Friday, July 23, 2010

Half Way Point

So Today is exactly two weeks for me in Uganda. I think you may have been able to tell by the word most frequently used in my blog- 'amazing'- that I having the time of my life. That expression is funny to me, because it seems to come with an implication that there will not be future times ahead of equal impact and amazement. False. Even half way through this experience I can tell that I will never be able to shake the travel bug (sorry mom).

The privilege of meeting these people, and creating this change in the orphan school systems, even the adjustment to new foods, different transportation, and wide variety of societal expectations, have each made me want to learn all that I can about this incredible place.

My final day with the blind school was on Friday and it was wonderful. Eustace was so pleased with our breathing exercises and yoga work, smiling throughout the work, and running to get his camera to capture the rare image of his kids in yoga action! Eustace is amazing (there's that word again) ...but he IS! He is one of the sole advocates for these children- fighting for their education and proper care. Just to be fed, the children have food sponsors who donate a bag of corn grain per week for their dinners, or four chickens a month for their Sunday meals, even monthly donations of salt, pepper, and cayan seasoning- and all because Eustace has worked to send the message that 'these children may be blind, but they still deserve to eat!'

One of the younger boys, Karum was very clearly abused physically prior to being taken in by the HODASSU organization. I say this not because he has marks on his body but because of his strong, negative reaction to touch. As a child without sight, when someone touches you there is a natural reservedness and hesitancy because you aren't able to see that person and therefore trust that person. However, when I ask the children permission to gently show them where their diaphragm is located by gently placing my thumb below the center of their ribs, and I guide my hand with there's so they feel safe, all of the children received the touch accept for Karum. When I placed my left hand on his right shoulder, his first reaction was to swat my hand away in reflex. He then took my wrist, as if to say 'I'm sorry- I didn't mean to push you away', and began to shake slightly with nervous ticks. After a third try, I was able to show Karum his diaphragm and the moment I completed the task, he turned his body from mine and hunched himself to the ground with his arms wrapped around his knees.

What this child must have gone through, I can't imagine. I made it my mission to connect with him for the remaining days of lessons. I spoke to him often (as his English is far-and-away better than the majority of children I've worked with thus far) telling him what a good job he was doing and when he was doing the stretches correctly. I sat next to him after our listening section of class as he rocked back and forth on his heels, in his signature squatted position, holding his knees and asked him which part of the music was his favorite. "The beginning was fast" he said, "I liked that."

Saturday was a rest day for the rest of the group in Jinja, but Michelle and I traveled two hours to Kampala (sorry mom) to work with Fount of Mercy's first organization, ORM, Orphan Rescue Ministry. The beginning of the organization was just that- rescuing mother-less children or abused run-aways from their current street life and taking them in for food, water, and love, and placing them with families that would care for them. Over the past five years, this group has gone from a a dusty, dirty shack, housing thirty children, to four buildings rented out with a Kitchen to cook meals, a sewing room with three machines to make clothing for regular income, and forty four children in school, two of which Fount has just sponsored through college (a lawyer and a business major!).

My work with them today was mostly casual- fun games, sing songs, and unique exercises, with the exception of the oldest group. I wanted them to remember my four hour time there, and I wanted to help them as much as four hours can. I introduced 'positive visualization' to a group of twenty six Kampala orphans, looking at me like 'you crazy Mzungu'...and possibly other things, but I was trying not to notice. I asked them to lie down on their backs and close their eyes- this took fifteen minutes. Some of the kids simply refused, crossing their arms and staring at me as if they don't understand what the translator had just said.

At this point I can fully feel that today was supposed to be my day off. The travel is a lot: the city of Kampala has the intensity of New York- times ten, with an extra added weight of all eyes on the minority, and while most people are kind and call me sweetheart, I'm learning that it's mostly because I carry a purse.

On a normal day, I would take it with a grain of salt (or fine poshu corn)- I would 'brush my shoulders off' as they love to say here, but again, my fatigue is setting in and I am struggling to keep my cool (which I'm sure they can sense). I then I spot one of the kids sleeping in the corner of the room (as is more frequent than you might think due to the heat, travel, and lack of nourishment) and it's like someone smacked me. I immediately feel awful for even thinking about being tired. My adrenaline kicks in partly due to internal embarrassment, and partly due to my dwindling time with them, and I instruct the kids to get up and stand on the left side of the room while I fix the mats in an order that everyone can have there head in the middle and feet off the mat in a circle formation that allows for their spines to be straight.

The kids notice the change in my attitude, and move with a quickened pace, until they are all laying down doing deep breathing. After ten minutes, I tell them to imagine their perfect future- "Picture your goal, your dream in your mind". I tell them to exhale any negative emotion that comes into play, to picture their doubts leaving their bodies through their mouths and drifting far into the sky, where they can't affect their dreams (hippie, I know, but something they have NEVER done before!). When we finish, I ask them to open there eyes and sit up- I say "Who wants to share their vision?" ...crickets.

"Who can tell me what they want their picture to be? What did you see?" Slowly, a young boy raises his hand. He tells me he saw himself flying an airplane. The kids all dart their eyes to me to see how I will respond. I could not have been more delighted! This young boy (maybe fourteen years old) gets it! I tell him that's wonderful! and that I LOVE his vision! Suddenly, more hands go up to share and one-at-a-time, we go around the room hearing the future dreams of these lost-and-found children: "I'm in a lab making medicine for doctors!" "I was fixing cars because I want to be a mechanical engineer!" "I saw myself giving a speech at my academic graduation"..(verbatim!) I told each one to keep their visions in their mind's eye every night before they go to bed. I explained that God can hear your prayers (as they are VERY religious and say 'God will take care of it') but that we have to do our own part here on earth to help our dreams come true. I told them to exhale every bad thought that comes up (one child saw military guns and warfare) and push it out of our minds through breath.

Their goals have inspired me. I don't know how yet, but I think perhaps my nightly vision should be shifting soon! ( :

More soon
Love always,

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