African Politics and Patrick’s Father

Oh, so much to tell you. How do I explain a culture that is so vastly different from our own? I don’t know, so I will just try to include bits and pieces of the sights and smells and sounds as I tell you of what I’ve been doing the past two days.

I have been getting a lesson in African grass-roots politics—and it is, well, I cannot think of a nicer way to say “corrupt.” You see, even though Wilfred has gotten the report from the probation officer and the paperwork for this and that, now that it is court time, it must all be typed up in some form of legal fashion and re-signed by all the people who wrote it in the first place AND by the officials in charge of or in some way connected with that district. AND we have to do it in two districts because one is the local and the other is the regional—and somehow they’re both involved. Now, Wilfred would probably read this and say it was all wrong, a very bad description of what he’s been doing, but that is what it seems like to me. So yesterday we encountered the family and child services agent, dressed in a police-type uniform, who looked over the paperwork, pointed out some wording she didn’t like, handed it back, and told Wilfred, “Get that fixed, and I’ll sign it—but it won’t be free, you know.”

So Wilfred pulled out his laptop; I retyped the legal document (see what I mean by “legal”); I saved it onto my flash drive (boy , does Wilfred need one of those. I’m going to leave him one of mine when I go. Fortunately, I have two with me); we drove across the road to the stationary shop (which has a computer, a printer, and a copier—now don’t go thinking internet because I haven’t yet found that in any of the places I’ve been so far); he paid to have it printed out; and we went back across the road to the agent—and she signed, accepting a “fee,” of course.

I stay in the car during these encounters, Wilfred assuming that if they saw ME—a muzungu (white person)—the “fee” would be multiplied. I am absolutely certain that he’s right. Keep in mind that the officials are not doing us a favor—letting something slide past them. We’re presenting them with perfectly legal documents, and they’re charging us to do what is supposed to be part of their job.

So let’s see, at my count we’ve bribed two or three officials— sometimes I don’t even know that Wilfred’s done it because it is SO common he forgets to mention it—and we’ve bribed a police officer. Oops, the police officer’s money was called “appreciation.” That one happened yesterday. I was with Philip and Sam, two other young men from the church. Sam’s a teacher, but he’s on “holiday” (that’s what they call “vacation” or “break” here), and Philip is a pastor at the church (he’s twenty-three!). So Philip is driving me (we’re borrowing cars right and left, and I pay to fix them up to the point that they will take us there-and-back in relative safety—more expensive than public transportation, but it would have taken a week to do what we accomplished in two days had we not had vehicles). Anyway, back to my point. Philip is driving me up to meet Patrick’s father (who’s dying of AIDS) and to bring him back from his village to Kampala because he has to sign some documents and appear in court with us. We have an appointment at six p.m. with the probation officer to sign those papers, so Philip is flying, and I almost say that literally. I just close my eyes much of the time—and pray for our safety. So the officer—standing on the side of the road, khaki-uniformed, beret pulled down over his forehead, gun—semi-automatic, no less—waves us down after Philip pulled a particularly risky passing maneuver at an extremely high speed. I have no idea what to think, but I notice Sam pull some money out of a small wallet and hand it to Philip, who hides it in his palm. Philip, very apologetically, explains to the officer what we are doing, but the officer doesn’t seem to want to budge. Then he calls Philip to the back of the car. I’m a bit nervous for him at this point, but Sam actually seems to relax, so I take my cues from him. Two minutes later Philip returns to the car, grinning. The officer did not take his license, but he did accept a small “token of appreciation.”

It’s weird. How do you apply biblical concepts to a situation like this? I don’t know. Nor do the Africans involved. Philip told me he doesn’t like to drive fast and he doesn’t like to bribe, but that is life here, and there is no one to go to who might not be corrupt themselves.

Ah, that is not entirely true. In the midst of the corrupt officials, I have also met several truly Christian officials—and there is a world of difference about them. Liz, the local information officer who also serves on the board of the Mercy Ministries orphanage, is absolutely wonderful. People here tell us we look alike/act alike, that I am a white version of her, and she a black version of me. I don’t know if that’s the reason—or simply because she’s incredibly nice, but we hit it off right away. Yesterday evening we went to her house to look over some paperwork and she gave me cabbage leaves, some corn, a pumpkin, and some thyme—all from the wonderful garden she has in her yard. I really like her—and not just because we look alike.

Oh, back to the wild ride to pick up Patrick’s father. We met him, delivering a gift of sugar, bread, and a bottle of juice. Then we drove to the next village to meet the pastor of his church. (At some point this Muslim father turned to Christ—or maybe the story I heard about his being a Muslim wasn’t right to begin with. Who knows.) Both meetings went well, lots of shaking hands and “God bless you” and “You are welcome here.” But then we began the ride back to Kampala, and I was afraid this man and I—at the moment we share a fairly important bond—were going to ride the entire way in silence and he would hate me and refuse to sign the consent form to let me adopt his son. I’m praying, “God, please let me know what to say,” and wondering how much English he knows—and then he turns to me and starts telling me about the scenery we’re passing. Praise God (and if you make the “o” long and accentuate the “d,” you might just sound like a Ugandan saying it).

He really is dying. Not like, “Oh, my word, this man needs to be in a bed somewhere—stat!” but he is rail-thin in the way that makes you afraid someone might snap in two if they fell, and when he moves you sense every movement is a deliberation and costs some effort. We got along well. He asked about Patrick—and I was happy to tell him—and he told me about the absolutely beautiful Lake Victoria, the Nile River, and the Owens Dam, all of which we passed on the road.

Then, just on the edge of Kampala, Wilfred calls Philip (have I mentioned that Philip is also one of my favorite people here?) and tells him the meeting with the probation officer has been postponed. After all that speed! My dear Father, I KNOW You protected us today. There is not a doubt in my mind about that.

On the drive home, both Jody and then Dave called me. So, so, so good to hear their voices. I am a bit afraid that at some point I will be overwhelmed with sadness or exhaustion or frustration and cry or be unable to BE here with this African family in the way I know God wants me to be. God has sustained me, though, and I can truly say that the fortitude I feel is not from myself because there are times it is almost as if I am watching myself react to something and thinking, “Oh, my Lord, that had to have been you, because I felt a moment of panic or despair crawling in my gut, and it didn’t come out.”

One such moment was today, when Wilfred informed me that our court date has been pushed back a week.

Oh! Lord, what are you asking me to do? I miss Em and Jake and Maddie and Dave SO much already. Help me!

I wanted to cry, to be honest, or at least to gasp, but then this came out of my mouth, “All right, Wilfred, it will be next week. Can you bear with having me as a house guest that long?” God, how did you do that?

And then, tonight, clarity set in. We were NOT ready for that court date. There are still a few things to be gathered, AND Wilfred has an exam that he must take in the morning at the same time he was also supposed to be in court with me. So I step back and say, “My good God, I have no clue what ride you have me on, but I’m just going to let You hold me.”

I have not written that much about Patrick, just about the process of making him our son. He and I are bonding. He runs to me when I come in the door at night, and he understands that I’m his “momma,” that, somehow, I am his in a way that I am not Precious’s, even though I hold her a lot, too. How are you making that happen, God? Again, I am amazed, and though I am very ready to get on that plane with him and be his mommy in complete practice, I am also amazed at how You have put me in this family’s home so that he can be cared for while all this is going on.

One last little bit about Patrick (or Amooti—the pet name his birth father gave him; it’s pronounced AH-MO-T, just tack the “t” sound on the very end of the long “o” sound). He’s bright and funny, with a very good sense of humor and a great belly laugh. He’s busy and active and a fantastic jumper on both feet. He loves to run through the house pretending he’s driving a car and he LOVES to look at the photo album filled with pictures of Dave and the other kids. He’s starting to know their names and to be able to distinguish them. Another miracle!

All for now. I’m running out of battery.

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