Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor

I arrived in Uganda late on a Friday night at the end of December. I spent two nights and rang in the New Year staying with the director of AMG Uganda and his family before moving to my new home at Upendo (the orphanage).

The first night I was there, I will admit that I was pretty scared out of my mind. I had a hard time sleeping with all the new noises and the anti-malaria meds making my mind play tricks on me. As I lay wide awake in bed at 2am I thought to myself, "What am I doing here all alone in the middle of Africa?!"

The next day I sat up and escaped my mosquito net. I turned on my iPod to listen to Mandisa sing "Good Morning," exercised a little to get my blood pumping, and then got ready for a nice cold shower. After breakfast I unlocked the padlocks securing my metal door and walked out onto my veranda. My neighbors were out so I walked the three steps it took to get to their door and said hello.

The other half of my house was taken up by an AMG worker and his family. His wife, Rachel, is a teacher so we had lots to talk about. She had actually been in a teacher exchange program and had a chance to go to London and teach for a short time. So we talked about the different education systems as well as the differences in culture she noticed while away.

There were 3 teenage girls living with them at the time. One was a girl from Upendo who couldn't go back to her village during the break, another was a niece, and another was a girl who needed somewhere to stay. Throughout the week, due to the heat we would spend our time sitting under a mango tree chatting. I taught them how to make friendship bracelets, and sometimes the girls would challenge me to a game of volleyball (which, I might add is a lot harder to play in a skirt and flip flops).

Sitting on the veranda chatting with Maureen.
Rachel also has an adorable 3 year old daughter, Michal, who just so happened to be scared to death of me.

You see, some time back she had been sick. Her parents took her to a clinic where she saw a white nurse. This nurse gave her a shot, which Michal didn't enjoy, and since that time she has always connected white women with getting an injection. So she was very afraid of being around white women.

I was going to do whatever I could to let this child know that white women could be really nice. She loves coloring so I gave her coloring pages, made her bracelets. I even gave her stickers, which she loved by the way.

I was selling, but she was not buying it!

Actually that's not entirely true. See, when she was around me she acted like she was afraid of me. But when I went back into my house she would talk on and on about me. Whenever they invited me for dinner (which we ate around 9pm) she would refuse to go to sleep even though she was so tired all because she didn't want to miss a minute of me being around. Then the next day she would tell Michael, my driver, that she was afraid I was going to bite her.

What can I say? She's 3.

I lived next door to her for a week and a half before the team came, and she still wasn't quite used to me. So you can imagine her surprise when she saw a busload of Americans coming her way. She ran all the way from the mango tree to her bed and fell asleep until they left.

But one day during youth camp some of the older girls attending had been spending time with her. I was walking down the path, and they had just left her standing there by herself. So I went to her and said, "Michal, I will take you to Mommy." And then it happened.

She took my hand.

I don't know who was more surprised, me or her. I wanted to dance and hoot and holler but I didn't want to scare her. As we got closer to the house, Rachel was coming our way and was so happy to see Michal holding my hand. But she was on her way into town so she couldn't take her. So I took Michal to her daddy. When she saw him she called out, "Daddy!" and then pointed to the white hand she was holding. Her dad was very excited. He said, "Who are you with?"

With a big grin on her face she answered, "Auntie Alyson."

- Aly

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