[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal â€“ Entry 4 ]
JINJA, UGANDA – MARCH 12, 2012 – We have arrived. The flight went as smoothly as a flight can when it involves three planes and three continents. We ended up about half an hour late arriving in Entebbe, and Customs was a breeze, probably because we had the fifty bucks apiece to get into the country. All that was left was the baggage carousel. Guess you know what’s coming. That’s right, our bags didn’t make the same smooth flight we did. Most of our clothes, especially underclothes, shoes, and all the t-shirts, candy and other stuff we’d brought for the kids in the village were somewhere between Dallas, Texas and Entebbe, Uganda. That’s okay though, they’ll be on the next flight, right? Only the next flight isn’t for two days, and the folks at the lost baggage station sit at desks amongst a sea of unclaimed bags and half a dozen people are crowded around the desks in the same boat we’re in. Finally, it’s our turn and the bags aren’t in the system. Don’t know where they are. Call tomorrow and we’ll see if we can find them. This is not what Jill needed to hear, but the guys at the desks aren’t in the business of worrying about what people need to hear.
But that’s just the way it is, and we leave baggage claim to find our ride. I’d gone out earlier when we were waiting to find out about the bags, and no one holding a sign that said WOMACK was there. This time, though, when we went out to the airport entrance, Stephen was there with his hand printed WOMACK sign. It was almost midnight and he’d been there over an hour waiting for us. Stephen is not from a taxi service. He works at the Jinja church that partners here with Elevare International. He is doing this on his own time. Still, he’s all smiles and we follow him to the SUV that will be our ride through Entebbe, the southern part of Kampala, and across country to Jinja in eastern Uganda, about two and a half hours away. That’s bad enough, but little did we know that Stephen would get in on the wrong side of the car and drive on the wrong side of the road, British style, all the way there on narrow two lane “highways” that were more pothole than asphalt and where he would pass anything moving slower than us no matter what was coming the other way. For good measure, the streets were teaming with people milling about the roadside businesses and clubs that lined the way almost two thirds of the way to Jinja, and motor bikes whizzed by on either side with two or three people on them.
Jill kept a close eye on the proceedings, but I tried to rest between the bumps and honking horns. Over two hours later we were at The Haven, where we are staying for the week. Well, almost there. We pulled off the “road” onto a dirt path with a sign that said The Haven. And down the path we went and went and went. Kind of like the Energizer bunny going and going. Every couple of miles there was another sign pointing us to The Haven down an even narrower dirt path. Along the path were dozens of little one room brick or mud buildings. They all looked deserted, but they were filled with the people of the local village. We saw them all the next day smiling and waving and the kids running after the van.
At last there were no more turns or dirt path to follow, and Loren was at the gates of The Haven to let us in. He led us by flashlight to the one room, concrete, thatched roof bungalow where we were staying. The painted concrete floors were stained and shiny. There were stone shelves built into the walls. And a giant queen size bed took over the room with its white gauze mosquito net. It was really very picturesque, but it took a back seat to the shower and sleep that Jill and I both needed.
The next morning Sid and Beth and their college age children, Mike and Rachel, were the only ones still there when Jill and I came to the main building for breakfast. Loren and the others were at the village site building the playground. The Smiths were going jet boating on the Nile rapids just outside our rooms. Jill and I tried to see if there was any news about our bags. There wasn’t, so we walked around the property to see what was what. What was, was a beautiful place filled with flowers and birds and people and water everywhere.
As the day meandered on, Stephen came to get lunch for Loren and the crew building the playground. The Smiths came back from their white water experience soaked and smiling. And still no one could tell us about our bags. Loren came back in the middle of the afternoon to take us and the Smiths to the village. We tried the baggage folks at the Entebbe airport one last time before we left. And wouldn’t you know it, they had found the luggage. It still wouldn’t be here for two days, but it wasn’t lost anymore. So our hearts were lighter as we left for Washah Village.
I wasn’t expecting the paradise I saw. The green manicured lawn and sculptured landscaping, all on a raised peninsula poking itself into a bend in the Nile. It is simply a paradise. It is a safe refuge, with a serene community center that overlooks the river already being built and the playground coming out of the ground in the valley at the bottom of a gentle slope. And with paradise there are angels, and that’s what we found at the homes Elevare has built for the orphans. Most of these children are four or five years old with personalities already their own. They smile and they giggle and they want you to hold them on your knee and tell them that you love them. Beth gave them bubbles to play with and they chased them and caught them and everyone there was smiling at the wonder in their eyes.
Jill and I found there, in the shank of the day, why we had come in the first place, and the lost bags didn’t seem to matter so much any more.