I spent two months in Uganda, Africa over the Christmas holidays. Since coming back I have had a very hard time even so much a discussing any parts of my trip. Those who have seen me since I have returned have noticed maybe a change in my spirit. Or a strange response when you might have asked me “how was Africa, or tell me about Africa” etc. Honestly I dreaded seeing anyone once I came back just because I feared hearing those words. I cannot quite express what it did but it just filled me with the most horrifying pain in my stomach. I guess you could say I was almost a walking zombie. I’d rather not have to talk about it and not feel than to discuss it and bring up the pain. So I fell into what I can describe as a very intense depression. So this is the first time I am actually able to speak about my experiences in Uganda. I always like to say I’m not emotional, I don’t cry, and I am quite a strong woman. And those who know me well know this is mostly true… For myself anyway. BUT show me someone elses pain, somebodys suffering, someones tears, and I become a complete emotional baby. I am extremely sensitive to others to the extent I actually feel and wear their pain. So, as you can imagine going to a Country that is completely overcome with oppression, pain and suffering how it may have affected me. When I returned from Africa everyone thought I would be so excited to share stories and pictures and memories and I did as well but in fact it was the complete opposite. First of all I have very few photos, I know it would be great to show you all the need there when I want to request financial help or motivate others to come help as well. But how does someone take out a camera while they see someone eating off the ground, people with no clothing or shoes walking around with open sores all over their bodies? People with no legs, no arms begging for help. Or worse, people working in that state still. How can one possibly capture that on a camera? How can I share the moments of joy and laughter when all I remember is faces of those suffering?
The first few weeks I was there I was ok; I could detach myself from everything and be the “strong” person I am. Ha ya right. After about a month I was pretty much bed ridden and a complete hermit. I would wake up, go to my placement, come home and go straight to my room. I did not want to be around or speak to anyone. I felt emotionless like a complete robot. My mind just could not comprehend everything it was seeing. Sure you think you know what it’s like due to others telling you, TV, commercials, movies etc. But, you have no idea! Nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you to see that much suffering. I think the worst part was seeing so much need so much pain. And I could not save everyone. How can I watch these people suffer and only help a few? How can I ever leave here and go on with my life? That was the hardest thing in the world for me. I know I am not superwoman but I think sometimes I try to be… or maybe even think I am. So to realize no… You cannot save everyone was by far the hardest thing in the world for me. The first day I went to my placement I could not believe my eyes, I cannot describe the facility to you but it was painful to see. Some of the individuals sleeping on the ground. Some on wired bunk beds with just a sheet over top. Some with thin mattresses half eaten by mice and or bed bugs. It was completely filthy. It was how you could imagine a jail…. Where horrible people should go. But these were innocent children… Who have been completely abandoned by those who are supposed to love and care for them? This is their life. No medication, no sanitation, and no ability to grow and learn or improve. And this…. This is a freaking government facility!!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Tears started to fill my eyes as I sat there taking everything in, when this little angel approached me. He had the biggest smile on his face and walked straight up to me and put out his hand to grab mine. He did not just grab my hand in that moment…. He stole my heart. I was completely in love. His name was Benja and he suffered from hydrocephalus along with many other afflictions. Living in this horrible setting with no treatment. How does someone with this life bring so much joy… so much love? I’ll never forget the day I showed up there just a few days after us first meeting and he yelled to the others “Mother is here” as he hung onto my arm. This boy was my angel…. my spiritual son. A few weeks later we had a Christmas party at the facility, some of the childrens relatives would come pick them up this one time out of the year to take them for Christmas then return them, and some had no one. At the party everyone was asked to introduce themselves, when it was benjas turn he introduced himself, his father, and then he had a huge smile looked into my eyes and pointed to me and said “and this is my moma”. I can’t really explain how that felt… But I can imagine it feeling exactly like a mother hearing her child say mommy for the first time. He just brought so much joy into my life. And that day…. that was the last time I saw him. When all the children returned to the facility there was no sign of Benja, I’d return again, still no sign, and again…. I thought it was great he was getting more time with his father. But I was extremely sad I didn’t get to see him more before I left. But I always cherished the moments we shared and the deep connection we had. I absolutely loved all of the children at the facility, every day that I showed up they would all come quickly to greet me and yell to the others telling them I had arrived. A very difficult part of the trip was that every time I would feel a form of joy, fulfillment…. See the joy in others faces It would rip my heart out knowing that I had to eventually leave. With the help of family and friends back home I was able to get a lot of food, writing material, fabrics, sports equipment and mattresses for the facility! Thank you so much for helping bring blessings to these children.
Christmas was just a week away and I was on the taxi on the way back to my facility and I was just thinking about the fact that back home everyone is wanting presents, everyone is planning great meals and celebrating an incredible day. Yet here many people don’t even know when it is Christmas because it’s just another day fighting for their life, just another day searching for food to feed their children, just another day of torment. Knowing So, I knew I could not help everyone but I knew that I could try and help as many as possible… so I did another call out to people back home and together we were able to get TONS of food, and pop! lol Me and one of the amazing people I met in Uganda Fred, who was one of the facility guards helped me bag all the food individually. We had such a fun time and got everything all prepared, Betty, my Ugandan sister joined us after she was done all her work to help us finish up! Christmas Eve morning the workers at the organization drove me around in the “slums” of Uganda, these are the very very poor parts and I went up to the homes and handed out meals for Christmas dinner. lt was really amazing because I reminded them this gift is from God not me. All of them were of different religions, some Christian, some Muslim, some atheists, some even practiced dark magic. But they all were praising God and thanking him for the answered prayers which I found to be incredibly beautiful! We were in the first area handing out meals and I was trying very very hard to keep myself together and not break. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, until I felt a tap on my back and I turned around to see thing young boy who was horribly physically afflicted I cannot even put it into words. With the biggest and most thankful smile on his face and he grabbed my hand to thank me…. I almost fell to my knees. I jumped in the car and I completely broke down. I didn’t think a pain so deep down like that could ever exist. But the men of the organization talked me through it and helped me “man back up” and continue to finish the mission I had started. Not going to lie, the rest of the time handing out the supplies I had to keep my sun glasses on because it’s as if I had no control over the random tears that decided to escape me. After I got home that day I just went straight to bed, I just again, needed to take in everything that happened and stop myself from breaking. So I laid there in bed in excruciating emotional pain for hours until it was Christmas morning. On Christmas I went to the facility and picked up the few children who remained there and brought them to the volunteer house for a Christmas feast! I got them Christmas outfits and presents to open as well. They were so so so thankful. It was such an amazing thing to see and be a part of. I truly just love all these kids so much.
There were a few families in the neighborhood that I grew very close to. The children would call out to me “Auntie Lala!!!!!!!” and run up to hug me. They were my little babies. I loved helping out their moms when in need and spending time with the kids, making sure they were fed etc. I would take them for outings to the pool etc. and they’d get tons of yummy food and have an amazing time. I remember one day at the pool they called out to me as I was laying down watching them play. “Auntie Lala, would it be ok if we called you mommy?” …. gahhhh and again, I became an emotional suck! They just completely melted my heart!!!! So the whole rest of the day I’d hear “mommy look” “mommy come here” honest to God, best feeling in the whole entire world… And I to loved them as if they were mine. I’ll still remember the day Chanices mom said to me, “Let me get your daughter” . I was lost for worlds…. A mother… calling me her daughters mother… and she said “You love her just as much as I do. You are her mother as well.” Oh my gosh…. again…. Can you see how all these people just ripped and store at my heart? Try being “strong” in these circumstances. yaaaaa right! Chanice is one of the girls I put into school before I left I cannot wait to see this little beauty when I return. I wanted to take all of the children home with me to the point I researched every possible way to adopt and even spoke with a lawyer while there. Needless to say it’s a very very difficult longgggg process if possible at all. This was another thing that was very hard to accept.
I met some incredible people on this journey, people who will remain a part of my life forever! All of the children and families I have mentioned to you already of course. And a few other volunteers who I completely adored. One volunteers in particular stands out to me so much. Her name is Kim and she pretty much stole my heart as instantly as all the children. It was so funny because when I found out another volunteer was coming I asked she be put in the other room so I could be in my room alone, as I said I wasn’t in the best emotional state and in my best state I still like to be a hermit. So we went to pick her up from the airport the following day and the organizer or the placement we stayed at called me out in the car with her and said I didn’t want her in there…. Ummmmm completely awkward… but I just admitted it and explained my reasoning and she was awesome because she was thinking the exact same thing. We were so similar… complete social butterflies when necessary but hermits at the end of the day. But in the end we realized maybe we should have just roomed together because we were constantly together after that day! We still talk now and are hoping to both go to Africa again together maybe next year! Another person who really stands out is my Ugandan sister, Betty! She took care of the house, fed us, and made me laugh so hard my stomach would hurt. She cooked meat for my cat even though she thought I was insane for loving an animal so much… Then she learned to love him just as much as me!!!! I love this woman soooooo much, she truly is my sister for life. We had so many good times I cannot even share them all. There are way too many amazing people to list on here … but I cannot wait to go back and see all the incredible people I have grown to love again.
Though a lot of the experiences there were very hard there is this incredible beauty in Africa that I cannot explain. People with nothing still smiling and giving to each other. The incredible scenery. Amazing sunsets. Delicious food, dance and music. Actually one day a few of us volunteers got invited to an introduction ceremony which is where the soon to be bride introduces her future husband to the family and he gives multiple gifts to ask for her hand in marriage and the family approves or not. Well, as we are all sitting there enjoying it clapping watching the dancing I get a tap on my shoulder and I get called into the back… so I had to get up walk through all these people and got lead into the back of the house. All of the sudden a few woman grab me and start undressing/dressing me in beautiful African attire. and rushed me out with them… I asked what to do and they just said follow them. So I had to dance and smile and change into multiple outfits and accept gifts etc. haha It was a really scary but awesome experience! As I told you before I haven’t been able to talk about this trip at all until now, I was doing very bad emotionally and mentally and about 3 weeks after I returned I got news that my boy, the one I told you all about in the beginning… my spiritual son, Benja had passed on. I cannot put in words the pain of that moment. I still honestly can’t really comprehend it. The thought of going back there and not seeing his beautiful smile light up or hear him say moma again … or his beautiful squealing laughter. It hurts my heart in a way I don’t think will ever fully go away. But I am so thankful for the time that we got to share. And nothing will ever take that connection away. I needed an angel recently and now he is mine, some people feel as though I saved him/ gave him joy and love when he needed it most. But truthfully. He saved me. I think his passing and everyones words since then have just made me realize how short and precious life is. And that it doesn’t matter how long you know someone or how much time you get together but you can be used to change each other’s lives… or better… give each other life.
There is still so much need here and as much as it is heart breaking the more people who do decide to volunteer the less need there will be. We are all one, and we need to come together and help each other. We have the ability to change the world. We just need to truly believe it. I have finally crawled out of the pit I was in and I am ready for battle. I know Africa is where my heart is… It always has been. I know that it is not an easy calling but it is mine. And no matter what your calling is or how hard it is you will be given the strength and tools needed to complete it. Benjas death showed me that as painful as it is…. in the short time I was there it changed him it changed me… it brought joy into his life as the “master” of the facility said. “Ever since you have come here the kids are different people. They are so happy I’ve never seen Benja like this before, he has improved so much, You are an angel” Now I wouldn’t ever say I did anything great or ever refer to myself as an angel. I would say that what we all needed in that moment in our lives is exactly what came to be. That is all God. No matter how hard it is…. If it can bring healing to the broken, joy to the crying, fill up the empty, even for a short time. It is so worth it. You might be the last smile brought to someones face.
I was not very prepared going to Africa this time, I just new I was finally meant to fulfill my dream so I booked everything saved what I could within a few short months. I didn’t have time to even consider fundraisers or anything of the sort I just knew I needed to go! But in doing so I was not mentally prepared either… Though honestly I don’t think you can ever fully mentally or emotionally prepare yourself for this. I do hope to go back one day and hopefully when I’m in a stronger mind set. I’m not sure when I am supposed to go back but I will keep my eyes and ears open for the calling to return. If that be in a few months or years down the road. My prayer is that this motivated others to help others and our world in everyway they possibly can.
Life is very very short everyone… while you’re busy making a living don’t forget to make a life. Give to those in need. Love every single person you meet. Be so incredible thankful for everything you have and don’t for a second take anything for granted. I truly feel if we are not on this earth to help others, give our all… make a difference. Then why are we here at all? I love you all so much words cannot even describe the deep love I feel towards you all. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and God bless you all!