In the mornings in Atlanta, sometimes when I open my blinds I like to say: good morning Atlanta! And then I think: wow I live in Atlanta! It still catches me by surprise every now and then.
This morning I woke up and looked out into Uganda and thought: Good morning Africa! Wow. I'm in Africa. That's nuts.
We awakened to be greeted by headlines about unrest in Kampala. We said that the only option for us was to laugh - not because it's even remotely funny - but because what are the odds that the day we arrive in Kampala is the first time in months the city makes headlines? Life has a way about it, doesn't it?
We ate breakfast at the hotel and then drove to a safe house in Kampala where girls come after being rescued from sex trafficking or prostitution. For the girls' safety, we can't share pictures or videos with their faces, but trust me when I say they were so beautiful and joyful.
They were so excited to see us. Restore International (with whom I'm volunteering) funds the house and sponsors the girls. After worshipping, they introduced themselves and shared their stories.
They told us about how their families kicked them out, no longer able to afford them. Men would find them on the streets, as young as 7 years old, and offer them a place to sleep. The men would abuse them sexually, then discard them - forcing them back onto the street, without a bed. They cried and told us how grateful they were for our support. They told us about how their lives were once hopeless and they were broken, but now, at the ages of 13-18, they were becoming whole again. They knew hope and that Christ can redeem anything. They told us that by sharing their stories they were acknowledging their pasts, and showing they no longer had power over them. To share is to say you will learn and grow from it.
I needed to hear this. I really believe that our past shouldn't dictate our futures, that we can break cycles of pain. But to see these girls, whom have experienced deep, deep pain and abuse putting it into practice was incredible.
After that, we took a tour. The girls all begged us: come see my bed. Guess which bed is mine? Will you take my picture on my bed? They were so proud - this is their little space in the world. They once begged for a place to sleep - sacrificing their bodies and dignity to find it - and now they have their own beds. I loved them.
After the tour and lunch, we left Kampala for Kakooge, where we would stay the next two nights.
It was about a three hour, bumpy drive in our bus. It was hot. Really hot. The kind of hot that is sticky with dust blowing in the bus and plastering to your skin.
Yet I still loved the drive. I loved the scenery. It was exactly what you'd imagine Africa to be - except a lot more pain than I anticipated. Everywhere I looked was poverty. Men came up to the bus windows asking us to buy their water. People walked along the roads, peddling their food from baskets balancing on their heads. About 85 percent of Uganda is currently unemployed, and so many people were just sitting around - outside their huts, on the ground, outside storefronts.
We drove along bumpy, bumpy dirt roads. It was a crazy mix of beauty and sadness. Broken down houses amid dirt and trash and luscious green brush. Bright trees and red roofs dotted the horizon, but as we drove into that horizon, everything became clear. The red roofs sat on falling down walls. The green trees were littered with trash. Dust flew into our bus. Huge potholes splashed us with dirty water.
But I felt the breeze on my face and smiled and waved at the people going by. It was dirty but oh so happy.
If you know me outside of my blog you likely know I'm a terrible sleeper. I am a bit of an insomniac and I hate it. Not asleep in the middle of the night is a lonely, frustrating place to be. I can't nap for the life of me. Even when I had mono I went to school. Why not when you can't sleep anyway?
I tell you all of this because it was on this hot, sticky, bumpy bus that I found rest. Somehow among the noise and pollution and mess I fell asleep for almost an hour. I felt so much peace being here - I knew I was fully in the right spot - and I somehow just turned my mind off and crashed. It was incredible. To those of you who love naps: I get it now. It felt amazing.
Eventually I did wake up. Fortunately because there was still a lot to see.
As we neared our village, the road narrowed and suddenly it looked like we were one of the first to venture this way. We weren't I knew. But still, it was remote. The kids ran out to see us. They jumped and yelled and cheered as we drove by. Byyeeeeaaaa bus! They screamed with two-handed waves.
We drove by a little boy pumping water out of a well. My heart melted. I almost cried. That's what we did last summer! Love in action.
Then we hit a roadblock. Literally. For no apparent reason there was a mound of dirt in the middle of the road. We tried digging with sticks. It was ineffective. Then out of nowhere, a man just appeared. He said nothing. He just cleared the dirt. And left.
Why, thank you, sir.
Then we arrived at AHI, which is a school run by an amazing woman named Maggie. She has an incredible story that led her to starting this school, which trains Ugandans vocationally, with the hope that this country can eventually become self sustaining again.
They're all being trained in hospitality, hoping to find a job in a hotel someday - cleaning rooms, cooking, etc. Because of that, they offered incredible service. Maggie used to run high-end restaurants in Seattle, so she knows what Westerners demand. She told us she trains them to offer five star service, not for our benefit, but for their own. All of the students are sponsored by Maggie (she fundraises) so they're all so grateful for the opportunity and take it very seriously.
We walked into a beautiful dinner lit by solar panels and candles. It was gorgeous and so delicious. After dinner, we read bible verses and prayed. I sat there full of food and happiness and suddenly thought of my desk back at work. I couldn't have been further from corporate America in that moment.
We were all given verses to read and mine happened to be about rest. How appropriate after my little bus activity. It seems this trip, which forced me to fully unplug (no wifi or cell service), let go of all control (no shared itinerary) and trust completely in God, already had a theme. To rest in Christ's provisions. His plan.
However, I got into bed and felt really homesick. Super lonely. I had spent all day knowing I needed to be on this journey alone but I laid there questioning why. I read notes my bible study gave me and looked at pictures of my family. They felt way too far away. I journaled and cried. I couldn't believe I had so many nights ahead of me. I just wanted to be with my family. But I read and prayed for peace and more rest (getting greedy right!?).
I fell asleep a little homesick but hopeful, knowing I was here, solo, for good reason. Now I just had to figure out what that reason was :)