I've not had much internet access the past two weeks, so sorry for the lack of communication.
Here's a rundown of impacting events for me since my last update:
* On our last day at St. Bartholomew's Orphanage Mommy Susan called Lexie and I to meet one of the new cooks at the orphanage. She is a single mother who drunkard husband left her with four children. The woman was holding a small child, her son, who I took to be about ten months old. I was shocked to find out that the boy was actually four years old. His name is Leju Julius, and seems to have a litany of mental and physical disabilities, as well as malnutrition. He cannot speak, doesn't seem to be able to hear, and cannot see more than light and dark. Lexie examined him, as did Annet Gune, the IWASSRU nurse, and during their poking and prodding, the only response he gave was moaning a bit when they hit a sore spot. His stomach and probably liver are so distended that his ribs are displaced. His arms and legs have no muscle development, and he cannot support himself even to sit. His hands are tightly curled into fists and he drools constantly. Annet thinks that with good nutrition, vitamins, and physical therapy Leju might be able to gain strength in his limbs. For now Mommy Susan has moved the mother and her children into one of the staff tukels on St. Bartholomew's land and arranged for Leju to spend the days at the Babies' Home while the mother is working, which will free his other primary caretaker, his six-year-old sister, to go to school. This was the only time on this trip that I felt completely unable to process what I was seeing and feeling. My heart went out to this mother and baby so much, and they've been consistently in my prayers ever since.
* That same day, we left SBO, and it was the first time I had to say goodbye to friends on this trip. Until that time I had always been coming back in a week or two, so I didn't have to actually say goodbye. I'll try to upload the photo of our last moment there, saying goodbye to some thirty people all at once, not to mention the children who had become very special to me.
* We returned to Amazing Grace, my favorite place to be, which took the edge off of the goodbyes. We were joined by Mommy Susan, Annet the nurse, and Sokiri the child sponsorship director a few days later. I got to go with Susan and Sokiri and all of the children to purchase new clothes and shoes for every child, courtesy of the Lahash Christmas program. It was so special to these kids to get new clothes, especially ones that were not second hand and that they got to pick out themselves. It was an extremely long day, but really rewarding to see the delight over picking out patterns for dresses and the satisfaction of finding the right belt with the right trousers. I loved getting to "mother" the little boys, helping them adjust the trousers and pick out shirts, and we got to throw away one pair of trousers that a boy had been wearing. He was wearing a huge shirt because the zipper area of the trousers had been totally destroyed and was just open. They're saving the new clothes for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to seeing pictures of them all in their new outfits.
* For the stories of our "American" Thanksgiving and our African Thanksgiving, check out the Lahash blog: www.hopeisalive.com. I also got to talk to my parents, my grandma and grandpa, my uncle, and my best friend, and leave a voicemail for my brother, so that was special also.
*We continued interviews with the kids, and I did eight girls' interviews on Sunday afternoon. It was fun to be asking them questions and getting to know them better, but I was infinitely more blessed by the opportunity that they were giving me. The girls are pretty shy as a group, and one month ago they would never have given me the chance to sit on the floor of their tukul, eating cookies and chatting about their dreams for their futures while they tease each other and me. It was really special.
* We stayed in Adjumani one extra day as a result of Annet's medical exams. Lexie did a great job of administering the medicines for scabies, ringworm, flu, UTIs, and oral thrush, and she taught the kids how to treat cuts and scrapes on themselves and others. She trained the watchman, Father Wani, and several of the kids how to continue diagnosing and treated their illnesses. We talked to the kids again about hygiene, and on Monday we did a massive cleaning of their tukuls. They pulled out all of their mattresses, all of their sheets, all of their clothes and other belongings, and we paid a couple of dollars each to the older kids to wash everything for them. Their mattresses got thoroughly dried out in the sun while the covers were washed, and their sheets and mosquito nets were washed, dried, and repaired. While that was happening, Jeremy and I took insecticide and "bombed" each of their tukuls. The boys got a huge kick out of going in twenty minutes later to see how many cockroaches, mosquitoes, spiders, and other bugs we'd killed and killing the ones that weren't quite dead yet. Through the generosity of my parents, I was able to buy new bags for each of the kids to keep their belongings in, so there are no more piles of clothes for insects and rodents to hide in. We also bought them a big box of medicated soap and individual soap dishes to keep it in. It was adorable to see how proud they were of going to bathe with their individual plastic soap dish.
* Edwin, Christine, Jeremy, Lexie, and I did two nights worth of "adolescent issues" discussion. We talked about personal hygiene, the differences between boys and girls, the way bodies change as they are becoming adults, and respecting one another through those changes all as a combined group on the first night. Their homework was to come up with questions for separate discussions the second night, and the girls came through in a big way. They had a ton of great questions, ranging from HIV to pregnancy to the biology of their bodies to traditional beliefs about infertility. Both nights were phenomenal, and made me even more sad to leave them.
* The best thing out of this entire trip was a compliment from our friend Jaclyn Karkner, a mid-term missionary who has been doing Bible lessons with the kids since February. She said that she could tell that we were doing something right because the kids were acting like themselves around us, not super formally or reserved, and that she could see so many positive changes happening at the orphanage even in the past four months. Those positive changes have so much to do with the prayers and support of you friends back at home. Thank you for caring about these beautiful kids, and being willing to support Lahash and IWASSRU as we care for them.
* I got to chat with my friend Lisa in South Africa one day, and she asked me if I was missing home at all. When I thought about it, I realized that each time I come to Africa, the concept of home gets a bit more distant and obscure for me. My language has started changing from talking about going "home" at the end of a trip to going "back to the States". Every time I've come to Africa one of my good friends has unexpectedly and suddenly moved away, whether temporarily or permanently, and because my focus has been so much on living here in Africa, I've spent less and less time maintaining and growing friendships at home. Of course I miss my family and I miss my Home Community, but when I'm not here I miss my family here and the communities of staff and children who are so special to me. I'm realizing that "home" will probably be a complicated concept for me for the rest of my life, but I think that's a blessing: having so much home that it can't be relegated to one location, or even one continent.
So all that is a recap to say that I'm blessed and thankful and sad and sorry. I'm especially blessed to say that God is good and faithful and the same yesterday, today, and forever, even in Africa.
I'll be arriving in Portland on Monday, December 8th, at 7:13pm. It would be awesome to see some of you then, or in the next few days.
Best to you...Leisha