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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas 2009

Herbert

Jackie


Queen


Hawah


Mary
Esther (below)


Christmas is one of my least favorite times of the year, for a various number of reasons which I won't go into here. However, since I now have children in the house, I tried to make the best of it.

On Christmas Eve, we all headed to the local market. It was good that we did since it rained the whole day on Christmas day. The girls did manage to get outside when it was light and pick a branch from somewhere (I'm still not sure where they found it) to use as a Christmas tree. I had some leftover balloons from a couple that were here a couple of years back that they decorated the tree with.

We spent most of the day cooking: beef, chicken (which thankfully Mary and Hawah don't fear to kill), matooke, potatoes, spaghetti, greens, cabbage, chapati, pineapple, and watermelon. Ok, so we didn't have to cook the pineapple or the watermelon but it was part of our meal.

Then we laid around watching movies until a couple of guys from church showed up. Mama Herbert (the cook at the school) also came over with Herbert. We then goofed around a bit, ate some more, and then it was time for soda and cake!
So, not exactly an American Christmas, but quite and enjoyable day indeed! Plus all the girls got a few new things. I don't do the whole gift thing but all of them needed a few new things so each got a new skirt and a couple of shirts along with a watch.......

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Was I Thinking?!

Today is Christmas Eve.......duh, you already knew that. So, why did I decide in the middle of the afternoon to go to downtown Kampala? Not a bright idea but fun in a strange sort of way.
I hopped on a boda boda and had the driver drop me off just near the taxi park. I swear half of Uganda's population (ok maybe just a third) were crammed into the 4 streets that I did shopping on. From the top of the hill, it looked like a whole bunch of ants moving around. But, that's where the cheapest shops are. Lots of thieves and stuff too. But, being that I'm on a pretty tight budget, decided to brave it and see what I could find.
You pretty much had to shove your way down the sidewalk and don't bother being offended by stepped on toes, grabbed butts, or any other trivial matter. Just make sure you hold onto your bags tightly and keep moving forward. It was at this point that I realized that I wasn't carrying a purse. Just my coin bag grasped in my fingers.
After all the shoving, the sweat, the noise, etc. I finally managed to finish my Christmas shopping for the girls. One towel, 4 shorts, 4 skirts, and 8 blouses later, I was done! And all for the grand total of less than $30!!!! I've learned to bargain pretty well if I do say so myself. All of my purchases were done in the inside shops (known to be more expensive than the ones on the outside along the street) and no item is secondhand!
Now time to shove my way back up the hill (in the same madness) to get another boda boda to weave in and out of traffic back home.
So, while the day proved to be fruitful and uneventful (I didn't lose any item that I purchased or my coin bag), I don't think I'll willingly repeat it next Christmas Eve. Or maybe I will....... just for the experience. I love big cities!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yosam




During my years here in Uganda, I've been confronted with the reality of AIDS several times. It's heartbreaking. I've watched people suffer and die. I've lost a child that was living with me. I've lost some of my close friends. I watch mothers struggle when they are weak with the disease struggle to provide for their children. I've watched children lose their childhoods taking care of their sick parents. Many are quick to judge people who are infected saying why don't they stop risky behavior. But, the reality is, most women here don't have a choice. Their economic well being is tied to a husband. The support for their children is found in their husband. Most women (especially among the poor) have no voice to refuse sex to a husband, even when they know their husband has been unfaithful. These same women have very little control over birth control, putting their unborn children at risk.Scovia is one of these women. Her husband infected her while in her marriage. He knew he was positive and when he found out she was pregnant ran away, leaving both her and the child HIV+. Scovia has struggled to raise Yosam alone. Often they go without food. Yosam is of school going age but has never been able to attend because of lack of fees. Now Scovia is in the last stages of AIDS. Death will come at any moment. Yosam will be left alone in the world. His grandparents are refusing to take him because he is the son belonging to another family (children belong to the father here) and he's also going to die of AIDS.I got a call a few weeks back from a village leader in Scovia's village. She had heard that I take on children with such problems and was asking if I could take the child. My immediate reaction is that my house is already so full. (It's the holidays and I've got 9 girls living with me). But, I know that God will provide so I told her if she could follow up with all the necessary paperwork, I would take him. I met Scovia last week. I can't imagine being a mother knowing that I'm going to die and my child has no one. While we were talking I saw light in her eyes and a smile on her face. The friend that was with me (her neighbor) said it was the first time she's ever seen Scovia smile. Yosam will be moving into my home on Jan. 12, 2010 and beginning school the following week. I'll be taking him to visit his mom every month and his mom will (if able) come to visit him. Scovia and Yosam are currently not on ARVs. Yosam will begin taking them when he moves in with me. Scovia has little hope. Pray that God revives the fight to live in her. If she can take the ARVs, there is a chance for her to regain strength, have a prolonged life, and be able to take care of Yosam again. We are also working with the grandparents. Pray that their hearts will soften to this little boy and he'll be able to stay connected to his family. By the way, Yosam is not yet sponsored.....


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Words vs. Actions

Today was the day that Jackie's mom and I were to visit the adult AIDS clinic. You have to arrive there at 7 or earlier to actually get seen on that day. So, I got up early and picked her from home (she's staying at Jackie's late auntie's place) and walked to the hospital. However, we arrived to learn that they have changed their system a bit- only 5 new patients were taken in per day plus new patients that had made an appointment. The nurse told us that we could wait until around 10 and if someone didn't show up for their appointment, we could get squeezed in.
So, we SQUEEZED ourselves into the waiting area. The benches are made to hold 4, 5 at the most, adults. We were sitting with 8 people on a bench, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. What made it even more interesting is that benches face each other so you are kneed to knee with the person sitting opposite of you. Let me tell you moving off of the bench was a real experience. You have to pretty much crawl over people to get out. With the number of people that were sitting in the waiting room (and that was only 1 day for the month of Dec.), you could think the whole of Uganda is HIV+.
We all hear praise to the leaders of Uganda that the HIV rate has dramatically fallen to around 6%. I don't believe it. Let me tell you, the reality on the ground looks to be a much different story. The hospital where I took Jackie's mom is only one of many all over the country. Each one caters to thousands. And what about all the people that know they are infected but opt not to go for treatment. Plus the ones that don't yet know they are infected. My guess is that the real rate is hovering around 25-30%. Not much different than the rest of SubSaharan Africa.
I get a lot of slack from people here that I get overly involved with the families that I work with. Perhaps it is true or perhaps that is the reason that I am here. These are deacons and leaders in the church that will tell me to just give the person the money and let it be. Basically just do the minimum.
They said this really harshly when Jackie first came to live with me. Why would I bring in a child that is just going to die? My answer: What if she doesn't die? What if she outlives me? What if they find a cure? None of us are promised tomorrow. Even if you have an HIV- child, there is no promise that the child will not have any complication or live longer than you. I've learned to celebrate each day with her and believe that she will outlive me.
I get told by the same people that I love people too much. I'm doing too much for them. Why do I need to escort someone to the hospital? Because it's as scary as hell. I don't know how many of you have visited third world hospitals but they can be a maze to figure out. I didn't even like going alone when I first started taking Nakato and even this time with Jackie. I would get a friend to go along. Now, I've gotten used and don't have a problem going alone, but I understand the feeling.
I know that if I didn't escort Jackie's mom, she wouldn't have had the strength to do it alone. Today I saw sheer terror on her face when the nurses would ask her a question. She could barely get an answer out. Tears would well up in her eyes and she would look at me to answer for her.
So, yes maybe I get too involved. Maybe I do love too much. But, if I was in their shoes, I would want someone to get too involved, to love too much, to care too much. Aren't we supposed to show our love with our actions and not just our words? Isn't it true that actions speak much louder than words?
By the way, we never did get squeezed in to be seen today. The appointment is set for Jan. 14.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prayer Requests

I was blessed to spend the day today with Jackie's mom. Although where we spent it isn't really my choice of where to get to know someone better, at least some trust was built.
We spent the day at the children's AIDS clinic at the national hospital. This is where Jackie gets all of her ARVs. We went to test the baby.
I know this was a huge step for Jackie's mom and she didn't want to take it alone. I'm glad that I was able to be there. The baby was tested and the results will be back on Jan. 4. Will you pray that miraculously the baby will test negative. As a precaution, the baby was started on septrin, the medicine that is given to every HIV+ person to ward off infections. If the baby is found to be negative, this will be stopped. If positive, it will be continued along with ARVs.
Jackie's mom was also tested and of course tested positive. She's been referred to the adult clinic and is to go on Thur. She has asked me to accompany her.
The whole day I was worried about interferring in her private life. At each phase of the day, I would ask her if she wanted me to wait outside or go with her. Every time, she wanted me to be there.
Jackie's mom is young, only 25 years old. Today, all the fear I had of her was wiped away. I just saw a scared young woman, trying to deny reality, who really needs someone to stand alongside of her. I'm glad God put me in her path and I pray that I can be someone she can rely on, a shoulder to cry on, and maybe that she will somehow see Christ's love.
Of course, each room we went to, the doctors and nurses asked about Jackie. What does this mean for Jackie? Was she going to take her? All of them expressed concern and shared with her mom how much I've struggled with Jackie. Each room, her mom expressed that no she wasn't going to take her back but just continue to visit her. This was bold as it's not seen in a very good light in this culture for a mom to abandon her child. I'm really proud of the way the nurses and doctors handled her, each one with courtesy and compassion, and seeking to show her what is the best next step for her life.
Please keep her mom in your prayers. This road is not going to be easy for her, especially if she and both of her children are needing to be on ARVs. Jackie's mom's name is Catherine and the baby is Sophia.
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On a different note, please also pray for Tom. Tom is one of my kids that I've suspected has some mental handicaps but because he manages to keep his grades up and has good manners, I've not really pushed the effort of having him psychologically tested. I probably should have.
You see, socially Tom's wires don't connect very well. He has few friends. Other teens pick at him and bully him.
He's been in a boarding school where they have really sought to protect him, teach him coping skills, and help him to manage daily life.
I was told that recently another mzungu had made some promises to Tom. Promises of sponsorship from America, taking him into a new home and taking care of him. Something of the story doesn't really add up.
There have been a lot of these stories in the last few years and the results are almost always nasty stories of abuse and human trafficking.
On Saturday Tom disappeared from the home where he lives with several of his cousins and his grandmother. He's not been seen or heard from since.
I'm also skeptical of what the real motive is behind his leaving. Was it really bullying at school as his grandmother and older cousin are saying? Or is it something more? Another one of his cousins that used to live there left a couple of months back and has refused to move back home.
Pray that Tom will return safely, that the real story be revealed, wisdom in how to handle him, and should he really be in a boarding school or does he need to stay at home and attend a day school?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Emotions

This past week I think I've felt every emotion imaginable. It's been a crazy week. A draining week. A good week.
When Jackie's mom took Jackie on Monday, I felt like a part of me had been taken. I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know if she would really bring her back. Would she be given her meds? Would she sleep under a mosquito net? Would she get enough to eat?
Tuesday some of my fears were relieved. Jackie's mom allowed her to call me three times. That set my mind at ease. Her mom would have had to been the one to dial the number and give Jackie the phone.
On Wednesday, Jackie was supposed to be returned to me by 1:00 in the afternoon. That time came and went. Time for Jackie's evening meds came and went. Dinner passed. It was time to sleep. No sign of Jackie an her mom's phone was turned off.
Everyone was feeling it. The other girls in the house didn't believe she would come back. They prayed. Jackie's uncle was on edge. His children told me he was pacing in front of their house and refused to sleep.
Around 10, I received a call. It was Jackie on the line. I told Jackie to put her mom on the phone and since I can't hear Luganda well on the phone, I handed my phone to Esther. Jackie's mom was asking could she bring her now. Of course.
The girls ran down to the gate and waited for two hours. It was like a queen had come home. Even the neighbors and the night guard were excited to see Jackie returned.
The next day I spent several hours with Jackie's mom, along with several people from the village that are all concerned. She opened up a lot. She told me where she lives, Jackie's grandparents' names, phone numbers and village. She also shared that she was not born again.
She told us that she left Jackie in the first place because her new husband would not allow her to come into the marriage with Jackie so she left Jackie with the relatives. That husband has since divorced her and left her with a 2 month old baby. That sounds horrible and most will think that the mother shouldn't have left. But, after living here for so long, I understand. Women have very little rights here. Their well being (especially economic) is strongly tied to their husband. When you have a child and no husband, you have very little hope.
Jackie's mom came back on Friday for our Christmas party. I was glad that she got to see Jackie with her friends, at school, having fun, etc. Her mom shared with me that she never expected to see Jackie doing this well.
When talking with Jackie's mom and her uncle, Jackie's mom said that there is no way she can take Jackie. She can't manage the meds, sending her to school, food, giving her a good place to live. She said she'll continue to come to visit her.
Her mom is also very worried about the baby. Is she also infected? We'll go to the AIDS clinic on Monday and get the baby tested.
Pray for Jackie's mom. Pray that she will have peace, that she won't look behind but to the future, that she will do what she needs to take care of her and the baby's health. Pray that she will continue visiting Jackie and that a strong, trusting relationship can be built between me and Jackie's mom. And mostly pray that her heart will be softened and that she will come to know Christ and His love.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jackie's Mom

For the past 6 months, Jackie has been my constant shadow. Most of this time she has been really sick, meaning that there has been an even greater attachment, or at least I feel that way. One thing I've been praying during those 6 months is for her mom to appear. For many reasons. Legal. Jackie's well being. To keep ties with the family.
She finally came yesterday. It was emotional for everyone, to say the least. She seemed to be very pleased to see Jackie at school, to see her looking healthy and happy, to be speaking English, to be loved. She repeatedly said thank you.
I'm not sure she really came on her own free will to see Jackie. I think it was Jackie's grandmother putting pressure. Jackie's mom told us that the grandmother was fearing that maybe Jackie wasn't ok or that the mom had just dropped her anywhere (which she did). The mother requested to go with Jackie to the village to see her grandmother.
Jackie's relatives (on her father's side) were not wanting her to go. They told the mom you have seen you child. You know she is doing well. You go and give a report.
My heart hurt to let her go but I didn't want the mom to feel like I was taking her child from her or to have hard feelings or to become angry. I told her that on my part I had no problem so long as she could give her medication. She said she would be willing to do that.
That led to our next conversaton: Jackie's health. I had to let Jackie's mom know that I had tested her and that Jackie is HIV+. The mom told me that she herself knew that she (the mom) was positive but that she didn't know about the child. I'm not real sure I believed her. Her mom was sitting there carrying a brand new baby. She asked me if I thought the baby was as well infected. The only way to know is to have the baby tested.
I asked the mom if she herself was taking ARVs. She told me that yes, she is. But a few minutes later, one of the uncles asked her and she said no.
I showed her all the medications, gave her all the instructions, she asked what foods Jackie likes to eat and they set off to the village. She is supposed to return Jackie to me on Wed. At that time, we are supposed to go to the hospital where Jackie gets treatment from to follow up with testing the baby.
Please be praying:
for my peace in these days
that Jackie will be protected, given meds on time daily with instructions followed, and that she will be returned on Wed.
for the mom- for her heart to be open, for me to be able to share with her Christ
the best interest of Jackie- Does this mean her mom will want to be reponsilbe and take over caring for her and I help from a distance with school fees, hospital visits, weekends, etc.? Or does it mean my adopting Jackie (which we talked about very briefly) and keeping a relationship with the family?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day

Every year on the 1st of December since 1988, World AIDS Day is celebrated. According to current UNAIDS estimates, there are now approximately 33.4 million people living with the virus. In 2008, around 2.7 million people became newly infected. There are now drugs that keep HIV infected people alive, living a normal life, reaching their full life expenctancy. However in developing countries, less than half of the people needing these life saving drugs receive them. I've read some estimates that only 1 in 20 children in these countries receive the drugs. This is largely due to stigma. Most parents don't want to admit their children are infected. What will the neighbors say when they are taking all that medicine? What will people think? I might lose my job. I will lose my family and friends. I live in a country where every person knows someone who is living with the disease and many that have died because of it. It has become a part of life. It's a part of life that I don't much like. I'm tired of seeing people die needlessly. I'm tired of hearing of women infected by their husbands (which by the way is the largest percentage of new infections in Uganda). I tired of seeing innocent children suffer because of being unknowingly infected. I'm tired of watching a generation of young people lose their parents early and struggle to survive. It's a disease that has changed my life. It's impacted me in ways I never thought it could. Although, I'm not infected, I live by an alarm for medicine for Jackie. Nakato, a child that was living with me that died from the disease. I've watched my friends die. I've looked after them when they were sick. And all the time I wonder: Why? Why can't they find a cure? Why can't they find better medicines? Why can't we make better choices? Why? Why? Why? Almost every child in my sponsorship program has been impacted by the disease. Some have lost both parents. Others are taking care of one surviving parent. Others have a sister or brother that is infected. Some are themselves infected. There is no child here that can't give you a list of names of people they know that have died of AIDS. Suzan is one of my kids. She's quiet, humble, hard working, and respectful. Her and her brother George are in my sponsorship program. Today was my first time to really hear their story. Like I said, a lot of stigma and shame still here. They finally told me that their dad died of AIDS and there mom is dying of it. They told me how things were hard at home. Their mom can't work because of being sick frequently so their older brother is the one to look for food, rent, etc. George is beginning high school next year and wants to be a doctor. Suzan will be taking entrance exams for a new school this year and hopefully will be in her final year of primary school. These are just two of my kids' stories. I could tell you many more. Each one has one has a story and for most it all goes back to AIDS.




Just To Be A Kid


One of these children is an AIDS orphan.

Two of the children in this photo are from a Sudanes refugee family.






Two of the four children in this photo are HIV+
Two of these children are total orphans. The rest have only one surviving parent.
The last couple of days I've been watching my kids. They amaze me! They all come from all sorts of unimaginable circumstances: AIDS orphans, some are taking care of their mom dying of AIDS, some are children that are raising their siblings. Others are from the streets, driven their by circumstance, not by choice.
But, in the last week, I've got the privilege of watching them get a chance to be what they are: KIDS. They show up early in the morning and the laughter, the shouts, the running, the fun begins. For a few hours, they get to forget their problems. They get to enjoy life. They get to lay aside their worries. They get to eat breakfast. They get to eat lunch. They get to feel loved and cared for.
This week has been stressful for me, worrying about finances. But, in the worry, I get that reminder that it's all worth it. That for every tear I cry, every prayer I pray, my kids get the benefit. All the tears have been worth seeing their smiles!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Whirlwind

I feel like the last three weeks I've been being tossed around in the center of a whirlwind, that is, if a whirlwind has a center.
First, term 3 ended. This ended the first year of the running of the school. I guess that shouldn't have really made me feel upside down. But, it did. It meant preparing end of term exams. Yes, I still think it's crazy to give a 3 year old and exam. But, it's done here so..... when in Rome, do what the Romans do! Then I had to grade those exams and fill out report cards for the kids.
Then there should have been thoughts of rest. NOT. The week after end of term I spent running around trying to get prepared for the holiday program. I was doing that in the midst of collecting kids from schools (because that was when most schools were breaking off) and trying to collect bankslips for school fees for next year, school supply lists, photos, etc. to begin getting ready for next year. That's a whole nother story.... one that has got me in panic mode.... But, like I said that is another story.
Then the beginning of the holiday program. It's been a lot of work but it's been fun for the kids. Of course, we were only half ready on the first day. But, that is the great thing about here. No one noticed. And since we are catering to kids, I don't think they really cared. All they know is they get to run around and play, get help with school work, get to hear about the Bible every day, plus get breakfast and lunch every day. (We actually tried to do away with breakfast because of funds. That worked only for a day....)
In the afternoons, the older kids stick around. The past week they worked on making beaded necklaces. I think this next week they are going to be learning how to make necklaces from recycled paper! And there is a guy at a local school who has a degree in art that is interested in coming to VOLUNTEER to teach the kids art!
I'm disappointed that enough money didn't come in to keep the program going throughout the entire holiday. We'll end on Dec. 18. In Jan. I'm still thinking that maybe at least the older kids can come in the afternoons (after lunch since I can't afford the food) and study and work on projects. Plus they are low maintenance. They don't need much supervision!
And my house is filling up! Of course, Mary and Jackie live here. Esther joined us for the holidays at the beginning of Nov. Today Hawah and Queen joined us. And later this week Juliet, Janet, Shakira, and Penina will be arriving (along with a mzungu on Sunday for a week visit!).
The first thing we did when Queen and Hawah arrived to night was to have a family meeting. It went well. We divided up the household chores. And wrote and posted it on a list. This way it will be hard for someone to deny that they didn't do the work or blame someone else. Pretty much, Jackie and I will be fetching water every day and Jackie is on trash duty daily! The other girls traded things around from day to day.
Now Jackie is sleeping and the other girls are in the other room talking and laughing! I love that sound!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not Forgotten

This is Jonathan or Jonah or Yonah. He is one of the most recent additions to the school. He joined us mid-October just a couple of weeks after his mother's death. Although he was a bit too young to be in school this year, I didn't have the heart to leave him at home while allowing his brother, Kevin who is 4 years old, to come. I let him go ahead and start coming if for nothing else than to eat breakfast and lunch every day. Kevin will move up to Middle Class (sort of like K4 while Jonah repeats Baby Class (kind of like K3).
When Jonah first started coming to school, he would cling to me most of the day. All he wanted was to be held. I spent most of those first few days with him on my hip. Now, he's used to school, and although at times still wants to be carried, he's full of life. He cracks us up with his silly antics and amazing smile!
A little over a week ago, Jonathan had no sponsor. Within minutes of me emailing out my newsletter, one of my "moms" from the states emailed and said that she would sponsor him. So, while life has had a rough start for Jonah, things are looking up. God did not forget this precious little boy. God has made a way for Jonathan to attend school, get two meals a day and to daily hear about how much he is loved by God.
There are millions of other children around the world that while the world forgets about them, God hasn't forgotten. Pray for these children to know that they really aren't forgotten, that there is Someone that truly cares for them and what happens to them, and for more children to get to experience the gift of feeling loved by someone somewhere in the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Encourage, Don't Judge

Life is certainly not fair. How does a child that is so full of life have such a deadly virus living in her body? Why? Why not an old person that has had a chance to live life? Probably I'll never get answers to any of those questions.
I frequently hear comments from people (mostly westerners) about why is AIDS so rampant. Why don't people do something to stop it? Why do parents infect their children? It sounds so heartless and lacking compassion when I hear it. Do people not realize the circumstances that most of these people face that puts them at risk for infection.
I live in a society where women have no rights. Their well being often depends on a man. A woman's no is heard as a yes by men. So, what can a woman do? Really, only pray and trust God that her husband will be faithful. This is rare, the faithfulness, I mean. Remember I live in a society that says it's OK for a man to have many wives.
I don't think any mother would intentionally infect her child, especially not a mother that understands the consequences of this infection. But, what can this mother do? Often she is depending on her husband for economic survival. She has no where to run to. And what man is going to come home and tell his wife, "Oh, by the way, I've been sleeping around. I'm now infected with HIV so you probably are too." Few, if any. So, most mothers don't know they are infected until they begin falling sick. By then it may be too late for the child. So many women here don't have access to prenatal care. This means that preventing transmission to the unborn child is low.
Instead of condemning these women, why not encourage them and help fight for their rights!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Keep Breaking My Heart

I have a visitor coming in a little less than two weeks. Today, I had a random thought on that. I was wondering to myself how my home will look to her. Not my house where I sleep but the country I now call home. I sometimes forget those first moments here in Uganda where I was taking everything in. All the smells, the sounds, what I saw.
I sometimes wish I could see with those eyes again. I looked around as I was thinking this. I was on a boda boda at the time. I couldn't help but think how all these things had become so familiar to me. The piles of trash, the naked children with their bloated stomachs, the mud, the smell of urine, the run down slum, the trenches that have to be jumped (while hoping you don't land in it), and all the poverty.
I wonder if when people first come if they are totally disgusted. But, you see, this has become my world, my home. I sometimes don't notice these things. They've become common to me. I don't get disgusted. Then I wondered to myself, does this mean I'm becoming hardened to the things around me? Am I losing the passion that I once had? Or is that I love these people so much that I have just come to identify with everything and choose not to let it bother me?
I got some answers this afternoon. I try to visit every family of the children that are sponsored at least once a month. Today I felt like going to visit a number of people. I went to the family that lost their mom recently. I hung out there for a bit amidst the flies hovering all around us. I then went to visit two old grandmothers raising their orphaned grandchildren. As we were sitting there chatting and laughing, I felt my heart breaking again. I can help these children with school but there's not much I can do about the situations they are living in. I would love to, but the money is never enough. There are too many people. Too many broken lives. All I can do is give the best hope I know, Christ.
Then I went to visit another family that I've come to love dearly. I've suspected for a long time that the parents and one of their three children are HIV+. They've never admitted it to me but there are just some signs. While I was there today, the mom sent all the children out, asked her sister to come in, shut the door, and then busted into tears. She let it all out. Both of the parents are infected and so is the middle girl. I also cried. I love these people. I love their little girl. She's a gifted child, always number 1 in her class, very bright. But, I know the reality is that she will probably never reach her full potential. Her life will be cut short. She will leave this world before it should be her time.
So, my questions were answered. I've not become hardened. My passion is still there. I walked home fighting back the next flood of tears. But, at the same time very aware of my determination to help at least a handful of these kids make it out of this slum.
God, I pray you keep my heart broken..........

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's a New Day

So, teen life is more than just a little complicated. I hated those years in my life and I'm not sure it's any more fun raising a child through it. We spent yesterday pretty much in a silent house. I have decided though that unless someone is dressing, doors should not be closed.
I had already made plans to go to lunch with a friend that is leaving the country today and wanted Esther to go to the school for lunch. She wanted to stay at home. I relented and allowed her to.
Now, I have few rules in the house. I don't want to have to live by many and I know most of these kids have never had to live by any so to keep things simple, I just try to keep them as few as possible. One of the rules is a particular TV station I do not want turned on. I can't figure out how to block or remove it so I've just told the girls it shouldn't be turned on. Like telling them that is really going to work....... I'm contemplating getting rid of the TV. I never watch it anyway.
So, back to the story. After lunch I picked Jackie up from the school and we went home. Immediately, she turned on the TV and what station was there..... Yeah, you guessed it. The one I don't want on and what was on my screen was a horrifying sight. Teacher Hadijah was with us and we both just told Jackie to turn the TV off. We explained to her that she is a child and should watch something else. Luckily, Dora the Explorer is one of her favorites so I just popped that in on my laptop.
I called Esther into the sitting room and asked her if she had been watching TV today. She told me no. Now no one else had been home since morning and we had it on the Christian station then. I asked her if she was sure she hadn't just put it on for a moment. Again, she said no. I asked if she was absolutely sure she hadn't been watching that particular channel and she denied it.
I then put on the TV and asked her why it was that the station was there on the television when the TV was turned on. It couldn't have been put there on its own.
She kept quiet and went to her room.
I knew we really needed to have another talk. All of this behavior is so unlike her. She's always been my good girl, one of the ones I know I can depend on. This has all been just too weird.
I began asking her some questions and she finally broke down and told me that she had started fearing that one day I wouldn't want them to live with me, that I would tell them they couldn't come back.
It hit me like a train. How many times growing up (and possibly still do) did I act in strange ways to push someone away out of that same fear? All I could do was assure her that I was committed to them and no one was going to tell them to leave, no matter how crazy they acted. We talked about some of the good times we've had together and how much I wanted those to continue. I shared that I want for them some of the things that I never had.
I told her that I still had to punish her, not because I was angry but because I love her. If I let it go, then she would think it was ok to do it again. She had lied in front of others and it would set a bad example for them. Of course, she was disappointed and cried for a while.
But, later that evening, I saw the young lady that I know come back to life. She came in my room with a letter that she had written. She had looked up Proverbs 12:1 and written it down for me along with a note asking me to forgive her and that she understood.
I told her that tomorrow was a new day, a chance to start over and do things differently. And so far today, she has been a joy to be with. We've chatted, laughed, cleaned, and goofed off just like past holidays.
Pray that all of us will survive the holidays (there will be 8 teenage girls in my house + Jackie + me) and that we can all survive these teen years. And just think, after this group, I've got another round to go with Jackie and whoever else God decides to plant in my home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soften Her Heart of Stone

So, how to discipline a teenager. I haven't really figured it out but had to do it tonight. Not sure how effective I was.......
So, we sat down for a family meeting around 8 in the evening: me, Esther, and Mary. Jackie started out with us but fell asleep. I figured she probably didn't need to be that involved since she was pretty oblivious to what was going on and just kept interrupting us as she would burst into her version of the B-I-B-L-E.
The conversation began with a question. Well, really a series of questions. What is a family? How is best to live with one another? How do we relate and be open to each other? From there we talked about choices. Mary answered a few questions. Esther just kept quiet and looked at the wall ahead of her.
Finally, I became direct and told them that I expected them to communicate in the house. I also expect them to tell the truth and to be trustworthy. Then I again explained to them that I had some Christmas things stored in one of the cabinets and some of it had been eaten. I told them that it was best to admit it now and just ask for forgiveness instead of making the problem bigger by lying. Still no admission. I asked both of them directly if they had taken anything.
Then I told them that I knew who had taken it and had removed it from their things. This meant that since they had hidden it, they possibly felt in their heart that it shouldn't have been eaten (sneakiness) and that they then covered it by lying.
We talked (or I talked) about how one lie will lead to another one until it is just a big mess. We talked about reputation and trustworthiness. Again, I asked. Again, both refused.
I directly told Esther that I knew she had taken it. She adamantly denied it. For about two hours we went on like this. Finally, I told her that one thing I wouldn't allow is someone that I can't trust in my house. I have another young girl that I dearly love but she's not allowed to enter my home because she steals and lies. I asked Esther if she wants to be in that category. After a few minutes she told me that she took it. But, there was still no sign of remorse. Just stoniness, like yeah, I did it. So what. The whole time never looking at me, never saying sorry.
We then talked about consequences. Her consequence is to be missing her school trip on Friday. That's when I saw remorse. The tears started. I'm not real sure yet if the remorse was for lying, for getting caught or missing the trip.......
I wish these girls could see their real potential. Esther is a beautiful girl. She's smart. She's a natural leader. I'm praying that God will soften her heart and that she'll use that potential to reach somewhere she's never dreamed or imagined reaching.
But, one thing I'm certain of is that this teen years stuff is no joke. By the time the conversation ended all of us were crying. OK, Jackie cried earlier because of wanting to sleep so by the time we were crying she was knocked out. Esther was most likely crying because of missing the trip. Mary was crying because she felt bad for her friend. I was crying because I had to be the bad guy, which I hate.

How Do You Handle a Teenager That Lies?

I love having all the girls home! I love having a full house! Most of the time I enjoy their noise and the fun they make.
But, I'm discovering that young children, although more work, are somewhat easier to be a "parent" to than teenagers.
For example, Jackie doesn't mind showing me that she loves me. I can correct her. She's teachable. She doesn't stay angry for long when I discipline her. She accepts what I tell her and tries to remember it the next time. Like when she removes her clothes before bathing, she is supposed to put them in her basket for washing. If she leaves them on the floor and I ask her if that is where they go, she quickly picks them up and puts them in the basket.
Teenagers, on the other hand, don't like to be corrected. They think they already know everything. And, discipline is somewhat of a problem. I find it difficult to spank a child that is bigger than me!
So, Esther is home and I am very happy to have her here. But, things change when the girls come home. Mary behaves different. Mary usually is wonderful with Jackie but when the other big girls are home, Mary doesn't want to be bothered with her. I've caught both Mary and Esther hitting Jackie the last couple of days. Now, I know Jackie can also disturb them. She doesn't want to sit still and let them do what they want to do. So, I try to keep her distracted. But, they also have to realize that she's a young kid and sometimes just deal with it.
Mary does ok when she's corrected. She tries. I hope she doesn't get influenced by her peers. Esther, just looks at me like I've grown another head.
Then on top of that she has a habit of sneaking behind my back and lying. Mostly about food. I pretty much let them eat whatever they want to but ask them to be reasonable. Like I don't see why someone should sit down and eat 5 slices of bread at a go.
Then when I ask her if she wants something to eat, she'll tell me no. When I leave the house, food gets raided. I'll come back and a whole bag of chocolate will have been eaten. She's the only one in the house. Jackie and Mary are still at school.
We bought sugarcane the other day and there was a small piece left. Jackie wanted to eat it but she had already had enough. I told her to keep it for after school. We came back and it was gone. I told her to ask Mary and Esther if they had eaten it. She asked them and both said no. How does it just disappear like that. I knew Mary had been at school and unless she had taken it to school, couldn't have eaten it. She told me that when she came back she saw Esther eating it behind the house. I didn't want to confront Esther because I don't want her and Mary to be awkward with each other.
Also, someone had sent me a package of goodies from home. I decided to keep them and share them with all the girls at Christmas time. I had hid them up at the top of one of the cabinets, over where the stove should go. It's not a place that someone would ever really look in.
Mary knew it was there and it has been there for about 3 months without her touching it.
Yesterday, I noticed the cabinet had been left a bit open. When I checked, I found several things had been removed. So, I decided to feel like a snoop and check the girls' things. Jackie is too short but I checked hers anyway. Not that she would have been able to hide it well since we share everything. I found it in Esther's things. I quietly removed it and then locked the rest of the Christmas things in my room.
Later, I told the girls that the things that were there were for Christmas. I told them that some of it had been eaten and asked each one if they had eaten any of it or taken any of it. All replied no.
Now I feel like I have a sneak in the house that also lies. So, now how do I discipline? I don't feel like I should still be having to spank a 14 year old. I feel like now it more of a heart issue.
The reason I say heart issue is because of attitude. Or maybe all teenagers just have attitudes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Esther's Home!!!!!

If any of you can dig out one of my newsletters from about a year ago, you can refresh your memory on who Esther is. Or I can just tell you.
She's a young lady that I have been blessed to know. A total orphan but understands that God is her parent. Both of her parents died of AIDS. After her father died, her stepmother sold off their property and left Esther with nothing. Esther served as a housemaid for a family where she was abused and not sent to school. Then she met another "aunt" who took her in. But, this aunt was poor and lived in a one room house with her husband. The aunt was pregnant around the time that I met Esther. Anyway, to make the long story short, I started sponsoring Esther (yes, I also sponsor some of my kids) and she moved in with me, at least for holidays.
Esther was in Primary 7 the past year and most children prefer going to boarding school for this class so that they are well prepared for the Primary Leaving Exam.
Well, Esther took the exam earlier this week and arrived home yesterday evening! We were so happy to see her. She was greeted by Jackie shouting for her from our 4th floor balcony. I think now the whole village knows that Esther is home! Mary is happy to have someone home that is not over the age of 30 or under the age of 5! She and Esther didn't sleep until well past midnight last night. I'm not real sure how Mary managed to wake up and get to school. I hope she doesn't spend the day dozing in class.
The past year that I've spent with Esther has been wonderful. I've watched her grow and trust God more. She eagerly goes to church. She is awesome at leading her peers in prayer and Bible study. I wish everyone could know the blessing it is to have such a child in their lives.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere...... Except In My House

So, ever since around end of May/early June we've had a water crisis of sorts in my house. First it was because the landlord was still paying the water bill and had forgotten to pay it. So, the whole flat was turned off. And being that this is Uganda it was some time before it was turned back on. Around that same time was when they were giving each apartment their own water meter so that we could begin paying our own bills.
When they did this, suddenly I had no water in my apartment. We tried and tried and no one could figure out why. Finally, the plumber decided that it was because I am on the top floor so there wasn't enough water pressure. OK, so fix it. He tried on numerous occassions but each time he tried I had a new water problem. I could tell you lots of storis on that but for the sake of time and space, I won't.
Then it was discovered that it wasn't the water pressure just for me but for our whole village and surrounding areas. No one was getting much pressure if they were on a hill or above the second floor. OK, so as in Uganda, if you are patient it will eventually work itself out.
Then on Tuesday, they announced on the radio that our village and surrounding ones would have no water anywhere from 3 days to 3 months. No problem. We've not had water anyway so what's the difference.
It's actually been pretty funny. I say funny because all of us around are in the same predicament. So, you see people at the well that would have died if they had known that they were going to be fetching water! You know big people like pastors! So, the well has become a social area. You go there to catch up on what is going on in everyone's lives. It's sort of like going to a hairdresser in the states! Also, when water miraculously appears in the middle of the night for 45 minutes or so and whoever has woke up for a toilet run finds it there and alerts the neighbors! Or when it rains and everyone runs outside with every available bucket, bowl, saucepan, etc. to get as much of this precious free water as they can!
I've really gotten used to it and don't much mind since I know that the water in the well is always there and it's also free. And Jackie is loving it because she can more easily convince me that she shouldn't take a bath when water is off!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Opiyo and Okello


This is Opiyo (on top) and Okello. They are brothers who have had a life that has not been in any one way easy. I met these guys a couple of weeks ago and fell in love with them. They are two of the roughest kids that I have ever met but have the sweetest hearts at the same time. They have never been to school. The reason is their father has eight wives and over thirty children. He only earns about 40$ a month. This means it is impossible for him to support his children.
These boys have had to make their own way of survival. The whole village knows these boys. They sleep in an abandoned building. If it becomes "unabandoned" or if the authorities chase them out, they find another one. For a while, they were sleeping in the house next door to me while it was being built. When the family moved in, they had to look for another place. They spend the days looking for food. Sometimes they look for scrap to sell. Other times they look for people to wash clothes or cars for.
They both desperately want to go to school. They understand that without an education there isn't much in the future for them. This school year is almost over (just 3 weeks remaining for most boarding schools) and obviously they will need to be in a boarding school. I think they will do great in the same school where Tracy is.
Opiyo is a twin and would like for his brother to go to school with him. I've told them that I'll take all three of them to school next year.
They are excited about it and I'm again stretching my faith. None of them are yet sponsored............

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meet Tracy

One day while I had my little kids outside on break, Tracy showed up at my gate. She was dirty, barefoot, and begging for food. I asked her if she was in school. Her answer was an elaborate story, obviously to me she was lying. I asked her to take me to where she sleeps. She agreed and took me to a nearby bar. This is where Tracy and her family sleep. Good enough, one of the village leaders was nearby and I was able to ask him to give me more details on Tracy's story. His response was if I could help the girl to please do so. I didn't immediately agree to take her back to school. I wanted to know her better but she definitely had a pull on my heart.
For weeks after that, I would find Tracy, still dirty, on the streets begging. Sometimes I would find her begging far from where she slept. She was usually with a rough group of boys. She was always excited to see me and would run and jump into my arms. I also spent time getting to know her family better.
Tracy's father died of AIDS a couple of years ago, leaving her mom alone with three children. Tracy's mom is unemployed and drinks a lot, frequently disturbing people around while in her drunken state. Different men come in and out of the house. This has left Tracy to find ways of feeding herself and her younger siblings. Frequently, Tracy would disappear from home for weeks at a time.
At times, I would find Tracy begging with her younger sister, Michell. I decided that this term I would take Tracy back to school. It would definitely need to be a boarding school. I knew that if I took Tracy to school and left Michell at home, I would be leaving Michell in a problem. Michell would be the one to have to look for food.
I decided to take both of the girls back to school. The younger brother was too young to go to school this year so a neighbor agreed to look out for him, making sure he was safe and had something to eat.
When taking the girls to school, I had no sponsor for either one of them. I did it completely on faith. I believed I wouldn't look long for a sponsor for them. Shortly, after the term began, Michell was being sponsored. Not long later, Tracy was being sponsored!
Both girls are doing well in school. I was a bit nervous about taking Tracy to school. Would she stay at school or escape from school to go to look for ways to find money? So far, she has remained at school. Teachers say that she is a bright girl and does well in class. she has just a few behavior issues.

Tracy’s younger brother, Brandon, will be old enough to begin school next year at my school.

Pray that this opportunity will continue to make a difference in the future of the lives of these children!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Butt Is Growing Big!

Since Jackie came home she has been steadily gaining weight and growing taller. When she came to live with me she was wearing clothes for an 18 month old baby. Now those clothes are too small for her although some of her favorites she still insists on squeezing into.
Yesterday was one of those days. She wanted to wear her jeans. Some things I don't see the point in arguing with her on and what she wears is one of them. I figure as long as she's taking her medicine without complaining, other things can be left alone. So, I allowed her to wear the jeans.
I had to go to one of the boarding schools to check on some of my kids. I rarely move anywhere without Jackie tagging along so we headed to the school, Jackie in her too tight jeans. Taxis are almost always overcrowded. They are supposed to carry only 14 passengers. I've been in one with 30 before. Yesterday, we were squeezed in with 20 other people.
Along the route, Jackie decided to let everyone in the taxi know that her jeans were too small for her. She's not in the least bit shy. That was embarrassing enough but then when they asked her why they were too small, Jackie proudly announced to everyone that her butt is growing big. Everyone laughed. I wanted to crawl under a seat. Too bad the taxi was so crowded. I had no where to go.
This proves that although Jackie has been really sick, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her mind. She understood all the comments people made about her size and how she looked. She is too excited that she is growing big!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No More Chemo!

I can't tell you how much my heart is soaring in joy right now. I went to the hospital this morning full of dread. I think I was expecting the worst. The last couple of months have been so hard that I didn't think I could dare hope for good. I was praying for it but once again my faith was really weak.
Anyway, we've spent most of this week at the hospital with Jackie having various test done to see if the cancer had spread, disappeared, or if there was no change. Today was the day we were to meet the doctor. She seemed to be the one holding Jackie's fate in her hands. Would there be more of the dreaded chemo?
we waited for almost 4 hours before the dreaded meeting. First, this was a doctor we have never met with before. She is the SENIOR doctor there and knows more about cancer than probably any doctor in the country. She was amazingly nice. She was so friendly to Jackie and very good and explaining answers to all of my (probably really dumb) questions.
Good news! No more chemo for Jackie. The doctor liked the way things looked. She said while this cancer never really cures that the ARVs keep it suppressed and for the most part there is little risk of Jackie having problems with it again.
She encouraged me to keep doing what I'm doing and said she has seen a huge change in Jackie. I didn't even know she had even noticed us there before. She said she appreciated my diligence even when things weren't easy. Apparently, most people give up quickly.
Basically, everything looks good. Jackie has to have a couple more tests run, nothing major, just some precautions. They will be monitoring her over the next few months/years to watch her progress. This I am very thankful for.
One of the things that they are not too happy with is Jackie has a really bad cough. It started about a week ago when all of us at home had colds. I immediately took her to the doctor which she was immediately given medicine for it. However, due to her weak immune system things just take a long time for her to get over. I've not really worried about it as this is the norm for her. When she came home, she had pneumonia so I suspected it this time as well.
One of the tests that she had done this week was a chest x-ray. Well, it doesn't look like it should. The doctor today said she suspects pneumonia but also wants to test for TB to rule it out.
One thing that I have been warned about is that the first year on the ARVs is the hardest. All the hidden diseases/illnesses in the child's body start coming to light as the body becomes strong enough to begin to fight back. So, there is a possibility that it is TB, but I still think it is pneumonia. It doesn't hurt to check it out though.
The good thing is that all the testing can be done through PIDC (the AIDS clinic) for free as well as any treatment needed (all still free). And, if it does happen to be TB, the clinic will test and treat everyone living in the home, also for free.
While I'm not really looking forward to be treated for TB or always testing positive for it in the future, I do have consolation in knowing that it is treatable and would have been caught really early.
And the good thing is: I'm not worried about it. Even if she has TB, I believe the worst is behind us. NO MORE CHEMO!!!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Pebble Up Her Nose

In the past few months, there have been many times when I've asked myself am I a missionary or a nurse. I've been puked on, cleaned I don't know how many bloody knees, and yesterday removed (well, helped) a pebble from Doreen's nose.
We got moved into the new school building over the weekend. A little side note: I fwas really pleased that all of the parents to the children that will be in the building, some of the parents to my big kids and even some of the big kids themselves showed up to clean, paint and help move things in!
Yesterday was our first day in the new building. The kids were all really excited. They love having a big open space to run around and play. There isn't any playground equipment yet so they pretty much are left up to playing on their own. Usually this is ok.
But, I have one little girl, Doreen, who we have to watch closely. She likes putting anything in her mouth and eating it. This went a step beyond yesterday when she proceeded to stick a pebble up her nose. It didn't seem to be bothering her too much because she came to me and proudly showed me what she had done.
I was like, uh...... you have a pebble in your nose. Great, now what do we do? She then started digging in her nose pushing it further into her nose while we're all shouting for her to keep her finger out of her nose. This is when she started crying. I think she had pushed it a little too far and it was starting to hurt.
I didn't see anyway of get it out. Luckily after me telling her to blow her nose for about five minutes the pebble flew out. We will now be watching that Doreen to make sure that she not only doesn't eat things but that she doesn't stick them in her nose as well. We probably should also be watching out for her sticking things in her ears!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can You Fix Your Hair Please?

So, my 3 year old boys at school are a trip! I've got one that if he was about 30 years older would have already claimed me for his wife. But, since he's just a baby, he'll have to wait and find another one at a later date. I'm sure by that time he'll have forgotten all about Aunt Cari.

Bashir is always very free to speak his mind to me. This is the kid that if you look back a few months you can see the post about the clothes he gave me. The gifts have continued: a purse one day, a CD the next, air time on most days. Now, they are not always new. Of course, the CD was picked up off the side of the road some place along his walk to school and the air time is already used. But, it's the thought that counts!

When I first came back last year, I had almost no hair. It was like an inch long. Not it is just about touching my shoulders. If it wasn't so curly, it probably would touch my shoulders. Anyway, today I combed it and threw it in a ponytail. I was rushing to take Jackie to the doctor so I wasn't minding too much how it looked. I thought it was decent, not wonderful, but at least decent.

Upon walking out of my bedroom into the school room (which is still in my sitting room), Bashir promptly informed me that my hair was really big. Not smart (which in Ugandan English means I wasn't looking good). He then told me to go and cut it. When I asked him how short, he told me to cut it completely off!

Tempting. It's been so hot recently that I have thought about going back to a really short hair style. It would be much easier! But, then again, I get bored with short hair so I guess I'll be keeping it long for a while. I'll just try to make sure my ponytail is not so big, at least when Bashir is around!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not a Mzungu Anymore

I'm not a mzungu anymore! At least to people who know me. So, what is a mzungu? It's what foreigners in Uganda are called. A lot of people (most especially those that are here for a few weeks to visit) enjoy having this shouted at them. But, frankly, I hate it. It's annoying and feels quite racist to me. Maybe it's just me, but it seems rude to just go shouting at someone. If a Ugandan were in the states, and we shouted at them "Hey, Black!" I think he/she would be just as offended.But, over time I have grown accustomed to it. What else can I do? It's so widespread that you can't tell everyone to stop it. I've grown so used to it that I rarely even hear people shouting it anymore. I'm that good at tuning things out and entering my own little world in my mind!
Anyway, back to the point of the story. Jackie loves seeing a mzungu. It doesn't matter young or old, male or female. A couple of weeks ago we had a new "mzungu" arrive in the country. I let her go to the airport with me to pick him up. She quickly claimed him as her mzungu and no one can convince her otherwise.
One of my friends asked her about me, wasn't I her mzungu. Jackie's response: "Aunt Cari IS NOT a mzungu. She's brown like me." All the kids laughed. And I've noticed that none of my kids call me mzungu. They all run to me shouting, aunt Cari. But, they sure do get excited when the see a new "mzungu"!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Still A Long Way To Go

I don't know how I convinced myself that treatment for Jackie's chemo was going to be so simple. Maybe that was my way of keeping my head together. I had somehow understood that she was going to be getting one injection every week for six weeks with maybe some vomiting or other small side effects. WRONG!
First, the first two weeks were I think pretty close to the hardest weeks of my life. I had a screaming (nonstop) child on my hands, no sleep, a disgusting house, and several other children home for the holidays (all with their own issues going on).
After the first couple of weeks it did get easier. At least she wasn't so sick, only week the day of and day after the treatment. Until this past week. Another high temperature, stuffy nose, sore throat. But, at least no screaming.
Then today we went for the 6th treatment, the whole time me thinking it was to be the last. This little bit of celebration was short lived as the doctor told me. "No. This is just the beginning. You see. The tumor is still slightly visible under her foot."
So, we get next week off (that is, except our visit to the AIDS clinic). The week after we get to again experience the joy of sitting in the hospital 12 hours each day waiting in lines so that every part of her body can be tested for any trace of cancer. Then on Oct. 15, we get to see the SENIOR doctor to hear the verdict. I'm told most likely a few more months of chemo. They will combine two different types of chemo. This time around we shouldn't be having to go every week, HOPEFULLY. It should be something like every three weeks.
I did hear that sometimes this type of cancer that they will leave it to be treated with ARVs alone. I'm hoping that this will be a safe, effective alternative for Jackie's case.
And to top all this off, I had to take Jackie to the dentist this past week because of her having pain in her teeth. When I got her, I already knew she had a mouth full of cavities, but being that so much else has been wrong, I've been trying to tackle one thing at a time.
Now, she needs to have several teeth removed which at this point is a huge risk. The doctors are advising against it since both the HIV and the chemo weaken the immune system. They said there is too much risk of infection. The dentist has agreed but said there is still risk as the cavities have entered deep into the roots of her mouth, meaning there is still risk of her having an infection in her bloodstream due to bad teeth. He said if it gets too bad, he and the doctors will have to weigh which way leaves her at most risk of infection and the teeth may have to be removed anyway.
All of this on top of now having no electricity for four days, a leaking toilet (yes, water was finally restored to my apartment after months without), and running out of gas to cook with. Hopefully, I'll get gas to cook with soon (that is, if it's available at this time in the country) and eventually electricity will come back on!
At least there are some bright spots in all this. The new school building is almost ready! The wall is almost finished and we should have the kids in class there next week!
Mary, the quiet angel at home, has greatly improved in school. All of her scores have more than tripled. Her school sends home monthly reports. Her first month in school, her math score was a 5. This month it was 64! Yes, I know that in the U.S. that is a D. But, here the grading scale is completely different so a 64 is good! I know by the end of the year it will be somewhere in the 80s. Math seems to be her best subject and hopefully science will pick up as well. It will be awesome to see her excel in those areas. There are still few women in those fields here in Uganda so if she can keep it up, who knows where she will go!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wasted Potential

Every day I walk through a slum. I'm so used to the place that many times I don't notice the sights or smells that I'm passing by. What I notice are my friends, the children that run to greet me, the old ladies that give me advice, and the unlimited potential.
But, the last few days, walking through has become a bit depressing again. I think death does that to a person. The last few days I've noticed how much of this unlimited potential gets wasted. How many of those teen girls got pregnant out of desperation to be loved? How many mothers live dangerous lives just to feed their children? How many of the men wouldn't abandon their families if they had a steady job? How many of this next generation are going to grow up and continue the cycle of poverty?
The few children I've put in school seems to be of no significance. At least to me at times. I have to constantly remind myself of the story of the boy throwing the starfish back into the ocean. There were so many that it probably didn't make any difference but for each individual starfish it made a difference. That is true for my kids. When I look at the whole slum, what I'm doing is making no impact. But, on each individual life, there is a change.
For most, they will be the first in their family to finish even the simplest level of school: primary school! They now have the chance to dream of even getting into university (some with scholarships) and making it out of the slum, making a difference in their families.
I am proud of each one of my kids. While they may not always make the best choices, they are fighting hard to rise above every obstacle that has been set in their way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Death Still Sucks

The one thing about my "job" that I hate most and can't seem to get used to is death. I see a lot of it and each time it is hard to take. Sometimes it comes by surprise. Other times, we've had a bit of time to prepare for the inevitable.
Last night a call came to my phone in the evening as I was just finishing supper. It was one of my big kids- one that I felt like I had made some major headway with in the last few weeks. She was calling to tell me that her mom had just died. It shocked me. I had just been at her home the day before and her mom was fine.
This is a family of many children. I was talking to the oldest (only 16). The youngest is only 2. This is a family that I've completely enjoyed working with. It's the family that Jackie belongs to. It was her auntie that died. This is a mom that I'm not certain knew Christ. Barriers with her were just beginning to break down. She was still pretty much against the church but at least in the last couple of months she had become a friend. At first, she would barely even look at me. This changed to slowly starting to have conversations with me to within the last few weeks we could sit down and share a meal.
It's a family of really bright chldren. When I met them none were going to school. I've been slowly putting them back into school, one by one.
I spent about half of last night with most of the kids at their home. This morning I had to go to bring the second oldest from boarding school. Let me tell you: it is NOT FUN to tell a child that her mom has died. I don't want to have to do it again, EVER.
I don't know what the future holds. The oldest was supposed to start back to school next year. Will this change her mind as she now feels she has to be mom to the younger ones? Will the ones already in school decide to give up? How will they eat? How will they sleep? Where will they live? So many questions, and at the moment, very few answers.
This is also the blood relative that connected me to Jackie. Now that she is gone, what will happen? Will Jackie's mom now think that there is no relative at home and decide to come for her?
I did get to meet some of the other relatives today and hopefully some relationships can be forged to help all of the children cope. Hopefully the relatives will be willing to help the children and not leave that responsibility fully up to me. Many times here if a child is left without a parent, they are left hopeless. Even if a relative takes them in, only the bare necessities are provided. This doesn't include school. Frequently these children are mistreated and become nothing more than the househelp.
God, help me know what to do. Give me land and a big, big house. Give these children a hope and a future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

African Time

UHHHHHH! One of the things that I really enjoy about Uganda is that time really doesn't exist or at least have much meaning. It means time to really take time to be a friend. It means time to get to know someone. It means time to build relationships.
One bad thing is that I now frequently midjudge time. This happens usually when there is something important happening like picking someone from the airport. It seems every time someone arrives, it means my having to go through town during peak hours of traffic! And no matter what time I leave from my house, I have yet to arrive at the airport to pick someone up on time.
This is my first year to have visitors (perhaps that is the problem). The first was my boss and I was (I think) something like two hours late picking him up! I found him nearly dozing in the waiting area of the airport. Then on top of that I hadn't thought about what to feed him when he arrived. We stopped and got something to eat off the side of the road. Lucky for me, he's an easy going guy and didn't fuss or complain about my mishap.
Next to arrive: Teen Serve. I was again late to the airport. They didn't (until now) know this. Lucky for me they were a big group and it took them a while to get through immigration and to get their luggage. Therefore, I was able to look as though I'd been waiting there all along!
Then there's today. My third visitor and his first impression of me: irresponsibility. I was a little over an hour late picking him up. And I had left my house two and a half hours earlier to drive only 30 kilometers! Crazy! Nuts!
So, my advice to anyone heading to Uganda to visit me. I probably won't be there when you arrive. So, grab a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable, and I'll be there in a few minutes (or a couple or hours)!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Copycat

So, kids really do follow what you do. Jackie repeats almost every thing I say and wants to do just about everything I'm doing. Most times this is pretty funny, except when I'm in a hurry wanting to get something done and she's wanting to do it with me. Like yesterday. What should have taken me about an hour to finish washing clothes turned into an all day washing project. Not completely her fault as in the middle we were interrupted by the landlord. Anyway, that is totally another story.
Anyway, Jackie is very girly and loves carrying around her purse and of course it must be full of money. So, when she takes her medicine without crying or does something without me asking her to around the house, I usually give her 100 shillings (sometime 200 shillings). Not much if you put that in American currency but it works for here.
She's earned quite a bit this way. Frequently, she will sweep under the table or in the kitchen. Yesterday, she even swept outside on the stairs and then told the landlord she had done her work now she needed to be paid. That was good for some laughs! He did give her some shillings though.
What does she do with all this money that she is earning? Mostly she spends it on food. She begs Mary to take her (usually several times a day) to buy cassava, samosas, popcorn, or mandazi.
Yesterday, we were all rushing to get ready to go out in the evening and Jackie didn't want to bathe. I knew that at night it was going to be next to impossible to bathe her (in cold water when she's tired) so I convinced her to go and bathe by adding another 100 shillings.
I was the last to bathe and upon finishing I was told that since I didn't cry when I went to bathe she was giving me 100 shillings! Of course, this morning she asked for it back when she wanted to buy her mandazi. But, at least she bought one for me too!
So, it is really true: Children follow what you do and not what you say.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Herbert

So, you guys read a lot about what I'm doing here in Uganda and a lot has been said about Jackie. But, what about the other kids? I'd like for you to get to know some of them as well. So, each month as I'm doing my newsletter, the child that I write about in the newsletter I will also introduce to those of you reading this blog.

Meet Herbert!
He is one of the students in my school. Herbert is a really smart kid. Although at times the class clown, usually with his feet flipping in the air, he is one of the smartest kids in the class (usually easily acing everything we do). He likes repeating everything said in English and can already recognize every letter in the alphabet, count to 20, recognizes colors, and recognizes numbers. He just turned 3 in April!
All of this is quite an accomplishment for Herbert. I met Herbert around this time last year. He was living with his mom and they were homeless. Shortly after I met them, they moved into a house, if you could really call it a house. The place was smaller than most American showers, had dirt floors and was in a swamp, meaning every time it rained the house was flooded. They had no mattress and rarely ate. His mom would boil water for Herbert to eat for supper at night. At that time, Herbert looked less than two years old. He rarely walked on his own and rarely talked.
Thankfully, Herbert was one of my first students to be sponsored and life changed for him. He now lives in a house about the size of a small American bedroom (not idealistic to most Americans but it has cemented floors and walls and doesn't leak). He gets to attend school where he receives breakfast and lunch every day. His mom is now employed as the school cook meaning other needs at home like soap, toothpaste, etc. are being met.
There are many more children like Herbert waiting to go to school. Please pass the word along and see if we can change the lives of more children.