• “Gentle, Terrible, Wonderful” (from our founder’s journal)

    This evening, a baby boy was abandoned at the front gate of our site in Masaka.  No note, just a basket of clothes.  As I have spent the day processing this reality, I was reminded of something from my journal, written years ago on a similar day.  I share it again below.  –Dr. Nathaniel

    “Someone has abandoned a small child at our gate,” Tonny said to me last Monday.

    I assure you such a sentence causes the mind — and heart — to slow.

    Reaction stands-by as realization clambers to do her job.

    Like a docent assessing a new portrait. An expert reluctant to admit that this painting confuses him.

    Is this a dark masterpiece painted with a hidden message of hope?

    Is it a happy work — in the darkest of colors?

    Surely it is not a window’s reality that must actually be processed by this beholder.

    “His name is Marvin,” my assistant added. “That’s all we know.”  And so, another baby joined our family. We think he must be about one-year-old. Maybe one-and-a-half.

    In the past, as my staff and I have discussed such realities, we have always come to the powerful conclusion that, perhaps, the person who deposits a sweet orphan at such a gate as ours does so with a courage unlike any other.

    Rightly or wrongly, they feel (even know, somehow) that perhaps it is the best possible future for the sweet child. Probably not their own baby.  (Though, maybe Marvin’s mother is the one who carefully placed him here. I try not to contemplate too much. To think too far.) But they seem to know that the child will soon need a new caregiver. Somewhere inside sensing their own goodbye.

    Anyone is welcome to visit our screened-in-porch-office, but this soul had not the heart for a referral, or perhaps not hope for her own tomorrow. His.

    Maybe their dramatic, rather final departure from the child is really a compassionate bon voyage.

    Towards hope.

    A gentle, terrible, wonderful send-off for their Moses-basket.

    Through the reeds of uncertainty and hopelessness.

    Towards hope.

    And life.

    I am sorry.

    That such a reality exists — for some — wherein a village gate serves as a solitary place of hope.

    I am desperate.

    With the reality that Marvin’s mom and dad probably died months ago. That their surrogate was likely sick. Or confused. Or hopeless. Or?

    I am heartened, however.

    That our gate.

    Is here.

    A symbol of hope.

    A place.



    Though the darkness surrounds.

    And never goes away.

    At least.

    Not yet.

    “I know how people in exile feed on dreams of hope.” 
    –Aeschylus, 420 BC

    To see a picture of Marvin, now an active young student, visit my Facebook page.  He is third from the left in my cover photo.

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    AidChild’s Equation Cafe’ has been awarded a TripAdvisor Bravo Badge thanks to the great reviews by our clients!

  • Joy in a stranger’s joy, and pride in my son

    rogers prospectingFrom Nathaniel’s journal:

    Yesterday, I attended the impressive opening reception of the Hansen Leadership Institute.  You may remember that one of our oldest girls, Dorah, won one of the highly coveted fellowships last year.  And this year, our oldest, Rogers Dunigan, won one of the 15 international spots–out of an applicant pool of more than 700!

    Alas, he wasn’t at the reception yesterday.

    You see, early this year, when he received news that he had won, he immediately went to the passport office in Kampala.  He completed his application and expected a passport to be issued in short order, just as had been done for Dorah last year.

    And we waited.

    And we waited.

    Time was becoming critical.  After many weeks, he received notice from the Hansen Institute: if he could not secure a passport within four more days, the Institute would need to give his spot to an alternate.

    Two days later, he received a message that his passport was ready!  Excited and delighted, he made his way by public means, through the bustling and congested streets of Kampala, to the passport office.

    After waiting in a long line, he finally reached the counter.  Without ceremony, the document was handed to him.  A combination of relief and elation came over him as he opened the most legally significant document to ever represent his life.

    As soon as he opened it, however, he became crestfallen.

    “What’s the matter?” someone asked.

    “My name is spelled wrong.  Dunigan has one ‘n,’ not two,” he answered.

    He placed the document back on the counter and slid it to the agent on the other side.

    He would not be traveling to the United States after all.  He would not be a fellow.

    When he told me this story that night on the phone, I said, “I think it would be okay to use it as it is, as long as the air tickets and visa are issued with the same spelling.”

    “But then I would lose my heritage.  My name, your name, means more to me.”

    I swallowed.

    And so, Rogers was not at the reception yesterday.  Another young man, his alternate, was there instead.  And elated to be.  I congratulated him, and found joy in his joy.

    And pride in my son.

    Rogers is spending his summer as an intern in Uganda, getting him one-step closer to finishing his degree in business at one of Africa’s Top Ten universities.

    And our futures, emboldened by our heritage, promise us so much.

    Thank you for making these deeply nuanced stories possible, where we sort out life’s opportunities from life’s deepest meanings. –Nathaniel 

  • The (FREE) first chapter of Nathaniel’s new book:

    cover treeBelow is the first chapter of Nathaniel’s new book, “We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life,” now available on Amazon.com.

    These short stories capture his dissertation findings. The book also includes a study-guide and analysis that might serve educators, counselors, clergy and aid workers in the region.

    (The title comes from a Luganda phrase that encourages living in the moment.  The mahogany lives longer than most trees in the area.)

    We hope you find it of meaning and use.


    My name is Thursday.  They call me that because I was born on a Thursday.  I hate my name. 

    The year is 2001, and I am 15 years old.  I grew up in a classroom.  My mother was very young when I was born.  Until I was old enough to go to school on my own, everyday she would use a kitenge to tie me onto her back, and carry me to school.  There, she would lay out the kitenge on the cement floor in one corner of the crowded room where her mom, my grandmom, was a primary school teacher.  I still remember playing in that corner, and the feeling of being wrapped up on her back as she made the long walk home on the red dirt streets of Kampala.  Motorcycle taxis, called boda-bodas, zipped past us on all sides, hooting at us with their squeaky little horns, while giant Maribu Storks lumbered around us, picking at the garbage piles that lined the streets.  When we would get home, Mom would either give me sugarcane to chew on or a cup of milk chai to drink, depending on whether it was the hot, dry season, or the cold, rainy season.

    When I completed Primary 7 at school, my grandmom also retired from teaching.   This meant that there was no money for school fees, so I have had to sit at home since.

    I don’t know who my father is, and that disturbs me a lot.  When I ask about him, I am ignored.  This means I don’t know which clan I belong to or anything about my lineage. This is a problem.  It also means that I don’t know which clan I cannot marry into, and I don’t know where I will be buried.  You see, I am meant to be laid to rest with my father’s family, but I don’t know where their graves are.  Many times my friends have found me seated and keeping quiet.  When they ask me what’s wrong, I reply, “I am having my own problems,” like that.  But these days they are used to me because whenever they find me like that, my grandmom calls me and tells me, “No, don’t think of that,” and she tries to encourage me.

    There are many people in our small house today.  I don’t know exactly how many.  The house is made up of seven rooms, and as always, every door is closed.  We received a visitor two days ago; a woman a bit older than Mom.  They told me that she used to work here as a housemaid.

    When you first enter our house, you find a room lined with furniture.  To the left of the door is a large, stuffed armchair covered in maroon and gold fabric with gold tassels dangling from each arm.  Next to it is a sofa with bright blue and green stripes.  This one is my favorite because it extends to the corner and is under the window.  When I can’t fall sleep on the mattress that I normally share with my cousin, I come to this sofa, and it always makes me sleepy.  There is another sofa just like it on the opposite wall, but there are doors on each side of it, one leading to the kitchen, and the other to the bathroom.  I hate sitting there, let alone sleeping there.

    Along the wall that connects the two sofa-walls are two more maroon and gold chairs, one on each side of the door that leads to the hallway.  We have only a few things hanging on our walls.  One is a photo of Oprah Winfrey.  My sister cut it out of the newspaper.  There are also our baptism certificates from church, a photo of Pope John Paul II, and a photo of President Museveni.  (They were giving these photos out at school before I had to stop going.)

    Off of the hallway are four rooms that we use for bedrooms.  Grandmom’s room is the last one.  I have only been in her room once in my lifetime.

    In the kitchen, cooking is done on a charcoal stove on the floor.  We do our washing outside, by hand.  I wash my clothes and my mom’s, except for her underclothes.  In Uganda, everyone washes their own underwear.  I am told that even President Museveni washes his own shorts!

    Dinner tonight was my favorite: rice, beans and avocado.  I am not sure who prepared it, but they used enough garlic and salt to make it perfect.

    We were gathered in the sitting room after dinner when my grandmom suddenly said, “That one is your real mom,” she used her lips to point to the former housemaid, our visitor.

    “What?  What do you mean?” I ask.

    “After she stopped working for us, she went somewhere and got pregnant.  After you were born, she brought you here saying she couldn’t manage you, so we decided to be Good Samaritans and take you up.”

    Nothing further is said to me.  And I don’t know what to say or do.

    One of my uncles switches on the radio.  It’s 11pm.  Everyone begins to listen as the announcer reads personal notices, hoping to hear messages from family upcountry.  People often go to their local office of the national radio station, and pay a few hundred shillings to send greetings or death announcements to family in other parts of the country.

    I find myself staring at the former housemaid.  “She’s not my mom,” I think to myself.  “She can’t be.  Why is my grandmom trying to deceive me?”

    I get up and go outside.  It’s very dark.  The electricity has just gone out again.  This is the fifth or sixth time today.  I have lost count.  Street vendors at the corner are lighting candles to illuminate their wares: matchboxes, batteries, candles, tiny bars of soap, salt, and flip-flop shower shoes.

    I hear a baby crying next door, and in the distance, the sounds of lorries beginning their late night trek across eastern Uganda to collect imported items at the Kenyan border.  Items that originated in Europe and India, then shipped across the Indian Ocean to Mombasa, and then through the entire expanse of Kenya before finally reaching Uganda.  Some of the items will remain here, while others will be taken to the Congolese border to the west.

    I make my own journey down our dark street, and call out for my friend in the direction of his house.  No response.  I call out several more times.  Finally, he opens his front door, and comes to greet me.

    “Yes, Thursday!  Ki kati?  What’s up?”

    “Don’t call me that.  You know I hate my  name,” I say.

    He then calls me “Baambi,” a term of endearment in Luganda.  He says he’s sorry, and then adds, “Ki ki gwe?  What’s wrong with you?  Are you again thinking about your father?”

    “Worse,” I say.  “Can you imagine?  They have just informed me that the other woman is my mom.”

    “Who told you?  Which woman do you mean?  Be clear,” he demands.  And I explain.  He takes my left arm by wrapping his right hand around my wrist, and he pulls me to the broken stoop in front of his house.  We sit.  The uneven concrete has captured some of that afternoon’s rain, but I don’t care.

    “I feared telling you who she was,” he says.

    “You mean you KNEW?”

    He raises and drops his eyebrows in one dramatic movement.  This means yes.

    “It’s not true,” I say.  “I won’t believe it.  I refuse.”

    “There’s more,” he swallows.  He’s no longer looking at me. “She was impregnated by one of the men in your house while she was a housemaid there.  I don’t know which man, but that’s why they have raised you.  One of them is your father, and the one you call Mom is your sister.”

    I shook his hand free from my wrist and walked away, but I didn’t go home.  “None of this is true.  People are just lying, the usual sadists trying to cause damage,” I tell myself.  I wait outside until my house has gone quiet before I reenter.  Once inside, I lay down on the blue and green sofa, but tonight I fail to catch sleep.  They expect me to believe that behind one of these closed doors is a stranger who is my mother, and an uncle who is my dad.

    But I do not.

    To read the rest, simply purchase your copy or Kindle version at Amazon.com. 

  • The Beauty, Power, Tragedy and Pain of the Maternal Spirit


    Dr. Nathaniel’s Mom, Sue Dunigan.

    by Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan

    I call my dad’s mom “Nanny.”  That’s what she wanted to be called when I was born because she was “far too young to be a grandmother.”  When we were in public, should someone overhear me speaking to her, she preferred that they have the impression that she was a professional (in a good way, of course).  I will visit her next week in the assisted living facility she has occupied for fifteen years, this after two other facilities.  She’s a fiery, powerful woman who has taught me courage and independence.

    My mom’s mom I called “Gammy” simply because I initially couldn’t say the word “grandma.”   (Nanny needn’t have worried, it turns out.)  Gammy taught me unconditional love, an adoration of the kitchen, and a sense of humor that my aunt describes as “earthy.”  Years ago, before I moved to Africa, Gammy lived with me.  She had Alzheimer’s then, and in many ways it was a dark time in her human experience.  But even way back then, she inspired me to write an essay (that was published).  It was based on this proverb:  “It is always springtime in the heart that loves God.”  

    (From this vantage point, I realize that both of my biological grandmothers embody emotional brilliance.)

    And now, my kids call my mom, “Jjaja,” (pronounced “JAW-jaw”).

    As a result, the whole AidChild family calls her the same.

    And she loves it.  The word simply means “Grandmother” in Luganda, but like “Nanny” and “Gammy,” it seems somehow extra sweet when said on the lips of those who love her.

    I vividly remember a moment, a few years ago, when a staff member whom the kids call “Uncle Tom,” told me about a time when he and Jjaja ran into one of our oldest kids–who is now living and working in Kampala.  It was a proud exchange with hugs and updates.  Finally and reluctantly–according to Uncle Tom–he and Jjaja had to leave my son to his work as they continued on their journey through the bustling streets of Uganda’s capital.

    “And then Jjaja cried,” Tom added as he concluded his story, all while we were in similar traffic months later.

    We sat in silence.

    Well, in a silence.  Horns, and shouting humans still surrounded us.  The red dust from the city’s streets still entered the car and our lungs.  The music from the churches and the calls from the mosques still sent their proclamations, even as the giant birds screeched all around us.

    But in the cabin of our SUV, and in our hearts, there was silence as we contemplated the fact that a young man’s Jjaja…cried. 

    Her emotion revealed itself through a rawness of voice in response to an encounter, however brief, with a dear heart whom she had fully embraced–because he had fully embraced hers.

    This is the beauty, power, tragedy and pain of the maternal spirit. 

    And it’s precious. 

    A Divine revelation in the language of the human.

    When we choose to care.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Jjaja.  Thank you for caring, feeling, crying and being!

    Follow Jjjaja Sue on Facebook here.

  • Statement about 2nd baby cured of HIV

    latimesWe celebrate the great news that a second baby has apparently been cured of HIV! But we do so with great caution. As most doctors and observers point out, this is only the second case, and a full lifetime has not yet come and gone, so we cannot be absolutely sure. Still, we are thrilled for this baby girl in Los Angeles, and for those who love her.

    Everyday, approximately 900 babies are born with HIV, most of them here in sub-Saharan Africa. And so precious few of  them have access to any treatment at all, let alone to the aggressive treatment provided for the baby in the Los Angeles case.

    And our biggest worry is that people will misunderstand this news. Safe sex is still essential. Research and treatment are still required. HIV has NOT yet been cured.  

    Support for AidChild and for organizations like ours remains crucial. In the time that it has taken you to read this post, at least two more children have been born with HIV. And there are nearly 40 million others currently fighting this virus everyday. Many without treatment. Others, like our kids, taking medication twice a day.

    Celebrate with us the miracle of this second baby, and fight with us for the millions of others.

    For a link to the story we reference, click here.

  • Fastened Together in a Bunch

    [From the early pages of Dr. Nathaniel’s African journal.]

    wild-flower-bouquet-ribbon-vintage-outdoorToday, I shall be sad.

    Somehow, strangely, the phrase brings me hope.

    Perhaps it is the implied boundary. Though I think it is something else.

    I think it is an embrace of this part of me — of us — which is quite real. True. Genuine. Heart-whole.

    An understanding. At last. Again. That when our emotions are picked and fastened together in a bunch — like the perfect bouquet they can be — should be — then each bloom emanates its own aroma resulting in the special perfume which is us.



    Today, I shall be sad.

    I shall be sad because — while there is love — much comes from a commitment to unconditionality. Not to reality.

    Today, I shall be sad because of the little boy who rarely smiles. Pathetic,” they say. I say. Because, while ailments of body have been treated, the aches caused by an unknown evil remain. Perhaps forever.

    I shall be sad because of the forlorn old woman who always carried an empty basket; her only desire to brim every other. But they’re all empty now. So she will be alone.

    Today, I shall be sad because even when you do unto others as you would have them do unto you — they may not. Because selfishness hurts.

    I shall be sad because these treads in my climb aren’t worth it. Ruinous even.

    Today, I shall be sad because hope does not always deliver. Because good added to good may not produce more good. Because bad things DO happen.

    I shall be sad because it doesn’t all even out in the end. Because bad people don’t always get theirs. And because good people often do.

    Today, I shall be sad because. Because I am. 

    Tomorrow, the breeze will feed my spirit with life. And the candlelight will warm me again.

    The goodnight kiss will electrify. And the conversation will make me laugh.

    The song will be mine. And the cuddle will be splendid.

    The kids will giggle. And I will delight.

    The raindrops will refresh. And the smile will be enough.

    But today.


    I shall be sad.


    In fourteen days, it will be three years since I lost my first baby, Milo. I miss him so. I still grieve. But our hope is great enough to light the dark places the make us whole.

    Even good. 

  • “An Invitation to Stay Long” (Nathaniel’s reflection on visiting the homes of his friends in Uganda)

    bananaPerhaps what is most intriguing to me about Ugandan homes is not found in a study of the exteriors, or a look around inside, but rather the perspective from their internal view to the outside.  I like to unlatch the window shutters – raising the hut’s eyelids – perceiving the world from within the living organ that is the home’s existence. 

    In rural Uganda, the view is often of banana trees.  The trees are truly lovely images, and the matooke (plantain) fruit is absolutely the delicacy of choice.  The plantations are abundant, providing nourishment and culinary delight even in the absence of prosperity. 

    The great-matooke-view is made even more special by the scene’s soundtrack.  The wind gives crackly voice to the leaves, while the steps of animals and people pad a similarly crisp-tune on the carpet of dry and fallen foliage underfoot.

    All the while, one is offered the loveliest of hospitality.  A visit to a Ugandan space quickly convinces the guest that kindness and manners are not merely taught here – but that they are heart-motivated.  Instinctual. 

    The vitality of this land does not only come from its plantations, channels and vast lakes. 

    But it springs forth from a noble humanity that is viscerally kind spirited – where gentility actually feels genuine.  Where emotional vulnerability is not feared, but broadcast.  Where poverty is not often seen in the soul.

    And where a stranger is always welcomed with a nearly whisper-quiet exchange of respectful greetings, and an invitation to stay long.

  • Please, Daddy. Baby, Please.

    (From the early pages of our founder’s African journal.)

    Every evening, about an hour before dinner, and about thirty minutes before TV Time, Dorah (age 11) comes to the window above my desk.  She stands on tiptoe, and peers through the bottom pane.  And everyday she has the same message: “Please, Daddy. Baby, please.”

    I remember my first morning in Uganda when I ordered a cup of coffee, the young waiter said, “Yes, please.”  I thought he had confused my request with an offer.  But, in short order, my cup of java arrived.

    A bit surprised, I looked at him and said, “Oh. Thank you.”

    He said, “You’re welcome, please.”

    So, it wasn’t long before I learned that please is the direct translation of a Luganda word meant to lend a genteel quality to any phrase.  It is as if he was saying, “Yes, I will be happy to get you some coffeein a very nice way.”

    And, “You’re welcomein a very nice way.”

    Kind of pleasant, actually.

    Anyway, everyday just before TV Time, Dorah peeks at me through the window. And everyday she says the same thing: “Please, Daddy. Baby, please.” Not asking me for the baby, mind you, but instead telling me that she has brought one of the babies to me.

    By this time of day, all my kids have finished with school, had their naps and snacks, finished their chores, and had their baths.  And Dorah seems to have figured out that I love to hold the babies.  She also adores cradling our little ones (as do most of the kids — so there can be stiff competition), but Dorah seems to be even happier with the opportunity to bring a baby to my arms.

    I’m not sure why, but it pleases her.

    So, she brings a baby to my desk, and gently places her onto my lap.  Along with a quilt.  And a toy-rattle or two.  And then I continue with my typing (though one-handed now) as Dorah runs off to play.

    Of course, as she passes the window on her way to the playground, I look up from my work (and my baby) just long enough to say, “Dorah?”

    She stops, raises herself once again on tiptoe, and says, “Yes, please?”

    To which, of course, I say, “Thank you, please.”

    And our life here in the village continues.

    Strumming its powerful rhythm of hope. 


  • That Really Is Best

    Below is another early entry from Nathaniel’s African journal.

    christmas2Three sweeties climbed down from my friend’s Land Cruiser: Godfrey, Charles, and Viola.  Their friend, Kasumba (pronounced “Kuh-SOOM-baw”), lives with me.  They adore each other, and my friend brings her little neighbors to visit us whenever she can.

    I had not told Kasumba (age 10) that they would be coming.  In a land of unpredictable weather, severely bad roads, and unexpectedly-expected trauma, one never knows if plans will actually come about.  I didn’t want to disappoint him.

    But they came!

    Very happy.  Big smiles.  Expectant spirits.  Excited.

    The reunion was grand, as usual.  They brought Kasumba’s favorite homemade snacks for him.  A huge cluster of bananas and a jackfruit for us.  And a hand-woven wall hanging for me.

    The day was spent with three extra sweethearts mixed in with our gang.  I think it’s safe to say that a good time was had by all.  Good food.  A nice nap. Gifts, laughter, and celebration.

    Too soon it was time to leave.  Standing near the Cruiser, saying my goodbyes to my friend, I watched as the three heads popped out of the house, one by one, and came to the car.

    Viola first.  She was holding one of Kasumba’s toys.  A Christmas gift to him, now given to his “sister” (as he refers to her — though they are not related).

    Then Charles.  Also carrying one of Kasumba’s finest.

    Lastly, Godfrey.  His face was radiant, for in his hands was Kasumba’s favorite of favorites: a big semi-truck, complete with trailer and lights.

    My Aunt Carla had given me money for my birthday, so I was able to buy each of my kids a big toy like this for Christmas.  Oh, how Kasumba loves his!  He has played with it constantly, running it across the squared tops of our driveway curbs, down imagined highways, up termite hill grades, and across bustling sidewalks.  He has regularly cleaned it with the pride of a real long-hauler.  And, every night for the last two weeks, he has repacked it into its molded plastic wrapping.

    It’s his treasure.

    And now it’s Godfrey’s.

    “Oh!” my friend said. “Should they be taking your toys?”

    Our toys? These are more than toys!   I thought to myself.  These are our best!

    And I was so proud of my Kasumba.  He also knew that these were more than toys.  They were the very most he had to offer.

    So he did.

    “Yes, of course.”  I said.  “They must take them.”

    I patted each head on its re-ascension into the vehicle.  I helped with the seat belts.  I closed the door and waved goodbye.

    Another inside-smile.  Of course they should take them.

    That really is best.