June 15th: Selfies & Snotty Noses

7:27 AM

June 15th: 

Every day that we have been here has held purpose, but this one held a different type of purpose. We woke up early to meet Justin in town. Justin is an Acholi man that has recently started an orphanage called True Vine. True Vine consists of 21 children, 11 boys and 10 girls. Drew met Justin last year and has been working with him in an effort to raise funds for the orphanage.

From the moment we arrived, we felt overwhelmed with hospitality. We were greeted with hugs and handshakes. The children performed songs and traditional dances for us. The songs spoke about overcoming, praising the Lord and being grateful. It was the sweetest sound that has ever touched my ears.

Afterwards, Justin gave us a tour of the surroundings. The first thing I noticed is how humble the quarters that they were living in were. The boys room consisted of a bunk bed and a spare bed, the girls a single bunk bed. The home used to be at a village called Mede, about 2 hours away, but they decided to switch locations to allow the kids to attend better schools. Justin has a big heart, I could tell from the moment he shook my hand at the market. I’m praying that one day his children’s home will match his heart and that he will receive the resources necessary to properly raise these kids. They are currently working on growing crops and selling bags. Drew and Justin explained to us that growing an orphanage is an especially difficult, long process here.

Not too far into our visit, Joseph, Justin’s young son, came down with a sickness that they later discovered to be malaria. Justin and Drew had to leave on boda’s to get Joseph to the health clinic so we stayed back with the children. We asked Justin what we could do to help him out and he told us this:

“Play is the most important thing we do, because when they play, they forget the past. For the moment they forget that they are orphans”

And did we play. Everything from duck duck goose, to jumprope, to games I couldn’t tell you the name of nor begin to explain. At one point, Lindsay brought out a small musical box which evolved into a major dance party. This somehow evolved into the making of a music video on my iphone. Once my iphone was introduced to the situation, things started to get crazy. It turns out by the shrieks and screams that the children LOVE Justin Bieber and it didn’t even matter that the speaker was quiet because the kids knew every word. After our music video/dance party, my iphone went missing for a good hour or so. It came back to me with about 200 new photos, a third of them a result of the children discovering how to take selfies. I think I will treasure those forever.

The children were wonderful. They ranged from as small as baby Miriam to as old as fifteen year old Patricia. It was wonderful to talk to some of the older girls who helped Justin out a lot with the younger children. They are some strong women. At one point, they stole us away from the crowd and brought us into their room. They handed us letters and photos of them so that we wouldn’t forget who they were. I don’t know how I possibly could forget. They even gave Anna an acholi name; Lamaro, which means somebody who loves. I received my acholi name last year at the end of the road and I have treasured it ever since; Lakica, which means to be merciful. Anna brought a soccer ball with her for the boys, a bit of an upgrade from the plastic bag wrapped ball they were playing with before. I decided to sit out on the soccer game but was so impressed by their endurance, especially in the heat of the day. I am not sure if the heat is something that I will ever get used to.

One of the funniest kids was a young boy named James. He had the biggest toothy smile and pants that reminded me of something straight out of Aladdin. The first time I met him, he stuck out his hand and I greeted him by saying “Hello, my friend”. From then on, every time he would see me he would come up and say “Hello, my friend”. Nothing made me smile more, you can never have too many friends.

The ones most precious to me were Joann and Dorothy. Joann’s snotty nose and missing teeth, combined with Dorothy’s shy smile made me fall for the duo immediately. One was usually attached to my hip until it was time to dance, then they became my sassy dance teachers. Their sass let me know that I was not very good. There is a video, but I am not sure if I’m ready for that to be released to the public quite yet. I will say that the girls know how to shake their hips and that is something that I am still working on. Boni, Papito and Innocent showed up just in time to be our dance partners. An audience started to form from the surrounding community. There was a large sense of community in general, from neighboring kids coming over to play soccer to elders of the community walking over to meet us. I believe the phrase, “it takes a village”, may have originated from this very one.  

For lunch, some women prepared a traditional Acholi meal for us. The meal consisted of  rice, beans, sweet potatoes, malakwon (a traditional peanut like sauce), and boo (the spinach type vegetable we ate the other day) mixed with eggs. It was delicious and a perfect supplement for our exhausted bodies.

At the end of our visit, they walked us out to the street, holding our hands and singing us farewell songs. The path to the road was fairly long and I never wanted it to end. Luckily they brought pens to write their names on our hands. Although that has already faded, I still remember them vividly and luckily I have 60 selfies to remind me how beautiful and joyful they were. I plan on going back before I leave but if not, I was blessed to have met them.

I was talking to Lindsay later that night on a boda ride, and we were discussing our past hesitance with short term missions and this white person’s fascinations with holding African babies. But then we started to figure out that there are many un-held babies, many children who were orphaned from the war, and many who easily get lost in a village of children. And although, I still have my opinions about short term missions, I can not discount the children at True Vine and their eagerness to touch and connect. While our intentions should never be just to go and hold them, some of those children hadn’t been held enough in their lives.

After heading back to the apartment, and getting a quick bite to eat, we headed to St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital. They were having a celebration for the one of the founders of the hospital who had passed away years back. The hospital had served as a safe haven for thousands of young boys and girls during the night commuting days of the war. 

The first time that I saw Boni was on a screen in Invisible Children’s first documentary. The documentary showed him and his best friend, Tony, walking miles from their homes to sleep in a basement in order to avoid abduction. The basement would flood often, forcing them to mop out the water before going to sleep. Tonight, Boni took me to that same basement. With our headlamps, we walked in and I recognized it immediately from the film. It was dark, and dirty, and certainly not suitable for living. I asked Boni if it was difficult for him to come back? He told me that it was strange but that he tries to remember the good memories from it, like sneaking out in the middle of the night to break into the pool, and all the jokes he had with the residents there. Talk about embracing a situation. The basement was located under one of the buildings at the hospital.

We specifically went to the hospital to watch Boni’s cousin (a famous Ugandan musician, life is so weird) who was performing there. The show was lively, and the middle aged man standing next to me nearly proposed to me/might have actually proposed to me but I could barely hear over the blasting speakers. All I know is that I heard something about marriage, so I grabbed Anna, Lindsay and the boys and we escaped to the dance floor. We found ourselves dancing with some of the locals at the same hospital where night commuting had occurred almost ten years ago. The Lord certainly has an ability to turn mourning into dancing, literally.

After St. Mary’s, seven of us piled into a taxi and headed back to the apartment. We watched “The Rough Cut”, Invisible Children’s first documentary, with Boni, Papito and Innocent. I have seen the film many times before, but this time was different. It was a unique experience of realizing how far they had come and how possible restoration is. Those boys, however, are the lucky ones. They were discovered and because of that, their opportunities have allowed them to succeed. Unfortunately, Gulu is still a town in recovery and the war has left many orphaned and even more without the proper rehabilitation that they needed. It has been encouraging to see the amount of NGO’s working towards rehabilitation but also apparent that not even all the NGO’s present have the capacity to meet the need. 

I don’t know if photos do any justice, but I hope you can tell that I am abundantly happy here. My heart is full for the people and the places that I have been introduced to and every day that passes is a day I wish I just had more time. And for those of you who were wondering, my chacos tan line is coming along quite well. 

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