Walking in Wakisi

[ Uganda, Africa Mission Journal – Entry 9 ]

JINJA, UGANDA – MARCH 17, 2012 – It is our last day in Uganda. We are going to the Mashah Village one more time and this time, taking a walk through Wakisi. Jill and I want to meet more of the people that live outside the protection of the Elevare umbrella. We want to see where they live and how they live. Everyone in Wakisi has benefitted from the presence of Elevare – the well, the road, the investment in money and time and love – but most of the people in Wakisi still live the hard village life.

Before we leave from Surgio’s for the village, some in our group suggest we solicit Christopher, the village headman, to walk with us. He can protect us. When we get to Mashah, Pastor Joseph takes three others from our group into Wakisi and says for anyone who wants to come to follow along. Jill and I linger a few minutes with the children and then follow through the gate. The others are already out of sight so we start off down the road alone. We don’t hurry to catch up. There is nothing threatening about this place. Neither of us has ever felt unsafe, no matter where we’ve been this week. Not walking home alone from shopping in Jinja or among the stalls at the market. Maybe in the crush of traffic in Kampala, but that was cars, not people. And certainly not walking in Wakisi.

Safe, however, would probably not be the feeling if we were walking alone in the streets of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit or Chicago or even Houston. There’s a reason for that. In Wakisi they are poor, but they are content. They don’t want to be poor. They strive to make their village a better place. They do whatever they can to make their lives better. But they are happy in their struggle, and they appreciate help when it is given. That is not the way it is in our cities. We have substituted entitlement for appreciation. And when anyone feels entitled to what someone else has, they will never be content until they have it, and “it” is not an attainable thing.

Am I thinking about all that when we are walking through Wakisi on our last day there? Probably not. I am thinking about the children who come rushing out from their home shouting, “Sweetie! Sweetie!” as we come to the first bend in the road. No we don’t have any sweeties we tell them and that’s okay. They still swarm around us, eight or ten of them from two to twelve years old. They want hugs and kisses and love. They want me to take their picture with my camera and show them what they look like. I don’t know if they’ve ever seen what they look like before. Perhaps as a reflection in the river. As we are playing with them their mother comes to us and touches my arm.

“My husband is sick,” she says. “You pray, please.”

She invites us into her home, through the front door made with sticks and tied together with rough twine, into their living room that is smaller than the closet where we keep our coats at home. Her children follow us in, all eight of them. The last two have to stand outside in the doorway because there is no more room.

Father pulls back a torn sheet that separates the living room from their bedroom and joins us. He is a tall man. I put my hand on his shoulder and ask, “Are you sick?”

“Yes,” he says. “My chest. Can’t breath.”

I ask him what his name is, and “Gusulwani” is what it sounds like he says. I repeat the name back to him and he nods, and that’s the name I use when I pray for him. It is a short prayer that calls for God’s Spirit to wrap its arms around him and his family and protect them. But it is not the prayer that matters, it is the moment. It is the spirit that rushes in through the door with the breeze, the smiles and the thank yous from Gusulwani and his wife, and the faces of the children staring up at me in wonder as we leave the house. It is the invitation to “Come back. Come to our home, please,” as we wave to them and continue our walk into Wakisi.

We see many families and their mud or clay brick homes as we walk down the red dirt road. We see mothers and their daughters carrying water up from the river. We see babies sitting by the fire playing in the dirt as their mother cooks. As we get down to the river we see young men spreading the silver fish from their nets on the ground with a hand made sweeper. And all along the way the children rush out to meet us and want us to take their picture. Some even follow along with us after we’ve passed their homes.

It is a great way to end our trip here, and we continue to wave and talk to the children we saw on the way as we return to Mashah. When we get to the last bend in the road, Gusulwani’s eight children come rushing up to Jill. They don’t ask for sweeties this time. They know we don’t have them. This time they just want the hugs and love.

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