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There and Back... and There Again!


Hang on It’s Going to be an Emotional Rollercoaster
Our child loves to wake up early! Sleep is optional at this point as we are awakened each morning well before daybreak.  Carla and I tag team everything.  I take ZG to breakfast/ Carla gets ready. I get ready/ Carla changes the poop diapers. I put her clothes on/ Carla packs the baby bag.  We have created a pretty good partnership over the last few days. 

Patrick arrived early and shared a meal with ZG and I at the hotel restaurant.  The man can flat out eat! Soon after we loaded up and got in the van, our facilitator arrived at our hotel. She had three sets of papers that required signatures from the biological family members and we  left looking forward to the day out in the sugar cane laced hills of Lugazi.

The twenty minute van ride to the orphanage gets shorter everyday it seems. We dropped off ZG at the orphanage for the day to play with her brothers and sisters.  We also dropped off our laundry for the workers to earn some extra cash.  The director piled into the van and off we went to pick up our trusted policeman.  When he saw me the first thing he said was, “can I play the game”? If you remember I gave him my Iphone during our first meeting and he loved playing GTA III!  With the policeman along for the ride in case of any funny business by the biological family, we drove off away from the pavement and ignorant bliss of what we thought Uganda was.

Just before we left the town center in Lugazi, we paid the biological mother a visit to sign some papers.  She came up to the van smiling and shot her head inside the door hoping to see her daughter.  She was obviously disappointed that ZG was not with us and greeted us warmly instead. I really do believe that she likes us and is happy for her daughter.  As the director helped her recite the verbage of the papers, her broken English proved that she had received some education.  She walked back down the hill and off we went to the village.

Pulling away from the familiarity of asphalt streets and power lines is ordinarily no big deal. Being from the south we do it all the time; but the dirt roads of Uganda are different. They tell you a story with each pot hole and wash out that you rattle through.  Just off the pavement in Lugazi is the trading center.  This is Wal-Mart for the villagers. If you have potatoes, you bring your potatoes. If you have tea, you bring tea.  The trading center is the life of the community and, to my account, where all the town gossip and hearsay is disseminated.  As we drove past the trading center I notice a nice set of houses. The red brick houses looked to have been built in the 1940’s. There must have been fifty of them. Our driver called them the “quarters”. While under British rule prior to 1962, Uganda was, and still is, a key producer of tea and sugar cane. These small modular houses still provide accommodation to the thousands of sugar cane workers in Lugazi.  Riding higher and higher up the mountain, the view became more spectacular.  Everything is green for as far as you can see. Ugandans love to refer to their country as “Green Africa”.  Looking over the hillside your eyes become drawn to the bright garments being worn by the villagers as they work in the fields.  Some of the fields stretched so far across the landscape that I couldn’t see when they ended.  Green Africa is beautiful.  Every tree, every plant sustains life in some form or another.  For a villager with a small piece of land, he can provide for a family of five with the just the plants in his backyard. Throw in a cow and some chickens and he will always eat like a king outside of drought years.  Irrigation is not needed because of the climate, and has never been pursued by the members of the Lugazi community.  Everyone draws their water for the day at one of the many watering holes along the winding dirt roads that snake up the hillside.  Rain had fallen on the clay road bed earlier that morning and we struggled to make it up some of the more aggressive grades.  As we made our way to ZG’s biological father’s home, we had to abandon the bouncing ride of the van and walk several hundred yards in the mud.

ZG’s biological father lives in mud hut with a thatched roof.  There is a small wooden door that is half off its hinges.  The reddish brown hut is surrounded by dirt. For those of you whose don’t understand what I mean by a mud hut, think field trips to Moundville. It’s a way of living that we perceive to be dead; mind you, it is alive in Africa.  The tricky man greeted us with a few members of his posse and offered us some fruit. There was a short conversation about why we had come to visit. And to assert her position, our always energetic orphanage director basically called him out and asked him why he left the clinic before his treatments were complete and told him that he needed to be more thankful and stop talking crap about her in the village! SNAP- SNAP- SNAP, oh no she didn’t!  He walked with us down the muddy path to his parent’s house where we were greeted and introduced.  The grandfather was hunchbacked and carried a walking stick.  He hates white skin and asked for money.  After we snuck a few photos of the old man, the grandmother politely sat with us for a nice photo.  Regardless, these are ZGs biological family and she will hopefully appreciate the effort that the director went to in order to capture a few photographs.

The tricky man walked with us back to the van where he was presented with the additional papers to sign.  He is uneducated to point to where he doesn’t even know how to write his name.  The director smeared black ink onto his thumb and pressed it against the paper providing us his signature.

As you will all see in photos one day, ZG’s biological JAJA is a very happy woman.  She is in her fifties, but is still strong enough to carry a sack of potatoes that weighs half her own weight.  Their homestead is complete with chickens and fruit trees. The three room house was built in the 60’s and is also home to her mother, sister, sister’s grandchild, and ZG’s half-brother.  The half-brother looks just like ZG. He is about three years old and appears to be healthy.  I showed him the Ipad and he watched an entire episode of Yo Gaba Gaba before we had to leave.  The great grandmother must be in her eighties and, as a custom in the villages, kneeled down to great us when we approached.  She told us that she hoped she was still alive when we brought ZG back to Uganda to visit.  I hope she is too! We left the JAJA’s and traveled on through the village.

Most of you know that ZG was abandoned from reading the earlier posts. Today ZG’s biological uncle took us to the place where she was found; naked and alone in near freezing temperatures outside of a clay pit that is used to make bricks.  The scene that played in my head was like a movie. Through piecing together the details I learned from the orphanage director and our trusted policeman, I recreated the scene with chilling detail as we all quietly stared at the stacks of brick.

After just giving birth to her baby girl, the scared young mother, exiled by her family for her involvement with a local medicine man, cared for the child for almost 3 weeks before she decided that she simply could not do it anymore. As the day began to break, she took the child to a place where she would quickly be found by a villager out collecting water or firewood.  After carefully wrapping the child in banana leaves she turned and left with a mind and heart full of regret; but in her mind there was no other option.  The next morning, through the sounds of the jungle, a villager discovered the baby near the dark red clay pit.  The thatching that kept the moisture off of the baking bricks were the same thatchings that provided temporary shelter for the tiny baby girl.  Soon she would be delivered to the orphanage and a family from half way around the world would lose their life before allowing her’s to be harmed again. 

I have to be thankful for all of the parts of the story, no matter how horrific they are.  I am thankful for the villager who rescued ZG and took her to the police station.  I am thankful for the orphanage director. And most importantly, I am just thankful for my healthy daughter.

After Carla drove the van through the village for about thirty minutes, we eventually had to relieve her of her duties and let Patrick back behind the wheel.  Carla did Awesome!  She could definitely be a driver in Uganda (well maybe out in the fields where there are no people)! When we reached the main road, we let the maternal biological uncle who took us to the abandonment site and the policeman out and bid them farewell for the day and thanked them for their time. But before we drove down the Jinja Highway to visit one of the girl’s in the orphanage home, I wanted lunch.  I was told we could stop at the roadside market on the way. I said , “great. I’m getting chicken on a stick”. I had seen this offering at another roadside market and it looked safe and tasty so my mind was made up.

The driver took us to a roadside market where we were ambushed by thirty vendors throwing their goods into our open windows.  Chicken on a stick, liver on a stick, soda, roasted bananas, fresh fruit, and bread were just a few of the arms that fought hard enough to become an offering for us.  After the director told them all to chill out or we were not buying anything, the van stopped shaking for a moment.  A few minutes later we were back on the road with ten chicken’s on a stick, a half dozen roasted bananas, and five sodas. The experience was crazy and we laughed about it for the next twenty minutes as we traveled east towards Jinja to visit the family.

One of children in the orphanage was recently placed there because of emotionally heavy and unfortunate circumstances at her home. She wasn’t abandoned or not loved. We paid her home a visit today.

The girl in the care of the orphanage has a living mother and is a perfectly healthy child.  She has been in the care of the orphanage ever since her mother’s AIDS has begun to accelerate; and to make matters worse, she has a ten year old sister who is confined to a wheelchair and has cerebral malaria which has left her in a physical state much like someone with a severe case of cerebral palsy.  They have no food, no money, and sadly could become homeless without the good graces of their landlord.  The walls of their two room home are lined with picture frames full of their family that once was.  Pictures of the malaria stricken girl prior to the accelerated state of the disease show a perfectly happy girl.  The mother once young and vibrant looks to have aged ten years in the last eight months.  Groans of agony come from the sick girl’s hungry stomach because she has not eaten since the day before.  The neighbors had given them some meal for the day and the mother would certainly go without in order to feed her starving child.  The scene was literally too much to handle for all of us. We brought some bananas as a courtesy and gave the mother enough money for a week’s worth of food, but the sting of experiencing the pain of that home is still burning in my heart.  The orphanage director asked me to pray for the family and through God’s will alone I was able to give thanks in all things and acknowledge His all mighty authority in this world.  I was a wreck. Crying for the second time in one week; this time because I could feel the pain of this home.

Why is this happening in our world, to a Christian home; and to none other than a child? Why don’t you start answering my questions God? Some almighty healer you are! I could pool enough resources together today and have this child in a facility and her mom treatments! Who are you God? Why do you let this happen?!?!?!

“Stop it Clint”, God says to me.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. While you are on earth I am on the throne in heaven, so stop it right now”.

It has to be that simple no matter how much we hurt for earthly pain. No matter how sympathetic we think we have to be towards the least of these, the only way we can ever understand the love of our Father is to trust that everyone is in His hands. None will be forsaken or forgotten. Our God is a perfect gentleman.

Please pray big sincere prayers for God to heal these broken bodies and reveal His plan in this home.

The look on ZG’s face was priceless and she bounced happily and Carla picked her up; all the world was good.  ZG was so excited that her parents had come back after the long day of traveling.  It is feeling that everyone can relate too.  I remember waiting on the front porch of our house when I was younger and would get excited as soon as I heard my dad’s truck coming down the quiet country road after a long day’s work. Children love to see their parents at the end of the day and parents should be just as happy to see their children. I hope I never forget that!  We missed her too, and after watching a video with the other children in the home, we got back in the belly of the iron beast and drove back to Mukono. I needed to go to the bank, so we stopped at a local branch on the crowded street.  I was a little nervous, but I am beginning to learn that the Ugandan people don’t have a problem with me. They are a very hard working, conservative, and fun loving people.

When we got back to the hotel we decided to retire to our rooms immediately.  ZG needed to eat and a bath and we all wanted to “just be” for a minute before bedtime.  After ZG got her pjs on, George came by for a few minutes and played.  The power had apparently gone off at some point because the loud hum of the generator made it hard to hear Carla inside the room. It didn’t bother ZG and she surrendered her fight against the sandman at about 7:30pm.  The alarm is set for 9am so we should get a good bit of rest. Tomorrow we are going to Kampala to look for another hotel or guest house for when we will need to move in a few days to save money on fuel and driving costs.

House Hunters International

The hotel in Mukono is just too loud to get any rest.  The parties last until midnight basically every night.  We also learned from the housekeeper’s seven year old daughter that the establishment also has a pay by the hour offering-- Kind of a Moonwinks or Ol’ English Inn business model. I was wondering how they sustained such a grand place with only one room occupied!  And to think I almost visited the Spa!

Our facilitator met us at the museum in Kampala where she works part time and we slid the van door shut for a day of riding all around town. 

First thing first, let’s check out the bed and breakfast that our facilitator recommended. The 882 Terrace was so nice we didn’t want to spend another night at the other hotel.  Our new accommodations would cost us an extra $5 per night but I think I would have paid $100 more to have a baby bed and WIFI!  We told the proprietor of the B&B that we would be moving tomorrow!  Only one more night at the Best Little Whore House in Uganda!

I had been told by the journalist that accompanied us to court that the Speke Resort was a great place for Mzungus so I asked Patrick to take us there. The resort is beautiful. Probably the most beautiful resort I’ve ever been to.  It was constructed as a meeting place for all the tribes of Uganda to meet and discuss matters that concern the heritage and the country.  Late September is apparently wedding season in Uganda, and the Speke Resort is the happening venue.  We laughed so hard watching the young girls walking in high heels to the lobby.  Bless their hearts. Some of them just gave up and continued the walk from the parking lot in their bare feet.  The others stubbornly looked like new born calves clumsily gaiting down the paver walkway.  The resort is located on Lake Victoria and the huge grass lawn made for a great place for a photo session with ZG.  We took some really great shots before ZG’s biology decided it was time to move!  Not sure what parenting lesson I’m on, but here’s a big one—Never go anywhere without the baby’s bag!  We heard what we thought was the first breach and checked her Pamper only to be fooled. False Alarm! Patrick must have seen us check because he left and went to the van to fetch our bags.  We had no clue that he had done this until we called him to let him know that we needed to go back to the van now now.  He told us he was almost back to the lobby.  In the meantime ZG was grinning ear to ear and we all know what that means!  Carla has a big mess to clean up!  While we waited for our bag, I sat her on my lap and played.  That was the moment when we realized that her Pamper was too big.  Not only did her pants succumb to the poo, mine did as well. It even got on my arm!  Blow Out City!  Carla hurriedly ran her to lobby restroom and bathed her I guess. I’m not sure there was another option! I washed the poo off of me too and returned to the lobby. That evening we bought smaller Pampers and now we always take the bag with us!

As usual it was close to 4pm and we hadn’t eaten all day. Our facilitator took us to an Italian restaurant and we had pizza and spaghetti.  It was pretty good, but the best part was they had a playground and ice cream.  ZG liked the swingset and was a little iffy on the slide, but one thing is for sure, she LOVED the ice cream!  I’m sure nine month olds in America finish off their spaghetti with ice cream!

Earlier in the day our facilitator asked us to go to a Passion concert with her.  Carla and I thought it would be a nice concert not the 2012 Passion World Tour!  We arrived early and met some girls from Texas who were working at a children’s home in the northern part of the country deep in the bush along the river Nile.  One of the girls was so excited for ZG and her new parents that she asked to pray for us right there. Of course we obliged and shortly after the concert began.  The main act was Chris Tomlin. This guy has basically written every worship song in the world for the last 20 years.  The band did not disappoint.  It was a full on production.  As the worship rang out, and the sunset made the Gadhafi Mosque in the background disappear, 20,000 people sang and worshipped our God on a muddy soccer field at Makarere University in downtown Kampala. 

The production value of the concert soon became too much for me and I told Carla that ZG was sleepy and it was too loud for her to fall asleep.  We rounded up our driver and headed back to the hotel in Mukono for the last time.

Establishing a schedule for a child is hard to do at your own home, much less living out of vans and hotels.  All the stress of the inconsistency has been so tough on ZG.  She wakes up every morning at 1am hungry and at 5am ready to play.  It’s not worth the fight with her right now so we meet her needs with zero resistance.  We are starting to grow very tired and need good rest.  Moving to the city should be a big help towards this rest.

Moving Day and Church

It’s amazing how much you can get done before 10am when you wake up at 5am!  We got three baths, packed our bags, ate breakfast, and even played with George before leaving for church at a little after 10am.  The people at the hotel were all so nice, so I left them a thank you note with the front desk worker as I cleared out my bill.  Pray for the staff of this hotel and the men who use this place to exploit women.

ZG has been drinking two boxes of milk per day, so I needed to go by a market to purchase more box milk and a few snacks for Carla and I.  As soon as we arrived at Watoto, the church where our facilitator attends, she invited Carla to walk up the hill to buy some grilled meat from a street vendor.  Carla gobbled it down and enjoyed every bite, unsure of when the next time we would eat.  Church was incredible.  The worship team rocked out and praised God.  When the pastor took the stage to preach on God’s plan for Uganda, rain began to fall on the tin roof of the open air structure making it impossible to hear the message.  The rain stopped soon after it started and we listened attentively to the heavily accented King’s English as the Ugandan mothers bundled up their children in blankets and wrapped scarves around their necks.  The temperature literally only dropped to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight breeze.  Everywhere we go, the Ugandan people ask us where ZG’s socks and jacket are.  We have learned to just act like we don’t understand what they are saying!

Church ended at 2pm and we checked into our new accommodations, played with ZG, and unpacked until our facilitator arrived to pick us up at 5:30 for a night of entertainment at the Ndaye Cultural Center.  The good news is that there was food at the center.  I had the traditional Ugandan food and Carla had barbequed goat and rice.  ZG shared with both mommy and daddy.  One of our favorite foods is Matoka. It is made by wrapping green plantains in banana leaves and baking it for several hours.  Add the purple peanut sauce and it is unbelievable! 

The evening continued with traditional dancing and singing. The emcee directed each act in a variety show format.  At one point in the show he invited the kids from the audience down to the Amphitheatre floor and they danced in a circle with the traditional instruments playing in the background.  The girls in the show must not have a joint in their hips because they made Beyoncé look like a goofy teenage white kid. In America it may be offensive to stare so intently at someone’s posterior, but in Uganda it is impossible not to be hypnotized by the movement of the dancer’s bodies.  The night played on too long, and for the second night in a row we were forced to turn in early for ZG.  We are learning that being a parent is less about how much fun you are having and more about if you think you child is ok.  Don’t worry baby sitters, you may have the most secure job in America!

We returned to the B&B for the first night in our new home. 

Africa’s Angels

Different place, same result.  ZG still woke up at 1am and again around 5am.  We have to do something about this!  Our driver, the most prompt and appetite driven man in Uganda was ready to go 2 hours early. I explained to him that we would be leaving at 10am as originally scheduled. He was very excited because the orphanage director had asked him to help me at the market for the meal that I promised to provide for the day. Patrick would eat well today.  I changed my mind when we arrived at the supermarket and decided to buy enough supplies for the orphanage for a few days.  We bought rice, sugar, snacks, soda, spices, bread, full cream unpasteurized milk, and so many other things I have forgotten.  Patrick also took me to the meat market and negotiated with a butcher as I shooed away the hundreds of flies that covered my future lunch.  After two more roadside market stops we had filled the van with a rich variety of all the Uganda soil had to offer. 

The orphanage director gave us both a big hug and pushed away tears because of the amount of supplies that we had managed to deliver from our morning of shopping.  The next two hours were spent playing with the children in the home while our feast was being prepared. 

 

After lunch we were asked to visit the community with the orphanage director. In addition to Carla and I, an eighteen year old from Rotterdam, named Alyssa and a local boy of the same age named Patrick dedicated their afternoon to making house calls with the director.  In Uganda there is not a government funded child welfare office. The police have a special task force for criminal neglect, but the equivalent of DHR is nowhere to be found.  That is where people like the orphanage director with the help of her network of volunteer step in; Africa’s Angels.

The first stop we made after picking up our community volunteer, Hijet, was to the one room round mud hut where one of the boys from the orphanage two year old brother lived with his mother.  The child was the spitting image of his older brother and, though he looked malnourished, was able to move around very good and even smiled a few times with his mouth full of teeth.  The director asked a lot of questions about what he had eaten, when he had eaten, and when he would eat again.  She has a huge heart for the children of her community; she’s an Angel remember!  She took several photos of the living conditions and of the child, and we moved on to the next home.

The dirt road went on forever up the hills of the tea plantation. When we stopped the van it was because the pig trail to the next home was barely big enough for a bicycle to pass between the big green canopy of trees.  We walked up to the home unprepared for what we saw. The house, if you can call it that, was about five feet deep and 10 feet long. The roof sloped steeply to the back just high enough to stand.  The floor was littered with a small foam mattress and tattered clothing. The right side of the small house had three stones for cooking, though it looked as though there had not been a fire for several days.  The mother is crippled.  Chiggers had eaten her toes away and were now working away at her hands.  The father was off drinking, trying his best to forget about the hell that awaited him at home.  Their four year old son stood in the doorway with only a dirty shirt on, just long enough to cover his pride.  He was obviously malnourished.  Shaky and cross-eyed, his belly stuck out like a tumor from the lack of food.  He could not speak and when we entered the home he sat down by his mother in the pile of dirty clothes.  The mother was holding his little brother who is ZG’s age.  The child looked like a new born baby.  If he weighed five pounds I would be surprised.  Cast judgment on me if you like, but I wanted the child to be taken out of this world, away from the suffering that has left him numb over the last nine months of his troubled life.  Food should not be a reason for dying inside your own skin. In America we waste enough food in one week to sink a sink, yet deep in the village of eastern Uganda two boys and their mother sit in a dark house each day unaware of how hungry they really are.  The young Dutch girl excused herself outside and sobbed for the poor family.  Beside herself of what she should do the young boy with us put his hand on her shoulder and said to her, “God Bless Africa, especially Uganda”.  A simple powerful prayer.

 The director, tired from another day of being an Angel, uploaded the photos on her computer and shared with us a dozen or so photos of ZG that we had never seen.  It was very nice to pictorially fill in the gaps of the last nine months. 

Again, we loaded up in to our hired steel box and made the one hour trek through the jam back to Kamala.  We arrived to our room at 8pm and fed ZG milk and ceralac in hopes of her sleeping through the night.  Let’s hope it works.
We Love you Guys,
Two Wishful Parents

Comments

  1. Clint,

    Hayley and I have enjoyed reading your blog updates on your journey. I didn't know until the other day that you and Carla were doing this. I pray that God will continue to touch both your lives and that he will continue to bless you two. I also pray that things keep going well with little ZG. She seems to be a very happy baby who is beginning to love her awesome parents more and more each day. This is a very big step for all three of you and I just can't imagine all the emotions that you all are going through. It's so great to read updates and I can't wait to read more. Ya'll take care and remember we all love you guys. I have also put all three of you on our Sunday School Prayer List at Northport Baptist.

    MJ

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lots of love and prayers coming your way guys.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amazing memories you are making for your new family!! Love reading every word. Can't wait to have y'all home!! Praying for the Hamner Fam!! Love you all!!

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