Madeline in Uganda Blog

Many years ago a young girl named Madeline used to work with us at Kids Meeting Kids. She was involved in walks for children and many other children's rights events with Kids Meeting Kids in the past. Now she continues to work in helping children around the world. Currently she has a blog in which she writes about her experiences helping people in Uganda where she is trying to make a difference. You guys should check out her blog at : or simply look at them below.

JULY 6, 2014

Avoiding my non-goodbye with Deborah by focusing on unborn Jasmine

My phone buzzed with concern about terrorist threats in Uganda. My mother texted, my father emailed, my friends called. I feel like no danger can come to me in Uganda. Actually, I feel like that in most places. But Somalian terrorists were targeting Entebbe airport along with other public spaces in Kampala, so we took caution when traveling from Rakai to the airport.
We left Sabina yesterday at 11 am. I tried my best not to cry, but failed miserably. Christine came up to me and tried to say goodbye, I s#@$%d her away as I did so many others, insisting that it wasn’t goodbye. “To-coum-ah-woah”, I will see you soon, I claimed. The night before we left, about 8 of the close friends among the students we had been with, came to our banda. They were all from the band and they were all people I least wanted to say goodbye to. They helped us pack and helped us decide what we were leaving behind. Again, the things these kids utilize is incredible. I gave Jackie the beads from my hair, knowing that she would make some beautiful necklace with them. I gave Sophia my empty cereal box, knowing that she would put her prized possessions in it. I gave Vivian and Teddy plastic ziplock bags, knowing that they would be used for a year. I also left most of my clothes and a lot of the medicine, knowing that I’d much rather have them use it 100 times than me use it once or twice.
Vivian and Teddy stuck around after their curfew to sing us a goodbye song. I tried to film it; I tried to look through the lens of my camera and see it at a distance, in hopes of not letting my heart hear their words and melody. When I glanced up to meet Vivian’s eyes in person, I saw her tears and they invited my own. From that point on, my eyes were foggy with loss. I couldn’t stop grieving for what I hadn’t yet lost. The following morning I procrastinated on our departure, claiming that I had just one more interview to get, one more hug to give. I spent time with our cow, who they named “Madrine”. She is small and thin and very shy, but I expect her to be loving, chubby, and huge when I get back. I made the staff of Sabina promise that they wouldn’t eat her until she dies of natural causes in old age. I know they can’t keep that promise, and I won’t blame them when that promise breaks.
As I sat with Madrine on the field, auntie Stella came up to me and told me she didn’t want to say goodbye. I involuntarily fell into her motherly embrace and #@$%bed. It’s not like Auntie Stella and I have some strong connection, not like Auntie Deborah and I do. It’s not like we can speak more than 50 words in a common language, but I love knowing that she is there. I love hearing her voice ring with melody when she calls my name, I love when she plays with my hair, I love when she dances while eating something delicious. I love her for being there, I love her for taking care of all those children, and I love knowing that she won’t change because she wholeheartedly knows who she is. After hugging Auntie Stella, I ran to the car. I was done torturing myself with these goodbyes I said I wouldn’t give, and I needed to just tare the bandaid right off. We drove by all the aunties who were gathered under a shady tree. They waved and I saw Auntie Stella wipe her tears as she wiggled her hand loosely above her head. This made me laugh through the tears, because I had the feeling that Auntie Stella wasn’t crying. I was sure that she was doing that to make me feel less alone in my tears. She wiped her dry face of the tears that weren’t there and I loved her even more for this.
Auntie Deborah rode with us along with her two children, Jemima and Jeremiah. We dropped them off at Jemima’s school and said another “to-coum-ah-woah”. I kissed and hugged her children, then went straight to Auntie Deborah’s belly where her unborn child swims. Then I gave Auntie Deborah a quick hug, hopped in the car, and didn’t look back. I wish this place wasn’t so far away. I wish I knew when I’d see her and the children again. I wish that each time I come back, I will find the children at the same age as I left them. When I am in NYC, I will think about Uganda. While I am getting 16 Handles, I will think of Madrine being milked in the barn, then Auntie Agnes boiling that milk and putting it in the children’s porridge. While I am hailing a taxi, I will think about Daniel piling 12 Ugandan men and women into his small car and transporting them to Masaka. While I am shopping in Union Square, I will think of Auntie Deborah sewing up holes in the children’s worn uniforms. While I am reading an ebook, I will think of the children holding the pages of their library books together as they try to get the full story. While I am microwaving a cup of soup, I will think of Auntie Stella spending 4 hours steaming bananas. When I am recycling my bottles and boxes, I will think of what sort of use the children could have made out of them. While I am growing, I will think of how the children are growing. While I am singing, I will wonder if the kids are singing. While I am full, I will wonder if they are hungry. While I am rested, I will wonder if they are tired. While I am dreaming, I will wonder what they are dreaming of.
We arrived at Emmanuel’s house at around 4:30. I called Jane and Robert and they said they would come over at 7 after work. We were meant to go clubbing that night (something I hate to do in NY, but am willing to try in Uganda), but because of the threats, we decided to play it safe and stay indoors. Adam and I ordered food from Emmanuel’s staff and it was ready at 7. Jane and Bob arrived at 10; right on time on Uganda time, but three hours late regular time. They ate their cold food and we watched Cape Fear. They left at around midnight and I fell fast asleep, exhausted by non-goodbyes.
We drove from Entebbe the following morning with Daniel. It took us an hour to get from Emmanuel’s house to the airport. Then the security to get into the airport took about 2 hours. While we sat in airport security traffic, Adam and I ended up singing “Daniel” by Elton John while Daniel sat there smiling, saying “please” and “thank you” in between lyrics. I sang the melody and Adam somehow ended up harmonizing in his falsetto. When we sang the lyric, “Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane” I felt a sadness come over me. Daniel yearns to travel, but he may never, at least not by flight. At the airport he helped me with my bags. He held my water bottle in his right hand, and my backpack on his back. He got excited by the idea of others mistaking him for a traveler and asked Adam to take a picture of him. In the photo, he held my bottle up to his mouth and proudly carried the weight of my backpack. I think for a moment, he let himself believe that he would soon be airborne. But we left him at the airport cafe and continued on this luxurious journey. Next stop, Ethiopia.

Our Last Song
JULY 4, 2014

I’m not big on goodbyes. I’m not big on saying them or writing about them. But I did manage to write a goodbye song for the children and the staff here at Sabina, which I played in our final concert today. The children were amazing in the concert. The only person who choked was me when I tried singing my goodbye song. As I said, I’m not big on goodbyes.

A few things to know if you listen, “welaba” means “goodbye” and “njagala” means “I love you”. It’s been an emotional night.

I recorded this with my phone and my ukulele. I have chosen to share it with you because the way I feel about these children, Sabina, and the people in this country, is too powerful to simply put into words. A little melody goes a long way.

Getting my hair braided is sort of a tradition I have when I visit Uganda. I do it partially for the aesthetic look, partially to keep it off my neck and out of my face in this heat, and mostly so I have an excuse not to wash it. See, washing all of my thick long hair can take over an hour when I’m doing it with a basin and a jerry cane. Most days, I don’t have that kind of time to spend.
I was braided when I first arrived two weeks ago. Every night, I wrap my head with a scarf like Auntie Deborah taught to me so that it won’t get frizzy when I toss and turn in bed. Inevitably, my muzungu braided hair gets frizzy sooner or later and after two weeks, it was time to undue my braids, go through the long process of washing my hair, and put the braids in all over again.
The hair braider from Sanjai comes tomorrow to do my hair for the equivalent of $7 as I teach 4 music classes. I went out to the court yard tonight and summoned some kids to untwist the 50 braids on my head. When the aunties saw what was going on, they each brought out their combs and joined in on the action. There were about 10 people tugging at my sore head as we took on the task at hand. An hour and a half later and I was a ball of fabulous, dirty frizz.
All of the kids here are shaved bald. This is mostly for hygiene and practicality. It would be impossible to tend to several hundred kids hair and it would be unwise to expect them to do it themselves. Shaving them bald cancels out the possibility of head lice and is the easiest form of maintenance when it comes to hair. That being said, I get the feeling that some of them long for hair. This was made uncomfortably clear to me when the little ones started wearing the clumps of hair that had fallen from my head as mini wigs. I helplessly watched them fight over the hairballs that had fallen to the floor while the aunties untangled each corn row. One little girl clumped a few balls of my hair together, placed it on the top of her head, and pranced around like a super model. Everyone laughed while I cringed in horror.
The children here play with the darndest things. Auntie Deborah’s 3 year old son, Jeromiah, likes to collect already eaten corn cobs off the ground and use them to build structures. Ronah likes to chew on pieces of bark from the trees. I blew up some balloons and the kids played with them for a week even after they were completely deflated. I often find Rose wandering around with a bottle cap in her hand. The girls with pierced ears like to put pieces of grass in their ear holes to replace the earrings they don’t have. And now, I was watching them play with my clumps of dirty hair. My DNA.
After music rehearsal tonight, I spent that dreadful hour washing my hair. Tomorrow, I have 6 hours of braiding while teaching music. It’s all a very painful and time consuming process but hey, beauty hurts.
Beauty Hurts
JULY 2, 2014
Not a Single Note for Granted
JULY 1, 2014

I wish we could teach all the children here at Sabina to play the instruments we brought. Sadly, there is just not enough time for that so we chose 9 promising students to focus on. We have 3 on ukulele (Joanne, Winnie, and Jackie), 4 on guitar (Isa, Derrek, Christine, and Esther), and 2 on keyboard (Vivian and Teddy). We also got a new drum set that Kariem is playing at our rehearsals. Our hope is to give these 9 quick and hardworking students enough tools to be able to continue learning when we leave next week and be able to teach their peers. I felt great relief when a guitar string broke and Isa was able to fix it without my being there. Every day I have the guitar players tune their own guitars and even though it takes about a half an hour, it is well worth the wait.
I know that these instruments will be taken care of and put to great use every day.
During the school week, we have our “band” practice from 4-6. Adam gives private lessons to the 2 keyboard students while I go in between the guitar and ukulele groups, giving them different things to work on. Joanne is an amazing ukulele player and I can tell that she really loves it. She is patient and loving with the uke and with her fingers.

I gave her something challenging to work on. She is learning to play my sister’s song Fly and should be ready to play it for our singers on Friday at the concert.
Oh yea, did I mention there is a concert? Every night when the kids get out of preps at 9, a group of about 40-50 kids meet us in the library to rehearse the set for our concert. It was meant to be a cute little recital, but Auntie Deborah gave it so much hype, telling all the staff and half of the village about the “big concert” so we had to step it up.
For the opening, theyvwill all be singing Lean on Me with harmonies, our 4 guitar players, and Teddy on the keyboard. We then have some Ugandan songs that Adam has arranged, a few solos, Let It Go (yes, Frozen reached all the way over to Uganda. I love the irony when the kids sing “the cold never bothered me anyway”), some quick ukulele and guitar solos on songs like Twinkle Twinkle and You Are My Sunshine, and we close with We Are The World. This concert is going to be epic.
Adam and I have also been giving lessons to 3 different teachers. Dan (the math teacher) is learning keyboard and music theory, David (the English teacher) is learning Guitar, and Anita (the music teacher) is learning ukulele. David really hasn’t been practicing so I scared him today with the idea of him playing in the concert and not being as good as the student guitar players. He said, “ok, I’ll practice” and stayed an extra hour after his lesson to work on C, G, and D.
His version of Amazing Grace better be much improved by tomorrow.
Teaching music here has been a really rewarding experience. I’ve been soaking in the kids’ enthusiasm to learn and gratitude to play and it’s made me feel pretty lucky to have instruments at home that I can mess around on whenever I so choose. Music isn’t a chore, it’s a luxury. And these kids don’t take a single note for granted.

JULY 1, 2014

My mother gave me a GoGirl as a sort of going away present before I left the states. For those of you who don’t know what a GoGirl is, it’s a sort of funnel contraption that women can use to pee standing up. To put it simply, it’s a surrogate #@$% used for bathroom purposes only.
I hadn’t used it yet for fear of making a total mess, but this morning I was feeling adventurous. Normally, when it’s daylight out, I pee in a bucket and then dump it outside and wash the bucket out. I didn’t want to overestimate my peeing-standing-up-abilities so I took my surrogate #@$% outside to see what I was working with. It was broad daylight, but people rarely pass behind my Banda and the kids were all at school, so I saw this moment as my chance. I crept behind the Banda, stood on the ledge, and carefully got into position. Just as I began to take aim, one of the gardeners walked by and I let out a startled “oh!” while fumbling to cover myself and hide the purple funnel. The man glanced at me, then did a double take while he said “sorry” and then an awkward and rhetorical, “how are you?” as he walked in the other direction as quickly as possible.
I was shaking with embarrassment as I ran back inside. So many thoughts were running through my head. Did he see my purple #@$%? Did he see my crotch? Does he now think that all white women actually have #@$%es? Will he tell all of his gardening buddies about what he saw?
I tried to brush it off, walk out of the Banda with my head held high.
We traveled to Masaka soon after where we could use the Internet cafe and buy a mattress and bed sheets for Rose. Daniel drove and Auntie Deborah came along. On the ride back, the thought of returning to Sabina where I might run into that gardener filled me with humiliation once again. I had to tell someone, so I told Auntie Deborah. To Deborah, the story got funnier and funnier. By the end, the woman was literally crying with laughter. She choked comments out like, “I need to see this GoGirl” and asked, “why did your mother give that to you?” as her eyes filled with tears of amusement.
We got back to Sabina and when I saw her an hour later for dinner, she was still laughing, sometimes shrieking. Deborah’s laugh made it all worth it in the end. I’m glad I am now known as the hermaphrodite muzungu among the gardeners here at Sabina.
Rose’s new Sponsor
JULY 1, 2014
I saw this image in a dream during my first week in Uganda. When I woke up, I emailed Adam asking him to bring white balloons. It was pretty cool seeing that image come to life.
I saw this image in a dream during my first week in Uganda. When I woke up, I emailed Adam asking him to bring white balloons. It was pretty cool seeing that image come to life.

Adam is sick. He was up all of last night, tossing and turning. It is common for people to get sick at the beginning of their stay here. The new food can upset the body, but Adam was sure that he had some serious disease and was quickly dying. Luckily, my mother made me bring some pretty strong medications which we decided it was best for Adam to take. He has been in bed all day but at this point, he is pretty sure that he will make it through to see tomorrow.
I have written about Rose, the young girl who was orphaned when she was 3 weeks old, and taken in by the house mothers at Sabina. If you haven’t read my summary of her story, please do. After hearing her history, I knew that she needed a sponsor, desperately. She begins school in a year and if she has a sponsor, she has the possibility of being under the care and protection of Children of Uganda. Pamela, I know we have not spoken about this yet, but I thought I’d try finding her support before getting in contact with you.
Yesterday morning at a meeting with Auntie Deborah and Uncle Jude (the headmaster), Adam announced that he officially wanted to be Rose’s sponsor. The entire staff celebrated and Auntie Agnes, Rose’s surrogate mother, was close to tears when she hugged him. Adam wanted to sponsor a girl because he sees the lack of female power in this country. He hopes to send Rose all the way through University, paying her school fees and keeping in contact with her through out her journey. I am so proud of him and happy for Rose.
All the while, there are still 15 children from Children of Uganda that we are in the process of putting on tape. They are all in need of sponsors and co-sponsors and I hope to show their tapes to you when I return home. Sponsoring a child through Children of Uganda is an easy and rewarding process. A little bit of money each month gives a child a future brighter than they could have ever hoped for. Staying in contact through letters and eventually, emails and even phone conversations is optional, but so fulfilling. Getting to know your child on a personal level makes things very real. This is an actual child who knows your name and is grateful to you every day. They are all so anxious to learn and happily thriving in life here in Uganda. Fifteen children that I am putting on tape are all in need of support so if you, or if you know someone, who might be interested in giving the gift of knowledge to a child here, please let me know. You will be seeing many beautiful children on camera upon my return!

JULY 1, 2014

Today is Corpus Cristi. I would never have known, had I not been in Uganda. Church started at 7:00 AM (midnight in NYC). It is 11:30 now and they are still singing songs of praise. When I entered the church with Deborah’s children at 10, a woman in a beautiful dress quickly insisted that I have her seat. I saw Sister Angel, the kooky Kenyan nun, enter the church holding something gold up in the air with her head bowed. She wears pale stockings that make her dark legs a pinkish color. She wears a long blue nun outfit with a matching head piece (I don’t know the technical terms when it comes to the wardrobe of a nun.) A small pair of spectacles sits delicately on her nose and it seems odd when she isn’t smiling. Sister Angel is a holy bunch of fun. She loves being photographed. When I bring my camera out, she leans on walls and props her hand on her waste, insisting that I take a dozen pictures. Then she lays on the floor with her head resting on her hand and smiles saying, “take anothah pictah.” After she delivered the gold object to the front of the church, which I later found out was meant to symbolize Jesus, she came and squeezed in next to me on the already crowded bench. She gave me another one of those handshakes which led to her dragging me outside to gossip about all the things that went down in the past few days. She wanted to know what I had been up to, why I hadn’t visited her in the last few days, and whether or not I wanted to help with preparations for the ceremony. Before I could answer, she dragged me into the church house where we filled a bucket with flour. She said the flour was meant to feed the poor children in the village, but assured me that Jesus would be happy with our use of the flour for decorations and would reward her later. I don’t understand Sister Angel’s logic behind blessings from God. She says that God blessed her with a tiled bathroom floor and a flushing toilet (a rarity around here), but then she asks me for money that I don’t have so she could buy a stove to cook for herself and for the children. There is a framed photograph of a white, German man that donated a lot of money to the church framed on the kitchen wall. Are rich foreigners blessing her with a luxurious house, or is God?
We went outside and used the flour to write the word “Jesus” all over the roads. Sister Angel kept misspelling the name, writing “Jusus” over and over again in huge, floury letters. Other people trailed behind her, using a branch to discretely brush the unnecessary “U” away and replace it with its rightful “E”. I obnoxiously pointed out her mistake each time and enjoyed rolling the word, “Jew-sus” around in my mouth. Sister Angel and I decided that God was speaking to her, telling her the true spelling of his son’s name.
Once the poor children’s food was dropped onto the roads in the name of God, the entire community in Sanjai followed the gold Jesus around the property, singing songs and saying prayers. I snuck away to pack for my trip to Kampala. On the way back to Sabina, a girl stopped me on the path. Her name is Claire and she is at the secondary school (High School) just down the road. She said that she had wanted to talk to me for a while now, but was too shy to say hello. Claire walked me down the path, into Sabina, and up to my banda. Along the way she stared at me, examining my every move. She asked me questions about myself and I responded, then asking questions about her. It felt like a first date. I told her that Adam was coming and she said with great excitement, “Oh! Is he…like you?” I asked her to clarify, “you mean, white?” She nodded her head. “Yes, he’s white.” She gleamed at the idea of making two white friends in the same week.
A few days later, Claire came to visit me. Adam had arrived by then and Auntie Deborah and I were busy sorting through the donations he had brought over in his second checked luggage piece. There were a LOT of clothes (thank you Susanne Windland.) Claire helped us sort through the clothes; I could tell she was waiting for something. When I ran back to my room to put on some chapstick (still highly addicted to that stuff) Claire followed me in and said she had to talk to me. She asked if I had gotten her letter. I had not. She said that she is going home to Masaka tomorrow to visit her mother and that she would really love for me to go with her. I apologized, telling her that I had music lessons to teach at Sabina all day every day, but that I send her mother my love. This destroyed Claire, at least she acted as if it did. She said that she had already told her mother that I was coming and that her mother was so looking forward to it. She continued to express her disappointment as I put on my chapstick and waited anxiously for the moment to end. I gave Claire a picture of me, upon her request, before she left to get back to school. Encounters like this happen at least once each time I come to Uganda. People are so friendly and present with each other here, but I think this exchange with Claire was a little more than her just wanting to get to know me as a person. She wanted to get to know me as a white person. I do not judge her for this, because I understand how rare it is for many people out in Rakai, Uganda, to get to know someone of my complexion. Sabina is so welcoming, so warm, and so homey. So it still comes as a shock when someone outside of the Sabina community sees me as an object, full of mystery and possibility. Being a white American from a privileged home in a colorfully diverse city such as NYC, I am grateful to have some minor experience with what it is to be the minority.

Stuck In This Country, Thriving In This body
JULY 1, 2014

Daniel and I traveled to the airport in Entebbe last Sunday to pick Adam up. I was so excited to have him here and watch him experience this incredible country and these extraordinary people. We left early from Sabina, allowing twice the amount of time to get to the airport because the traffic in Kampala is ten times worse than what you will find in LA. We made it to Kampala in good time and decided that the two of us would enjoy some Ethiopian food together while waiting for Adam to arrive. Daniel and I sat in an empty, outdoor, Ethiopian restaurant and watched one of the World Cup games (I have no idea which one) on a huge projector screen. During commercial breaks, we talked about travel. Daniel had some questions about what it was like to be in an airplane. He asked, “when you are up in the sky, what does it feel like? Do you feel dizzy?” I told him “no.” I asked him what he thought it might feel like to be in the sky, finding myself at a loss for words to describe the feeling of flying that I had grown so accustomed to and at this point, completely take for granted. He said, “I’d imagine you feel dizzy and sometimes vomit” with a gleam in his eyes that seemed as though the price of dizziness and vomitting would be more than worth it to him, for a chance to travel by plane. He asked if passengers can open the window, while they are flying. I explained the dangers of that while he listened closely and trusted every word. He asked if I can see big cities while I am in the sky and I explained how you can during take-off and landing, but not when the plane is flying above clouds. He told me that he wanted to drive us to the airport when we leave Uganda, saying that he would wave to us from below. Then he had a thought: “can you see me waving from the ground when you are in the plane?” “No” I said, disappointing him. I assured him that he would one day experience travel by flight. He reality checked me, explaining how impossible it would be for him to get a visa. It is so rare to be accepted for a visa from Uganda to the USA with no prior travel, let alone the cost of a visa and flight. A man with Daniel’s openness to all and his ever burning sense of adventure is meant to travel the world. But he cannot cross the border because of the country he happened to be born in. When I leave Uganda, I will wave to Daniel from the sky and say a prayer for those I leave behind.

We received Adam at midnight that night and him and I cuddled up at Emmanuel’s place. In the morning, the sun beamed through our window. We heard birds chirping and smelled moist grass in the air. We had a day and a half to get the instruments we needed, visit old friends of mine, and experience as much as Kampala as we possibly could. Kampala is a whole other world from Rakai. There is running water, endless electricity, and there are even other muzungus walking around. I thought that if I saw another white person in Uganda, we would feel a special bond with each other. But whenever I came across another muzungu, her and I would dodge each other’s eyes and walk quickly past. I had to fight the urge to point and shriek, “bye, muzungu!” as all of the children say to me as I walk by in the village. I am struck by the way they look, the color of their skin, the sway of their hair, and the self-aware confidence they carry. I want to study them and learn their foreign ways, and then I realize that all I’d have to do is look in the mirror. I forget how different I am when I am in Uganda, because I feel so a part of it.
After a day of instrument hunting and miscommunications, we finally had 3 ukuleles, 4 guitars, and 2 keyboards. We were able to buy these with about $2,500 left over from our concert donations to spend on the school and the kids who are a part of Children of Uganda. Before heading back to Rakai, we stopped by Kiwanga, a place which is now the home of “Phillip’s House.” Phillip’s House hosts men and women who were once children in Children of Uganda. They all have severe mental and physical disabilities. When you walk into their dark common room, you will find one emaciated man sitting on the floor, smiling with his jaw jutted out. Next to him you will find another man smiling a beautiful smile, with his body twisted in knots. There is a woman who speaks to you with a wise and serious look on her face, as she babbles complete nonsense that is understandable in neither English nor Luganda. We came to see Kawala. I always tell people that “Kawala got me into NYU.” I had written my application essay about Kawala four years ago. I described the 6 year old girl who is trapped in an aging woman’s body with awe and respect. She must be in her 50s at this point and still bounces around in a nightgown, inspiring all who know her to not take life so damn seriously. Kawala loves babies. In fact, she is the best caretaker of small children I have ever seen. She used to live at Sabina because she was so like the rest of the children there, only physically older. While she was there, all of the house mothers trusted Kawala to take care of their children. She would bathe them, feed them, keep them safe, and most importantly, play with them. When we visited Kywanga, we brought Kawala a baby doll that looked very real and sang when you pressed her belly. She named her new baby Moses and squealed as she cradled it and delicately showed it off to all her friends. Kawala asked Daniel in Luganda if “Auntie Madrine” is her sponsor. Daniel laughed and said “yes.” With her graying hair and youthful smile, Kawala proves every day that age really is, just a number.

Auntie Deborah is a Weird Shopper
JULY 1, 2014

Auntie Deborah is a weird shopper. At least in my eyes. She smells new bed sheets, listens to thermoses, shakes water bottles, and drums on fruits. These are the ways she tests the quality of each product. She has logic behind some of her methods, but no explanation behind others. For example, I asked Auntie Deborah what she was doing when she listened to the inside of a thermos we were going to buy for Rose. She said she was listening for a low “hmmmmmmmmmm” noise. I put my ear to the thermos and there it was, this “hmmmm” noise similar to the inside of a large seashell. I asked her what the noise meant to her and she had no idea, but she was sure it meant that the product would work well and we purchased it right away. Auntie Deborah is all knowing so I didn’t bother asking further questions about her thermos buying method. I think I will find myself cluelessly listening for “hmmm”ing noises inside of kitchen utensils when I am back home.

The Lucky Winner
JUNE 23, 2014

Blog #5

A mosquito ending up on the inside of a mosquito net is like winning the lottery in mosquito society. That lucky bug gets to feast on my flesh all night long while the others watch from the outside, dreaming of being in that guy’s place. He’s impossible to catch. I have already turned off the lantern and I can hear him buzzing around, but I am not willing to untuck my mosquito net, get out of bed, and turn on a light source. That is too much work for one little bug and I am not willing to risk letting other ones in when I lift my net. So I cover my body with the sheet I have been provided, convincing myself that I will be protected from the lucky winner. In the morning, I find a dozen bites on each foot swollen and itchy. I should have worn socks…
This is malaria season in Uganda. Children and staff left and right are falling sick from the deadly illness. My student friend, Sophia, has been bed ridden for the last few days. The last time I saw her we were on the football field and she said, “I am feeling bad with maladia” with a shrug as she kept her eyes on the grass below her feet. I said I was sorry and suggested that she go rest and drink a lot of water. She said she doesn’t have “tablets” and therefore, resting and hydrating would do nothing for her. I’ve always found that rest and hydration help with sickness, but what do I know? I’ve never been sick with a fatal illness. Uncle James just walked by as I was writing this blog post. He stopped to chat as he often does when I am stretched out on my yoga mat in the shade of my favorite tree. I asked him, “Olyotya?” (“How are you?”) and he replied, “I am fine. But I have maladia.” He told me that it is very common for many of them to get malaria when the rainy season comes to an end. I take my malaria prevention medication every morning along with my multi vitamins and my Allegra. My insurance covered most of the cost for that prescription. Here, health insurance is too great a luxury to even dream of, let alone a magical pill that assured them immunity to this deadly, yet common disease. And here I am complaining about my itchy ankles from the one mosquito that crept into my net.

The way people explain causes of death here are extremely #@$%ue. I often here someone tell me how a person died, simply saying that “she died of a disease.” I may respond, “what disease?” And then will say, “yes she got very ill from disease and she died.” As if that answered my question.
Just today, I was talking to Auntie Deborah about Rose’s family. Rose is a 3 year old girl who I hope to find a sponsor or sponsors for. She was brought to Sabina when she was only 3 weeks old. Her mother had died the morning of that day and her father had left town immediately after. Her mother was a sort of bartender in Sabina’s village, Sanjai (she sold beer and sodas for people to drink outside of her shop (shack)). When Deborah and the other aunties came to give their condolences to the family, they found Rose screaming and crying after having not been fed for 8 hours. They asked the family if they could take Rose to Sabina for a few days and care for her there. The family was quick to hand her over, knowing that they did not have the means to nurture the small human into health. A few days turned into a few weeks, a few weeks turned into a few months, and now Rose is 3 and still lives at Sabina under the care of the loving house mothers. I am buying Rose the things she needs such as a mattress, bed sheets, underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a “flask” for her porridge, s#@$%s, and clothes. When I brought some of the things to Sabina, auntie Agnes smiled big and hugged me, thrilled to have some of the essentials for Rose. She has become Rose’s primary caretaker. She has two young girls of her own, but her hands weren’t full enough to deny Rose the love and attention she needs. Rose isn’t officially under the care of Children of Uganda or Sabina, so she doesn’t have a bed. She sleeps with Aunt Agnes on her tiny mattress every night. I have decided to feature Rose as one of the two “Day In The Life” shorts I will be filming. This will be done with the hopes of having someone see her, hear her story, and open their hearts enough to sponsor her through her education. If she were to find co-sponsors, it would cost a little over a dollar a day to send her all the way through primary school. She has a year until school begins and if we find her sponsorship in time, she can join Children of Uganda and be under their care and protection through out her childhood and well into her adulthood.
This is why I was inquiring about the day Rose was found mother and fatherless. Auntie Deborah told me that Rose’s mother died of stress. She said her husband was “going with other women” and causing Rose’s mother a lot of “stress”. I said, “but what killed her?” And she said, “it was stress. If she wasn’t so stressed by that man, she wouldn’t have died.” I have heard of people dying prematurely because they are overworked and neglect their own mental and physical needs. But a healthy, new mother dropping dead one day because of marital struggles seems a little fishy to me.
“An insect bit her and she died” is another common explanation for death of women over here. Daniel told me about how his sister had died soon after I left Uganda 4 years ago. I asked what had happened and he said he didn’t know. He speaks of her with fondness, painting a picture of them being really close friends while she was alive, but he said he couldn’t be sure of her cause of death.Then he startled me, saying in a quiet voice, “her husband was a bad man. I think he killed her.” I asked if it was ever proven and he said no. He said that he got the call from his aunt who told him about his sister’s death. He didn’t believe it at first because his sister was a healthy woman with two young children, working as a nurse in a clinic. They buried her a few days after, resigning to the idea of her dying from an insect bite. Then, as time went by, Daniel began to suspect that his sister did not die from an insect bite, but was murdered by her husband. They never got an autopsy because it was too expensive. And for this reason, another man may have gotten away with murdering an innocent woman and mother.
Daniel’s brother in-law disappeared after his wife’s death and now Daniel pays the school fees for his orphaned niece and nephew. Orphan here seems to mean something different. 9 times out of 10, the mother is dead and the father is no where to be found. The “father” may still be alive and well, but he is as good as dead to his children.

Despite the troubles I see people facing in Uganda with disease and injustice, my anxiety level plumitts here. It is washed away by the joy, freedom, love, and hope that I feel in this place. It’s strange how I have to travel to a country that doesn’t allow me to show my legs, in order to feel free. A country where I am constantly singled out as “muzungu” when I walk through any public space. A country where there are laws against mini skirts and #@$%sexuals. A country where there is a substantial language barrier between me and 99% of the population. A country where I pee in a bucket and see with a lantern. For some reason, I feel completely whole and at peace here, free from any luxury “problems” and the pressures of being number one. This is a place where I can remember how insignificant petty problems and social rankings truly are to the quality of my life.

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Netball and Lullabies
JUNE 22, 2014

My bags came this morning and we finally have the first of our instruments at Sabina. Adam and I had purchased 3 ukuleles, music books, and strings. We are buying 4 guitars and 2 keyboards in Kampala when Adam flies in this weekend. Then next Tuesday, we will be teaching music during school hours, after school, and hanging with a jam session every night from 9-10.
I wasn’t planning on beginning music with the kids until Adam was here, but while handing out s#@$%s, belts, bags, and underwear today to the Children of Uganda kids, they spotted the ukuleles and I had to promise to sing with them tonight. Christine, Vivian, and a few other students who were at Sabina when I was here 4 years ago, remembered a few of the songs I like to sing. One of them is You and I by Ingrid Michaelson. For those of you who were at the concert to benefit the Children of Uganda this past May, Max and I sang it together. For some reason the children love that song and even remember most of the lyrics from when they sang it with me 4 years ago.
The older kids are taking exams and studying until 9 every night. They have barely any free time during the week days but they all flocked into the library as soon as they got out so they could sing songs with my accompaniment on ukulele. Two girls got there first and I thought to myself, “ok, this will be a low key sing along and the big stuff will happen next week.” The next thing I knew, over 50 kids were in the library swarming around the table I was perched on. I sang for them and Sophia clumsily strummed along on a ukulele that she didn’t know how to play. Christine sang along to You and I and followed along on other songs such as Old Fashioned Hat by Anais Mitchell and Brave by Sara Bareilles. Then I had an idea.
I had written a song that stole from a Ugandan song they sing at night during their prayers. I call it Ugandan Lullaby. In the chorus, I use their Liganda lyrics and melody. During the verses I describe the troubling stories of some of the girls who used to be here. The song spoke of struggles revolving around AIDS and sexual abuse. I did not want them to hear the sad song I turned their lullaby into, so I didn’t play them any of the verses. But I began, “Aba Africa…” and everyone chimed in. They sang the whole song together and it brought tears to my eyes. I have been hearing their voices singing that song in my head for the past 6 years and it was breathtaking to hear them sing it once again. Different voices but the same hope and devotion rang through. We will meet again tomorrow night at 9 pm.

On an embarrassing note, there was a football (soccer) game scheduled this afternoon for staff against students. I thought it would be an easy going game; one that I could play for 10 minutes and drop out whenever I got sweaty. Man, was I wrong. I showed up to the field and people were stretching. Every student from Sabina lined the field to watch the match. One of the teachers threw me a jersey and told me to stand middle field. The game began and I quickly realized I was out of my league. I played soccer growing up for the westside soccer league. We were a team full of chubby pre-pubescent girls who hated to run and cried at half time when our mothers forced us to get back onto the field. I thought this would qualify me to play on the staff team, but I was quickly humbled. The kids and the teachers are FAST. Faster than I ever knew a human could go. The ball came at me several times and I am ashamed to admit that I flinched and missed every time. Still, the children cheered for me on the side lines (or maybe that was laughter?) I did get one kick in, but the ball went straight up, hitting my flaring arm and giving the other team a fowl shot right in front of the goal. From then on, the staff kept the ball away from me and I don’t blame them one bit.

I am learning Luganda. I am learning enough to earn some street cred in the village. It’s really exciting. Here are some of my vocab words and phrases from today that are completely misspelled:

O mani auntie Deborah jaaadi: Where is auntie Deborah?

Moyembe: mango

Kedo: avocado

Omwana omoto: young baby

Oh gambee otya? : what did you say?

Koody kayo: welcome back

Oh va wah: where have you been?

Neh mee low: the garden

Bogo molingi: hot!

Kweega: to learn

Oh ko lachee?: What are you doing?

Integedah: I understand

Sitegedah: I don’t understand

Coodia: eat

Moosana: sun

Omweze: moon

Sula bulungi,

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We Danced Our Hearts Out
JUNE 22, 2014

Blog post #3

I was told last night that we were leaving with aunt Deborah at 9 the following morning for an event. So I woke up at 8, did my morning routine Uganda style (peeing in a bucket, brushing my teeth with a bottle of water then spitting in the grass, putting on a long skirt, and eating cold eggs and freshly milked cow’s milk). Now, there is something called Uganda time which I had forgotten about. When someone says 9, one should always add on at least two hours. We left for the African Child event at 11:15. There were 6 of us in a tiny car, which is a very low number of people to fit in one small car in Uganda (usually it’s at least 12).
We made our way down a long, bumpy road to the African Child memorial event. This day is remembered by many Africans to honor the children in South Africa who fought in the war during the apartide. We finally made it to the event where there must have been several thousand people gathered under tents. When Emma and I got out of the car, we became walking exhibits in a museum. The children gawked at us as we walked by. Our friend, Jane, reminded us that some of these children have never seen a white person before. My first instinct was the be offended by the way they stared, pointed, and called me muzungu. Some of the children even pulled my hair as they ran by, tempted by their curiosity about what my muzungu hair might feel like. Then I thought about it. It isn’t racism, it’s complete and utter amazement. They rarely have the opportunity to study a person of my color and when they do, they take advantage of it. Fair enough; I would do the same thing. So I smiled and greeted them with the one exchange they are guaranteed to know: “how are you?” and they reply “I am fine”.
We sat and enjoyed the event for four long hours. School after school came out onto the open grass and performed a song, poem, and/or dance. In between performances, adults would speak into the crackly, screechy microphone and give half hour long speeches in Luganda. The MC acknowledged the “visitors” (Emma and I) and made a point to make his announcements in English and Luganda. That is the way so many Ugandans are, 100% welcoming. There were only two out of several thousand people there who didn’t speak the local language, but he was sure to translate for our own benefit. During the long speeches, I made a habit of putting on my sunglasses and taking a snooze until my head tipping me forward woke me in a sudden awareness of my surroundings.
One older woman (a jaja) gave a speech about her newly adopted child. I had Jane translate this speech for me because it seemed to be important. A three year old boy stood by her as she told the crowd about how he had been dropped off at her place 8 months ago by people who refused to care for him. She asked the audience if anyone recognized him because she is trying to find where he belongs. She said she is willing to care for him, but she cannot afford his school fees. As she delivered her message, she seemed to be passionate with a touch of anger. But to me, everyone sounds angry when they speak Luganda so I am not the best judge of her emotion. The boy was so small. He was not phased by her words and stood there obediently throughout his new grandmother’s speech. Someone came up to the microphone after the jaja and the boy sat down. She was heavy and she was one of the only women there without a weave. I liked her immediately. According to Jane’s translation, this woman told the jaja that she would pay the boy’s school fees up until 7th grade and the crowd exploded in applause. That’s what people do here. They take care of each other even when they cannot take care of themselves.
On the way back from the event, we continued our conversation about the excitement children here get when they see a white person. I remembered seeing an albino Ugandan student in church yesterday. I asked Jane how people here might view her. She said that the albino girl is surely “humiliated.” Many people here fear albinos because they fear the unknown. She asked if we had albinos in the USA and if we did, “do they look any different?” I described the albinos I have come into contact with and she listened closely. Then she asked if I had ever seen one die. I had not, and “why do you ask?” She said that she has heard that when albinos die, their bodies just disappear. I laughed at this, sure that Jane was joking as she often does. Bob piped in to say that this is a common belief among the community. Jane is remarkably intelligent, but she was serious about the disappearing albinos. I explained how albinos are human beings and therefore, die just like everyone else. She said, “but have you seen one die?” No, I hadn’t.
There are so many myths in Uganda. There is a myth that if a mother touches the bed of their sexually active daughter, she will get Parkinson’s disease. There is a myth that having sex with a virgin will cure a person’s AIDS (which has began to be debunked over the last several years). And there is a current myth that #@$% men and women are going into schools and converting students to their sexual preference. One of the most troubling ones I know of. There are certain myths I can laugh and talk about with people here. Then there are certain myths that I have to be very careful about discussing. Those are the myths I wish most to talk about. I have chosen certain people, like Daniel, to safely discuss these deadly and hateful myths and policies within Uganda. But I have decided that the safest place to talk about these things is here, on this blog.

When we returned to Sabina, we prepared for that evening’s party. Anne, a fellow volunteer, put money toward throwing the children and the staff a party. A DJ from the village came to #@$%e up the dance floor. The children all had a big meal full of matoke (a delicacy here and a favorite among the children) and chicken. Two foods that the children rarely taste and always crave. After eating, we danced our hearts out. Deborah sat lovingly and watched the children dance. She turned to me and so genuinely said, “it is my favorite to see the children dance”.
I’m going to be honest here. I was not looking forward to this evening’s festivities. I am a bit out of practice when it comes to partying and I am still pretty jet legged. But as soon as one of the children pulled me off my chair and onto the dance floor, my bum did not touch another seat for the rest of the night. I didn’t have to be rested, I didn’t have to speak the language, I didn’t even have to dance well; I just had to let go and have fun. And that’s exactly what I did. I danced with so many children. Most of the young ones do not yet know English so it is harder to get to know them. But dancing did the trick! Their personalities shined through the way they moved with me. They showed me Ugandan moves and I showed them cheesy American moves such as dipping and twirling. Our communication was made possible by the language of music. And that is what Adam and I have come to Sabina for, to connect through our common love of music.
At the end of the night, one of the teachers had the DJ put on a song and dedicate it to him and I. We danced as the children gathered around laughing and cheering. The teacher had a very unique way of dancing. He’d turn out his feet and walk like a duck toward me as he frowned and kept his glance down at the floor. I didn’t know how to work with this at first, but we found our groove as the dance went on.

What a day. I am full of adrenaline and it is almost 1 in the morning. I am so happy to be alive and so happy to be here at Sabina in Rakai, Uganda.

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Day 1 at Sabina
JUNE 16, 2014

After 20 hours of airplane travel, one night at Emmanuel’s house in Entebbe, and 5 hours driving to Rakai with my dear friend Daniel, I finally arrived to Sabina late last night. As usual, the children greeted me when we drove into the school with hugs and “welcome Aunt”s as they took my bags from my hands. Auntie Deborah, an incredible house mother here, power walked over to me and swept me off my feet in a warm embrace. She shrieked, “Maderine, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you so much!” as she spun me around. I had to hold back tears when I looked in her eyes. I have worked very hard for the past four years at not thinking about specific people from Uganda too hard, so as to avoid the feelings of longing and loss. Auntie Deborah is one of those people. She is a beautiful and authentic woman. She is a mother not only to her own three children who live at Sabina, but to all of the children here and even all of the staff members and volunteers. When my mother left Uganda while I remained when I was sixteen, my mother told Deborah that she was to look after me. For the next month or so, Auntie Deborah kept constant track of me. I rode a boda-boda (motorcycle) into the next village one day without her knowing. When I came back, she scolded me and made me promise to not set cheek (butt, that is) on another one of those dangerous things again. She was my mother, just like she is for everyone else. Seeing her again last night was a gift I was not sure I would ever receive again.

Let’s talk about Daniel, the man who is more than a driver. He tends to have an angry masculine look on his face most of the time. But when he smiles, he lights up a village. You ask Daniel how old he is and he says, “thirty…thirty-five… maybe thirty-seven? I don’t know…” His favorite hobby is to sit on the side of the road and people watch. He says, in an unknowingly humorous tone, “I just like to watch people pass by. See what they are wearing, how they are walking, what they might be thinking.”
When Daniel met me at Emmanuel’s, he too swept me off my feet in a powerful, manly hug. He did this three times in a row as he repeated. “oh, Maderine. How ah you? How is USA? How is mum?” On the way to Sabina, we caught each other up on the past four years of our lives. Daniel now has a new son, Frank. Frank is “one…maybe two.” His second wife was behaving poorly so they had to split up. I told him six years ago that having two wives was not a good idea, but did he listen? No. I made this point at least a dozen times.

We stopped at Daniel’s one and now only wife’s house to see her and his four children. His wife, Sarah, is beautiful. I told him to tell her that I said so. Sarah does not understand English and I can only say a handful of things in Luganda. Beautiful was not yet a word in my vocabulary (mulungi?). He refused to tell her what I said. He said he doesn’t want her head to get big. I scolded him for this, saying that she deserves to hear compliments, then proceeded to charades “you are beautiful” to her. After eating fene (jack fruit), seeing Daniel’s pigs, dog, and cat, and playing with his children, we left for Sabina. That’s where I saw Deborah and the children.

Fast forward to today. I woke up at 7 (midnight in NYC) and went to church with the children and the two other volunteers here from Chicago (Anne and Emma). The service was done mostly in Luganda. Since it is father’s day, the priest wanted to talk positively about the fathers in these children’s lives. He pulled Lisa up from the aisles and conducted a mini interview with her in front of the 300 Ugandan children and three awkward white people in the audience. He said, “who is your favorite parent?” She replied “my mothah” He asked, “what do you like about your mothah?” She said, “she breast fed me when I was young” Then he asked, “what do you rike about your fathah?” She said, “he died when I was very young”. He quickly wrapped up the interview and thanked her quickly as she returned to her seat. I later found out that both of Lisa’s parents have been dead for some time now. I don’t think things went the way the priest had hoped for that segment of his sermon.

After church, the Kenyan nun came to greet me. She shook my hand which turned into her pulling me, within that handshake, into her house. She wanted to show me, Emma, Anne, and Jane (a Sabina graduate) the church’s property. Four of us ended up staying for hours drinking tea, eating biscuits, and laughing constantly. She reminded us that “laughing for one houah a day will make us live loong” and assured us that we were doing well for this day.

We had lunch with the staff after our visit with “sister Angel” (the Kenyan nun). Afterward, we went off to have a fun afternoon with the children playing football (soccer). Kareem (a student at Sabina and a good friend of mine) made the teams before I even got to the field. He strategically left all of the girls out so he could have two teams of older boys. I quickly vetoed his choice of not letting the girls play and they all frolicked onto the field in their dresses and skirts. These kids can RUN! After 20 minutes on the field I was pooped. I ended up playing monkey in the middle and singing songs with the younger ones on the side of the field.

Sophia (a student at Sabina and a new friend of mine) and I sat on the side of the football field and washed my clothes. While we were by the water tank, I saw a young boy pump water from the faucet and drink it. I asked Sophia if it was safe for the children to drink that water and she laughed and said “no”. She casually said the water could give them malaria and proceeded to scrub the one pair of clothes I have while Jane cleverly wrapped my body in an African scarf.

My luggage was left in Amsterdam on the way over to Uganda. This stressed me out at first, but as soon as I landed in Uganda, I couldn’t have cared less. I have just been informed that my luggage arrived safely to Emmanuel’s house today and that someone will bring it to Sabina for me on Tuesday. One piece of that luggage is carrying close to 30 pairs of s#@$%s and three ukuleles, all donations for the children. For now, I’ve got my one pair of undies, a skirt, a tank top, and this scarf that is currently holding onto my body for dear life.

That’s all for now! I will go meet with the staff now and talk about how best to use the $2,000 we have left to spend on Sabina and the Children of Uganda. Which reminds me, thank you so much to all who donated their time, talent, money, clothing, and s#@$%s to the cause. It is going to help so many children here. And thank you for reading!

PS: Happy Father’s Day!!!

thanks mom, that’s it! Up to after the PS. xoxoxo

The Day I’ve Been Waiting For
JUNE 13, 2014

I am sitting at gate B25 in JFK airport, waiting for my flight to board. It’s been a crazy experience getting everything together for this trip. So many people offered their talents, time, and money to the Uganda concert. From that, we raised nearly $4,000. Then there were the clothing donations from teachers, friends, and even my therapist! Suzanne and Stephanie Windland came over to my place one late night with about a dozen garbage bags filled with beautiful clothes and s#@$%s for the children. From there, I was able to pack 100 pounds worth of much needed supplies for these kids. The bags just made the cut at Delta’s baggage check and here I am, ready to take flight.

My sister, Natalie, came by earlier today to help me with last minute packing things. She frantically asked me why I was so calm, while I sipped on my smoothie and stared off into space. I replied with, “I went to yoga today”.

As as I drove to the airport and watched the city pass me by, that question kept repeating in my head. “Why are you so calm? Why are you so calm?!”. Then the answer came to me. It wasn’t the yoga, it wasn’t the fact that my bags were packed and I had gotten all the necessary vaccinations. It was because I had been waiting for this day for the last 4 years. The day I could return to that far off land which hosted those beautiful people I had grown to love. The place that changed my life for the much better when I was 16 years old. The place that haunted my dreams and those that place with those smiles I see every time I close my eyes. That place is Uganda. And that is my flight boarding announcement.

So long NYC! Welaba!!