Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How could we not know our neighbor? A Lesson From Iganga....

Today our day started at the Prison in Uganda. The same “warden” was there and this time he allowed no photographs! You can all imagine how difficult that was for me. The good news is that there were not many inmates that I recognized which means that many of the men have been released since we last visited in February. Because I had been there before I took the lead, started talking about how we have all made mistakes in our lives and how we are forgiven and allowed second, third and even fourth, fifth and six chances. After that I opened the floor up for questions and we got some really interesting ones. The first one was to explain the differences between the US and Uganda. I started to explain the differences in community. How in America we tend to stay in our houses and not know our neighbors. This concept was so foreign to them. The question kept getting more and more involved as to how this could happen. How could we not know our neighbor? How could we be ignorant if our neighbor needed help? I had nothing to offer because this is one of the things that has always touched my heart about Uganda. That the people are outside communing with their neighbors and though they don’t have much they would give the shirt off their back if needed. We spoke to the men for close to an hour before we moved to the women’s part of the prison.

Thirteen women were currently incarcerated. One of the women had an infant son with her. So his first months of life he’s been raised in a prison. The men had just asked us for help with one of the dorms that was rampant with bed bugs. So in the women’s dorm we were invited to sit on their beds (I have to say we were all privately thinking bugs). Each of the women (ranging in age from 16 to about 50) started sharing their stories. The stories were all heartbreaking. The crimes were such that had they occurred in the US these women wouldn’t even be held for trial. But here at the word of a man, they really didn’t stand a chance. And the terms of confinement are really based on the amount of money they can pay to get out. For some of these women getting any money at all is an impossible task! And most of them have several (more than 5) on the outside depending on them for care! One woman’s husband asked his wife to get a loan so he could start a business. He went away for a while to start the business, but left her pregnant. She sold their bed to pay the rent and the loan payment. While he was gone she had a miscarriage. Her husband returned and demanded that she either return the child (a little hard after a still birth) or he was turning her in to the authorities for theft. Now she is spending her days in prison! We left a pile of underwear for these women who had none of their own. They were really grateful. We will be doing some additional shopping for these women in an attempt to rebuild their dignity.

The day was really good but it was hard too. Seeing the women who have no say and then seeing the kids who are just struggling to stay alive makes you realize just how blessed we are. The women marry so young and really have no voice in what happens after that. They are at the mercy of their husbands who often leave them or bring new wives into the mix. They are always surprised to hear that most of us have only two or three children and that that decision is based on how well we can care for them and provide for them as they grow into adulthood. One of the mothers we visited today had all sorts of tattered clothing on the ground outside of her home. When we asked Agnes why they were there she commented that was where the children probably slept at night. I can’t imagine having my children sleep outside on the ground without any protection. I just love the children of this country and seeing them in these conditions just hurts me. I know I have said this for the past three days, but I believe all children deserve to be loved and cared for. I am so thankful for Wilson and his program. He may not be saving them all but he is saving some!

On a closing note, tonight is the second consecutive day we’ve been without water. Last night I didn’t take a shower and tonight it was no longer an option. Lynda kindly boiled me some water and I was able to mix it with water from the jerry can and honestly it was the first completely hot shower I’ve had. The only drawback was that I had to squat in a bucket!! But now being all clean and sweet smelling it was so worth the effort! So it is off to bed for me. Tomorrow Vicki is going to Idudi to train the Village Health Workers. Lynda and I will be going to Bulubandi to see the kids and work with Julie, then head into the market to buy some items for the women at the prison and then head back out to Kokombo. Our days are long and we often feel like we are on an emotional roller coaster, but in the end we feel we are going where God is leading. At the end of each day, we sit with Yvonne, Kristen and Amy (tonight Brin joined us; she is here with another ministry she has started) at dinner and spend some time talking and laughing! Laughing is always good!!!