It’s amazing how fast two weeks goes by. At the start you think you will have all the time in the world to see the people you want to see and speak the words of love to those you know you will surely miss.
I can’t say that I have made concrete change in Gulu, but I know I have touched people’s lives and that is what I came to do. In my final days I helped lead the morning devotions for the women of ZP. If I have not mentioned it already I will say that this is my favorite part of the day. If I had it my way I think I would begin every morning with a large drum and a group of African women singing their hearts out to God in Swahili (and the songs are repetitive enough that I can sing along woo hoo)! On my final morning with them (Friday) I began to get a little choked up when I realized how much I would miss their songs and of course the love that they have shown me. I had another hard realization during my time in Gulu that people hearts are really still hurting so much from the war and aftermath. Many people are very kind and generous but it is still quite hard for them to open their hearts up and rely on each other to cope with past pain.
I taught simple lesson on trust and how when another person trusts us, it is like they are giving us a very precious gift that we must be responsible for. In turn when we give trust we are making ourselves so vulnerable, so open to the elements of possible betrayal and hurt. Many of us close our calloused hearts because we have been wronged in the past. This is no way to live our lives though. Yes you may get hurt but it is a better existence to place trust in others and let them rise to the occasion of caring for our gift we have given them. I have been the betrayer of trust as well as the one who cannot fully let go of my gift. Yet I believe that the more people we let into our hearts and lives, the more genuine connections we can make. We can even find solidarity in others who have gone through similar pains.
After telling the women that it was my last day, there were tears in many people’s eyes and mine had already fallen to my cheeks. I did not know if I had touched their lives at all. It is hard to know when you do not speak the same language but their tears were evidence to my reason for coming to Uganda in the first place. Being present with someone is sometimes all the encouragement one needs. I made it a point to just be present. To laugh with them (even if I didn’t understand the joke), to hold their children, to roll beads, to take their sick family members to the doctor and to just be me and hope that they could trust me enough to let me into their world.
I’d like to just bullet point some of the good and also the rare but not so good parts of my time in Gulu:
• Hugs from the ZP women’s children in the morning. Seriously the first thing I got every morning when I stepped out of my door was about 10-15 smiling children running up to hug me.
• I’ll say it one more time….morning devotions in Swahili!
• The harsh realization that I was still very naïve about the region including how young women are treated here.
• Multiple terrible Boda Boda experiences with the worst being an old insane woman running out topless in front of us so that we had to stop not to hit her as she suddenly slapped me across my face so hard it left a fairly decent welt. AND THEN having the cultural reaction of the giant crowd that formed be laughter instead of sympathy….sigh….at least I’m part of the slapped in Africa club now (yes there are more of us haha).
• Back to good stuff now: Having the ZP girls say while I was giving them my final goodbyes “Aunty we want to pray for you” and of their own accord having 11 pairs of little hands and voices pray over me as knelt down in the middle of them. (Yup cried at this one too).
• Time with Pastor Ron and his wife Joy before they went to Kenya. We celebrated with a cake we brought over as they shared their amazingly romantic love story with us as well as great inspiration!
• FOOD IN GULU is GOOOOD! Who knew? I loved all the traditional food that was made for me as well as the restaurants we went to!
• Getting to know the sweet hearts of my roommates Sarah and Naomi and our chill times in the house together.
• Being present during the Sudan referendum as well as pre-election for Uganda! (Good thing)
• The fact that I heard the word corruption describe the country and/or its people every single day (not over exaggerating)
• There are so many more but I will end with the word STORIES. Uganda is a place for great story telling. I heard an abundance of stories both good and bad. I am now privileged enough to know that there is so much hope for Gulu but I have also been trusted enough to hear about a man’s time in the LRA; another man’s struggle with missing his deceased parents so much it hurts; and a woman’s pain of wanting to become a teacher but fearing her family will marry her off and she will “become a slave” in her words.
I have traveled by Ugandan bus back to Kampala to spend a few days with my good friend Jonah and his family. We are planning to deliver mosquito nets as well as a few baby pigs to a village in the far reaches of central Uganda. Keep sending your good thoughts towards me as there are still great memories to be made here!