Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Difficult lessons

Tom and Moses after church
This is a continuation of my post yesterday, if you didn’t read it go back here and take a second to read it.  I gave a lot of background info about Uganda that will help you to understand everything that is happening.

Sunday started off like every other Sunday and everything was fine until I was waiting to get my coffee.  Usually when I am getting my coffee, the boys wander around the mall to see the huge koi fish in a pond in the parking garage or ride the elevator.  So when one of the boys came to get me and told me that the security guards took one of the boys and one of their friends, I really thought that he was joking.  It wasn’t until I was standing outside of the security office and saw all of the other boys standing around that I knew it was serious.

When I reached the security office, the very first thing that I saw was a really big man, at least 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, walking across the 2 boys’ legs and then backhanding my boy.  To say that I lost it would be the understatement of the century.  A fire and rage came over me like I have never experienced.  I didn’t know I could be so angry.  I just started screaming at him and didn’t stop.  I can’t even tell you what I said.  I was so angry I was shaking and it was like I was possessed.  Words just kept coming.  I just know I kept shouting and demanding that they give me back my children.  There were 3 men in the room at the time, the two boys and me.  Everyone else was standing at the door outside.  Our uncle just happened to be there at the same time and saw it all.  When he tried to enter the office, the man just pushed him back out. He’s always calm and quiet and probably preferring to let me be the crazy one, he just walked back out. 

I wasn’t about to be quieted until I got the boys back, so I entered the office and just started screaming.  It was like I was on fire.  I remember the one that stepped on the boys doing all of the talking, when I stopped screaming long enough for him to say a word that is.  I don’t think anyone expected it from me.  Even me, I didn’t think I could be so demanding and absolutely out of control.  At that moment, I didn’t care that I was shouting and people were stopped and staring.  I was furious that that man had not only stepped on the boys, but also slapped the one so hard and refused to let them go.  Had he not stepped on them or hit the one, I probably could have kept my crazy hidden, talked things out like a reasonable adult, and we would have been on our way.  But something about seeing a grown man step and hit a boy that I love more than anything, made me completely lose it.  It made me lose all rational thinking.  It is actually a wonder that that man didn’t hit me.  I was totally challenging his authority as a man and not backing down.  A woman definitely is not supposed to shout at a man and demand him anything.  And there I was, breaking all of the rules and in front of an audience of about 30 people by then to boot.  It is a wonder he didn’t hit me just to prove that he was a man.  Thank God he didn’t because it wouldn’t have been just a crazy lady screaming, but her crazy children trying to kill a man for hitting her.

He tried to justify his actions and say the boys had bad manners, but I just kept screaming.  He was upset because the boys were playing around and it seemed that they were fighting.  I tried to explain to him that they were kids and made a mistake and chose the wrong place to play.  He didn’t care.  He wanted to cane them and there was no way that I was letting that happen.  Things didn’t calm down until another man came into the room.  Thankfully, he wasn’t a complete jerkface or at least realized that I wasn’t going to stop screaming until he let the kids go.  By this time, so many people had gathered around to watch the crazy lady screaming.  By the end, the new man actually apologized to me and let the boys go.

The Koi fish we always have to make sure is around
My boy was so hurt and upset, his eyes were bloodshot and he had a cut on his lip.  The other boy was so terrified, he couldn’t go and find his aunt without me.  I sent the boys on their way home, as I went to do an errand.  When I got home, I found the one and asked if he was ok.  He said not yet, but he would be.  I told him that I was sorry that happened to him.  He told me that he learned something from it.  I asked if it was that those men had bad manners and abused their powers.  He told me yes, but also that it isn’t an option anymore for him but he must study to be a lawyer.  I told him that was so good because the world needed someone like him to stand up for people and fight against things like that.

What he said next completely shocked me.  I was actually feeling badly because if I had gotten there 20 seconds sooner that man wouldn’t have touched them, or if I had been paying attention and not getting coffee, they would have never been taken.  But he said, “thank you.”  I asked him for what and he said for fighting for them.  I responded by saying that I loved him more than anything, would do anything for him and I will always fight for him.

Vincent at the mall
I didn’t have to think twice.  When I saw that man step on them, I was already asking what is going on.  When he hit him, I lost it.  While maybe someone else might not have turned into a Tasmanian Devil like me, I think most people’s reactions would have been outrage also.  But for him, my reaction was strange and unexpected.  I don’t think he has ever had anyone fight for him, probably none of them have.  I am sorry that I lost my temper and went crazy, its not becoming on anyone, but I am not sorry that they all saw how far I would go to defend them.  They needed to see that.  They needed to know.  We have been talking a lot about family lately and how blood doesn’t make family.  Love and understanding makes family.  This boy in particular has really struggled lately.  We were actually in world war 3 for the last week or so and finally just made up on Saturday.  He questions and tests my love for him constantly.  He can’t believe or accept, that when I tell him I love him that it is true.  He can’t let go of his hurt and anger over losing his mom.  I just reassured him on Saturday that while I wasn’t his mom I loved him more than anything and would do absolutely anything for him.  Sunday he got to see that in action.  I see so much potential in him but he can’t stay focused in school, but maybe now he realizes what is at stake.

He actually learned two lessons yesterday:  that the world needs him as a lawyer and he is committed to that and that I will protect him no matter what.  It is terrible that it took a bully to prove those things to him, but now he knows.  Now they all do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Background info

As I type, I am sitting at a guest house in Rwanda listening to a huge rain downpour.  I had to renew my visa, so what better excuse to visit a really beautiful country that is completely opposite to Uganda.  Rwanda gives me hope for Uganda.  The roads are paved.  Things are orderly.  Things are clean.  People drive normally.  There are traffic lights that people obey.  Maybe Uganda will jump on those bandwagons????  A girl can dream…

Anyway, this is the first part of a two part post.  I was typing out the whole post earlier and realized it was getting really long, so I am going to give you all of the background info you will need to understand tomorrow's post.

First up, we basically do the same thing every Sunday.   I go to church in the city with about 10-12 boys. We finally found a home church right before Christmas.  It has been a huge relief and blessing.  I get so tired of the local churches and the rubbish that is Wealth Prosperity Gospel that they preach.  Our church is in a mall in Kampala at the movie theater.  Very weird, I know.  But we love it.  Kampala is a church plant and the main campus is in the UK.  They send the preaches to each of the different campuses and we watch them a week behind the church in the UK. 

Our favorite Koi at the mall
Our Sunday schedule is as follows:  Wake up early so we can take the 30 minute taxi ride to town, and then walk the 40 minutes from the taxi park to the mall.  We barely make it in time for the start of church because wrangling 11 boys to leave the house is not an easy chore.  It usually ends with me frustrated and shouting bye as I walk out of the gate and the boys chasing after me 2 minutes later.  After church, we go to the huge chain supermarket’s bakery to get a snack.  Then I get my weekly treat of super delicious coffee (Only time this coffee addict gets the stuff.  Ugandans are tea drinkers and I have no choice in the matter, so I am becoming one also.) and we leave to walk back to the taxi park.  And that is our Sunday.

The pond we have to see every week
A bit about the mall,  it  is a really spiffy place.  I don’t know who actually shops there because it is insanely expensive and I am pretty sure that you can find the same things on the streets of Kampala for 1/20 of the price.  But it is the place many white people and wealthy Ugandans go.  They expect everything to be perfectly in order there.  I think if you breathe wrong, people will look at you funny. 

Next up, child raising in Uganda.  The biggest and most difficult thing to deal with is
children are to be seen and not heard in Uganda.  There is no playing.  There is no talking loudly.  There is no having an opinion.  There is no being a kid.  Kids in Uganda blindly do what they are told and if they choose to disobey or question authority, there are serious consequences, i.e. beatings and canings or worse.  Offences can be anything from not sitting properly or spilling something to crying, or something more serious like stealing.  Talking and advising does not exist.  There is no patience or grace or forgiveness.  There is only do what you are told and expected or get beaten.  I have been told on several occasions that I don't know how to raise African children simply because I am not tough enough on them.  I refuse to send them away or chase them from the home for the simplest of mistakes.  Instead I prefer to try to love them enough each day that they can believe there is good in this world.  Not to mention the only way to heal is to be filled with love, but I have been told I am wrong because I believe in the power of love, compassion and forgiveness. Unconditional love does not exist in Uganda.  There is no loving someone simply because you do.  It is all behavior based or about what the other person can do for you.  And no one gets how I can still completely love these boys, even when they are breaking my heart over and over.  The worst thing is anyone believes that they can beat anyone's children, at any time, for any grievance that they feel they have.

The dinosaur statues that we love to pose with at the mall
And lastly, how women are treated.  Just like children, for the most part women are to be seen and not heard.  They are treated like they are only good for making babies, cleaning the house and cooking food. Their opinions are disregarded.  Obscene things are said to them.  Why even just yesterday, a man completely serious, offered the boys a gun to leave me with him.  Men feel they can treat women however and if a wife doesn't do exactly what her husband wants, then it is perfectly ok for him to beat her.  It is ok for a man to have many girlfriends and a wife.  Women are just objects to be used, not appreciated or cherished.  They should do what they are told, and that is it.  And I don't fit into any of those boxes.  When I know I am right, I don't fear to voice my opinion and make sure everyone knows.  I refuse to play these games of respecting a man when he can't respect me, especially when I know he is in the wrong.  If you are wrong, I don't care who you are, I am going to tell you.  Most days that doesn't go over so well, but I stand my ground, especially with matters concerning the boys.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for the exciting part of the story!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Growing up

Somehow in my mind, these boys never age.  They are still the cutie pie little babies I met on the street.  (Don't tell them I said that!  They scream every time I call them babies!!!)  Ok, they were never babies since I have known them, but they were considerably smaller. 

Recently, it has been like I have woken up from a really long nap and seen them for the first time in years and I don't like it.  The other night, one of the boys was standing in my room asking for something and as I was looking at him, it was like I hadn't been seeing him for the last 7 months.  I suddenly realized he was growing up and definitely was not the small boy I picked from the streets 3 years ago!  He had muscles and lost all of his baby fat.  He was taller than I remembered and doesn't look like a kid anymore.  UGH!!!  What happened???

Anyone know how to keep their kids from growing up????

Yesterday at church, I was looking at a guy that was sitting next to one of the boys but his head was down.  I was wondering who it was and then realized it was one of the boys.  He was dressed really nicely, dress pants and a button down shirt, and as he got up to tell the church all of the ways he was thankful to God, I wondered what happened to him.  He was suddenly much taller and way more grown up than I remembered.  I almost started crying in church.

I realized that the time I have left with some of these boys is so short.  Soon, they will want to start life on their own and will move out.  One boy already has, but I wonder what will happen when they all do.  That is the goal, to have them all out in the world on their own, but the reality of it has been setting in.  Quickly! 

When we got home from church, I told him that he looked so grown up and what happened to my little baby.  He laughed and said he wasn't a baby but he would always be mine. 

Heart officially melted.

I worry about if these boys are learning enough and are going to be ready to enter the real world.  When the same boy got up at church to thank God, I was a little worried because it didn't sound like thanksgivings.  But as he continued to talk, I think I beamed with pride.  He has grown up and changed so much.  We still have a ways to go, but I know if he had to leave home tomorrow, I know he would be fine.  They will all be fine.

At church he told how he had to go back to his village because his grandmother was sick.  He told how he found out that he had lost 2 people while he has been gone, his uncle and his other grandparent.  He said he couldn't cry though because he wasn't sad.  He said that they believed in God and he knew that they were in a better place now, where they weren't suffering anymore.  He said that he knew that they were now happy, so he was happy.  He also cautioned the whole church that while we were all in the city enjoying life, our family in the village might be suffering and we should take the time to visit before it was too late.  

Maybe growing up isn't so bad after all...

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Sometimes I think the culture here is too much to overcome.  If you have been following Uganda in the news recently, it is one crazy bill after another being passed over seemingly senseless things when there are real problems and issues that need to be addressed.

Living in a culture where women are second class citizens can be exhausting and infuriating.  Men will cut you in line because they think they should be first.  They will say the most offensive of things because they think that you don't deserve respect.  That is just the beginning...it goes downhill from there.

But at home, I try really, really hard to teach these boys differently.  But sometimes I think that the culture of this country is too much for little, old me to overcome.  Many times my views and opinions are dismissed not only because I am a woman but also because I am an outsider.  They can be swept aside by simply saying she doesn't get it, she isn't from here.  Which is totally true.  Many things I will never get because even if I die in Uganda, I will still die as an outsider.

What doesn't help the situation of trying to teach these boys to be different than the rest of the men in Uganda is they have, for the most part, never had a kind woman in their life.  The person that sent them to the streets?  Usually a step-mom, mom or grandma.  The people that were ruthless to them on the streets?  Women.  So how do I teach these boys that have only been persecuted by women to have respect for women?

Great question.

I fail to answer it properly everyday.  I just try my best to show them endless and unconditional love and pray that it is all going to be fine.

But some days, I get so frustrated because when I feel like we are making strides forward, something happens and they behave just like everyone else.  And I feel like I am failing and it is too much and they have been exposed to the bad behavior for too long and nothing is going to change.

That is how I felt a few days ago and when I was on the verge of tears, one of the boys came into my room.  His English isn't the best still, but he is always checking on me and making sure I am fine.  When we don't know the words to say to each other, we just sit there.  If you saw him, you would definitely be afraid, especially if it was late at night and in a dark alley.  He is taller and more muscular than your average Ugandan, or most men for that matter.  If we are playing around and I try to prevent him from passing me, he simply picks me up and moves me to where he wants me.  If we arm wrestle, I have to put my whole body on his arm to just try and move it.  But he is like a gentle giant.  A huge teddy bear.  Incapable of hurting a flea.

So just as I was convinced that the boys were doomed to making terrible choices and incapable of respecting women and their future wives were going to be miserable and it was all my fault (I'm a bit dramatic, I know...), he came into my room and sat down.  He looked at my feet and saw that they were filthy.  I commented that I knew that and I needed to wash them.  His response was to get up, get a basin of water and proceed to wash my feet and scrub them with a pumice stone.

At that moment, I knew that everything would be fine.  The boys do make mistakes.  They do let the culture overtake them sometimes, but underneath they have hearts of gold and their future wives and children are going to be lucky. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I thought she would be happy...

Two weeks ago at church, our pastor told us about one of the boys on the street that comes to church.  He was especially out of control that day and when she stopped him to find out why, he told her that he just found out that his aunt had died several months back.

Most, no probably all, of the boys would rather be at home with their families than with me.  They did not choose a life on the streets.  They did not choose to be born into a family that wouldn't cherish and love them.  Every single one of them wishes they would have never had to spend a single torturous night or day on the street.  No matter what happens with their families, that chance to have their wish come true-to be a loved and cherished part of their families-will be taken over and over again, even if it ends badly.

I want to protect these boys, but sometimes I can't.  I want to keep them locked up at home, so they don't have to face anymore pain from this world.  Not only is it not possible, they are all bigger and stronger than me, but it isn't practical either.  The world is a cruel place which they know all too well.  They have suffered more in their short lives than most people would in ten.  But what kills me the most is when they suffer again at the hands of their families.  When once again, their families are let back into their lives, and they fail to see the amazing and wonderful young men these boys have turned into.  I just want to shake them, or maybe punch them.

The story from church really upset one of the boys and all Sunday and Monday he was super down until he finally told me why.  I told him it was fine and he shouldn't worry about his mother.  I reassured him that she was fine and he could go on the weekend to visit her.  He had seen her several months back but was worried because she is getting older.  I didn't even think that there would be any problems with a visit back home.  He talks a lot about his mom and she seems to be a well put together person.  She seems to be reasonable and even kind.  I knew the problem was an older brother and the mom feels like she has to defer to him because he is the one providing these days.

So off he went last Saturday to his village.  No great goodbye because he was supposed to be home on Monday for school.  He called me and told me he reached his grandma's house and he seemed so happy to see her.  His grandma was fine and happy to see him.  He told me she was cooking for him and then he would go on to his mom's house.  We said, "I love you" and hung up the phone.  A few hours later he called me sounding so sad and told me he would be home on Sunday.  He told me that he couldn't stay and that I shouldn't worry because he was fine but he would see me on Sunday.  Of course I immediately thought the worst and started to worry. 

When I got home from church on Sunday, I was so happy to know he was back.  It was like I could breath again.  It was only one day, 24 hours, but it seemed like an eternity.  At first, he didn't want to say what happened.  When he finally did, he told me about how his mother just yelled at him and his brother wanted to fight.  They said horrible things to him and blamed him for things that weren't in his control.  In the saddest voice ever he told me, "I thought she would be happy to see me."  How I didn't burst into tears at that moment, I am not sure.  I reassured him that I loved him more than anything and I was so happy to see him and he would always have a home with me.

He never wants to go and see his mom again and I don't blame him.  It breaks my heart because this boy is going to change Uganda.  He is so smart and kind.  He hurts for those hurting and breaks for the injustices in the world.  He is the wisest 16 year old I know.  One day, many lives are going to be impacted by his.  They will know love and compassion because of him.

The same thing happened to another boy.  He came back from the village so sad because he said his mom wasn't happy to see him.  I don't understand how anyone could not want these boys.  They drive me absolutely crazy sometimes, but I wouldn't trade a single one of them for all of the gold in the world.  When they are gone, I miss them.  When one of the boys made the choice that he didn't want to live here anymore, I could hardly breath and couldn't get out of bed.  I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest.  I just don't get how their families can live without them.

God can use even the worst of situations to bring Him glory.  I see that happening.  I know it is going to happen.  These boys know pain.  They know suffering.  And one day, God will turn it into a great story of redemption and healing.  I don't know why they have to suffer now.  They even ask "why?" and I don't have an answer, but God's plans are good and I trust that.  I know His plan was to bring them into my life long before I even knew Uganda existed.  And I know the plans He has for all of us are greater than any pain or suffering we are feeling at this moment.  So for now, I will love the boys in my care and pray that God will continue to heal their hearts and their pain would become awesome stories of healing and redemption.  Would you pray for that also?