Today I woke up at Maggie's feeling refreshed and ready. Happy after a night of good, clean sleep. I felt awake as I walked to breakfast, but little did I know I was still asleep. Asleep to the harsh reality that is rural Uganda. I would soon have my eyes opened, my mind awakened and my heart broken.
But first, we had breakfast. I recently discovered I really, really can't eat gluten, try as I might. Before this trip I realized I could either avoid it and probably be a little hungry, or eat it and ship my pants. Knowing today was a bathroom-less day (a hole in the ground kind of day - which I later found out was many a day in Africa) I opted out of gluten this morning.
This meant a breakfast of tons of really, really great pineapple, sausage (not normally my jam but I had a quick pep talk with myself then went for it) and really tasty Ugandan coffee. Pineapple and coffee would soon become my most favorite Ugandan staples.
After that, we hopped on some 1960s single speeds and rode about 30 minutes to our work site.
It was here that we began building a nursery school for the littlest kids. We started by stomping mud, which was made from a termite mound and water. Once the mud was broken down, we rolled it into balls and transferred it to the classroom, which was already framed. Then, we packed the mud into the frame, pushing it down hard.
One man said to me: Well done. You've done this before? My day was made. (Always a pleaser.)
After that, we took more mud and flung it against the wall (my favorite part), then smoothed it out.
While we were working the mud, women were mixing animal dung with water to make a paste to hold the framed walls together. They use absolutely everything. So resourceful.
We took one break in the morning for tea, which was the tastiest tea I've ever had. It was ginger and the flavor would probably take ten tea bags to replicate in the US. It was the real deal.
A while after noon we stopped for lunch. We ate from the back of the Gundi on a big tarp.
I watched as the locals all lined up for food and my heart hurt. They moved from working - hands covered in mud and manure and, truly, only God knows what else - to a bucket of muddy water. They dipped their hands into it and got food from the truck. They ate their rice, cooked banana and meat with their hands, scooping up the sticky grain.
I sat next to them with my fork, knowing full well that even if I offered it to them, they wouldn't know what it was - what to call it or how to use it. They took full portions, knowing this might be the only meal they get today.
And I'm so sorry to admit this but as I sat there, my heart breaking for them, you know who I was worried about?
Are these forks sanitary? What am I being exposed to, eating with filthy hands?
I have a cut on my foot, could stomping in the mud give me a disease?
Baby, beautiful baby, perfect baby, diaperless baby, please don't go to the bathroom on me.
I am sorry.
I am so sorry that I thought of myself, my safety first.
I held that baby and hugged the kids and worked hard and loved as much as I could. But somewhere deep in my mind I worried for myself.
And I wish, more than anything, that wasn't true.
After lunch, but before we began working again, I played with the kids. I took their pictures and then showed them; they screamed every time. Gushing over the fact that they could see themselves. Laughing and jumping for joy, literally.
Two kids said to me, Madame, we want to come to America with you.
Oh, I want to take you, sweet child. I want to take you with me forever. I want to take you to my house and send you to school and give you books and food and a bed. I want to clean you and feed you. And then I want to tuck you in and read you Goodnight Moon. I want you to tell me you don't like a food and I want you to make a Christmas list.
But I couldn't. So I just said: you do? Well maybe you can come someday.
But the truth is, I hope they don't. Because I hope Uganda can rejuvenate itself. I hope it can become self-sustaining again. I hope this country that has been ravaged by disease and war, broken in so many ways, can become strong.
And even as my heart ached for them, biking away toward a clean shower and Lara bar, knowing they were going home to more dirt, not changing out of these filthy clothes or using soap, I saw joy.
Joy in the eyes of the children. Laughter among the parents - joking with us as we slowed down and dropped the mud pies. Happiness as we finished the classroom. Hope as they spoke of the kids coming to school here.
There is hope among this pain. Joy among the suffering. So much beauty in the people.
I don't know what I'll do when I leave. I don't know how it will impact me when I return to the States. But I do know that I'll never be the same.
Africa changes everything.