We were together again, her dark almond shaped eyes, round dark brown cheeks and beautiful features smiling back at me….. The sight of maize growing in the fields in the distance, looking outside the window of the small brick home. The pigs tied up nearby, goats in ropes lower in the fields with their newborn babies learning to nurse. We were all together again and I could breathe.I was awakened by this dream this morning before sunrise at approximately 5:45 am. Reliving my visit with Agnes Kyarimpa in the small rural district called Lwamaggwa.
My journey to Lwamaggwa district began in the morning around 8 am when I was greeted by World Vision staff members Samuel and Barrack. I jumped into the back of the white Toyota 4 x 4 relief vehicle with a recently retired couple from New Zealand- named Malcolm and Jennifer. They were on a 10 week overland vacation through Africa and decided they would make it a priority to visit their children’s sponsored children while in Uganda and Tanzania. Jennifer, a retired 7th grade English school teacher, and her husband decided they would pack and haul over 50 kg of unused and beautiful private school uniforms to share with the two villages they planned to visit later that day. I was fortunate to have wonderful company on a good portion of this very long drive to just north of the Tanzanian border.
After a brief coffee and rest stop at the equator town of Kayabwe, we carried on to our next stop- the district of Rakai. The district was heavily impacted by the HIV and AIDS crisis in the mid 80’s, severely damaging the social fabric of the entire community. Many children are orphaned and families live in small brick homes with tin or thatched roofs. It is not uncommon to see children taking care of children in these poor rural areas. After visits with the local World Vision office and staff in Rakai, we headed off for our final destination- a tiny village in the county of Lwamaggwa. The towns grew smaller and increasingly remote, as we carried on down the red dirt pathway ahead. Looking out the passenger window, I noticed many things which made my mind race with curiosity. Questions loomed and thoughts lingered. People toting empty and heavily used plastic yellow gerry cans to bore holes to fill up with a day’s supply of water. It would be carried back home long distances at a weight of 30+ lbs to use for boiling water for beans, rice, or matoke and perhaps for a small load of washing up clothing soiled from a couple weeks worth of toiling in the sun tending a garden or other manual labor. The small brick homes and mini roadside businesses lining the streets of Lwamaggwa county along with the lush vegetation looked as though they were rendered in a sepia tone filter- the red dust applying a thick permanent copper tint.
As we drove deeper into the uneven and rolling hillside located near Lake Victoria, I became anxious to cast my eyes upon my beloved Agnes, whom Rusty and I have sponsored for a number of years through World Vision’s amazing child sponsorship program. We first approached her primary school as we climbed up on the hillside and entered her home town village. Dozens of uniformed school children carrying small plastic tubs earlier filled with the day’s serving of rice or starch, ran alongside the side of the World Vision truck waving their hands and smiling, offering the heartiest of welcome wishes!!
Running over maize fields on a bumpy forged path, we stopped in front of a small brick home about 150 yards downhill from the car. Rolling green hills dotted with banana trees in the distance, I jumped out of the truck and saw Agnes running up towards me to greet me!! We recognized each other’s faces immediately from the previous correspondences and photographs and embraced in the customary manner in this region! She is so beautiful!! “omuwala mulungi!” I exclaimed in Luganda- “beautiful girl!
She was out of breath from running and excited as she waited all day for us to arrive from Kampala! It was nearly 7 hours after our departure at this point. Her voice trembled a bit as it was a bit nerve racking meeting her sponsor for the very first time in person! I, too, was nervous and cautious not to smother her in affection- which differs in Ugandan cultures especially rural areas.
Letting Agnes take the lead, we approached her home where her petite mother in her late 40’s greeted me in the customary manner. They kneel down before guests and visitors to greet and show their sincerest appreciation for your travels and visit. This is very humbling and made me want to get down on my knees to be at the same level. I bowed down and hugged each of the family members visiting, including Agnes’s eldest sister who traveled a long distance to be part of this pre arranged special visit! I also met Agnes’ youngest sister- aged 7. Agnes, on the verge of her 13th birthday, was dressed in her special dress, as was her mother…this is the same dress reserved for special occasions like world vision photos for return correspondences, and important gatherings. I recognized the bold patterns from the previous year’s photos I received in America- it was the same dresses for the third year.
I took off my sandals at the front door and entered into this precious, most welcoming little home they had carefully and meticulously prepared for our visit. We knelt down on a dried grass covered dirt floor covered in hand woven grass mats. Two small tables covered in freshly cleaned white cloths joined us, in preparation for the feast they prepared so lovingly for me and the World Vision staff members who accompanied us from Rakai to Lwamaggwa. Daniel, and Margaret joined to translate and provide comfort for all parties- acting as intermediaries and friends. Barrack, our driver took on the role as photographer allowing me to be fully present in this exciting time with Agnes and her family.
I followed the lead of our guides and left all belongings and gifts in our truck at the top of the hill, so I would be able to receive all that this precious, deeply impoverished family desired to share with me first.
Seated on the mat, Margaret to my right, Agnes in front of me, and little sis to my immediate left, the first of many gifts began to pass through the curtain just to my left separating this recently tidied and intentionally prepared sitting room from the other mere 5 sq foot room where her mother, eldest sister, Agnes’ primary school teacher and several neighbors had gathered to prepare all the feast!
I was handed the most beautiful, perfectly arranged bouquet of wild flowers Agnes collected earlier in the day, as she stayed home from school waiting and preparing for our encounter. I loved these flowers and thought that was the end, but to my surprise- there was much, much more to come. Next through the curtain, I was handed large hand woven baskets containing the largest freshly picked avocados I have ever seen in my life!!! Rusty and I eat an avocado daily at home- and this was so lovely to receive! Another basket came through the doorway- this one containing 15 freshly picked mangoes from a tree nearby in the garden! Overwhelmed at this point, I just took a deep breath and continued to receive- something I find difficult- especially coming from a family who is literally giving me more than they have for themselves. After the mangoes, avocados, and one gigantic papaya, came another cardboard box! Out from the box, Agnes’s mother pulled out a fresh chicken- alive, legs tied together with twine, and body wrapped in a shroud of fresh banana leaves! The contrast of the chicken’s red comb with the waxy green finish of the slightly torn banana leaves made my heart melt! This is an extraordinarily generous gift. ” how can they be giving this to me, ?” I pondered. Having never been gifted a live chicken, I kept it on my lap and began to stroke its head like a pet dog. I am sure this amused the family, as much- if not more than it amused me!
Thinking the live chicken would have to be the top of the gifts, I was speechless as more gifts came funneling through the next room passing through many hands before reaching me! A lovely hand woven 2 piece basket was constructed of beautiful natural linen and dyed green colors in a typical African pattern. I lifted the top off the basket to discover nearly two dozen freshly hatched eggs! The fresh eggs here have the most subtle blush colored shells- appearing too pretty for consumption! I set the gift basket alongside the cornucopia of fresh tropical fruits, while the chicken remained in my lap still as a puppy fast asleep. The last gift to come through was an heaping sack of freshly harvested g- nuts. G nuts are a staple in Ugandan food and are the base for the infamous and savory g nut sauce often accompanying freshly steamed matoke.
Agnes’s elder sister re appeared at the front door with a basin and small water can to help us clean our hands before taking the meal they so graciously prepared with love and care. She poured water, likely pumped and fetched earlier in the day, over my hands while the trickle fell into the plastic basin below.
Our feast began with bowls of freshly cooked chicken and tomato broth into which we placed steamed matoke. As the honorary guest, I was given the liver of the chicken to enjoy as well as the drumstick. The liver and gizzards are generally served to the head of the household- or to a special guest. This was a tremendous honor. Bowls of rice, bowls of “Irish”- the Ugandan name for white potatoes- and fresh cabbage and tomato salad were also shared with all of us. It is common for this meal to be taken using the hands in lieu of silverware- hence the hand washing ritual beforehand.
Agnes was asked to pray a blessing over the food for us all. We bowed and she thanked God for all that He has blessed her and her family with. As she prayed in Luganda, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sweet, calm presence of the Holy Spirit filling this room overflowing with love, faith, generosity, and beauty.
Agnes is 12 years old, and attends P3 class- which is about 4 grades behind where a girl her age in the city would be placed. It is commonly seen in very rural areas- as the focus is often on maintaining the garden, crops, fetching water from the nearest water hole, and attending to the pigs and goats.
Goats. Oh the goats.
The barrage of surprises and bright eyed ” you’re kidding me” looks continued to come….
As a sponsor of Agnes through World Vision- her community is funded by a pool of donors in that particular area. This way, the entire community shall benefit from the donations made by others, including the family of the sponsored child. Each Christmas and various times during the year you may make a special gift for the family in particular- and the family itself will select items based on greatest need. I knew Agnes’ family purchased a couple of pigs two years ago, as well as 3 goats this past Christmas from the photos I received. Agnes’ mother had great news for us as we walked out of the house after a satisfyingly delicious meal……
One of the goats Rusty and I gifted her delivered 2 babies just hours before we arrived!!! I couldn’t believe it!!! Fresh blood still on the mama goat… And two babies- one black, one white….. Freshly cleaned by momma and nursing as we stood by in amazement at the miracle of life! We scooped up the babies, held them close to our beating hearts as they cried out with newborn life! What a joyful occasion!!
It was beginning to feel surreal at this time. I was floating in happiness. High on joy, thankful for the blessing of coming to visit and making preparations over 4 months in advance to do so. It was worth every step of the process! To share in two hours with this family and neighbors who literally gave to me all they could possibly afford and then some. This family living in extreme poverty, who sold one of their own chickens to be able to provide us with fresh bottled drinking water. This family, consisting of all women- working the land and fetching water as the father/husband lost his life to AIDS years back. Agnes, a precious, beautiful young Ugandan farm girl- taking care of her little sister with all things at home and often not able to attend school.
As I handed out my gifts just before our departure 4 hours back into Kampala- I began to realize our visit was coming to a close. Agnes loved her new school backpack- a rare commodity in this remote village. She handed out tootsie pops, ring pops, and even tried her very first piece of chocolate. She didn’t know what it was. Neither did her mother. My precious 12 year old sponsored daughter had never heard of or tried chocolate before in her life. She carefully unwrapped the tin foiled Hershey’s kiss and removed the white and blue white tag from inside. Biting down gingerly on the tiny milk chocolate tip, her tongue and taste buds came into contact with the sweetness and she began to smile – signaling to the crowd watching that it was in fact, tasty!
“Not another goodbye,” I thought to myself. “You can do this without crying,” I repeated. You can’t possibly be attached after two hours and only corresponding via letters until today’s visit”, my thoughts continued to press…
Tears began to swell up in both eyes as I fought like a warrior to hold them back and keep my composure. “Keep it together, Jen”. “This is a happy time, not a sad one”.
Thing is, I often cry tears of joy. As the family helped me load my gifts -bags at a time, baskets of fruits on top of their heads, flowers, chicken, and all…. I became deeply saddened that it was coming to an end. As the night was drawing near, and with a long night’s journey on the road ahead of us, I was encouraged to jump in the car for departure. We took our last photos and said goodbye. Hugs, and more hugs, loving embraces and looks of sincere gratitude in all of our eyes, heaviness in our hearts.
When we turned the vehicle around and began to drive away- I searched the crowd of gazing brown eyes and brightly colored clothing covered in dust to meet those of Agnes. I saw her mom, her sisters, and the neighbors…. As I held the second wildflower bouquet she gave me just before leaving, I became fixated with locating her beautiful face one last time so I could hold it in my heart forever. Unable to do so and tears flowing like a river, Margaret pointed downhill towards the house in the distance and said “Agnes has run home already…. she is deeply saddened by your departure as well. I just wept and wept.
Agnes and I exchanged very few words- as she didn’t understand English and I didn’t want to interrogate her or interview her family like I have been doing during all my other encounters through my work here with BeadforLife.
This was different. We were just together. I now fully understand what it means to be in the “beauty of someone’s presence”. I was in the beauty of her presence for two hours- silently communicating. It was peaceful, and surely blessed by the Lord’s presence as well.
I held on to that encouragement as we drive off into the distance, children lining the corn fields waving goodbye and running alongside of us all the way to the dirt road back into Rakai.
I know I may never see Agnes again, but I am comforted by the fact that she and I shared in this precious moment with each other surrounded by her loved ones. I felt loved and accepted by her family, and I certainly felt humbled by the extent of the family’s generosity. I know God was with us, and will keep us together in spirit always.
Giving and receiving.
Standing…. And resting……. in love.
To learn more about how you can sponsor a child in the most vulnerable stretches of the world, visit : http://www.worldvision.org