Yesterday I told you about what I thought was our final destination on our climb into the Heart of Africa. But God (and Henry) had other plans.
Nyamabaare is the clinic we chose to partner with, mostly because it’s the clinic the Bishop took our first team to, while touring them around all the different sites of their work while first introducing them to the diocese. But Nyamabaare is also one of the least busy of the clinics, as it is relatively new, and it is not *as* far from other resources as some of the others are. (It is still clearly needed, and the community leaders fought tooth and nail for a long time to get it there, and we believe it will be more utilized as it develops, so don’t think it’s not as important.) However, the diocese was also interested in having us visit one of their busier clinics, to see if we could help them as well, or at least have them next on our list.
So after Sunday (when we sat through a 4.5 hours service in Lungyankole with no translator, and I felt it would be impolite to knit, but to be perfectly frank by the end I came really close to not caring at all. It’d normally be just a 3 hours service, but it was a special day of celebration for “pillars” of the church, who had raised 150,000 shillings or more for their programs, and every. single. one. of them had their names called, in batches, to come forward and get prayed for by the Bishop. I calmed myself by working more on the Hated Sock after lunch, which happened around 4. We sat next to the diocesan marching band (yes, you read that right. The diocesan marching band was the music for the service. different… liturgical taste.), who after I took this picture, all asked for individual pictures with us. I felt for all the world like a character at Disney World. I suppose I got their picture with a sock; in context, what they were asking for was definitely less weird.)
Close parenthesis. Where was I? Oh yeah. After Sunday, we got up Monday morning, climbed back into our favorite land rover, and drove on another bumpy road for about an hour and a half. It make the other road seem like a highway as we curved down mountains into the depths of the great rift valley.
Just to be difficult, I kept knitting on the Hated Sock as long as I could on that bumpy road, until I started dropping stitches and I had to wait for flat parts to pick them back up effectively. But my goodness, when we got there, it was all worth it.
We met another clinic management committee, every bit as generous and mature as the last, who toured us about their very facilities.
(I only made an idiot of myself once, when I saw some birds and was told they were ibises. For some inexplicable reason I’ve always loved ibises; maybe it’s just that I find their curvy beaks charming. But I ran off and snuck up on them and got a picture of them. That got a good laugh from the committee, and a story about a dumb mujungu who had run off after an elephant.)
The set-up was similar – clinic, church, and primary school all on the same grounds. But the context of the Great Rift Valley put an entirely different spin on it. There is Nothing Here. There’s no cell-phone reception (surprisingly, there’s good reception in most of the country; chew on that one for a while), taxis can’t get down there because the roads are too bad, and nothing can get there during rainy season, schools are sparser, and poverty is greater. Henry told us that few kids from here make it into secondary school, and he didn’t know of any who had made it to university.
Unlike Nyamabaare, this clinic had full wards, and that was where I left my heart. In the boys ward, the four beds were filled with mothers and their boys being treated for malaria.
(I know you can’t tell, but she’s smiling. I asked before I took all of these pictures.) In the girls’ ward were two women with their babies, also being treated for Malaria.
This baby broke into tears when he saw me. “He’s scared of white skin,” the committee member said to me with a chuckle. But he quieted down when my hand felt the same on his cheek.
One of the most important things I learned on this trip is that pictures mean nothing. They communicate about 5% of this experience. I’ve seen pictures of poor, sick children all my life, but I cannot communicate to you what it was like to be there. To see them wiggling around in bed, to see them sniffling when they are in pain, to *touch* them. You’re all going to tell me how dangerous it is, but I could not stand there and be filled with love and compassion for this child and not touch him. To say, to him and to myself, that I’m not looking down on you, I’m not afraid of you, I’m not different from you. I look funny (like a ghost, maybe?) but our skin feels the same. On the other side of the room was an even tinier baby, skinny as anything, with big bug-eyes. He flailed about feistily, but the committee member showing me around said he was very weak. He was so beautiful, but his mother looked so sad that I couldn’t bear to ask to take a picture. I found out his name is Paul. I pray for Paul sometimes. You don’t forget moments like that.
Henry had picked up from my shenanigans on Saturday that I liked kids, so he encouraged me to go play with the schoolchildren during their lunch time. They were kicking around a mostly-deflated plastic football, and one made of plastic bags rolled together. They were small, most of them too small to understand English, and many of them too shy to really engage, so the first fifteen minutes was me kicking the ball back to a solid mass of children that followed me around the field and wouldn’t spread out to save my life. But eventually they loosened up, and we ran around until I tired out in the hot sun. They laughed at me when I sat in the dust, but of course, enjoyed having their pictures taken –
– and all their hands shaken. And because of them I learned how to say “Good morning” in the plural – “Orirota!”
I had a completely visceral connection to this place. I really couldn’t care less about reasons or logic; I just wanted to sell everything I had, move to this village, teach English to kids with no shoes, and touch babies with malaria. Writing this and posting the pictures brings it up just as fresh, and I have no idea why I am not heeding this desire. I guess because Jared & I still have a calling here. I guess because God has a different way He’s going to provide for these sparrows. And these dear ones have given me an even greater gift: they make me go home and ask the question – why should I love my neighbor any less? So thanks to these kids, I am bound and determined, next time I see my Pakistani neighbors with the cute kids and incredible-smelling cooking, to say… something. Anything. Because every human soul is just as valuable and precious as these children, and if I can’t love the person next to me, how can I claim to love my neighbor on the other side of the world?