It’s the Simple Moments that Count the Most - 11/18 - 11/23/2012
The beginning of the week was pretty low key and normal. Sunday was spent around the compound reading, sleeping, playing with Hope and Saudah, and starting to sort through my things for packing. After school on Monday, Hope and I had fun decorating her new homework exercise book with markers and stickers I had found. That evening Wasswa Paul (P3) and Mike (P6) came to the compound to make banana juice. Auntie Teddy asked Kristin and Jaclyn (she knows that I don’t like bananas) if they each had a water bottle so she could give them some. They both immediately put their books down and flew out of bed because they had been hoping to try it for a long time. I went with them to watch the boys make it.
Here they have so dozens of types of bananas and making juice is definitely a labor intensive process. They break off each banana and throw the whole thing, peel and all, into a large pot. Then they mash and mash; pressing down on them hard, pulling the stuff from the bottom to the top, and squeezing and mashing some more. It takes quite a bit of time but eventually some almost sudsy-looking juice starts to accumulate. They then add water and mash some more. Once they have mashed, squeezed, and churched all they can, they start to take out the peels and pieces that are still left over. Then they put it through a sieve and it’s ready to drink. Jaclyn and Kristin said it was really good, so I just took their word for it. In all the process probably takes 45 minutes or more. We were fascinated watching them, and while it was all going on, Hope and Saudah danced and Auntie Teddy gave us some jackfruit to eat - yum!
Tuesday I started working with P6 on writing letters to their partners in Bedford, MA. I gave them a lot of freedom on what they could write, which is unusual for them since usually they are given a template. After they finished their letters, I looked them all over, made a few corrections, and had them draw a bit if they wanted to. I was very pleased with how good their letters were, especially once I saw P5’s letters and saw that there was a major difference between the two groups. I was happy that not only has their math improved, but their English has improved dramatically as well.
Wednesday we finished up the letters and had a short lesson. That afternoon Jaclyn and I worked on finishing the library; it was really starting to come together. I had Pius come in and help me. He was so excited to help and get to be in there with all the books; it was really cute. As we were working he asked, “Auntie, will you be our math teacher next year?” I had to tell him that while I definitely plan to return to Uganda, I doubt I can before the end of term in December 2013, which saddens me because it will be my wonderful P6 students’ last year (and the most important one since they will be candidates) and I wish more than anything I could be there to teach them. Pius said, “But Auntie, I’ll miss you so much and we won’t learn anything we need to know for our exam.” I tried so hard not to tear up as I told him that of course he would learn a lot from his wonderful Newlife teachers and that when I return I would like more than anything to be able to see them all and that I’ll figure out a way to make it happen since they’ll be in secondary. I also told him that it will be easier next year because he’s worked so hard and he understands now the reason behind the math formulas, such as Pythagoras’ a2+ b2 = c2, instead of just memorizing them. He went on to tell me that was true, but they would do so much better if I was there to teach them, which is so sweet of him and truly touched me. I am leaving, but sometimes I wonder, how? How do you leave part of your heart behind?
After I was finished up in the library, I went in to tell Auntie Teddy I was leaving and she asked me, “What about your kids?” She meant Hope, Ivan and Saudah. I said, “Oh, I’ll take them”, and immediately walked out of the office to find Hope and tell her to get her backpack, find Ivan and help him put back on his shoes and shirt and search for his container, backpack, and sweater, and begin tracking down Saudah’s things. A bit later, Auntie Teddy was helping me find the last of Ivan’s things and as we’re about to leave, she says “What am I going to do without you? I have become very lazy in taking care of the kids in the mornings as you come to help them get dressed for school and make sure they have all their things, and in the evenings you get them all ready and know exactly what is missing and aren’t disturbed by taking care of all three.” It was really starting to hit me that I am leaving soon. I told Auntie Teddy right off that she was not lazy at all - she is the hardest working woman I know; I don’t understand how she does everything she does in 24 hours, non-stop, seven days a week, and still has time to sleep. I thanked her though and told her that I don’t feel like I do that much ESPECIALLY compared to HER and that I just love my kids and like helping to care for them. I just appreciate their letting me be so much a part of their lives.
That afternoon Jaclyn had gone to Bukunda, and to our surprise she returned with a jackfruit. We love jackfruit - especially Jaclyn and Kristin - and are trying to eat as much of it as we can. It is like no fruit I’ve ever seen. They’re huge, up to 80 pounds and 36 inches long, kind of egg shaped, spring green and sort of spiky, but they don’t hurt to touch. The inside is very sticky and when you cut it, a little bit of white juice comes to the top. Then, when you pull it apart (inside are little pods with seeds inside them so you have to pull out the pods and take the seed out of each one), it’s so sticky and sweet - it’s almost like marshmallow fluff. YUMMY YUMMY!
Thursday morning passed slowly at school. Since the school year has been extended, everyone is sort of dragging. As it got closer to lunch my kids asked “Please Auntie give us an exercise.” We had just gone through the review for their exam for the third time, and because I didn’t sleep well the night before, and I was still a little sick, I said “Your exercise is to take a nap.” Blank stares. I said “Put your heads down. I told you I do all of your exercises that I assign also so I can help you, so I’m going to do it too.” They all got a big kick out of that. Naturally however, there were some that didn’t do their exercise. Some things never change; there will always be a few kids that will never do their work.
After a little bit of nap time I told them it was time for our next exercise. They were all intrigued after such an usual and fun first exercise. Throughout the year P6 has recorded voice memos for my best friend Tonya. They say things like “Hi Tonya. P6 loves you.” So the exercise was to record her a video. Tonya is from Arkansas and I went to the University of Arkansas, so I was going to have them say “Hi Tonya. Woo pig sooie!”, Arkansas’ cheer. But instead of just saying the line, why not have them Call those Hogs? I had taught Hope and Ivan, after all….
It was now time to teach P6 to call the hogs. I explained what they were doing and wrote it up on the board (they love to see the words written out). Kristin was teaching in the P5 classroom, also going over their review for the third time, and all of a sudden a voice rings out “Are you serious?” She’s from Texas and loves UT. Soon I hear her teaching her children about “Hook’em horns”, the University of Texas’ catchphrase and hand signal. So naturally I teach mine the catchphrase and cheer Boomer Sooner and the hand signal. All this time we could hear each other and soon it was a battle. It didn’t take long for Kristin and I to start lobbing pieces of chalk over the wall at one another, or for her to throw her chalkboard eraser over the wall at me. I then erased a lot of chalk off the board and went to her doorway and threw it back at her. The kids were loving it. All you could hear was “Boomer Sooner” and then “Hookem Horns” going back and forth. Very quietly I told my kids to go to the windows of Auntie Kristin’s room and to hold up UT’s longhorn hand signal upside down and then yell “Boomer Sooner!” Kristin and I were both dying laughing, but there was definitely a battle going on. I got my kids back into class, and it didn’t take long for her class to come running over to mine. I told P6 whenever they see Auntie Kristin hold up the upside down longhorn. The shining moment came when I wrote a question on the board and in a very low whisper told my kids they were to read it in unison so Auntie Kristin could hear - she had no idea what was coming.
“Auntie Kristin, who won the Red River Shootout?” P6 asked.
Silence. More silence. Eraser flying over the wall.
Victory for P6, she didn’t have a comeback.! I recorded a few videos of P6 and explained to them the rivalry, that it’s like Manchester United versus Manchester City. We ended the battle end on a good note by having my kids yell over “Dallas Cowboys are the best!” We can both agree on that. We both love the Cowboys. It so was much fun. The kids have been working so hard and definitely deserved a break and to have some fun, and I know Kristin and I enjoyed it just as much as them. After all, we’re also there to teach them some important life lessons and cultural exchanges. “Woo pig sooie!” and “Boomer Sooner! Go OU!” included.
By lunch time we were all done teaching and needed to go to Bukunda to see the tailor because we were going to have pants made and Kristin and I were each also going to have a traditional dress made. By this point it was really starting to set in that we were missing Thanksgiving, and we were all a little sad. So we came up with a great plan: we would go to Masaka for a late lunch at Cafe Frikadella. It might not be a Thanksgiving menu, but at least it was a nice meal, and then on our way back we would stop at Bukunda to get fitted for our pants and dresses. We stopped in Bukunda at Mirembe’s house, one of Auntie Teddy’s sisters, because we knew Auntie Teddy had stopped there on her way to Kampala for a parents meeting at Joan’s school. Auntie Christine, Ivan, Mama Hope, and, best of all, Martin, were also there. Kristin had never met Martin, and he was really shy. We’ve missed him so much. We talk about him all the time and are hoping that maybe for the last week or so of our stay he can come stay with us.
At Café Frikadella we had a very nice lunch sitting around talking about what we were thankful for. A lot of it came down to being thankful for this great opportunity to come to Uganda, volunteer with children, and grow as a person. We were also thankful for everyone’s love and support from back home, thankful for the people we have developed such a deep connection with here, and all of the things we had taken for granted (like having our own car or even a toilet and running water) that when we got home we would really be grateful for. Just like any other Thanksgiving, we ate too much and were so full. Then we wondered whose idea it was to get fitted after we ate. After the fittings, we returned to Mzungu Palace for round two of Thanksgiving, just like back home, with a jackfruit feast. Jaclyn and Kristin have recently become obsessed with jackfruits and had bought two almost whole large ones that day. We ate so much jackfruit that night. It was great.
All week we had excitedly been awaiting Friday: ice-cream and our going away party. We had learned Wednesday night that unfortunately Auntie Teddy wouldn’t be there because she was going to Joan’s school in Kampala. We were really disappointed about that. Friday morning school was slow; it had been raining so many of the children were late to school. Kristin and I hadn’t been able to get fitted for our dresses the day before, just the pants, so since we had some spare time, we thought we’d get a bodaboda to Bukunda to get fitted.
We first had to walk to Kitofaali to get a boda. When we got there, people were gathered on either side of the road. We soon learned it was because two men were in town with huge feed sacks of grasshoppers, a favorite snack food of Ugandans. We had really been wanting to try some and thought it was the perfect time since it was grasshopper season. You buy them when they’re still alive, and then cook them. On our way to Bukunda we had to pass back by the school, so I hopped off the boda and handed Jaclyn our sack of grasshoppers as the cooks would prepare them for everyone. It was a quick trip into Bukunda and we wanted to make sure we were back for the ice-cream man.
Just as we had arranged, the ice-cream man showed up at 11:00 a.m. I’m not sure who was more excited, us or the kids. We couldn’t wait to see the smiles. Uncle Bosco really helped us out, getting everything set up and organizing it all. It runs so smoothly - we just got to stand there and see the joy on everyone’s faces. All day the kids came up to us, giving us letters and various vegetables, fruits, and eggs to thank us. It was so sweet. The letters are the best things ever. As the classes were getting their ice creams, one of the cooks brought out the grasshoppers. It was time to try them. They pick the legs and wings off but the eyes are still there, staring at you, even though they’re cooked. I was skeptical, but they were actually pretty good. Buttery tasting almost. Crunchy yet kinda chewy. I even had a second! It was definitely a physiological thing though and I couldn’t eat any more than that. I think we were all pleasantly surprised though.
During lunch, some of the P7 members started showing up for our goodbye ceremony. After lunch the older kids set up the hall and we all piled in. It was such a great afternoon full of singing, dancing, tears, and laughs. The choir sang, putting each of our names into one of the good-bye songs they sang. Maria, one of the students I’m closest to, stepped forward to take the lead singing the part with my name, but right after she said my name she messed up the song. Everyone looked a little confused but took it all in stride and kept going. Later she told Kristin she messed up because she was starting to cry and didn’t want to, so she got confused. She had been crying all through lunch too. I’m going to miss her so much. Then of course there was dancing – kids grabbed our hands and pulled us in front of everyone to dance, which they always get a kick out of, and we have a lot of fun doing.
After that the kids performed a skit. It was in Luganda so I don’t really know what it was about, but it was hilarious. There are quite some little actors in those kids, and you could tell they were really enjoying themselves. Auntie Angel then got up to address the school about us leaving. A few times she had to stop and regain her composure so she wouldn’t start to cry. To me this meant so much. In the Ugandan culture, tragedies, unfortunately, are much more common and Ugandans really know how to hide their feelings. So, when they do become emotional, it is a rare thing. After Auntie Angel finished, Kristin, then Jaclyn, and finally I got up to say a few words. It was very difficult to keep my composure. I have been dreading this moment since Jim and Karen’s goodbye ceremony back in March – not only because there’s such an attachment to everyone there, but also the reality of the end being really near can no longer be denied. I kept my composure as best as I could; though, a few tears were inevitable. Looking out over the school, telling them how much they have taught me and how wonderful they all are and how thankful I am for them welcoming me with open arms to their community and that I knew this wouldn’t be my last time in Uganda, that this is my second family - Auntie Teddy, Jaja, their whole family and the whole school too. I especially knew this to be true when I saw a few of my P6 students tearing up also.
After a few emotional moments it was back to more fun and smiles. The school had a present for each of us - gomesi. The traditional dress, with the high, pointed British Colony-inspired shoulders. We looked so smart! After we had donned our new dresses, there was more dancing - chinganda style dancing. Yes, we can do the traditional dance of the Buganda tribe; not well, but we’ve got the basic moves down. We danced with the kids and then the teachers. Everyone loved it, including us. We had the time of our lives. At the end the P7 students that were present all stood up and thanked us each individually. That meant so much to me.
They only thing that could have made the day any better would be if Auntie Teddy could have been there, but I understand that wasn’t possible. When we got home, I put my dress on to show Jaja that I finally looked smart like her! She always wears the traditional dress, every day. I got a picture with her too.
Now we are packing because tomorrow morning (Saturday) we leave for Kampala to go on a short holiday. We will be touring Murchison Falls and go on a game drive in the Murchison Falls National Park. We will be back to Mzungu Palace next Wednesday. We are sad to miss three days of school, but when we scheduled and paid for this tour three weeks ago, we still thought the last day of school was the 30th and we weren’t going to miss any school days. After we return we’ll have Thursday and Friday at school. And next weekend we will stay home at Mzungu Palace, go to help Auntie Teddy work on her land on Saturday and then just spend time with the family. Monday, December 3rd, they start exams, and we’ll be packing because we leave for Kampala early Tuesday morning. Jaclyn’s and my flight leaves at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday morning and Kristin leaves about 12 hours later. It’s so crazy that it is all coming to an end. I feel like just yesterday I was saying only 50 more days. Since we will be spending our last weekend with the family, I won’t get a chance to update my blog till I’m home, but I’ll definitely write about the tour and our last week, as well as some other blogs I want to post about my relationships with the kids and changes I’ve seen over my time here. I know I keep saying it but thank you so much for everyone’s support - without it this would not have been possible. I can’t wait to see everyone when I get home in just over a week, but it’s definitely bittersweet. I know this isn’t my last time here, so that makes it a little easier…. It’s not goodbye – it’s “I’ll see you later.”