07 November 2013

joy, sorrow and community

The time in Gulu so far has been a bit of a whirlwind but also really important, so I'm going to do my best to explain it. 

I feel really happy tonight but am so emotionally exhausted. I can't make sense of the pain I've seen, but am also overwhelmed by the joy the people here have. My mind races with ways I want to help - yearning to stay here and tap into every resource I can give in order to end the injustices I've seen. 

But at the same time, I can't focus. I don't understand the pain I've seen. I can't feel it because if I begin to, I fear I will unravel. I fear I will begin to cry and will never stop. I never want to forget what I'm seeing; I never want to lose sight of the perspective this world has offered. 

On the first day in Gulu we went straight to Restore International's school. As we arrived, the kids sang and danced to greet us. They were so excited to see us.

We took a tour and met them and I began to fall even more deeply in love with this place, this mission, these people. 

Today my group feels like dear friends instead of new acquaintances. Africa feels familiar. 

As I stood on campus with the kids, the sun setting in the distance, I knew, fully, what total contentment feels like. Thank you, Africa. 

Thursday morning we woke up to a full schedule. We started at Krochet Kids, which trains women to crochet and sell their products. In turn, the women can feed their children, provide jobs to their husbands selling the products, and rejuvenate their families. It also gives them confidence and independence, as they're able to graduate from KK's school and work on their own. 

I sat in a hut with some women and they taught me their native language. I held a baby and laughed wholeheartedly with them - amazed at how much easier it was becoming to let down my guard.

I am a big believer in the idea that we are all in this world together - many ideas and people but one body - and I loved watching the way we all let our guards down and realized how similar we are. 

After that, we visited Mend, which is an Invisible Children operation. Women here sew purses and bags, which are sold around the world. I bought a few bags from a woman named Lily.

It was awesome to be able to thank her directly for the bag; tell her how much I loved her work. Tell her my sweet niece is named Lily, which is why I picked her products, specifically. 

It's amazing to see these companies that are rejuvenating Uganda by offering both skills and jobs to the country's people. This morning was so joyful. These operations filled me up with hope. 

After that, we took soap to Gulu's largest prison. It holds 250 people, but had 1,000 in it.

My heart ached in a way it never has before. I looked at these men - many of whom have not committed a crime but are being held because a police officer was paid off (or some other injustice) - and could only think of my brothers. These men - boys - have sisters and moms at home, praying for them. They don't have trials lined up because the system is too backed up and they can't afford a lawyer. They sleep on the floor, piled on top of one another. 

They showed us the women's side, too. I held an infant that had been born just weeks prior - in prison. I cried behind my sunglasses and prayed that this baby's life will prosper. I felt so hopeless. I wanted to take this baby and run, carrying it with me to freedom and safety. 

But then, the women started to sing and dance. Ugandan music is unreal. It's so beautiful - they have such talent. And they were so joyful, thanking us for our visit and praising God. How do they do it? I can't imagine feeling so unfairly treated but being so truly joyful. It's amazing. 

After that, we visited a children's prison. We took them new mattresses and they, too, sang and did a choreographed dance for us. I only wish we'd been allowed to film this. It was breathtaking. Seriously unreal. 

After these two stops, I felt confused and helpless and joyful and sorrowful all at once. I'm so grateful to be here but can't figure out what I can do to help. Where do I fit in? Why am I here? Why is there so much pain? I don't know. 

My heart throbs - wavering between pain and joy, joy and pain. By the end of the day I felt like I had to shut down emotionally - no longer able to process what I was seeing, but instead just catalog it - come back to it later. 

We ended the day at Sister Rosemary's house for dinner. She is this tiny nun whose doing workkk in Uganda. 

At one point at dinner, I looked around to see a room full of new friends - strangers a week ago - talking, laughing; the room bursting at the seams with community. 

And that, friends, is what filled me back up. It doesn't all have to make sense or be solved right now. We just have to love the people in front of us the best we can.

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