It has been 10 days since I made the long journey home from Uganda. 10 days since I felt the hot sun beat down, only to be tamed by the gentle, afternoon breeze. The musty scent of charcoal fires has finally washed out of my hair and my mosquito bites are fading away. I have finished taking my travel meds and my suitcases are nearly unpacked. All the signs that I have been to Uganda are disappearing, and yet the memories are so clear...so fresh...so real.
While every trip has similarities, they are always different, each marked by special events, themes, or moments. And this one, was no different. I recall sitting on the concrete veranda outside my room, resting after a long day. I had spent much of the afternoon hunched over looking at beads for quality control, and I was tired. My feet were covered in mosquito bites, as I had made the regrettable mistake of walking through the grass at dusk. Itchy and tired, I sat looking up at the blue sky, decorated with brilliant, white, billowing clouds. The cool evening breeze washed over me, and it was in that moment that I was overwhelmed...overwhelmed by the beauty of this place. Overwhelmed with thankfulness!
There is so much in Uganda that is not convenient or comfortable. So much that is broken and in pieces. And yet, the beauty in this place overpowers it all. I recall our women as we pulled up to our meeting in Bubugo. Shaded by the tree in Muwanguzi's front yard, the women sat on their mats, patiently waiting. As our motorcycle approached along the dirt road, they jumped to their feet and excitement took over. Singing and dancing, the women rushed to embrace me, nearly knocking me backward with the weight of my backpack. They wrapped their arms around me, hugging me with a joy so tangible.
I remember when it was only a few of the women that would hug me, the ones I knew the best, or had spent the most time with. The rest would shake my hand and respectfully greet me in Lusoga, too shy to lavishly embrace me as the others had. And I smile, realizing what time, and love, and relationship has done here. And I am thankful.
The cool breeze again washes over my face as I gaze up at the blue sky from my perch on the veranda. And I think of Halima...We visited her home a few days prior to check on the crops and animals. And I saw her there in the doorway. As we walked around the back of the house, she greeted us. I didn't see it at first, not until she turned to walk inside. But it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
From her elbow to her shoulder, her skin was ravaged by a deep wound. A variety of different colors, her once beautiful, dark skin was now either black and charred, or white with infection. I guessed she was no older than 14, and my heart sank for her. I learned that Halima has Epilepsy, and about two weeks prior, she had passed out during a seizure while cooking. The wound on her arm was a burn, the mark left behind by boiling hot porridge. Her mother was doing her best to treat it, but I was worried she would need more intensive medical care, something that her family could not afford.
And as I gazed at the blue sky thinking of her, I was again overwhelmed, thankful that God had revealed this need. Not noticing her arm at first, I had almost missed it. But He didn't let me. And I knew what we were supposed to do.
Because of our focus on empowerment, we normally allow our partner organization and our women to have a role in problem solving, before getting involved financially. But this was different...urgent and potentially dangerous for Halima. I knew we were supposed to help. With the assistance of a staff member, we arranged for Halima to receive long-term care at the hospital in town. She is now receiving ongoing treatment while they monitor the infection and observe her healing. And I am thankful.
As I sat on that veranda, gazing at the blue sky cascaded with perfect clouds, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. God made it clear a long time ago, that He doesn't need me to help women in Uganda. He simply wants me to be part of what He will do. It is a humbling privilege to know our women. To share in simple life moments with them. To see the beauty of relationship triumph over the brokenness. It is a gift, one that has changed my life.
In several days time, the itchiness of my mosquito bites would subside, and the dust and sweat on my face would wash away. But these moments, these relationships, would remain. Beauty always overpowers the brokenness. And I am thankful.
Written by Natalie Ruiz