2 Surprise African Reception

Apparently Justin and I are not the only ones who can organize surprise weddings. On Saturday Mami Edith organized a surprise reception for Justin and me. She told us that her friend Ruth was taking us out to dinner and that I would be wearing the traditional Rwandan dress she had made for me last week. She also had me surprise Justin with a kanzu (traditional formal wear for Bugandan men). But instead of heading out to dinner like we thought, Ruth brought us back to our home where a small bridal party led us through our front gate. We were welcomed to the party by songs and dances from around Uganda with my younger Ugandan sisters, Viola and Ruth, scattering flowers before us as we walked.

Entering our surprise party with our traditional dress.
We were honestly shocked.  
Mami Edith really knows how to throw a party and our reception was no exception. We ate great food (boiled plantains, rice, meat, chapatti, soup, and veggies galore), mingled with invited guests and danced the night away. She even had a cake with a beautiful message: Welcome Home Dorie and Justin!

There's never a lack of food at Mami Edith's house.
Linah, one of the girls from our bridal party, had a huge crush on Justin. Who wouldn't?
In Uganda, the bride and groom don't just feed each other, they also serve each guest a piece of cake.
My favorite part of the night was when Edith presented Justin with some gifts to officially welcome him to the family. She first gave him a leather hat to protect his head from the elements as he works to provide for his family. Then she presented him with a walking stick that he should use as a weapon to protect his wife and future children. The walking stick is a symbol of responsibility, which he now has more of since he’s a married man.

Edith presenting Justin with his gifts.

Our "first dance". Thanks to Edith's careful and thoughtful planning, we danced to Bob Dylan (Justin's favorite).
Dancing the night away, Ugandan style.
Now that we are in our last week here in Uganda, we’ve started our honeymoon week. Yesterday we took a road trip back to Jinja to visit the source of the Nile River and to check out Sezibwa Falls.
Sezibwa Falls

Justin after hiking to the top of the falls.

The source of the Nile.

The boat we took to the spring where the Nile begins.

The bubbling water in the front is the spring that feeds the Nile. 

Tomorrow we are heading out to western Uganda so Justin can meet Edith’s extended family and so we can spend a few days relaxing in a resort that overlooks Queen Elizabeth National Park. We’ll be sure to let you know how our trip went when we return to Kampala!

Sunset over the Nile.


2 They Day I've Been Waiting for...

Today was the day I’ve been dreaming about for months now. The culmination of months of fund-raising, three weeks of planning, and, of course, countless hours of shoe shopping (you’d be surprised how much work goes into buying 1,050 pairs of shoes for kids who don’t even know what the phrase “shoe size” means).

Some of the Bunyiro students in their classroom
But thankfully I have the support of the best friends and family one could imagine - from my students in the US who saved their coins and dollars to my Ugandan family who has worked tirelessly to make this dream come true. Mami Edith has spent the past month in constant contact with the headmaster of Bunyiro Primary who, after we left some sample shoes at the school, was able to give us a list of shoe sizes for each student. Kasfa has lived in a world of shoes for over two weeks now. Since we don’t have the luxury of ordering shoes in bulk online, she would head to the wholesale shop almost every day with the list of shoe sizes and would sort shoes until the late hours of the night. Even Daphine came home from student teaching to help out. Without the help of my Ugandan family, this day would never have happened. 

Kasfa, looking a bit tired, worked day and night shopping for and organizing the shoes
When we arrived at Bunyiro Primary, the students were running around the compound, barefoot and excited. Today was their last day of school for the semester, so there was extra excitement in the air – not to mention they knew some special visitors were coming with a surprise.

Bunyiro students playing in the compound
Soon after we arrived, the students began to gather under the big mango tree for the day’s assembly. Though I visit the school each year with gifts for the students (sweets, soap, notebooks, pencils, handkerchiefs…) this year was clearly different as the local chiefs, members of administration and even the press joined us at the outdoor “stage”.

Gathering under the mango tree.
The assembly had plenty of introductions and speeches, but my favorite, by far, was the entertainment provided by the school choir. They sang and danced songs of welcome as Justin and I sat watching, feet tapping to the beat of the drum as our smiles stretched from ear to ear (and a few tears of joy welled in my eyes).

The choir looking smart in their floral dresses with the dancers shaking their hips in front.
When the songs finished, the headmaster invited me to speak a few words to the children, which I did with pleasure. I explained to the students how my students back in the US sacrificed the money they would have usually spent on ice cream or candy just so they could help some friends across the globe whom they’ve never met.

My attentive audience. For those of you who read my last blog post, that's Sophie sitting front and center.
Unfortunately (partly due to the fact that the estimate that was given was: 1. given for sandals, not shoes, which the school “requires” and 2. A low-ball estimate even for sandals) the money we raised was only 1/3 of what we needed. Thanks be to God, He provided the rest. I told the students that it was only through a miracle that we were able to give each one their very first pair of shoes and upon reflecting on my students raising money, the extraordinary amount of work put in by my Uganda family and being able to come up with the remaining 2/3 of the money we needed – I truly meant it. Today was a miracle.

It's difficult to imagine what 1,050 pairs of shoes look like. This is just a portion of the sacks we filled.
After the assembly came to an end, we went straight to work passing out the shoes. The kids were lined up from youngest to oldest. One by one they came and sat on a bench in front of the team we brought from my Ugandan church where we washed the filth from their feet and legs in a basin of soapy water. After carefully drying their feet, being sure to remember the spaces in between their tiny wiggling toes, we slipped on their shiny new shoes. Children who at first just stared at me with big eyes full of wonder (and probably even a bit of fright) now smiled at me – the international symbol of happiness. Though most of the students don’t know English well enough to express their gratitude, seeing those big toothy grins was more than enough.

Some of the younger ones waiting patiently for their first pair of shoes.
Aside from the dancing, my favorite part of the day was when Pastor Tom stood to address the students. Pastor Tom (pastor of Life Resurrection Centre, my church here in Uganda) is a graduate of this Muslim-founded school. As all students of Bunyiro, regardless of their personal religion, Pastor would go to the mosque throughout the day to pray and learn about Islam. Now that he is a graduate of Bunyiro, he feels it is his duty to go back to his school as often as possible and show the students God’s unconditional love through providing their basic needs.

Pastor Tom, graduate of Bunyiro, addressing the students.
As he spoke, he reiterated an important truth that many Christians tend to forget: God does not discriminate. He does not love Christians more than Muslims or anyone else for that matter. He believes we should be a blessing to everyone we meet, regardless of faith.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. ~Matthew 5:43-48
I thought about the truth in his message as I reflected once again on all the work it took to make today possible. My students in the US from a variety of cultures and faiths donating money because of their belief that children should not have to walk miles to school barefoot, only to be exposed to Jiggers (a parasite that leaves sores on an infected person’s feet and legs as it boroughs into the body through the skin). I thought about the members of my Christian church back home who encourage me and pray for me each day I am away. I looked towards the Muslim headmaster and recognized how tolerant and loving he is to allow a bunch of Christians to come to his Muslim school and allow them to speak freely about their faith.

Students of different faiths giving a prayer of thanks for their new shoes.
I believe this is all possible because Love is a force, an action, stronger than discrimination. Despite our outward and inward differences, the Love that connects us all brought us together today and as a result, a miracle happened. 1,050 kids no longer have to walk to school barefoot. 1,050 kids no longer have to be exposed to jiggers. And 1,050 kids know that Love extends beyond skin color, national borders and even faith.

Today was a perfect day to see who God really is: Love.

In honor of Sophie, the only deaf girl in the school, we taught the students how to sign "I love you" in ASL.


3 Meet Sophie

Last week, while visiting the school in Iganga where we will donate shoes to the students, I met a beautiful young girl named Sophie. The headmaster had called her in to the office to try on a sample pair of shoes we brought to get an idea of what size shoes the kids will need.

She greeted in the customary way by kneeling at my feet as I reached out my hand to shake hers. I asked her the one question everyone (regardless of their knowledge of English) knows how to answer, “How are you?” I waited for the response I knew was coming “I am fine, thank you. How are you?” But instead, she just stared at me, her big brown eyes looking at me with wonder.
“She’s deaf,” the headmaster told me. “She can’t hear anything and doesn’t know how to speak”. A huge smile came across my face. For those of you who don’t know, I know American Sign Language and enjoy meeting deaf people everywhere I go. I waved hello to Sophie as I asked the headmaster if she knew how to sign. “No, she can’t sign. No one in the village knows how to sign and we can’t afford to hire a teacher. She just does the best she can and can write a little.”

My heart sank. This poor little girl has lived her whole life without language. She has no way to have a casual chat with her school friends or explain the details of a bad day to her parents. Though the other students at the school treat her well, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for Sophie to have a true relationship without being able to express her innermost feelings. Language is most certainly a human right.

After a few more questions, we learned that there is a boarding school for the deaf not too far from where we were, but unfortunately no one could pay Sophie’s school fees – a mere $200 per term. It was not hard at all to decide what to do next – Pastor Tom and I offered to sponsor Sophie. The headmaster was elated, “She’s very bright and will do well!”

Before heading back to Kampala, we stopped by the school for the deaf where Sophie will start her studies. There are about 40 deaf children there who welcomed us to their classroom with bright smiles and waving hands. ASL and Ugandan sign language are similar enough that I could introduce myself and the others with no problem. When I introduced Edith, my Ugandan mom, the boy in the front’s jaw dropped to the floor. He signed “But, she’s so black and you’re so white! How can it be?” I laughed and explained how Edith had adopted me into her Ugandan family. Right before we left, the students organized themselves in the back of the classroom to sign a song for us in Ugandan sign language. It was a beautiful song about how Jesus came to this earth to defeat the devil and deliver us from fear. I’ll make sure to post the video once I’m back in the states.

I am happy that soon enough, Sophie will meet 40 new children her age with whom she will learn to communicate freely. Not only that, but she will have a clean uniform, shoes and healthy meals each day – something her last school could not provide. I already can’t wait to come back next year and see how much she has learned!