We woke, bleary, mosquito nets pushed aside but sleep still draped around us. I tapped ground coffee from starbux into my triadventure mug, and added milk I brought in a tetra pack from home. On my 8th visit, I know what I need.
Steph and I spent an hour in the office of the Probation Officer, the man in charge of children’s welfare in the district. I barely noticed the cartoon like poster admonishing people against child sacrifice behind Mr. Sowati. The first time I saw it, I gawped. Now it weaves in.
“The Rwenzoris feel like home, don’t they?” Steph and I looked quietly at the green hills, the red roads.
We went in with worry, knowing that now that we are an official NGO in Uganda, we have a whole new maze to walk through. The Ministry of Gender doesn’t approve of orphanages, wants to push children to their villages, force parents to take up their responsibilities. We understand that, and have never called ourselves an orphanage. They need to protect children, want us to send away the older kids, take in more local children.
“Do people abandon their children in pit latrines in Canada?” asked Mr Sowati, forcefully. Making the point that some people in Uganda are terrible, that something has to change.
“Sometimes in firehalls,” offered steph.
“But PIT latrines?” he asked.
We were quiet.
Getting through the conversation was like watching the weaver birds on the hotel grounds carefully build the fragile nests that dangle from the trees, like Christmas ornaments. One thread at a time, carefully, contrary to nature.
In the end, he understood that the Niki kids have always had connection to their home villages, that they each belong somewhere, know what it means to dig and slash and plant. They know who they are and spend six weeks at Christmas with their families. We are not merely housing them, we have active programming when they are at the house between school terms. “You should help them plan for being donors themselves when they are adults,” he said. “We agree.” Success.
Then to the vet, to help the poor skinny mama dog, some prolapsed pink oozy flesh coming out of her vagina. Kicking her puppies away because she’s starving. Steph slid in the fresh black mud. “It’s okay, I did too,” laughed the vet.
Like Ugandans, we assumed the vet would wait patiently while we did errands on the way back. Two thwarted ATM visits, six shops to find minutes for my phone, a bag of milk for the puppies.
Innocent held the dog while the vet injected her with “anti-puppy” (depo provera for dogs?), prescribed de-wormer, anti-bacterial spray for her wound, tick wash. We persuaded Good to feed her twice a day.
Then writing job descriptions and letters of appointment (2 of the 18 tasks we have to do to satisfy the Ministry of Gender), more coffee, then a feat of engineering to hang the triad banner. Photos of the kids.
Meeting with two of the community project groups, updates, planning, suggestions, inspiration. Moments of immense gratitude for what’s being created before our eyes.
Lunch, plain spaghetti with tomato soup, basically. Avocado. Sleepy haze, broken fan in the hotel.
Boys’ meeting. Career planning, something each of them is proud of over the past year. Expectations, hope. Pringles and soda.
Meetings with three of the boys one on one, who need specific guidance. Bargaining. “”You’re far too bright to have this trouble. You have two terms left. We’ll send you to the better school. But you have to promise you’ll focus.” “I will… but really, I want to play football. I am so talented.” An hour with Kagame, talking about songwriting. Not posting barechested photos on facebook.
Staggering toward the house, sleepy, it’s dark. The girls waylay me. Auntie, come dance! I dance two songs, slide into the house, talk to Tina and Gabriel about job descriptions.
Filthy, sticky, I turn on the tap at the hotel. No water. A mystery. The dinner of every night: tilapia, rice, vegetables, avocado.