Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas 2009





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


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.
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


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!