Monday, September 24, 2012

A Boy and His Dream Come True

Before I begin to tell my stories from the ten days I spent with the children of the orphanage in Uganda, let me jump ahead to my visit with my Compassion sponsored boy, twelve year old Alex, who I had the privilege of meeting face to face on day eight of my trip.

The morning of the day I was to spend with him, I was incredibly nervous, excited, impatient......and sick. It hit me just before we left the orphanage compound to make our way over to the Compassion office in Kampala. I was surprised I hadn't gotten sick sooner in the week, with the number of children at the home who had fevers, runny noses and stomach pain, all of them touching me and coughing on me from morning till night.

But this had to be the worst possible day for me to get sick. I simply could not miss my scheduled day with Alex, knowing that he had traveled 9 hours the day before to reach Kampala from his tiny village in southern Uganda. I felt weak, nauseated and my head was spinning in directions I didn't know existed.

I had to lay down in the car on our way to the Compassion office and my orphanage hosts kept glancing back at me with worried looks. They were solely responsible for my well being during my stay there and at one point they were ready to take a detour for the city hospital.

After drinking some water and nibbling on yet another granola bar (my main source of food for ten days) I started to feel a bit better. What I now know is that in my nervousness and excitement to meet Alex, I had taken my morning malaria pill without enough water and this caused the meltdown of my insides that had me feeling too far away from home.

Arriving at the Compassion office, I wondered if Alex was already there. Many staff members came to welcome me and whisked me off to tour the facility and meet more friends. This was the mural on the wall that greeted me upon my arrival.

We shared hot tea and slices of bread with jam while they asked question after question about my family, Alex and my involvement with Compassion. Gratitude was the feeling expressed over and over again by the staff...for sponsoring one of their children, for making a lasting difference for one child, for advocating for more sponsors to join the effort to release children from poverty. They were sincere. And I expressed how I felt about it all. That it is a complete honor and privilege to have any part at all in the work being done through Compassion International.

This is too funny, and slightly embarrassing, but at one point during our tea-taking, a young man came straight up to me and said, "I'm Alex!" I immediately grabbed him in a bear hug, let him go, and then engulfed him in another one. He seemed surprised at my display of affection, but hugged me back, if not a little cautiously. I kept looking at him. It kinda looked like Alex, but a more mature and older version than what I had expected. Moments later I realized this was just a staff member named Alex being friendly and introducing himself. I'm such a nerd. I had to explain to him why I almost swept him off his feet and he was polite but kept his distance after that. Poor guy. Crazy American women....

A cell phone buzzed and I was told that Alex....the REAL Alex....had arrived, and they took my hand and practically ran me out to the parking lot. I do believe they were as excited as I was. Twelve year old Alex stepped out of the van and into my arms. I was well practiced by now and I went back and forth between hugging him and holding him at arm's length to get a good look at him. His smile took up half of his face and we immediately got back in the van to begin our day together.

Our first stop was the zoo in Entebbe, a forty minute drive from the Compassion office. We spent that time talking, looking at photos, and listening to my ipod. He turned out to be quite a shy young man, but obviously bright and supremely happy to be with me.
I gave my first of many gifts to him, a muti-tool/knife in a case which he seemed to love. After inspecting every inch of it, he slipped it into his pocket.

The zoo was a fantastic way to enjoy new sights and sounds while still being able to walk and talk together. Alex was fascinated with the animals, most of which he had only read about in school. He asked lots of questions and listened intently as the zookeepers educated us on the animals.

This was taken in front of a very small portion of Lake Victoria. The photo does not capture the beauty of it.

We had a great time laughing at the antics of the animals and learning at each new area more about the habits and personalities and diet of each one. We also learned that all of the animals in this zoo were rescued from different situations that threatened their well being.

Our next stop was the Entebbe airport, exactly where I had flown into a week before. Alex wanted to see the airplanes and his escorts and driver were excited about eating at the buffet the airport offered. I was too! After eating nothing but granola bars for the past week, I was more that ready for tons of choices to fill my plate with. Turns out, a buffet in Africa is not equal to a buffet in America. There were about FIVE choices.....rice, greens, beans, chunks of mystery meat and a flat bread. The guys all acted like we had hit the jackpot and they piled their plates to overflowing. I enjoyed watching Alex eat. It was probably more food he had ever had in one sitting.
On the ride back to meet my driver in Kampala, I pulled out the backpack I had brought full of gifts for him and another full bag of gifts for his parents and four siblings. I do believe the soccer ball received the biggest smiles!
Alex was also very interested in the album of photos I gave him which included pictures of my Compassion friends who helped make this visit possible. I explained how each one had donated money to enable me to bring him from his village all the way to Kampala and that he was loved not just by me but by all of the friends he saw in his book.

Saying goodbye was not easy. Alex was so much fun to be with and it felt like leaving my own son behind. I encouraged him to study hard, write more often and send me a photo of his entire family. (Might as well put in the requests while I can). His Compassion social worker and escort assured me that this would be accomplished. I loved how they treated Alex like the young man that he was and filled his mind with reams of information at the zoo and as we passed important landmarks in the city of his dreams. Thanks to all of you who helped give Alex the trip of a lifetime and so many memories and new experiences to share with his village and family.