A dozen villages, a thousand smiles

Who would have thought you could be so busy in a small Ugandan village but the past two weeks have been filled to bursting. During that time I have travelled for miles and miles along dusty, bumpy roads, visited over a dozen families, been showered with thanks, met armies of relatives, drunk countless cups of tea, and been gifted more chickens than I care to remember. Fortunately Rose now knows to intercept these squawking chickens that so often come my way, graciously accepting them on my behalf. It’s funny to think this whole journey in 2009 started with a chicken flying from the boot of Dominic’s car as I bent to offload my heavy backpack. And here I am now, almost 5 years later, still up to my eyeballs in flapping chickens. Some things never change.

Since I last wrote, the school has almost completely emptied out, leaving a small group of children either related to Dominic and Rose or fully orphaned with nowhere to go. Some of the the sponsor children have also come back to KAASO for the holidays to help out around the school – and because it feels like home. The other day Dominic and Rose’s daughter Rhonah came home from school with Teacher Sarah’s son Joy. They had with them their report cards and when Joy passed his over to Teacher Sarah I thought she was going to faint. She shrieked for joy, embraced her son and then, fanning herself, sat down heavily. I looked at the report card shaking in her hands and saw what she saw – Joy was top in his year with percentages in the 90s for every subject. I sat next to her and she just shook her head, smiling to herself, taking it all in. Once the shock had worn off she turned to me, her face full of pride. ‘Madam Emma, my son – first! In that good school. I’m just a simple girl from the village and that school, eh! The children of people with so much money, people from Kenya, Congo – overseas countries. Big people! And it’s my son from the village, he is first. Of all of them. Can you believe? Eh!’ She shook her head, smiling, soaking up the wonder of it all. It was a beautiful moment.

Yesterday I completed the last of my visits to the 12 Kiwi sponsor children and thus ended a chapter of joy, wonder, heartbreak and humility. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed into homes, made to feel part of the family, showered with love and offered all the food they had to give.

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There was Justine, a girl whose parents are both living HIV positive so sent her to live in a neighbouring mud hut with her aunt who looks after her and three of her grandchildren whose parents have either died or are unable to care for them. There was Caroline, who was out tending to her cabbages when we arrived, whose mother took me in her arms and embraced me with all her heart, introducing me to the 8 other children who live with them – abandoned, disabled, unwanted children left to this big-hearted woman to care for them.

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There was my lovely Henry, whose father died when he was 6 years old but who was brought up by his loving mother who cooked for us a feast as large as her smile, insisting we enjoy the fruits of her labour from their gardens. A two hour drive followed by a half hour trek brought us to the home of Charles who lives in a little house on a hill with his Rwandan grandmother – he does not know whether his mother is dead or alive and his father tragically died of AIDS in 2010. His family literally fell upon me in flood of tears, thanking me for helping to support Charles, the grief still so raw within the stark concrete walls of their home.

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Under African Skies

Everyone had told me that Africa gets under your skin and I had understood the concept but not yet experienced it. It’s hard to believe we have only been in Uganda for five days, at KAASO only four. And yet I feels as if I have been here forever. While the enormity of everything continues to overwhelm, I know this is where I am meant to be.

When we first arrived in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, we were met by Dominic, the director of the orphanage/school at which we are living. He was and continues to be full of smiles, full of life and a complete inspiration to us. We were led to the carpark and directed to put our bags in the boot. He opened the boot to make space and I blindly put my head in only to be hit in the face by a startled chicken rocketing towards me that had been held captive in the boot – a gift from his cousin. It was a hilarious start and set the scene for this world of surprises that we have come to accept as (almost) normal.

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Kampala was a feast for the senses – smells, noises, sights and tastes we had never before experienced. Baskets of bananas balanced on heads, boda bodas weaving precariously through gridlocked traffic, markets overflowing with fresh fruit, chickens running freely, brightly coloured clothing wrapped around tall, proud women and an overriding sense of movement.

Dominic drove us down from Kampala into the countryside. Here the earth was so red, the sky so blue and the mass of banana plantations the most stunning green. We crossed the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere and I was amazed to simply pass from one hemisphere to another without ceremony – I was brought up to believe it was by sea that you crossed the equator with the obligatory toasts and libations to King Neptune. We arrived at KAASO in the evening, exhausted but happy to have arrived at last.

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