on a hand woven mat. The vibrant colours of these dyed papyrus reeds are beautiful. The weaving is done in long strips which are then sewn together. It all takes time of course but that leaves plenty of opportunity for conversation and that is one of the things I'm learning to treasure about life here.
This week I got a chance to enjoy some time with some the littlest children at New Hope. As you may know from the girls blogs, Hope Family is a present home to 8 babies and toddlers. They are lovingly cared for by Stu and Sarah Dendy from England and their team of Ugandan house mothers. Jabez who is pictured here arrived when we were here last summer. This tiny, little, abandoned baby is now a happy toddler who was thrilled to get out of his stroller and chase me down the road!
Mary is the oldest member of Hope Family and a nature lover. On the walk today she eagerly pointed out bananas, jack fruit, flowers, birds and many other things that caught her eye.
One of the house mothers gives a cuddle to little Hosea. Living at New Hope definitely helps you brush up on the names of all the minor prophets!
Another wedding this past Saturday. Both Stella and Bizimungu Charles grew up at New Hope and are well loved. Stella is a part of David family but works as a nurse in Kampala so last week was the first time we had met her. Weddings at New Hope are not unlike those in North America; white dress, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen and speeches - lots of speeches. One interesting difference is that the bride and groom change into different outfits for the reception. Here are a few of my favourite pictures from the day.
One of the pleasures of being here for a longer time is being able to celebrate some of the special events in the lives of our family group kids. Such was the case last week as the S4 banquet took place at the secondary school. Emma, on the far left, loves basketball. Aziza is gifted in mathematics. Ivan is interested in computers. Nabukeera loves Sherlock Holmes and Joshua enjoys poetry. We know only a little bit of the challenges they have overcome to reach this point but we rejoice with them in a job well done!
Look out Tim Hortons! The Mortons have begun coffee production! Well that may be a little premature but we have discovered that we have coffee trees growing in our yard. Moses, the boy who works on our compound, showed David and John how to pick coffee beans and we've been drying them out in the sun for the past week. Not sure what the next step in the production is going to be but we'll keep you posted.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Despite the fact that we've been told that we've entered dry season the last couple of days have brought torrential downpours of rain. Yesterday David decided that he'd had enough of muddy pants from riding through the rain and decided to design and produce a pair of splash pants. Out came a green garbage bag, some tuck tape and the scissors and after a few minutes he had managed to create some pants. He got lots of looks on the way to work but that's not unusual.
Yesterday also brought Sam our sponsor child to the door with a cock for a present. Having learned from last year's adventure with a chicken, we sent him off to our family group where Dodo one of our family boys kindly slaughtered it for us. I'm learning that dinner often shows up on the doorstep like this and so preparing meals also involves a good deal of invention as well.
Is it really November???
Didn't feel like it last week as we enjoyed the thrill of eating some sweet corn and watermelon for dinner.
Can you tell he's enjoying his watermelon?
This little charmer gave us a bit of a scare on Saturday by colliding with a boda (motorcycle) while riding his bike. He escaped with a nasty gash on his foot and a few other scrapes and bruises. We are very thankful for the Lord's protection. It's hard to keep 'a good man down' so out came the hockey stick again today.
Pockets empty, pens ready, heads bent, its exam time!
The last two days I've been invigilating in the afternoons at the secondary school. When I was first asked I hadn't a clue what they were asking. You want me to 'invigorate' the S2's? Turns out invigilate is a term meaning to supervise.
The S2 class contains some of my all time favourite New Hope kids. Ones who have been around for a while and have seen us come and go and come again. There's Annet, a David family girl, who is small in stature but mighty in power. She kneads bread like no one else and sings worship songs at the top of her lungs. Then there's Claire whose smile lights up a room and makes all her friends laugh even on exam day. John, one of our sponsor child's brothers, is also in this class. Tall and quiet, he shyly raises his hand to borrow a pen and whispers a quiet thank you.
The concrete floor in the classroom is cracked and the November sun beats down hard on the iron sheet ceiling. Beads of sweat trickle down heads bent over their math exam. Long legs push up hard against desks far too small for them. As I circulate around the room I watch instruments being passed by some secret code known only by the students themselves. Boy in desk one, row three puts his hand back and a compass mysteriously travels from the back of the room up to him. He uses it and then it travels soundlessly back. My futile attempts to help in these transfers only seem to disrupt the system and so I retreat to the back of the room to wait for the two and a half hours to tick by.
Today was English. By the time we had corrected all the mistakes on the paper we started about 20 minutes late. As they wrote, the sharp ones kept finding other small mistakes; missing apostrophe here, missing letter there. I certainly know who will be good editors one day.
Exams have dominated all conversations for the last month. The primary school leaving exam in P7 determines whether a child will continue to secondary school. Likewise the Senior 4 results (Gr. 10 approx.) determine whether students can continue and finish secondary school and then head to university. The pressure is intense and although the ministry seeks to tell children that their identity is not defined by their results it's evident that many children are under intense pressure to 'succeed.' Last week as the P1 (Gr. 1) teacher listed off the exams her students write I couldn't believe my ears. Luganda phonograms, Luganda reading, English phonograms, math, Bible, P.E., arts and crafts . . . "Arts and crafts," I ask. "How do you have an exam in that?!" "Oh I test their colouring. They are given thirty minutes to colour a page accurately." No wonder the heads are bent and the pens fly across the page with determination. They've had years and years of practise.
Tuesday was celebration day for the P3 class I've been working with this past term. Their teachers Uncle Kokas and Aunt Jessica had planned an end of the year party and the kids were so excited. When I arrived at the school with my bucket of popcorn and cakes decorated by Auntie Tiff the kids were jumping up and down and dancing.
The 'set-up' crew led me to a shady spot and we arranged benches and bowls and then sat down to wait. Of course the 11:00 party didn't really start until 12ish which I'm becoming so used to now, I hardly noticed. While we waited, the small group chatted and sang songs including Christmas carols. They were a little foggy on the words for Joy to the World but they all know the chorus. "Let heaven and nature sing, let heaven and nature sing . . ." Sitting outside in November under the shade of a big tree with flowers blooming and birds singing all around it somehow seemed far more appropriate then singing it in the dead of winter. I enjoy these times of simply being with the kids.
During a lull in the singing the little girl in the red shirt softly asked "Aunt will we know ourselves in heaven?"
When the rest of the class finally gathered they took turns writing on thank you cards and then came the serious business of eating cake and popcorn. When that was done they went around in a circle giving testimonies about what they were thankful for and I was once again struck by how the simple things like having a teacher or being able to go to school are seen as blessings by these children.
Yesterday we were able to take Zipporah and her two boys into a hospital in Kampala to get some more extensive testing done. We were able to see a paediatrician who referred us for further tests and thankfully we were able to see her again in the afternoon to discuss the findings. She was able to rule out TB and attributed the swelling in the abdomen to malnutrition given the results of the ultrasound scan and blood tests. His skin condition may be scabies for which she prescribed a lotion. We are thankful that nothing more serious was discovered at this time and we will wait to see whether the skin condition improves with treatment. Addressing the issue of malnutrition is complex, and so again we ask for your prayers that we will be given wisdom as we seek to reach out to Zipporah.
The town where she's living is 40 km away and so maintaining regular contact is somewhat difficult.
On the way back we were able to stop and see the one room she is living in. The tailoring course we mentioned in an earlier post never materialized and so she is trying to earn some money buying and reselling charcoal for a small profit.
I walked out to Kabbubu a few days ago to visit Sidonia and her family. I had heard from Christine that the baby had arrived. Sidonia delivered at home during a torrential thunderstorm, the conditions being too poor for her to walk out to the road to get a ride to the hospital.
Six of her nine children
She and her children were so excited to see me and welcomed me warmly. I was somewhat surprised to see the baby's fair skin but learned later that this was not uncommon in newborn babies whose parents have lighter tone skin.
Sidonia's situation is not uncommon in the community around where we are living. Although government education is free many sturggle to find the money for uniforms, exercise books etc. Only two of Sidonia's children go to school.
This little one was very shy at first but warmed up enough to have his picture taken outside the house. Please pray for us as we continue to reach out to this woman and her family.
Around the middle of October we moved over to the secondary school site which is across the road from where the family groups, primary school, administrative building, clinic and church are located. David has been very thankful to have his bike which he brought from Canada on his last trip. He uses it to ride back and forth to work and also to get into Kiwoko where we go to the market. John is also pleased to have his bike and makes trips to the primary site most days to see his friends. The girls and I are getting lots of exercise walking back and forth. If you don't stop too many times to greet people and chat it's about a fifteen minute walk.
The house we're staying in now was the home of the enterprise farm manager. He and his family have returned to the States. We're slowly getting a handle on the grounds around the house with the help of a secondary school student.
We've been able to eat some peppers and collards (green leafy vegetable not unlike spinach) from the garden and are hoping to plant some sweet potatoes soon. The pictures show some views around the house so you can picture where we are
A spectacular rainbow one Saturday shortly after we moved in taken from the back of our house looking towards the Dangers house.
Last Friday we were able to take Zipporah and her son Ryan into Kiwoko hospital.Ryan was examined by a doctor from England and had some blood work done.We will have to return at a later time to get an ultrasound done of his neck and abdomen.We are hoping that these tests will give Zipporah a better understanding of Ryan’s condition and what the prognosis is for him. Ryan endured the tests and long wait very well but certainly was a happier little boy after a lunch of beans and pumpkin at our place.We also learned that Zipporah hopes to begin a tailoring course and we were encouraged to hear that if she completes the course she will receive a sewing machine.Please continue to keep her in your prayers.
A common sight:
Uncle Eric with his Bible and crutch.
Last night we had the privilege of hosting Uncle Eric for dinner. He is one of the teachers in the Special Needs program where Catriona volunteers. This man's story is one of determination to overcome disability and we were blessed to listen to him tell us about his life.
He was the second born in his family and was raised by his Mom. Early in his life his older brother died and his mother lost another baby through miscarriage and was unable to have more children. He contracted polio and until the age of four was unable to walk. His mother was encouraged by friends to get him crutches and he soon learned to walk using them. One day he asked his mother if she would buy him a metal car on wheels attached to a long stick. These hand-made toys are popular with young children. His mother responded by asking him, "How will you push it? You use crutches."
A seed was planted in his mind. Maybe I don't need to use two crutches and for the next two weeks he taught himself to walk with one crutch. He fell time and time again but he was determined to succeed and succeed he did. His Mom saved and saved and bought the toy!
Uncle Eric went on to describe his early days in a primary school of 600 students as the only child with a disability.
During secondary school his Mom became weaker and weaker as she suffered from HIV-Aids and he had to leave school to care for her until her death. Relatives supported him for a few years by paying school fees but when they were unable to continue to pay the fees the school he was attending allowed him to stay on. They would not release his final year results however, without payment for the fees. For three years he made and sold crafts to try and raise the money needed to pay his debt and eventually managed to save enough and receive his results. The three year gap meant that teacher's colleges refused him entrance and so he went back to making crafts and selling them through a disability outreach program.
Eventually his obvious skill and ability to teach were recognised by a disability organisation and he began teaching blind children how to make paper beads and woven purses. That led to other opportunities to work with disabled children and he has now been a part of the special needs program here at New Hope for a year and a half. During the last three months he has pioneered a radio program on disabilities on the New Hope Uganda radio station which is seeking to transform the way disabilities are viewed in this community. As we've mentioned before there is widespread misunderstanding and acceptance of disabled children and adults. This program has opened the door to many seeking ways to find help and resources to care for their family members. How grateful we are for this special man and how wonderful to see how God is using him.
October 9th marked the 50th year since Uganda was granted independence from the British government. On Sunday a group of children from New Hope Uganda were invited to sing at a national service hosted by the Ugandan president. We were able to hear the same group at the celebrations that took place here on Tuesday. Three members from our family group were in the choir including Judah who is the second youngest member of our family. They all looked very 'smart' in their uniforms. The material for the tops had been woven by the students at the vocational school and the outfits were sewn by the students in the tailoring program at the vocational school. One of the highlights of the three hour program was a secondary student reading an essay about Uganda's history and his hopes for the future. It was moving to hear his declaration that Uganda's future development depended on following God's ways. After the program we participated in a tree planting project and the last two days we've been blessed with rain which will hopefully help them to survive. All the children had fun figuring out how old they'd be in 50 years when Uganda celebrates 100 years. Happy Birthday Uganda!
Thanksgiving was a little different this year. We spent a few days reminiscing over Thanksgivings past - camping at Killbear or Arrowhead (remember the pumpkin pie the chipmunk ate), dinner with the Vandenbergs and Finlaysons, and the last few years dinner with the Mercers. Oh the turkey, the cranberries, the stuffing, the pumpkin pie . . . Then we gave ourselves a shake and said "Let's do it!" We invited a fellow Canadian who is studying here and improvised on the traditional meal. Chicken, stuffing, pumpkin (which in Uganda tastes more like squash), mashed potatoes and brownies for dessert. After several rounds of Dutch Blitz and tea in a Tim Horton's mug we felt that we had made a new Thanksgiving memory. Thanks Hayley for joining us. We truly have so much to be thankful for!