Tagged: sign language

UGANDA VOL. 5

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Florence er en af de nye ansigter – jeg er forelsket! // Florence is one of our new students – I’m in love!

*English version below*

Det er efterhånden femte gang jeg er i Uganda, og hele 14 måneder siden jeg har været her sidst. Endelig er jeg tilbage. Godt nok kun i fem uger, men lidt har også ret. To uger er allerede gået. Hvad egentlig med? Svaret er sådan cirka ’alting og ingenting’.

Det vigtige hverdagsliv

De første dage gik med at suge alt det velkendte og dog så fremmede til mig. Det er et vidunderligt sansebombardement at være her; lyset, lugten, smagen, farverne, sproget – den helt særlige stemning her er. Og især gik den med en masse hjertevarme gensyn med både store og små. Åh, hvor har jeg savnet. Der er kommet flere nye ansigter og nogle er også stoppet. Men mere om det senere.

En stor del af formålet med at være her nu, er at blive opdateret på hverdagslivet. Det hverdagsliv, som trods daglig kommunikation på Facebook og Whatsapp, er så svært at følge med i. At få lov til at være her midt i det hele. Det giver et andet billede. Daglige samtaler på må og få. Smalltalk. Egentlige møder. Personlige møder. Se børnene med egne øjne. Alt det, der er så vigtigt for virkelig at kunne arbejde.

Nye problemer og fremskridt

Vi kæmper stadig for at få tingene til at hænge sammen. Pt. står tre små drengene i kø for at få en plads. Men vi har ikke mere plads. Det gør ondt at sige nej. Især når det handler om helt små børn med livet foran sig. Hos os får de et sprog. De blomstrer op. De lærer. De lever. Så de fleste kan nok sætte sig ind i hvor svært det er at sige nej.

Vi begynder også at have et andet problem. Flere og flere elever afslutter P.7. (sidste klassetrin) og hvad så? Vi kan ikke betale skoleafgift på en ny skole for mere uddannelse, og vi kan heller ikke sende dem hjem til ingenting. Vi holder møder og diskuterer frem og tilbage, hvad vi kan stille op. For vi kan ikke bare lade stå til. Nu er de kommet så langt.

Vores ”Semuto projekt” går rigtig godt. Det er fedt at følge og være en del af udviklingen med skolebygning og landbrug. Jeg var deroppe tidligere på ugen, dagen efter at syv ekstremt nuttede små grise kom til verden. De havde stadig navlestrengen hængende og skiftevis løb forvildet rundt og sov og spiste klinet op ad hinanden. Vi har nu i alt 47 grise. De er en vigtig del af vores plan om, at blive mere selvforsørgende. Den nye skole er stadig i den indledende første fase ud af i alt fem faser. Vi måler op og starter snart fundamentet på den første bygning. Imens arbejder vi videre på at skaffe penge til næste fase. Læs hvordan du støtter projektet her.

Tværkulturelle udfordringer

På et mere personligt plan af alt det her, så har de seneste to uger også være lidt følsomme. At arbejde i et tværkulturelt miljø er både helt igennem fantastisk og samtidig rigtig svært. Både når jeg arbejder fra Danmark og når jeg er her i Uganda. Kulturelle og personlige forskelle er både en del af charmen og en del af det, der gør det vanskeligt. Jeg har en stor kærlighed og passion for mit arbejde, og det er på en og samme tid min største styrke og min største svaghed. Jeg er til tider et følsomt gemyt og reagerer ofte stærkt på både ord, handlinger og sanseindtryk. Ikke sjældent har jeg brug for stilhed og eftertænksomhed.

Tålmodighed er vigtigt. Altid. I øjeblikket synes det især vigtigt at være tålmodig med mig selv og de mennesker jeg omgiver mig med, alt imens vi prøver at opnå en bedre og større forståelse for hinanden og det arbejde vi hver især og sammen prøver at udføre.

Vi er forskellige og kan være uenige om mange ting, men én ting er vi heldigvis altid enige om; det handler om børnene. Altid.

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It is now the fifth time for me to be in Uganda, and it’s been as much as 14 months since I was here last time. Finally, I am back. Though only for 5 weeks, it’s better than nothing. Two weeks have already passed. What has actually happened? The answer is just about ‘everything and nothing’.

The important everyday life

The first days were spent absorbing everything familiar and yet so foreign to me. Being here is like an explosion to your senses; the light, the smell, the taste, the colors, the language and that very special atmosphere. I was heartwarmingly reunited with the children and the staff at BDI. How I missed all of this! Although there are some students and teachers that have left, there are many new faces to see. But more about that in another post.

My main purpose being here is, at large, to become updated about the daily life. That everyday life which is so hard to follow and get a hold on from a distance, even when communicating on a daily basis through Facebook and Whatsapp. Being here now in the middle of it all gives me a different picture. The daily talking in person – small talks as well as actual meetings and seeing the kids with my own eyes are so important to really be able to work in a so called “right way”.

New problems and developments

We are still struggling to make the ends meet. At the moment, there are three small boys who are in line to get in to our school. But we have no more room. It hurts to turn children away. Especially when it comes to very young children with their whole life ahead of them. At our school they get a language. They grow. They learn. They live. So I think you can imagine how we feel when we have to say no.

We are also beginning to face a new problem. More and more students finish P.7 (last grade at our school) and then what? We cannot pay school fees for them to attend a new school for more education and training, and we can’t send them home where there are no options. We have meetings and discuss back and forth what we can do, trying to find a good solution to this rather new problem.

Our “Semuto project” is going really well. It’s so great to follow and be part of the developments of the school building and the farm. Earlier this week I spent a whole day there. It was the day after seven extremely cute little piglets were born. They still had their umbilical cord hanging and ran bewildered around or slept and ate glued to each other in one big bunk. We now have a total of 47 pigs. The pigs are an important part of our plan of becoming more self-sufficient. The new school is still in the initial phase of a total of five phases. We have started measuring up and will soon start building the foundation of the first building. Meanwhile we continue to raise money for the next phase of our school project. Please consider donating to the cause here.

Cross-cultural challenges

On a more personal level to all this, the past two weeks have also been very emotional. Working cross-cultural is just as wonderful as it is hard. That applies when I work from Denmark as well as when I work from here in Uganda. Cultural and personal differences are a part of the charm but also a part of the struggles. I have such a huge love and passion for my work, and I think that is my greatest strength but also my biggest weakness. I am sometimes a ‘sensitive soul’ and I often react strongly to words, actions, and the things I sense around me. That is perhaps too the reason that I often need time on my own in silence and reflection.

Patience is important. Always. Currently, being patient with myself and the people around me seems to be the most important while we try to reach a higher and better understanding of each other and the work we each and together are trying to accomplish.

We are different and disagree about many things, but one thing we thankfully always agree about: this is about the children. Always.

(sorry for bad translation – had to be a little quick this time)

SURELY, WHITE PEOPLE CAN’T BE DEAF?

Journalist Kristina Parkov har skrevet en fin artikel om min ugandiske rejse, der startede for efterhånden tre år siden, og det arbejde vi udfører hos BDI. Artiklen indeholder også interview med BDI’s stifter, Joel Mwesigwa. Artiklen er blevet til ved hjælp af crowdfunding på Peblish. Artiklen er oprindeligt på dansk, men jeg har fået tilladelse til at bringe en engelsk version her på bloggen. Oversættelse af den originale artikel er udført af mig og er endelig godkendt af Kristina. Find den danske artikel her – det kræver (gratis) login at læse artiklen på dansk.

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Danish journalist Kristina Parkov has written an article about my Ugandan journey that started more than three years ago, and the work we do at BDI. The article also contains an interview with BDI’s founder Joel Mwesigwa. The article has been published through crowdfunding at Peblish, and is published on my blog with permission. Translation of the original article is made by me and has been accepted by the author.

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Surely, white people can’t be deaf?

When Vickie Mølgaard-Madsen lost her hearing at the age of 20, she had a hard time identifying with other deaf people and did not want to learn sign language. But a voluntary stay at a school for deaf children in Uganda gave her a new perspective on her situation – and a whole new battle to fight.

By Kristina Parkov

This is not an article about saving people who are worse off then you. Rather, on the contrary. If you ask Vickie, she needs the deaf children she has met through her volunteer work in Uganda, more than they need her.

Vickie became deaf when she was 20 years old. A rare disease in the central nervous system was the cause of the deafness. Communication with the outside world used to be easy, but suddenly it became a mountain to climb.

Today Vickie is 35 years old. She has learned to cope with her deafness and communicates primarily through ”Exact Signed Danish” (in Danish it’s called “Sign Supported Communication” when translated directly – it is not the same as Sign Language). In some situations she needs an interpreter. She has had a hard time dealing with actual Sign Language. To this day, spoken Danish is her native language, and Danish Sign Language will always be a foreign language to her.

“I’ve learned to live with my loss”

Only after travelling to Uganda’s capital Kampala in February 2013 to work as a volunteer for the non-profit organization Boanerges Deaf Initiative (BDI), did Vickie find “her” sign language – the Ugandan Sign Language.

“I had just undergone two brain surgeries in four days, had leave from my studies and needed something new to happen in my life. Through my network I learned about BDI and I quickly decided to travel to Uganda.”

“It was love at first sight! If you look at the big picture, at first it was about my own identity. I am deaf and can never be hearing again. I’ve learned to live with it. But it has taken me many years. A small part of me will always be wishing I could still hear. Music, radio and uncomplicated conversation are among the things I miss the most. I don’t think this feeling of loss will ever go away, but I have learned to cope and live with it,” says Vickie.

Deaf people are seen as cursed – and evil

In addition to living with a disability that creates significant limitations, deaf people in Uganda are struggling with a variety of prejudices that result in a pronounced risk of social exclusion and isolation.

A common belief is that deaf people are cursed and evil – even children. Deaf children are seen as a source of shame in Ugandan families. Since there are no job opportunities for the deaf, poor families do not prioritize spending money on sending their deaf child to school.

Deaf people are called kasiru (Ugandan word for fool or stupid, ed.) and they are often victims of injustices such as domestic violence and rape. Exclusion from the local community, and even the family, is not unusual either.

The causes are both cultural and poverty-related. Poverty is a fact of life for many Ugandan families. It is considered a waste of time to send a deaf child to school when the job opportunities are close to nothing.

Vickie tells about the first time she met a deaf child and his family at his home in Uganda: “The first time I was visiting a boy from school at his home is still very clear in my memory. When I came home that day I just cried and cried and stayed awake all night. It was horrible. Today I’m still affected and very humbled when I go on a home visit, but I’ve taught myself to react actively instead of becoming paralyzed.”

Have you felt the prejudices associated with deaf people in Uganda yourself?

“Yes, indeed. In Uganda white people are commonly seen as something almost utopian. Many Ugandans see white people as perfect – and rich. And then there I was – I’m deaf! (And not rich either btw…) The reaction among the locals was like: “White people can’t be deaf?!” When I told them I was a university student, I was just met with even more astonishment: “Deaf people can’t go to university?!’

The social problems affecting deaf people in Uganda arises from a mix of religion, superstition, culture, norms and poor economic circumstances. Vickie has felt the negative attitudes towards the deaf on her own skin:

“The worst situations are when people treat me disrespectful and ugly, simply because I’m deaf. Many times people have shouted ‘kasiru’ after me as well. It hurts – but mostly it hurts because I know it’s everyday life for most deaf people in Uganda.”

Human rights have dire straits

The Ugandan Government has attracted attention from the West for a highly controversial bill that  – seen through Western eyes – is offensive to most basic human rights. It includes a controversial bill on death penalty for homosexuality. It was, however, not adopted.

Joel Mwesigwa Tonny (b. 1980) is the founder of Boanerges Deaf Initiative (BDI) and points out that the organization is based on a Christian outlook, but that he rejects the Christian fundamentalist mindset. The goal of BDI is not to proselytize Christianity. The focus is entirely on deaf children’s rights. Violations of human rights are part of everyday life in Uganda.

“I have seen several examples of violation of human rights in Uganda. Not only the rights of homosexuals, but also women and children. If I was gay and lived in Uganda, I surely would do everything I could to hide it. I would not want my mother to find out, because it would mean social isolation.”

Can you compare the situation of the deaf and the homosexuals in Uganda?

“Yes and no. Neither deaf nor gay can be open and stand by him or herself, as it can have violent consequences. On one hand you can say there is a similarity between the two groups. On the other hand, the reasons for locals to treat these two groups as outcasts are very different….”

Cheap malaria medicine causes deafness

Deafness is a widespread and growing problem in Uganda. The reason is poor access to medication and medical care. Diseases such as meningitis, which can cause deafness, is rarely treated in time – and many Ugandans who survive the disease have permanent injuries. Another reason is malaria, which is a common disease with a usually expensive treatment. In an impoverished population, people will always choose the cheapest available drugs.

“In Uganda, the cheapest available drug against malaria is called Quinine. It is a medication that has been made illegal in countries like Kenya because of its well-known side effect that unfortunately causes deafness. A poor family will always choose the cheapest solution – it gives you a chance to survive, but the consequences of the medicine can be fatal”, says Joel Mwesigwa.

A choice between dying of malaria or taking a medication that may result in deafness?

“You can say that there is certainly a risk that you end up deaf, if you take the medicine,” says Joel Mwesigwa.

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Only 2 percent of Uganda’s deaf children go to school

BDI’s school for the deaf is one of the few in Uganda, where tuition is free. Just 2 percent of Uganda’s deaf children go to school. Without school and education the prospect of a future as a self-supporting individual is less likely.

For BDI the goal is to offer the opportunity of a brighter future to poor, socially marginalized deaf children. This will be done through vocational training in areas of carpentry, tailoring and shoemaking – these crafts are highly demanded in Uganda.

“The sad reality is that deaf children in Uganda are considered to be a curse and they become dehumanized. And if they are poor and can’t afford to pay for tuition at a private school, they are completely marginalized and isolated. They are paying a very high price for their disability,” says Joel Mwesigwa.

De-stigmatization must be carried out through religion

Another important goal for BDI is to de-stigmatize deaf people, so that they are able to obtain acceptance in the community. And according to Joel Mwesigwa, this is most effectively done through religion.

“I have accepted a theology I prefer to call ‘the theology of disability’. I am basing my work on the message that in God’s eyes there are no mistakes – it is He who created mankind: the deaf, the blind, the black and the white. I try to use that as my approach to the prevailing culture in Uganda. By using this theological approach, I’m trying to make Ugandans accept disabled people. I do this, because in Uganda talking about God is such a big part of everyday life”, says Joel Mwesigwa.

Family had deaf son chained to a tree

When the children arrive at the school for the deaf in Kampala, typically, they have no language – at most a few homemade signs. Their childhood is often characterized by loneliness, defeat, failure and violence.

Joel Mwesigwa’s brother, Joseph, became deaf after a period of illness. After this his family’s behavior towards him changed. He was left to himself and abandoned by his closest. When he was 20 years old, a local group set him on fire, and he was killed. The death of his brother Joseph motivated Joel Mwesigwa to become a deaf activist. Subsequently, he has handled many situations where deaf people’s rights have been violated.

One Ugandan family had not given their deaf child a name, yet even the family dog had a name. BDI’s founder has also taken action against a family who had a deaf son chained to a tree.

The police and relevant authorities are always contacted when he encounters families who violate the rights of the deaf.

Joel Mwesigwa blames the culture: “I will label many of these people ‘culturally disturbed’. They believe that deafness is the deaf person’s own fault and that he or she is cursed and stuff like that. There are so many abuses going on – to even the most fundamental human rights. The harsh truth is that only a very small part of the deaf people in Uganda live a decent and good life.”

A language is fundamental for thriving

For Vickie, the most important thing is to experience, that the children get a language. For without a language, they have nothing.

“Many people say, that I’m doing an important job and that BDI needs someone like me. But the truth is that I probably need BDI more than they need me. I live with a chronic disease that can have some very serious consequences. Uganda and the children of BDI do not let me fall into depression and a trap of self-pity. And no, it has nothing to do with the ‘the poor and hungry children in Africa who are worse off than me’. Not at all. I want them to grow up without being stigmatized because of their deafness. I want them to become strong, free and independent individuals with prospects and a bright future. Naïve? Maybe. But I believe in it.”

Copyright by Peblish.

Peblish

A TRIP TO NAKASONGOLA

SHARONSmukke Sharon // Beautiful Sharon

*English version below*

I fredags tog Teacher Aggie og jeg en tur nordpå til Nakasongola for at besøge familien til en pige, Sharon, fra vores skole. Af forskellige årsager har Sharon været væk fra skolen i over et halvt år. Det er svært at få fat på og kommunikere med familien, så nu besluttede vi at tage derop selv. Vi skulle med taxa (som mere er en varevogn, der bliver brugt som mini-bus) og chaufføren havde fortalt at turen ville tage 7-8 timer. Vi forberedte os derfor på, at skulle overnatte en enkelt nat, da jeg ærligt talt ikke bryder mig om at rejse om natten her. Af en eller grund virkede Aggie dog ikke særlig begejstret for at skulle overnatte deroppe, men hun accepterede.

Vi mødtes kl.6 fredag morgen. Trods det tidlige tidspunkt var der et mylder af liv alle vegne. Turen til Nakasongola foregik et pænt langt stykke ad asfalterede veje, men efter et par timer skiftede vi til bumpende jordveje. Turen gik dog langt hurtigere end chaufføren havde forudsagt. Efter to en halv time blev vi sat af ude midt i ingenting, og derfra skulle vi med boda boda resten af vejen. Der var én boda, og vi var tre personer der skulle videre. Normalt kører man en eller to personer. Men der er som bekendt en første gang for alting, og således fik jeg også min debut med at køre fire fuldvoksne mennesker på én boda. Og uden at fornærme nogen, så lad mig bare sige, at jeg ikke var den med den største popo.. Køreturen var 15-20 minutter i et meget tørt og øde landskab. Smukt på sin helt egen måde. Rødt jord er sædvanligvis et af de mest karakteristiske træk ved Uganda, men her var alting snarere gråt og hvidt med lidt sporadisk grønt hist og her. Undervejs prikkede Aggie mig på skulderen for at fortælle mig, at boda-manden i øvrigt gerne ville giftes med mig. Han fangede mit blik i sidespejlet, smilede stort og lavede ”thumbs up”. Tanken om at slå mig ned med en smuk ugandisk mand (og hans sikkert endnu smukkere børn – han havde fire i øvrigt døve børn!) i en lerhytte i dette smukke landskab blandt kaktusser, mangotræer og bomuldsplanter strejfede mig et kort øjeblik. Men helt så simpelt er det vist alligevel ikke..

Vi kom til Sharon’s landsby og den tredje passager hoppede af. Aggie og jeg fortsatte på boda gennem krat og støv og nåede frem til Sharons hjem. Helt øde lå et hus og et par  lerhytter hist og her i det fjerne. Vi blev mødt med smil og åbne arme af Sharon, hendes mor og hendes tante og vi blev hurtigt henvist en siddeplads i skyggen under et stort træ. Sharon var glad for at se os, og hun kunne stadig huske lidt tegnsprog. Hurtigt myldrede det med familiemedlemmer, og jeg må ærligt indrømme at jeg ikke aner hvor de kom fra eller hvordan de vidste, at vi var der. Som sagt virkede stedet meget øde. Det gør altid stort indtryk på mig at møde familier her. Denne gang ingen undtagelse. Og sikke en familie – fyldt med skønne kvinder!

En gammel og karismatisk oldemor til Sharon var en de første der stødte til. Hun var dårligt gående, blind på det ene øje og kunne knapt nok holde det andet øje åbent. Hun var klædt i en smuk og falmet grøn gomesi (ugandisk kjole med spidse skuldre, der mest af alt minder om en balkjole – se billede her), en lysende grøn perlekæde om halsen og et mørkegrønt tørklæde foldet fint omkring hovedet. Hendes hud var rynket og tør og næsten hvid af alt det støv, der konstant hvirlede i luften. Sharons bedstemor var der også, og hendes mand ligeså – altså Sharon’s bedstefar. Dertil var et par andre kvinder, og jeg undrede mig lidt over hvem de alle sammen var. De fleste var tanter hvoraf de to var koner til Sharons bedstefar. Jeps – det viste sig nemlig at manden har tre koner! Sharons mor var der også. En smuk og tilsyneladende ung kvinde. Så jeg blev noget overrasket da hun fortalte at hun har 6 børn! Sharons far er væk, og har været forsvundet siden oktober. De ved ikke hvor han er og om han overhovedet er i live.

Familien er meget fattig, og det viser sig at være årsagen til, at Sharon ikke er kommet tilbage til skolen. De vil gerne have at hun skal gå i skole, men de har ikke penge til transport. Og nu hvor faren er væk er situationen blevet endnu mere vanskelig. Vi snakkede frem og tilbage om hvad vi kan gøre. Livet deroppe er ikke nemt. Og at se hvordan Sharon kommunikerer med sin familie knuste altså mit hjerte en lille smule. Ingen tegnsprog overhovedet og en meget lille forståelse mellem Sharon og hendes familiemedlemmer. Sharon er 12 år og der er masser af fremtid i hende. Men hun er nødt til at komme i skole. Vi endte med at blive enige om, at Sharon kommer tilbage til BDI og at hun så bliver hos os i alle ferier med undtagelse af den lange juleferie på to måneder. Ja, det betyder altså at Sharon i løbet af et år skal være hos os i ti måneder og hos sin familie i to måneder. Det lyder voldsomt for os i Vesten, men det synes som den bedste løsning her – medmindre Sharon skal leve et liv i isolation i hendes landsby.

Efter et par timer blev vi hentet af en ny boda. Igen måtte vi være fire mennesker, om end den ene denne gang var et barn. Til gengæld havde vi denne gang også en høne! Vi måtte køre til en større hovedvej for at fange en taxa. Det betød cirka 25 kilometer ad støvede jordveje. Varmen var ekstrem. Normalt er det en lettelse at køre på boda fordi man så i det mindste får vind i håret. Men her; det var som at have en meget varm hårtørrer blæsende lige ind i ansigtet hele tiden.

Endelig fremme og efter en halv times ventetid kom en taxa. Vi blev mast ind på bagsæderne; mig med hønen på skødet og Aggie med Sharon på skødet. Folk steg hele tiden ind og ud, og på et tidspunkt hvor vi var flest, talte jeg i alt 20 mennesker. (Det skal måske lige tilføjes at der på alle taxaer står skrevet, at de må have 14 passagerer med..) Plus vi have en seng og andet habengut på taget. Aggie og jeg forsøgte at tale sammen trods vi sad på hver vores række og at det er svært at bruge tegnsprog når den ene sidder med ryggen til. Men, hvor der er vilje er der som bekendt vej. Aggie virkede som sagt lidt beklemt ved at vi skulle overnatte i Sharons landsby. Efter at have set landsbyen forstod jeg hvorfor; der var vitterligt ikke meget andet end lerhytter og nogle simpelt byggede huse – om end det også ville have haft sin charme at overnatte dér! Men det var slet ikke dét, der var årsagen til Aggies tøven. Næ, hun afslørede nu på hjemturen, at hun havde hørt historier om kannibalisme deroppe! Så ok, jeg var måske også meget glad for ikke at skulle sove i en mere eller mindre frit tilgængelig lerhytte omgivet af potentielle kannibaler..

To timer senere nåede vi sikkert frem til Kawempe, og herefter gik det videre på boda til skolen. Ungerne var glade for se Sharon igen og vice versa. Jeg tog hjem da solen var ved at gå ned. Jeg var træt og trængte mere end nogensinde til et koldt bad. Sikke en dag. Varm om hjertet og med et smil på læben gik jeg tidligt i seng, faldt i søvn og sov som en sten til næste morgen.

Føler mig umådelig taknemlig, heldig og glimtvis virkelig lykkelig over at være her.

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Friday Teacher Aggie and I travelled North to Nakasongola to visit the family of a girl, Sharon, from our school. For various reasons Sharon has been away from school for more than six months. It’s hard to get in touch and communicate with her family, so now we decided to go up there ourselves. We went by taxi (which is more like a van used as a mini-bus) and the driver told us the travel would take 7-8 hours. We therefore prepared having to stay for one night, as I am honestly not fond of travelling at night here. For some reason Aggie though seemed kind of uncomfortable having to stay over night, but she though accepted.

We met Friday morning at 6 am. Despite the early hour, there are a myriad of life everywhere. The first hours of driving was along paved roads, but then we switched for bumpy dirty roads. The travel to Nakasongola though went much faster than the driver had predicted. After two and a half hours the van stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We got out and the taxi left. Now, we needed a boda boda the rest of the way. There was only one boda but three people needed a ride. Usually you go one or two people on a boda. But well, there is a first time for everything – and this was my first ride being three grownups plus the driver. And without offending anyone, let me just say that I wasn’t the one with the biggest butt.. The ride was 15-20 minutes in a very dry and kind of desolate landscape; beautiful in its own way. Usually Uganda is characterized by its red soil but here everything was gray and white with a little green here and there. While driving Aggie suddenly tapped my shoulder telling me that the driver wanted to marry me. The driver met my eyes in the side mirror and smiled big while giving me “thumbs up”. The thought of settling down with a beautiful Ugandan man (and his probably even more beautiful children – he had four deaf children!) in a mud hut in this unique landscape of cactuses, mango trees and cotton plants caught me for a moment. But well, it’s not that simple after all..

We came to Sharon’s village and the third passenger got off. Aggie and I continued on the boda through brushwoods and dust till we reached Sharon’s home. Completely deserted were a house and a few mud huts here and there in a distance. We were welcomed with smiles and open arms by Sharon, her mother and her aunt, and we were quickly invited to sit in the shade under a large tree. Sharon was happy to see us, and she could still remember a little sign language. Quickly other family members came to join us. I must admit that I wondered where all these people came from and how they knew we were there. As I said, it seemed like a very deserted place. Anyways, it always makes a big impression on me to meet families here. This time was no exception. And what a family – so many wonderful women!

An old and very charismatic great-grandmother of Sharon was one of the first to arrive. She had a hard time to walk, and she was blind in one eye and could hardly keep the other eye open. She was dressed in a beautiful and faded green gomesi (Ugandan dress with pointed shoulders, that most of all resembles some kind of a prom dress – see photo here), a bright green pearl necklace and a dark green scarf beautifully folded around her head. Her skin was wrinkled and dry and almost white because of all the dust that constantly whirls in the air. Sharon’s grandmother was there too, and so was her husband – Sharon’s grandfather, that is. Add to this a lot of other women. I wondered who they all were. Some were aunts and then I learned that some of them were the wives of Sharon’s grandfather. Yep – it turns out that he has three wives! Sharon’s mother was also there – a beautiful and seemingly young woman. So I was very surprised to learn that she has six children! Sharon’s father is gone and has been missing since October. They do not know where he is and whether he is alive.

The family is very poor, and it turns out to be the reason that Sharon has not come back to school. They want her to go to school, but there is no money for transport. And now that father is gone the situation is even harder. We talked back and forth about what we can do. Life up there is hard, and it broke my heart a little to see how Sharon communicates with her family. No sign language at all and a very poor understanding between them. Sharon is 12 years old and there is plenty of potential in her. But she must go to school. We ended up agreeing that Sharon comes back and that she stays with BDI in all holidays with the exception of the long Christmas break of two months. Or put in other words; during a year Sharon will stay at BDI for ten months and with her family for two months. It sounds kind of harsh for us in the West, but it seems like the best solution here – unless we want Sharon to live an isolated life in her village.

After a few hours another boda driver came to pick us up. Again we had to be four people on a boda, though this time one of them was a child. But this time we also had to carry a chicken! We had to go to the highway to catch a taxi. That meant around 25 kilometers on dusty dirt roads. The heat was extreme. Usually it is a relief to drive on a boda because at least you then get wind in your hair. But here it was like having a very hot blow dryer blowing hot air straight into your face all the time.

Finally we arrived and after 30 minutes of waiting a taxi came. We were squeezed into the van; me with the chicken on my lap, and Aggie with Sharon on her lap. People got on and off all the time, and at a time when we were most I counted us being 20 people. (I might add that all taxis have a note written on their doors saying they are allowed to carry 14 passengers..) Plus we have a bed and other stuff on the roof! Aggie and I tried to talk together. It wasn’t really easy as we sat in different rows and because it’s difficult to use sign language when one person is seated with their back to the other’s front. As I wrote in the beginning Aggie seemed a little uncomfortable staying over night in Sharon’s village. After seeing the village I understand why; the village was just like a bunch of huts and some very simple build houses – although it would have had its charm to stay there! But that wasn’t really the reason for Aggies hesitation. No, the real reason, she revealed to me, was that she heard stories about cannibalism up there! She wouldn’t tell me before we were going home. After that information I admittedly did feel kind of happy we didn’t spend the night in these rather easy accessing huts surrounded by potential cannibals..

Two hours later we reached Kawempe, and we continued on a boda to school. The kids were happy to see Sharon again and vice versa. I went home just when the sun was setting. I was tired and needed a cold shower more than anything. What a day. Warm at heart and with a smile on my face I went to sleep and slept like a rock till next morning.

Feeling indescribable grateful and blessed to be here, really.