• 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.

  • 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.       

  • 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:

  • Can you fund a university scholarship for our kids?

    It only costs $1,500 per term to fund tuition, housing and associated fees for one of our kids at Makerere University (one of Africa’s top ten schools)!

    There are three terms each year, for a total of $4,500 per year.

    Can you help?  We will name the scholarship after you or whomever you wish, creating an important legacy through the transformational power of higher education for our dear kids.

    And it’s as easy as clicking here.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Ritah & Rogers on their way to the university!

    Ritah & Rogers on their way to the university!

  • The Noise of Poverty; Understanding Its Power over Self & Other

    by Nathaniel Dunigan, EdM, AidChild’s Founder

    As I transition from the “West” to Uganda—yet again—I am anticipating the different sounds in the lifescape.  Some will welcome me, emoting joy and pleasure. Others will attack me in offensive ways, stirring negativity and frustration.  Others will be processed subconsciously—and yet will nevertheless affect my sense of peace and wellbeing.

    Some elements of the life-noise are cultural, of course.  The drumming from a village celebration, for example, or the calls to prayer from the mosque.

    The Ugandan affection for music means that it is often heard in the absent-minded song of a passerby, via the crude speakers of a battery-operated device, or seriously booming from a nightclub’s woofers.

    Traffic is always robust.  The use of horns is not seen as offensive or bothersome, and so their blasts are heard throughout the day, and even into the night when they are used to summon gatekeepers and guards.

    Other sounds are natural.  The number of birdcalls I hear within the space of a minute is fantastic, and I have developed a great love of the sounds of the breeze as it rustles the huge fronds of the banana trees.

    While finally other noises emerge from the intersection of lifestyle and need.  A crowing rooster is never… (click here to read the rest).

  • World AIDS Day, Dec 1

    Please remember World AIDS Day (Dec 1) as you pass through this marvelous season of giving thanks. It is a special opportunity to ask what one can do to  help. Consider having the conversation with friends and family as you gather. How can abundance in one place translate into aid where there is a lack of abundance in another? We believe that it can be translated, and paid-forward.

    With the marvelous introduction of treatment, many people feel that HIV is no longer a major concern. From the frontlines, I have an entirely different image. Over 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today, 97% of them in sub-Saharan Africa, and infection rates are increasing (aids.gov).  We must not forget. We must press on.  We can only do so with your support.

    In addition to our grander efforts, I will also be doing something simple: I will be selling red ribbons to friends and colleagues in the week leading up to Saturday, Dec 1.  At $2 each, if I can sell 200, I will have raised $400, a powerful amount in our village budgets. Sometimes, it’s the little things that add up the most quickly.

    Please consider what you can do.  All my thanks, –Nathaniel