More than black and white

The last two weeks have been full of incredible contrasts: joy and despair, beauty and fiflth, hope and agony, wealth and poverty, order and chaos.

We landed in Entebbe late at night. The final descent was over Lake Victoria, the massive body of water stretching from Uganda to Tanzania and Kenya. We saw almost no lights, no sign of civilization. As the airplane wheels touched the ground, the calm exploded into chaos.

Though only two airplanes landed around 11 p.m. – our jet from London and a prop plane from Kigali, Rwanda – it took almost two hours for us to clear customs. The airport was heavy with the smell of smoke, so much so that I nearly had an athsma attack as we waited in line. Our flight had felt nearly empty, but now people pressed from every side, waiting to have passports and luggage inspected. We found our driver outside and began the journey into Kampala.

Driving in Uganda is insane. At first it seems like there are no rules. The bodas, or motorcycles, drive anywhere in any direction at all times. The taxis, which are white and blue striped minibuses, speed past one another, oblivious to oncoming traffic. After a few days, we learned there are rules to the road in Uganda: turn on your right hand blinker to make sure no trucks headed your way hit the corner of your vehicle. Flash your brights at oncoming traffic. Honk your horn twice to let bodas know you are close. Above all, don’t be chicken.

On the drive from Entebbe to our first guest houes in Kampala, we went through a district where thousands of people were out partying, though it was 1 a.m. on a Thursday. Bars and nightclubs made of scrap wood and corrugated metal throbbed to the beat of Ugandan music as young women in inappropriate clothing milled about, hoping to turn tricks. In a country where there are few businesses and fewer good jobs, prostitution is one means to temporary survival.

I lay awake through our first night in the city. The air was thick with smoke from burning charcol and rubbish. The night was sticky and I could not get used to the feeling of the mosquito net above my head. My pillow felt like it was made out of a thousand cotton balls. I gave thanks when I heard the roosters and goats begin to stir around 4:30 a.m.

Though we had not settled into our guesthouse until well past midnight, our driver picked us up at 6:30 a.m. to begin the nine kilometer drive across Kampala to our lawyers office where we had a 9:00 a.m. appointment. If we waited until 8:00 a.m. to begin our trip, we would likely face hours of traffic: it can take more than an hour to go 1 kilometer in traffic in Kampala.

The roads are crumbling, insufficient for the race of development, as Indian and Chinese multinationals build factories and South African telecoms bring cell phones to the poorest of the poor. In Uganda, cell phones are cheap and cell minutes are cheaper. In a country where many lack access to electricity, road side stands have sprung up offering cell phone charging for the equivalent of 10 cents. Companies struggle to meet the mulitplying demand and many customers buy several phones to be able to have SIM cards for three or four competing networks. Before meeting with our lawyer, we stop into a gas station and purchase a SIM card and air time for our Ugandan cell phone.

After driving to the lawyers office and arriving hours before our scheduled appointment, we finally relax. This is Africa and when everything goes sideways, it is okay. We watch the golden sun creep down the rock walls of the lawyers manicured compound. After a while, the lawyers assistant arrives and we go in for a cup of tea. We sit down and read the newspaper. We play with two darling little boys who are soon to be adopted by another American couple. They are fascinated by our glasses, phones, pictures, jewelry, even our white skin.

We begin to melt into African time. In Uganda, there is always time for a proper greeting. There is time to drink tea and to share about our family at home. There is always time to be gracious and content. People are flexible, perhaps because so much is out of their hands. The rains come and go. The traffic is impossible, incoherent. Appointments cannot be fixed because everything is changing, crumbling and being reborn.

We go over our plans for the week with our lawyer. She is a lovely, beautiful, well-educated woman. She has traveled widely and we discover a shared interest in books, Bible study and mountain climbing. She is confident that we will be able to find our daughter on this trip. She prays specifically that we find her in Jinja.

After we are finished at her office, we go visit babies at Watoto.  We sit on soft blankets in the shade of a massive tree with  dozens of babies who are less than six months old. Watoto is one of the few places where premature babies born in Uganda actually have the chance to grow and trive. Watoto has a small NICU and is able to care for little ones who need oxygen and NG tube feeding. We see volunteers doing kangaroo care with babies weighing less than 2 kilograms.

As we snuggle, bathe and dress the babies, I am drawn to one little one who is less than two weeks old. I ask the Ugandan women who are on staff about her story. This beautiful little girl was burried alive. Her mother, if I can call her that, was desperate enough to burry her newborn daughter under a pile of dirt and garbage and to run away. The baby was found by dogs and brought to Watoto. There she will have the opportunity to grow and learn. Watoto hopes to raise up a generation of Ugandan children who love the Lord and who become leaders in their country. This mission is inspirational.

But I could also not help feeling a little sad as I held these tiny people close. Their physical needs are met, but they lack the one thing God intended for every child: a mother and a father. Although the babies were clean and well fed, they seemed distant, unattached. What happens to children who grow up never knowing the love of a parent? How can they understand the Fatherhood of God when they have never felt the embrace of a daddy? While there are many things I respect about Watoto, I left feeling very frustrated that Watoto does not consider adoption as a possibility for the children in their care.

In the last three years, nearly three hundred babies have spent their first months and years at Watoto - but there are more than two million orphans in Uganda. My hope and prayer is that Watoto would consider adoption as a possibility for more of their babies, especially for little ones born with special needs like HIV. If Watoto would open their doors to adoption, they could serve more orphaned and abandoned children in Uganda.

As the director of the baby home where our daughter is from said: “Thank you for giving this baby a home. Now I have room to help one more.”

When it was time to go, we carried the babies one by one into the nursery. We swaddled them, put pacifiers in their mouths and prayed over their cribs before we left, trusting that the God who calls himself father of the fatherless will care for their hearts as only he can.

6 Comments

  1. Yes- these things are complex. I love the vision, but there is no replacement for a mom and dad. Have you read “there is no me without you”. once you open up your doors to adoption, you basically start running an adoption agency and to international scrutiny. But it would be nice if they did for the babies… at least for the babies. We spent most of our time at Watoto’s place right outside of town. But Bulrushes was intense. Was Obama still there? I so wish one of those kids was in our care RIGHT NOW!! I am glad you got to go…

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the post… just came across it. I agree and I am hoping that Watoto start a resettlement and alternative care programme programme. I hope they don’t just jump to international adoption as there are SO MANY domestic solutions that could be explored first. There is a queue of Ugandans who want to adopt but so few places where they can adopt from…. many of those places have a International programme but not a domestic one. In fact NO organisation should be allowed to have an international programme without a domestic one.

    Mark

    Reply
    • Mark, the more we learned in Uganda last year, the more our eyes were opened to the truth of exactly what you are saying. I obviously think international adoption can be a good thing, but it should only be considered with family care in Uganda is not possible. I love the work you are doing to resettle kids in families and to encourage domestic adoption. Agree completely!! Can’t wait to meet you and Keren when I’m in Uganda in a few weeks.

      Reply

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