“I couldn’t get time to talk with you because my heart is full of joy and tears.” (14-year old Daniel, on our leaving)
Those two comments bookended our trip to the village of Kaihura, Uganda last Summer. One came in the midst of the singing and laughter that greeted us on our arrival; the other, jotted in a note given to me by Daniel’s friend on our leaving. It’s both difficult to believe it has been a year since we were there and to believe that in less than a month we will return.
Kaihura is not much more than a dusty stop on the road between Kampala and Ft. Portal, in the western part of Uganda not far from the border with the Congo. The business district consists of a few tin-roofed shacks, painted with advertisements for cell phone companies. Dirt roads and paths lead off road to homes, most of which are single room adobe buildings with thatch roofs or, for the fortunate few, tin roofs. Windows are square holes; latrines, makeshift; electricity non-existent. And yet, several thousand children, many of whom are orphaned, live in and around Kaihura, attending one of the three schools there, some walking several miles to school each day where they sit in classes sometimes with up to 100 students.
Here is here and there is there, and yet I have not forgotten them. I’ve been reading my journal of last summer. I realize I wrote so little because I was so exhausted every night when I lay down to sleep. My scribblings while in the van were barely legible, given the potholes and bumps along the way. And yet, something of the experience comes through, some words like icons bid me look through them to the richly peopled landscape that lies beyond. “I awoke to the sounds of a busy city, a man singing, women talking, traffic streaming by, the sound of sweeping” (Kampala), “They carried our luggage up the hill from the bus stop, the man next to me repeating ‘This is God’s work, this is God’s work” (Kaihura). At one point I say, maybe with too much drama, that “each day comes here with a hundred deaths, a moment by moment sacrifice of our own wants, needs, and desires for someone else. . . . I discover I am a novice at forsaking self-love.” I remember not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, craving water and wanting to make sure I have enough, wanting just a little time alone to think, time to lie down and rest in the middle of a long day. Words are almost better than the photos and video we shot, as words hold multi-layered possibilities, make me recall more than one place, time, or event, are actually fuller than images that say one thing about one place about one time.
“But I am praying hard that God should keep us together in the Holy Spirit,” says Daniel in his letter to me. Going back is a way of saying that we have not forgotten you. More than anything, the Ugandan orphans want to know that someone knows their name, that someone thinks of them, that they matter to someone somewhere. In a sea of faces, sometimes as many as a hundred staring back at me, it seems hopeless. There were only 45 of us, and as many as a thousand of them. But at least I know Daniel, and Sam, and Christina, and James, and Stephen. At least I know their names.