fredag 18. desember 2009

Ring the bells: Christmas time is coming!

Warning: if you are a highly oversensitive person, you might want to shy away from some of the following pictures. Mohaha!

We have reached the time for getting into the Christmas spirit, decorating the house, buying gifts and making men from snow and ginger bread dough. I would be doing all this and more "Christmassy" stuff if I were at home.

However, I am not. I am in Uganda. And things are somehow different here. When I look out my window there is no snow, just the sizzling sun drying up the ground, making it red and dusty. When I go on the streets, there are no Christmas lights to be seen. The matatus (taxi-vans), bodas (bicycle-taxis), boda bodas (motorcycle-taxis) and buses are driving crazily around, as they always do. Nevertheless, the increase in people in the streets indicates that something is out of the ordinary. In addition, the occasional Christmas carols booming from some blasted speakers in the barbershops remind me of just what this something is. Even though it feels very different this year, I do actually feel the Christmas spirit some times. I had the strongest sense of Christmas spirit so far this year in a setting I never would have imagined. Take a look; does it give you that "good old-fashioned feeling"?

When I first saw the big bag and heard that there was 80 kilos of freshly slaughtered cow (some parts were still quite warm) in it... well... I was not exactly thrilled. Nevertheless, it turned out to be some good fun. I was laughing so hard someti
mes. The situation was just too strange. Standing in a kitchen with the hind legs of a dead cow in your hands, pulling hard to make it easier to slash, at times fearing to be mutilated by an enormous butchers knife (when there were pieces with too big bones in them, you need to bring out the big knife and chop), while hearing Christmas carols from the PA outside. Surreal, but nice!

It was mostly from outside I got the strong sense of Christmas spirit. However, it wasn't caused by the reggae versions of the familiar Christmas carols. It came when I saw the kids. Their faces were simply glowing. You could see the excitement from a miles distance. Some of them were also taking part in the entertainment, I could recognize the very familiar feeling of being nervous and proud, walking around being pre-occupied, wanting to go through the program one last time before the show. The food; rice, meat and a soda probably caused others' excitement! It might be the only meal of this kind the whole year.

Everywhere I looked, there were excited and grateful faces. There were so many positive feelings at the same time; I was almost overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit. People were kind, open and grateful. Grateful to CRO and grateful to God. It was the first Christmas party I've been to where Jesus got a louder handclap and more cheering than the food and presents combined. Different, but in a very good way. The true Christmas spirit was definitely found in most people in CRO on that hot, sunny, dusty, noisy December day.

I wish you all a lovely Christmas celebration and heaps of Christmas spirit!

lørdag 5. desember 2009

Pallisa road

I think it was the first day I brought my camera to the CRO. When I got home, I saw that one face reappeared in most of the pictures. It was the face of a young boy.
I hadn't really noticed him before, but the following days I started talking a bit to him. He said that he would like to talk to me again, just the two of us. He had something he wanted to tell me. I was very excited that he actually took the initiative and asked me, and I of course said that I'd love to talk to him, anytime. The problem was just that there was no time the following days. After that, he was no longer attending the project daily.

I hadn't talked to him for a while when I found him half-asleep outside our office. He was soaked with sweat and his forehead was burning. It was still early, so the nurse was not yet there. Therefore, I took him away from the hot sun and put him in our office with a wet cloth on his forehead. He lay on the floor of the office for about fifteen minutes, then he started quivering. I was sincerely worried. When I went outside to check if anyone could help me with the boy, I saw that the nurse had come. The boy and I went from the office to the clinic. The nurse said it was malaria. He got some medication, food and water. During the day, the quivering ended and his temperature stabilised. I was no longer worried. I even thought I could get an opportunity to talk to him the next day. I didn't. After that day, I didn't talk to him at all for a long time. In fact, I didn't see him at all for almost a month.

It's always bad when someone you'd like to talk to doesn't show for a whole month, but it's even worse when it's a street child. You can never know if they have someone to watch out for them, or if they're left to themselves in the dark and dangerous nights.

Luckily, he came back after about a month. He was looking quite shabby, but I didn’t really care; he was there. When I saw him he was on his way out, but he promised to come back the next day so that we could talk. He didn't. Two more weeks without a sign of life. The next time I saw him was when we were on a street walk. He was picking coffee beans by the bus park. The second I spotted him, I went to talk to him. He reeked of fuel. His eyes were hazy. We'd come too late today, he'd already taken his first sniff. Nevertheless, he still remembered me and promised to come back to the CRO. He did.

We finally got the opportunity to talk properly. He told me that he'd spent the month he didn't come to the CRO in Kampala with his father. "What about your mother? Is she also in Kampala?” They weren't. He said that he's got two mothers, I asked how that could be possible. “Which one is your birth mum?” He didn't elaborate. He has two mothers and that’s final. One of them lives in Pallisa, a little more than an hour from Mbale. The other one stays in somewhat closer. He doesn't specify, he just points in a direction and says "There." He doesn't live with her. She beat him every day, that's why he ran away and started going to the streets. Now, he's living with a friend in the slum area. One quick look at the boy shows that his shelter isn't all that. His clothes are worn out and filthy. His fingernails are long and black with dirt. His odour is a mixture of sweat, fuel and clothes worn on a daily basis but washed on a monthly basis. He doesn't really want to live where he lives now; he wants to go to the mother in Pallisa. However, he doesn’t have enough money to go there.

He's wondering if it would be ok for him to ask me something. There are two things that he wants so badly. "Number one... I want a CRO uniform."

This poor young man is talking to a girl whose skin colour practically screams; "ATM, cash withdrawal!" and all he's asking for is a shorts and a t-shirt from the CRO, he's not even asking for anything from me personally.

His second request was this one; "And I want to go back to school". He's actually motivated to go back to school. That is really a huge deal considering the fact that he's seventeen and will have to resume primary four.

We lay a plan together on how he'll achieve these two goals. The first thing is that he'll have to keep coming to the CRO. He promised to keep coming throughout December, and in return, I promised to have some private tutoring with him in English, maths and computer. In January, he'll start the rehabilitation class, where he'll be given the CRO uniform. After the rehabilitation class, he'll be off to school. I will do what I can to make sure that the school is in Pallisa, where the non-violent mother lives. The road to Pallisa is long and bumpy. It's not going to be an easy ride. I merely hope we can commence the journey and travel some of the distance together.