• “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. 

    Please.

  • 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.       

  • 10 Q’s 4 U

    We have asked the members of our leadership team to answer ten questions about their lives. (If you’d like, share your answers with us as well.) The AidChild magic is created by the efforts and partnerships of so many. We hope these will offer you insights into the layers and nuances of our work. (Look for more soon, and see Henry’s below.)

    martinSsenyonjo Martin
    Senior Accountant 
    (Pictured in AidChild’s Headquarters Offices in Masaka)

    1.  What is your earliest childhood memory?

    It is when I got missing from my parents and I slept at stranger’s home for a night.

    2.  If you had the choice to eat anything in the whole world, what would it be?  

    It would be chocolate cake. 

    3.  You are happiest when you are doing what?

    When am on a road trip to a new place with my best friends. 

    4.  Whom do you admire most in this world, whether living or dead?

    I actually do not have a specific person in mind, but in general I admire so many people that have achieved much for themselves in terms on wealth and knowledge.

    5.  When power is off, what do you like to do most?

    Have a chat with my family members at home. 

    6.  When power comes back on, what do you do first?

    I scream, “Yay, it’s back!”

    7.  What do you most value in a friend?  (What traits or characteristics?)

    Unconditional trust and love. 

    8.  What talent would you most like to have?  And why?

    An extraordinarily creative mind because it can help me achieve so much in life.

    9.  Tell us one of your best memories about something that happened with one of our kids. 

    It happened sometime back. I was swinging on the swings in Masaka with the little kids like Cathy, the twins, and others. So fun and simple.

    10.  What did you have for breakfast this morning?

    I had a chapatti.

    joanJoan Mutesi
    Nurse Practitioner, Nkumba Clinic and Home


    1. What is your earliest childhood memory? 

    I remember when I was about four years old, my mum asked me to pretend to go for a nap after lunch–with my elder siblings.  She had a party that she was going to. But since she wanted to take only me, and she didn’t want the others to complain, she asked me to then sneak out of the house quietly so that none of them noticed, and we went.  I had so much fun at the party, but going back home everyone was annoyed and none of them was willing to talk to me.

    2. If you had the choice to eat anything in the whole world, what would it be? 

    I would eat matooke [Uganda delicacy of steamed plantain bananas], rice, and chicken.

    3. You are happiest when you are doing what?

    Praying, worshiping, fulfilling my obligations especially at my work, and when I meet my goals.

    4.  Whom do you admire most in this world, whether living or dead?

    I admire my mum for she has been a role model of strong woman and of what a loving mother should be to me.

    5.  When power is off, what do you like to do most?

    If am around people, I like to tell stories, but if am alone, I dose off.

    6.  When power comes back on, what do you do first? 

    Watch movies, listen to music.  I switch on the television or radio immediately.

    7.  What do you most value in a friend?  (What traits or characteristics?) 

    I always value friends who are honest, kind, trustworthy, faithful, truthful and loving.

    8.  What talent would you most like to have?

    I would like to be a flight attendant.  And why?  I always admire it for opportunities to travel around the world, meet new people with different cultures.

    9.  Tell us one of your best memories about something that happened with one of our kids.

    I remember the first time I arrived at our Masaka home, I met this incredible child name Kawalya Joseph, aged one year and half. On our first eye contact, something amazing happened as I held him in my arms.  He felt so comfortable as he lay on my chest even though I was a stranger to him.  It was so touching that as I carried him on my laps, we had a special bond.  In just a few minutes, he had started to sleep off.

    10.  What did you have for breakfast this morning? 

    I took coffee and bread.

    Jjumba Henry
    Lead Educator, Masaka Center (pictured here with our dear Simon Peter).  

    Henry

    1. What is your earliest childhood memory? 

    My earliest childhood memory is following my big brothers to primary school and studying in Primary 1 classes without the knowledge of my parents.  I was supposed to be in nursery school.  This went on for a month.  The teachers later persuaded my parents to let me skip nursery and I remained in Primary 1.

    2. If you had the choice to eat anything in the whole world, what would it be?

    I would choose to eat game meat for a whole month!

    3. You are happiest when you are doing what?  

    When I am involved in an activity that is going to positively change or influence those around me and society.

    4. Whom do you admire most in this world, whether living or dead? 

    I admire Nelson Mandela for his commitment to change.

    5. When power is off, what do you like to do most?

    To play a game like football or rugby.

    6. When power come back on, what do you like to do first?  

    To listen to loud music indoors.

    7. What do you most value in a friend? (What traits or characteristics?) 

    I value honesty and reliability in a friend.

    8. What talent would you most like to have? And why?  

    I would like to have the talent of speech because speech has the potential to change people and society.

    9. Tell us one of your best memories about something that happened with one of our kids. 

    I remember little Cathy, 5, standing up one day during an interaction with all the kids and telling them to each take their medication on time like she does.  Most of the big kids were surprised that Cathy would say that (I inclusive).

    10. What did you have for breakfast this morning?  

    With the kids, I had a boiled egg, a banana, bread, soy porridge with milk. And it’s been another bright day!

  • Newly Fallen Petals

    From the early pages of our founder’s journal:

    I’m not sure how I feel about something that’s happened.  Something that is happening.  I don’t know what to do with it in my heart.  My mind.  Inside.

    There is definitely a positive side to it.  On the one hand, if feels very special.  And good.  On the other hand it is very disturbing to me.  Unsettling.  Not really good at all.

    How do I feel about this?

    With this issue, like so many, I find that my processing mechanisms are off.  The realities of life here seem to daily challenge my heart’s spirit in new ways.

    I think.  I react.  I overreact.  I respond.

    And then I don’t.  Don’t respond.  Don’t react.  Don’t think.

    Yet emotion forever moves within me like the distinct, quiet steps of a horseman on the cobbles of a street in darkness.

    I wonder, am I going mad?  I just don’t know what to do with this.

    Should I be proactive?  Should I stop it?  Should I address it in some way?

    Or should I leave it alone?  Let it go?  Continue?  Mature?

    Or fade.  Develop as it will.

    For now, it is stretched on the floor of my heart-garden like a drying carpet.  Or a picnic blanket anticipating a feast.

    No teacher has prepared me for this.  No sacred text I have read seems to articulate morality’s answer.  And my memory doesn’t re-hear the sensible voice of an elder speaking to just exactly this.

    Not that I am the only person to have ever encountered this.  Surely not.  Still, what should I do?

    It all started during lunch when the teachers were telling the rest of my staff and me about their morning. Cute anecdotes and special stories often provide the final, savory dimension to our noontime hour of flavor and sounds on the dining-porch.

    “One thing that has always surprised me,” Sarah said, “is how the children conclude their stories during show-and-tell.”

    “What do you mean?” someone asked.

    Sarah’s reply was the trumpet sound for my pensive-charge.  “Well,” she answered, “they always summarize by saying, ‘And if it weren’t for Daddy, I would not still be alive.’”

    Oh God, no.

    Oh God, please.

    Who told them this?  Why would my four-year-old feel the need to say this?  My ten year-old?

    While I am hugely gratified, and adore a heart grateful for life, what do I do with the realization that children, my children, are contemplating life and death?

    And me.

    After much thought, I may have decided to leave this untouched.

    Like tiny yellow daisies sprouting in a lawn.

    Or a breeze billowing the curtains of an open window.

    Whispers from the girls’ room in the wee hours.

    Newly fallen petals from the centerpiece.

    Like teardrops on the pages of a letter.

    I think this must be left alone.

  • Celebrating 13 Years!

    IMAG1231 (1)Thirteen years ago this month, we started providing care for children living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.  And we’re still going strong thanks to your support.  

    As we celebrate precious life and real hope, a donor has pledged $13,000 in matching funds, meaning every dollar you donate will become two!  Can you help us get to this much needed $26,000 (13,000 + 13,000)?  

    Medication, food, comfy beds–these are the ingredients of hope that your support will provide.  We thank you.  It’s as easy as clicking here.

  • The Hand of My Celebrity

    Emotions churn.

    Passion does his dance.

    Anger billows.

    Joy with her contagious laugh.

    I cry.  I dance.  I scream.  I laugh.

                Again.

                       And.

                              Again.

    I awoke this morning to sunny skies.  They have replaced the mist-filled valley.  For now.  Our special home is perched on a small rise.  Near the hill’s brow.  Below are many farms.  A small eucalyptus plantation.  Bananas.  A swamp.

    The kids skip and run down the hill to school.  Then comes Isaac, a little slower with his arthritis.  Last is my sweet Balikuddembe.  Very weak.  But eager.

    On his way.

    People are starting to ask me, “Which of the children is your favorite?”

    My gut would say, “I love them all the same.”  But then my conscience challenges the response.  My heart moves through a slideshow of their faces.  “What about Ojos?” I’m asked.  She was my baby.  My baby girl.  For so long.  “Or Abraham?”  My baby now.  “Or Janat?”  The youngest girl.  “Or Patrick?”  My oldest.

    One by one, I see their faces.  I hear their giggles, laughs and sweet voices.  My mind’s eye zooms in to their little smiles.

    “Each is my favorite,” I decide.

    Again, I am challenged to truth.  “Surely one must stand out?”

    “Yes.”

    Milo does.  Did.  He’s gone now.  He was my favorite.

    Then Ivan was.

    Then Mzee.

    Prisca.

    Isaac.

    Nasaka.

    All have passed through my arms.

    On.

    My babies.

    My favorites.

    Whoever is weakest,” I admit, “is my favorite.

    Not because they are pitiful and sad.  Not because of despair and its call for sympathy.

    But because of this great sense that they are superior beings who are carefully treading through that gloriously arduous zone of passage.

    To forever.

    To the Divine.

    To what’s next.

    I want to be close to them.  To listen for a whisper.  Search for a sign.  Catch a glimpse.

    And they seem to need courage.  A courage we can give.  By kissing their forehead at night.  Singing a lullaby.  Greeting with a smile.  Patting a shoulder.  Or by holding a hand.

    The thought answers the question.

    This is the hand of my celebrity.  My encounter with Greatness.

    This is my favorite.

  • Like Flowers on an African Stoop

    Yesterday, we had another beautiful African morning.  It started like every other—with the sounds of birds playing on the tin roof, followed shortly by a knock on my front door—a friend over to spend the day.  We had a full schedule, including a drive into the village for food at the outdoor market.

    As we stepped out my front door and off the step, I made a casual remark about wanting to try to find some potted plants for the space.  Realizing what a task that would be in my rural village, I put the thought out of my mind, and we headed out on our drive.  In the evening, we had a small dinner party with friends.  When I closed the door behind the last guest, I remember feeling that I had closed the door on a perfect day.  I couldn’t help singing a new favorite Luganda song as I prepared my bed under the mosquito net.  This move to Africa really was the right thing for me.

    Today, I awoke early, again to the sounds of the bird-dance above.  Anxious to see what this day would hold, I went to open the front door — a sign of welcome to passersby.  As it swung open, what I saw made me gasp in the laughing-sort-of-way that is becoming commonplace for me.  A dozen pots filled with flowers were now adorning my front step.  My friend had obviously heard my simple wish, and had been up early to do something about it. 

    I have no idea where he managed to find the pots, but I do know that, though I am thousands of miles from my birthplace, I have come home — for I have never before seen such simple, unmasked loving-kindness.

    Maybe it sounds silly, but to me the flowers are a perfect expression of the kind of love that gives life its breath.  A love that sees even the simple desires of our heart, quietly places their answers in our lives like flowers on a stoop, and then hides in the bushes until we wake up and open the door to them.

    I would like to think of myself as such an example of loving-kindness, but I know that I am not.

    At least not yet.

    But I shall keep trying. 

    Perhaps Africa will teach me to respond not only to a person’s most obvious needs, but to the seemingly trivial longings of their heart as well.  It just might be the day they come home.

    I’d like that.

    Other early  entries from Nathaniel’s African Journal:

  • Life Just Needs Honey Sometimes

    (From the early pages of Nathaniel’s African Journal.)

    S
    o my little Janat (age 3) is convinced that true survival requires a constant intake of nourishment.  Yes, she loves to eat.  Always.  I could swear this was a genetic hand-me-down from Daddy.  Oh the pleasure of happy taste buds!

    Abraham (age 2) also shares our food-fetish.  If these two see me eating, they feel it is quietly emergent that they join me, that we must conquer the raging plate together.

    So far, Abraham is winning in the packing-it-on department.  His big belly really works for him.  Still I worry about the tottery-ness of his unbalanced physique at times.

    But then, he is a toddler.

    Anyway, the other day, I was feeling a bit eleven-o’clock-ish (as Winnie the Pooh would say), so I decided to sit down for a quick piece of toast. With peanut butter (for its essential protein content, of course).  And honey.  (Because life just needs honey sometimes.)

    Upon commencement, I carefully surveyed the area.  No sign of my taste-buddies.  Today, I would be alone as the man-of-devour.

    I was up to the task.

    But then out of nowhere came my little demolition team.  “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.”

    It was amazing.  They didn’t even need help up to my lap.  They quite naturally and fluidly climbed into place.  A little elbowing, but not much.

    And…begin!

    Janat dropped her first piece.  Never mind, I could see her think, I’ll get to that later.  I made my own mental note to get to it first, and to dispose of it.  Three-years-old or not, our gluttony-gang must have standards.

    We proceeded with tenacity and satisfaction.  Very nice indeed.

    At the table with us was a visiting friend.  Later she commented that Abe and Janat must have considered it such a treat to sit on Daddy’s lap and eat.

    Little does she know, I thought.  This is our modus operandi. 

    With that, I went for the dropped-piece.  And guess what!  Janat had beaten me to it.  I pretended to be frustrated, but was really quite impressed.  Girlfriend’s fast!

    “A treat?” I said. “I think they’d be used to it by now.  I feel like our life-clock is forever set on dine-time.”

    My friend smiled.  Then she said something quite simple and precious: “No matter how often, I think it must always be a treat,” she said, “to sit on Daddy’s lap.” 

    Other early  entries from Nathaniel’s African Journal:

  • In the Shadow

    Below is another early entry from Nathaniel’s African journal.  It very much relates to the first we offered here a few days ago, called: “Pray for Bob, Daddy.”  Perhaps you would like to read the former before reading the below…if you have not already done so.

    ——–
    T
    he car window framed an evolving portrait of Ugandan life.  Leafy banana fields and papyrus-filled swamps waned into the bustling city streets of Kampala.  They, in turn, faded into sugarcane plantations, and the soft, rolling hills of the tropics.  A bridge crossed the River Nile.  On any other day, this masterpiece that is Africa captures my being’s heart and soul; presenting a unique gift of inspiration, peace and nourishment.  Today, I barely noticed the beautiful canvas outside because of what I was feeling inside; because the pickup ahead of me held my little Ivan.  Or what had been Ivan.  His spirit, now in a new home, was with us in a different form as we traveled to lay to rest his former vessel—near his parents’.

    He had died a peaceful death. At nine years old, he had lived longer than most children with AIDS in Africa.  Longer than hoped.  Longer than he would have outside my home.  For that I was grateful. 

    And one day, Eternity will reunite us, and we will dance together again—like we always used to.  And his steps will be freer and more beautiful than ever before. And what music!

    Until then, though, there is a season of mourning—and a season of fighting. We will keep going.  We will continue to help children to live longer, to suffer less, and to be at peace.

    The pickup pulled off the village road.  My taxi followed.  I stepped out.

    “This is Bob,” someone said to me. 

    “He asked for you just two weeks ago,” I’m amazed. “We didn’t know where to find you.”

    I guess Bob to be about seven years old.  He sat next to me throughout the funeral.  He wanted to hold my hand.  I wanted to hold his.

    As we left our seats and moved towards the grave, little Bob squeezed my hand and spoke my name.  I looked down into his eyes.  Ivan’s eyes.  His tears. “Thank you for treating Ivan,” he said simply.  “You are my friend. My real friend.”

    We went together to say goodbye.

    The grave was nicely prepared.  This hasn’t always been true for my other children who have died—children who had no one.  But it was so disturbing.  So small.  Tiny in fact. 

    Surely graves were never meant to be so little.

    We sprinkled flower petals on top of the simple casket.  Some men from the village sealed the grave.  Bob took my hand again, and we walked back towards the small village hut.  The family’s land was filled with graves.  We carefully stepped over them. Around them.  Many of the sepulcher mounds too small.  All of them, I had a sense, had been dug too soon.

    As usual, people crowded around me after the service.  Many to say thank you.  Others to get a closer look at my fair skin.  Most came with desperate questions about their own HIV situation.  Their children.  Their orphaned grandchildren.

    I lingered.  I answered all the questions I could.

    Finally, I had to go.

     

    The next morning, my little Mzee died.  Also nine years old.

    The process repeated itself.  Another tiny grave.  Another suffering body put to unmatchable peace.  And rest.

    Two days later, Prisca died.  Also nine years old. 

    The next day, I gathered all my children and my staff in our backyard.  In the shadow cast by our house.  And by our sorrow.

    Again, the masterpiece that is Africa framed each of us as we took a turn to stand and talk about our precious sons and brothers.  Our Prisca.  Our Ivan.  Our Mzee.  We cried. And we laughed.  We shared secrets.  We shared tears.

    I had prepared a basket filled with flower petals taken from blossoms from the yard.  Our yard. 

    “Let’s form a circle,” I said.  From the inside of the circle, I presented the basket to each staff member, each child, one-by-one.  “Take a handful,” I quietly instructed.

    “These flower petals,” I began, not sure what I would say next, “though now in a different shape than they were when on the stem, remain beautiful.”  Still inside the circle, I slowly turned and looked into the eyes, the souls, encircling mine.  “Even more beautiful, some may say. Though their form is different, though they are no longer ‘living’ in the way that we normally recognize, they are still with us. And they are wonderful.”  Every eye, each soul, was looking back at me, at mine, in understanding.

    “Ivan, Mzee and Prisca are a lot like these precious flower petals. Their form is now different, but they are still beautiful, still lovely.  Still precious.  And they are with us.”

    We then took our handfuls and lofted them into the heavens—and said farewell. “Until we meet again.”

    The gate’s buzzer used its startling voice to join the moment.

    The gatekeeper excused himself from the circle.  He ran to the gate.  There, he found a small child.  Another soul.  Another opportunity to make a difference.  Another chance to make last days more comfortable, life more precious and hope more real.  

    And so it goes.