Muslim call to worship again welcomes me to the day but... they were late this morning. I wonder what happens if they don’t get going before the sun rises and if it’s the same guy who performs this ritual every morning. I’ll have to see if I can find that out.
Well, today is Party Day and our last day at the school! Today is the celebration of birthdays for all @1,100 children in the school! Since there are no accurate birth records available, this day is set aside each year to unilaterally celebrate these precious children. It will elevate to an all day festival! I was told by those who came before me that we will feed all of these children lunch in much less than 2 hours! Details to follow!
We arrived to an air of excitement surrounding the school. So much happiness, excitement, and joy is displayed by these little... and not so little... miracles as they anticipate the cake and the special meal they will be served and the community recognition of their arrival on Earth. All of the children are brought to a common area and surround the table where the 3 cakes and decorations are displayed. These children arrive in age order, from oldest to youngest, to allow the littlest ones to be in the front so they can see what is happening and each and every one of these children stands quietly and in order as all children arrive to begin the festivities. Music is playing and a group of students is dancing as the crowd is encouraged to sing the songs we have become so familiar with - songs of friendship and love, sung with commitment and generosity each time the verse is repeated...and it is repeated many, many times! Those dancing seem to have unlimited stamina and energy, as well as, voices that never wane or falter. Each repeat of the song is like it's the first time they have sung it!
We proceeded to cut the cake and distribute it among the children but it was not to be the kind of birthday celebration to which I was accustomed.
When cake is served at the school it is a very special day, indeed, and serve it we did to all of these Mbiriizi children. At this point, I have to reflect on my own children's birthday parties and that of my grandchildren and friends. Recognition of these days is never missed, gifts, cakes and celebrations are all a part of it and many of these birthdays are celebrated for days...and in some cases, a week or more! This was obviously going to be a very different kind of celebration. Assignment for you: Envision the size of a piece of cake given to your birthday child or to you on your special day. Traditionally, in our lives, the birthday person gets the first piece, and more if wanted, and there is little restriction on size. You get to pick the flower or decoration that will be on your piece, and you had a say in its flavor and colors. There is ice cream, perhaps some candy, plenty of food and snacks and friends and family to celebrate with you. There are leftovers and discarded food. And...There is avarice, indulgence, excess, and gluttony... accompanying the thankfulness and love.
This birthday celebration is really more of a symbolic one for these children. The amount of cake they are served is minimal, perhaps a small, very shallow tablespoon, and the children of Mbiriizi are happy for that, never once complaining or asking for more. There is non-stop celebratory singing and dancing, a few short speeches and then poppers are released to the delight of all. Keep in mind that this outside ceremony takes about an hour and a half, and the older children are standing this entire time. While these children participate and sing, responding to speeches with clapping and cheering, they remain well behaved, respectful, and grateful. This is a day they look forward to each year, a day when cake is served, and a big meal at lunchtime and a soda...a whole bottle of soda for each one of them. And...There is gratitude, acceptance, altruism, benevolence, and generosity. All around, there is evidence of caring for others.
This experience continues to teach me some hard-learned lessons. I have learned to give more appreciation to simple things - fresh water, open space, silence ... being alone, being with family and friends, feeling pretty secure in my future and feeling safe everywhere I go ... and some not-so-simple things - the value, ease and imbalance of our educational opportunities, unlimited possibilities, sacrifices made, countless and under-appreciated freedoms, and a voice that is free to be heard. The list goes on. Seriously, it is never ending and overwhelming. But the single most valuable lesson these children have taught me is gratitude...or maybe it's respect...or acceptance...or resolve...or perseverance... they have taught me all of this and more. Again...can't say it enough...Mbiriizi is life changing.
After the wonderful ceremony of dancing and singing, colorful costumes, and dramatic performances where even the faculty got involved at the end, we served all of the children their birthday lunch - rice and beans. It was a non-stop parade of hungry and expectant children, in age order, coming through to receive their piled high bowl of rice and beans and that coveted bottle of soda! There were pails of rice, pails of beans, piles of bowls and cases of soda just waiting for them to celebrate. In one hour and 40 minutes we served all of the children...over 1,000 of them!
It was a very humbling day, a reflective day, a day we didn't want to end. It was a day that arrived much too quickly after, what I can only describe as "days of enlightenment" for me. There are no words powerful enough to explain what is being done at this little school in Uganda, this sanctuary of hope and peace and refuge for the hundreds of children that live and attend school here. There are not enough photographs to illustrate the love and commitment and dedication that Sylvia and Michele demonstrate in their many return trips to Mbiriizi to do even more, inspiring others to do the same. Case in point: Doug and Becca have returned many times themselves and will be back. You simply have to be here to understand - to feel the devotion Mbiriizi has for Sylvia...walk on the red dirt, be hugged by the children...receive a crowd full of smiles, in order to truly realize - to the core of your being - what a profound and powerful impact that Sylvia's Children has on this amazing school in a country of many challenges.
At the end of the final performances given to us by the children, Geofrey bestowed upon Joanna and me our new African names. Everyone who comes to Mbiriizi gets their new name at the end of their time there. I took this as a sign of acceptance, an acknowledgment of our involvement in helping Mbiriizi, a heartfelt gesture of gratitude from the children and the adults in this little school in Uganda. My given name of "Vernoy" is difficult enough for some people to comprehend and was something not easily recognized by my new African friends. My last name just added more confusion. Applying to my name the Ugandan tradition of putting the last name first created a mystifying situation when it came to my name - totally perplexing, indeed. They really were not certain which of my names was first and which was second. So, they decided my first name was "Paolini" or "Paoline", morphing to "Pauleen"...or "Maureen" depending on who you spoke to! You can see where this is going...although this personal name confusion is not unusual for me and totally accepted. Love that I now have an African name and love that it came from people who have come to mean so much to me, who have had the power to leave an indelible mark on my soul and who will now occupy a place in my heart for eternity.
Before we left, Gloria had to have her nails done. After all, it was promised and promises cannot be broken. The long lasting effects of the caring and the pampering - being the center of attention and the recipient of simple unbridled kindness and love - are evident in Gloria's smile and in the sparkle in her eyes. She is feeling just fine!
Pulling out of the school grounds we were followed by crowds of running children, children waving and laughing, grinning from ear to ear and chasing the jeep to the gate. Irresistible...no wonder once you are here, you must keep coming back.
We had dinner with Bridgette and Bruce, the owners of the school in Tekera. We went to a local restaurant known for its catering to the young, international crowd, Cafe Frikadelin. Many of the people there were finishing up mission work, time spent in orphanages, building homes, and assorted other humanitarian efforts. The food was good and a change from the hotel's fare and they had an interesting gift shop. Naturally, Joanna and I spent some time in the shop. After all, there were all those empty suitcases to fill.....somebody had to do it! :)
We are off to Myewa tomorrow but first...
About that bed netting - the truth is, I have not yet developed a strategy in dealing with it. I suppose it could be considered a bit romantic in an African Queen sort of way but some might look at it as a restricting, yet diaphanous and dreamy, claustrophobic entrapment. At this point, I might stand in between these two perspectives.
By necessity, it is a voluminous amount of white gauzy fabric draping around the bed preventing those pesky mosquitoes and other flying creatures from feasting on you as you sleep. I am happy about that, btw, and appreciate that the amount of fabric allows for general freedom of movement once ensconced inside. But when trying to get out of bed, this never-ending amount of netting prevents any spontaneous “jumping out of bed”. That is definitely out of the question. If you are not quite awake, you find your feet wrapped up in the extra netting on the floor, twisting around your legs as you struggle to free yourself. This must be what a fly feels like in a spider web. Also, in those half asleep moments when you feel a slight tickle on your leg, for example, and suddenly decide it must be a bug of some sort... or perhaps a python... you may find yourself squealing while kicking and thrashing around slapping the tickled area to find that you just brushed up against the netting. Then, you just hope no one has heard you!
We have been fortunate to have had electricity all week but now, electricity is out. Therefore, tonight is "generator night". Right outside my balcony is the generator, ground zero as it were, to this loud, invasive rumble of the running motor supplying us with electricity. Michelle gave me her Bose headphones to wear to muffle the sound but I was afraid I just might choke myself during the night with the wire so I opted out of that luxury. The visual is pretty hilarious, though. Me with these big headphones on, loose wires around my neck and head, climbing into the netted bed (which, of course, caught on the wire...) and then actually laughing out loud at what I must look like. I was a bit self-conscious to say the least about what I was doing so I decided to live on the edge and put up with the generator. It was not that bad, really, and I was tired so I invited the comfort of sleep to be my friend! Zzzzzzzz...............