There is culture; there is humanity

Wilfred and I pick up Philip on the way—he magically appears on the side of the road, clean, smartly dressed. He will look that way even at the end of the day, when I am hot, sticky and mussed. This struck me last year in my first visit to Africa. I sweat, my face turns red, my clothes show the dirt, my feet stain red-brown—and Florence or Wilfred or Phillip look just as they did when they left the house fresh this morning.

We drop off papers and money for Liz, and then we head off to hospitals to see if we can get the vaccinations for Patrick at a cheaper price. At one hospital—a very nice one—Wilfred picks up information and a price sheet for deliveries (he is thinking ahead to Vena’s time) and then leaves us to meet up with Liz and Zaina and see if that process can be finished. Philip and I visit another hospital—the city center, much cheaper, but still no success. All advise that the injections be given at the surgery, and in my heart I agree, though I would still like them to be done in the States. The idea of giving Patrick three years’ worth of vaccines over a two-day span does not give my heart rest.

I am tired of being the money bag. I remember Aaron and Jody talking about this. It seems the only ones who do not ask for money are Angel and Vena, but everyone else, well, they need money for transport, for giving gifts to so-and-so, for picking up such-and-such, so they come to me. And part of me understands. I have money. They know that. They do not have money. That fact is also painfully obvious to them. What is less obvious, though, is that I have upcoming expenses to pay for, and that money will not magically appear, and the Embassy and doctor’s office will not be satisfied with “I don’t have it.” Part of the issue is that I feel a bit snookered, and I don’t know if I am being taken or not. Does Liz REALLY need 40,000 shillings for transport? Does she need 10,000 for phone time (they pay by the minute here, getting little cards each day to enter minutes on their phone)? And why exactly should I be paying for that? I don’t know, but I must trust Wilfred that if she doesn’t have that money, what needs to be done will not get done. I don’t know, and I don’t feel as if I have any recourse but to pay—and go without food at lunches myself and only change a couple of hundred dollars at a time so that at some point I can say, “I’m out.” I don’t know. Dave and I are learning the lesson that the money is God’s, but I also have a stewardship here—and the adoption must be paid for before Florence can transport her sister to see her grandmother, a visit I am sure is taking place only because I am here to pay for it. Lord, I need your help. I don’t know what to do with this.

Philip and I got Patrick’s passport photos taken yesterday—and Philip’s as well. Patrick was grouchy and turned away from the camera and Philip had to coax him to get him to do it. Still, the photos show a glum-faced little boy, nothing like the face he usually wears. Philip didn’t smile in his either, and I asked him if it was the Ugandan way to be so formal. It must be. The photographer kept a suit jacket on hand for men to wear in the photos.

Patrick had a tough day yesterday, getting carted by Philip and I to hospitals and the photo shop and finally to the lawyer’s office. He did fairly well, but he has not been taught some of the things that will be so necessary in American culture—to stay still when out in public, not to run away, to have boundaries on where he can run. It meant that everywhere I went with him, he had to be limited/held, not a very fun thing for a three-year-old. Jake wasn’t a whole lot different at that age, running away from me at the Wheaton Library and nearly stopping my heart. Nor do African children say “Please” or “thank you,” I’m not sure why, but since that is one of my pet peeves with Em, Jake, and Maddie, I am beginning the struggle with Patrick—and it is going to be an uphill battle. He reminds me of another little boy—stubborn and strong-willed and needing consistent teaching. We may have a tough few months ahead of us. Oh, Lord, am I ever thankful for Your clear leading and direction—without it, I am not sure that I could continue with this, day after day.

I met the lawyer yesterday. I like him. He’s younger than his voice sounded, but he’s very simple (that’s how Wilfred described him, and it fits) and he truly thinks that Patrick and I can be back on a plane in the three week time span (from the time we arrived). I’m not giving myself any hope on that count. Nor do I envision us getting on the plane any longer (that daydream kept me going the first couple of days here). Now I just settle in for the day, trying my hardest to enjoy this time, these moments, worrying less about being American and letting go of things I didn’t know enough to let go of when I first came. I will be Patrick’s mother when the time comes, for now, I learn—much.

I took Philip and Patrick to lunch yesterday. I didn’t eat because my stomach still felt strange. As we ate, Philip kept looking over my shoulder—he was facing the street. I turned my head, and he gestured to a street child, a girl, sitting outside the restaurant, a piece of cardboard over her head shielding her from the sun. I looked at him. “Do you ever feel overwhelmed?”

“Yes,” he said. Then he told me the story of how he, Wilfred, Wilson, Ben and David met—and how they began taking street children in, even though they didn’t have anything themselves. Amazing! I am both humbled by the African lack of ownership and puzzled by it. I do know the method of living that Wilfred and Vena employ—a couple in their first year of marriage who have a young widow and her child living with them, as well as Patrick and a 23-year-old on school holiday, is amazing. At the same time I recognize that these staying with them have a very set pattern of helping that they follow. Having Angel at the house means that Vena doesn’t have to cook, means Wilfred has someone around to run errands and iron his clothes. This all has a pattern to it, as if everyone in the pattern understands her role, her jobs. I am outside this loop, and I do not understand, but I can see the benefits of it (always having a babysitter, knowing a meal will be prepared even when you are late getting home, etc.), but I am also American, and that means desiring privacy! I must be honest and admit that—it doesn’t seem very Biblical, does it? Oh, Lord, for the day when cultures will be swallowed up in YOU! Personal ownership completely given over to YOU! I can’t even imagine what that will look like.

Before we left the restaurant, we ordered a meal to go; then we gave it, a bottle of water, and some money to the girl. It isn’t enough. It isn’t a home, safety, a place to sleep where she can’t be attacked. It isn’t the peace of knowing that someone else will give her food when she needs it, that it isn’t her responsibility at age 9, maybe 10. 

Last night, after arriving home, I still felt tired, my stomach out of sorts. I lay down and napped, my first real one since I came. My body is fighting off something, and the Cipro hasn’t killed it off yet. Then Michelle Pagieu came over—so nice to have a muzungu conversation, my first real one since arriving here over a week ago.  Later, Mike, another muzungu, came to the church small group that meets here on Monday evenings. He spoke—so good. Refreshing—and the topic seemed to fit me as well as the Africans listening. The last two verses of Jude—GOD is able—not I. Boy, am I being convinced of that in this process. I am not able.

I could not keep my eyes open last night—nor did I want food, still. I was able to get some fruit down—and a small amount of motoke, but it seemed to stick in my throat, and I had to will it down. Finally, at about 9:30, I said good-night, apologizing to Mike and telling him I really wasn’t usually this out of it. He understood—which was nice since the Africans, when I tell them that I am still in some strange way “jet-lagged,” look at me as if I am speaking Russian. Nor do they understand, completely, that it is still the middle of the night in the U.S. as I write this in the middle of the morning here. They understand, but they also don’t. I’m not sure. American smartness and African smartness are so different, so different. I could not function here. I could not learn to wheel and deal the way Wilfred does. What he does requires so much expertise, so much knowledge, and I am learning to appreciate and honor that.

All for now. I go to sponge-bathe (the water’s off, and we have no idea when it will be back on) and get ready to take Patrick to get his medical checkup and some shots—hopefully not too many. My efforts to speak with someone at the Embassy who can give me a straight answer about that have been fruitless.

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