"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Again I am awakened by the sun as it comes through my window, and again I look outside to see the colorfully streaked sky and the two storks whose hulking perches are always silhouetted against it.

Having been here for close to four weeks, there is a predictable rhythm to my days now.

There are predictable faces to see as my morning progresses, the same people to greet and from whom to receive greetings, the same driver to navigate the traffic on our way to Kajjansi, the same children to hug, the same grounds to roam, the same classroom in which I set up my “art class” and the predictable sounds and smells of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. It is comforting.

Being here at Christmas has had its pros and cons. We have definitely created an emphasis on “things.” We arrived with a lot of clothing and even more gifts. The public distribution of the clothing yesterday caused me to question the sense it made, as some children received two shirts, their friend only one – or a child really wanted a white ball cap but was given an orange one – or a child really needed a pair of shoes and there was not the right size available. It was a chaotic scene; I am not so sure our involvement in handing these things out ourselves was the right way to go.

Today is the day the gifts will be distributed, and I have asked Rosemary to do this without our participation; after all, they have done this before and know the best way to proceed. Of course, Team 2 will be there to watch and see the joy on the faces of the children, but I realize that we don’t need to step in where their rhythm has already been established after years of doing this.

Of course, some of the children are very, very sad this time of year. “Celebrating” any holiday without their mom and dad is difficult, to say the least. There are a lot of long faces.

But there are moments of joy, as well. Yesterday the children performed song and dance for us. Randy (our gardener extraordinaire) had formed a singing group made up of the kids who helped him clear the land and plant it. The “Carrot, Eggplant and Cucumber Singers” led by Randy sang several songs, and the looks on the faces of the children in the audience were amazing. Then, Tom and Randy sang IN LUGANDAN a Christmas song. That they had taken the time to learn it and perform it made the kids feel extra special. They were jumping out of their seats, and their faces were beaming. We adults were pretty darn impressed, as well.

Now THAT is a gift we all could share.

Linda gave a presentation about Chanukah and lit candles. I’m not sure how much the children understood, but it was nice to include that history and point of view, given that several of us on Team 2 are Jewish.

We set up a game room and we, along with the kids, decorated the grounds with sidewalk chalk drawings and a hopscotch game.

On the way home in the van last night, each of us physically and emotionally drained, those of us in the “back of the bus” sang Christmas carols. Our voices rose up in unison, breaking with each pothole our driver hit. We sang every carol we could think of, looking at the throngs of people who were outside our windows, gathering in the darkness of the Kampala night.

Another joyful piece of yesterday: the children had decorated their dorm rooms. They had gathered leafy branches to put on their bedposts, flowers to adorn the doorways, and they had fashioned Christmas trees out of foliage. Their rooms were tidy, their colorful blankets neatly tucked under the edges of their new mattresses. Some had found balloons somewhere and had strung them from the wooden rafters with banana fiber, twine and toilet paper. It was one of the sweetest scenes I had ever laid eyes on.

And on a personal note – one other piece of joy: sharing all of this with my son, Max.

We should all have the opportunity to step out of our comfort zones with our children at our side. I feel so lucky to have him here with me. He has created his own rhythms, his own set of contributions, his own friends and even a little family. Douglas is his “older brother” and Tonny, Jacob, Habib, Nelson, and Nicky his younger ones. They walk around holding hands.

There were tears shed yesterday, both by kids and adults.

I am learning that this is part of the cadence of being in Africa.

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