Since being in Africa, my perspective has changed on many things. One of those things is how we live daily life. Even though I have always had faith in Christ, I believe I used to view life differently. Mainly just a series of days that I just got through, striving to meet whatever goals I set the previous week, month, or year. Maintaining my “faith”, but continuing to live as I thought or pleased. But now that has changed. Through some thought, and inspiration from a Donald Miller book I read recently, I see life as a story. We have a choice to live OUR created story. One we do our best to create comforts, safeties, and happiness that often leave a void and emptiness. Then on the other side, life is a story God is desiring to write for us. One that he knows the scenes better than we do, and how they play out. A story that gives us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11) But it is our choice whether to continue our attempt in creating a story we have no idea the ending, or listening and following the words he writes on our daily pages. Just a thought.
Today was a day in my story I will never forget. Today was by far the best I have had since being in Uganda. Today probably just got put on top ten days of my life list (not easy to make). And I am not exaggerating…
I was going to write this blog post about a few things that have happened this week. Like the banana pancakes Jay and I made from scratch that rivaled Cracker Barrels. Or the Chelsea Football (soccer) games we have been really enjoying. Or the guard dogs the landlord lets outside in our apartment compound at night, that persist in barking all night, every night. They say the dogs know who lives here and they won’t attack the residents if we go outside at night… yet I have never met these dogs. This may be another experiment I will let Jay be the variable. However, these stories will now have to be pushed back due to the experience of today.
Eddie (Ugandan friend), David (Ugandan friend), Jay (American friend), and I loaded up the van and drove to Mercy Home today. We walked in and greeted the children while they were going
about their regular routine at the orphanage. We gathered the 14 youngest, who most of my pictures are of, and who I have told stories about before. Jalya, Edrick, Ivan, Julias, Sharon, Deborah, Ronald, Freda, Vivian, Dennis, Victoria, Phiona, Fatuma, and Mercy. We told them, and the lady that helps take care of them, today was going to be different. Today we are going to the ZOO!
PAUSE. Yes, I know what you are thinking. “A zoo? In Africa?” The answer is yes, there is a zoo in Uganda, Africa. The next question you may have is, “What animals do they have there? Cats? Dogs? Deer?” The answer is no; just regular zoo like animals. Lions, giraffe, rhinos, etc. It is a little like having a refrigerator in an igloo.
Their faces lit up immediately when they heard the news! Aunt Amis got them changed into what looked like their Sunday best. Some wore dresses, some John Deere t-shirts, but it looked like for the first time what they were wearing was fairly new. I am certain these are the only fairly new clothes they own. This was the first time they have left the orphanage area in two years….. two years. When is the last time any of us have stayed anywhere without leaving for two years?… Probably n
ever. Some of them have not seen the city and none had seen the zoo. Watching their eyes wonder at their surroundings throughout the day was half of the entertainment. When we entered the gates of the Ugandan zoo, I think most of them were slightly confused, but it didn’t take long for the excitement to build. We hired a guide to tell us about the animals and then set off on our journey viewing African wildlife… behind cages. Speaking of cages, these are not really U.S. Standard Zoo Board Certified cages. They are more like chain-link fences. All was great until I started inspecting the lion chain-link fence “cage”. When we got closer to the lion area, we noticed one crouched in the tall grass just below the viewing deck. (see picture) With eager steps, we all rushed down to get a closer look. Just as we lean
ed in searching for the hidden lion, it pounced out from the grass and charged the chainlink fence “cage”! It acted as if it were going to tear through it like paper and have us for lunch. David let out a shriek! I think Jay may have wet his pants. But it didn’t faze me… I was fine… yea…
We continued on, gazing at otters, crocodiles, camels and more. It was actually a great zoo. I guess it is a little easier when the animals needed for the zoo are in your backyard. Watching the kids was the best part. The zoo had a playground with swings and slides, which they loved. They laughed and played with each other and fully enjoyed the day. The kids, probably for the first time, were finally able to be kids.
After leaving the zoo, next we went to a place that would be ordinary in the States, but the given situation made our experience of lunch, extraordinary. Jay and I were looking for a cheap place to feed 18 people, so we called a hotel restaurant in advance. Cheap was the last thing it was, but after walking out, I would have paid double for the experience we had. While driving in the parking lot my stomach turned a little knowing just by looking at the place it was going to cost a fortune. The kids lined up and tip toed through the lobby of an extremely nice hotel. To give you a better idea of the level of hotel, it was the first place I have been in Africa that has air conditioning. That is a big deal. Slow jazz music played throughout the marble floored halls as we navigated to the restaurant. With business men scattered throughout the tables, here come fourteen kids, from about 2 to 8 years old, two Africans, and two Mzungus. To my surprise, it was much different than I had first imagined, and very different than I know it would have been back home. The kids were in awe. They looked at their forks with amazement in their eyes. Each child sat still, quiet, and patiently awaited our lunch. We ordered “Chicken and Chips” (basically roasted chicken and fries) and a soda for everyone. The sodas came out in glass bottles, and from years of working in restaurants, I know children plus glass bottles equals a dangerous recipe. The servers brought out the food and placed plates before them. They ate. There was silence. And then more silence.
We didn’t have to bribe or beg a single child to finish, or show us a clean plate. Every plate was spotless. Every bone was bare. Every bottle was handled with care without spilling a drop. You could see expressions of need change to smiles of satisfaction. “Muli Mubuli?” I asked. (are you satisfied?). Everyone nodded gratefully as Freda collected all the straws to take home. Jay and I both walked out with pure joy knowing that these kids just ate at their first restaurant.
Again, we loaded up into our van and drove to the botanical gardens. Hundreds of wild monkeys inhabited the trees that were above us. David stuck his arm out of the van window with cookies in hand to lure them in. We parked, got out, and monkeys crowded. They came from everywhere and kept coming. 5, then 10, then dozens of monkeys all around us.
Some were on the top of our van waiting on their free snack. Others on the ground and in the trees. Some were with their baby monkeys holding out open hands. The kids absolutely loved it! And I think my inner child loved it even more. It was funny to watch children like Dennis, build courage to feed a monkey out of his hand. The timidity of most showed that it was a very new experience. Except, Fatuma walked up like a champ giving out peanuts fearlessly. Each one of them laughed, shouted excited words in Luganda, and we could see the joy in their eyes. It was new. It was outside of the walls of their home. And how refreshing it was. For them and for me.
On the way home the children passed out from exhaustion. The bumpy Ugandan roads didn’t awake the deepest sleepers. Mercy was out cold on Jay’s chest and Edrick slept the entire way on my knee. When we finally made it back, they entered into the gates of the orphanage to greet the 89 other children we were unfortunately unable to take this time. It was heartbreaking, but we promised a future trip. Then, one thing happened that amazed me the most. We just got back from a day of fun. A day filled with laughs, and monkeys, and playgrounds, and charging lions, and excitement. A day of freedom that these kids acted like kids and enjoyed it to the fullest. And do you want to know the first thing they told their friends about? We got David to translate. The first thing they eagerly said to their friends as they entered the gates of the Mercy Home orphanage was, “We got to eat Chicken and Chips!!!”
What blew me away today was the fact that it was just a simple day in Uganda, and it would have just been another field trip in the United States, but it was one of the best days I have ever had. If it meant that much to me, how much more did it mean to them? I can’t even begin to imagine the memories the children will take with them forever. I’ve been to the zoo and nice restaurants hundreds of times, like most of us have. But the way God moves and blesses the time with these children is something I have never experienced. I am so blessed to be here, with these people, with these children, and with God’s hand directing it all. There has been ups and downs since I have been here, like there always are in life, but today was a mountaintop. And the BEST part is, my author has changed. Today was just a paragraph in a chapter of the story God is writing of my life. Now, unlike ever before, my story is being written by my limitless Creator and not me. I can’t even begin to describe the peace and joy that comes with this. Today, this experience, and this paragraph of my life, was absolutely beautiful and I will look back on it with stories and laughter forever.
Again, Thank you ALL who are making this possible and allowing God to use you to do work through your support and encouragement in Kampala, Uganda. It is making a bigger impact that I can write in these sentences and will create an eternal difference that we will all one day see.