Friday, November 2, 2012

Masese 3

On Thursday morning, we took one of our boys who has HIV to get his CD4 count checked. We picked up our grumpy boy from school (he is mistreated for his condition each time he has to leave, and he hates shots). I piled into a seatbelt-less van surrounded by Rachel, Moses the driver, and seven children from Our Own Home who came along for the ride. We went through the Bugembe/Kakira area, which is gated and guarded and known for the sugar cane business. Our van ride went up a bumpy road past goats, sheep, and small children playing, to arrive at JCRC, a USAID center for HIV/AIDS and TB care and prevention.

In the afternoon, after walking to Jinja for a Rolex (the best breakfast burrito on the streets) and being followed by a thief for part of the way, Rachel and I took a boda to Masese 1 with one of our boys, Isaac Makowe, whose jaja (grandma) lives in Masese 3.

Issac and the boda driver
Masese is the slums outside of Jinja, and divided into three areas (1, 2, and 3). Masese 2 is fairly well off, and Masese 1 has wooden houses, indicating slightly more wealth than Masese 3, which is a village of mud huts.

Masese 1 and Lake Victoria
After a boda ride full of stunning views of Lake Victoria and prayer on my part (about 60mph sans helmet), we dodged the local cow herd and wound up a dirt path through Masese 1 where a small flock of children gathered to throw dirt clods and laugh at the goofy Mzungu girl who rode a boda by herself (that would be me).

Boys posing for a picture in Masese 1

We were greeted by Renee, who came to Uganda after high school and soon after started “Serving His Children,” an organization that works with malnourished children. They have nurses, nutritionists, cooks, and health care workers who take care of the infants and toddlers who come to their home. She shared about their new oxygen and IV capacities, and about how educating parents and communities is a key part of their work. She also shared about the struggles of dealing with malnutrition- how some babies look plump due to the edema that comes from the disease of protein deficiency called kwashiorkor, which puts them at great risk for internal organ damage. After treatment starts, they are in danger of dying as their bodies start slowly adjusting to a normal diet. We met her adopted Ugandan daughter, Sela, a precious three-year-old, and saw some of the current house residents- mothers with their babies- playing and resting and visiting the nurse on the porch, which has an incredible view of Lake Victoria. Their website:

The wall at Renee's house

Following this experience, Rachel, Isaac, and I walked through Masese 1 to find a boda. Unfortunately we had not brought enough shillings to make it to Masese 3, and haggled with the drivers for a ride as far as possible towards Isaac’s jaja’s house. By a miracle, we had just enough change (God reminded me that I had 500 shillings in my pocket!) to only have a short walk to her village, carrying our bag full of mangos for his jaja.

We passed through the wealthier Masese 2 on foot, and turned up a dirt path past a house full of children. Children and adults shouted at us as we passed: “Mzunu! Mzungu!,” “How are you?,” “Auntie Kate!” (thinking we were Katie Davis), “I love you Mzungu!,” and my least favorite, “Nangobi” (royalty).

All of a sudden, precious grubby little hands grabbed my own hands and Rachel’s hands, and we were surrounded by loving faces as the local children walked with us for a ways. I took a moment to pray for them as we went: “Jesus loves you so much! May He bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you precious little ones!”

We walked through the stunning countryside, always with the lake at our side, and passed school children in uniform (one was kicking a football made of plastic bags) and stopped for some photos at Isaac’s former school. A man practiced English with us, “Good morning” (it was afternoon), and we trailed down into the hidden village of Masese 3.

Isaac's Former School
And then there were colors and shouts of greeting everywhere we turned. We were invited to speak to Isaac’s aunt and their neighbors, and continued to the main road of the village. There were bright turquoise doors on the mud huts, and vibrant colored laundry out to dry in this brief moment between rainstorms. Then on to his jaja’s hut we went. Never have I felt so graciously cared for. This older woman sat in the mud and offered the three of us her only furniture covered with her best pieces of fabric to sit on. I practiced my limited Luganda and my handshake (and wow, do I need to practice the East African handshake, where you switch your hand placement- the women chuckled at me, realizing I’m a new Mzungu in these parts).

Visiting family
Issac and his jaja
Jaja's hands

There was another woman (an aunt perhaps) sitting next to us the visit, holding a large knife and munching on sugar cane, with a sweet but wild look in her eyes. Turning around to the sound of voices, we gladly saw that a small horde of local children had come out to curiously peek at the Mzungu visitors. Isaac and his jaja got to talk and catch up, and we exchanged gifts. She brought out some shillings for her grandson and beautiful handmade bracelets as a gift for Rachel and I (such a precious gift, and part of her livelihood!), and we said our goodbyes and thank you’s a while later, as the children danced and clapped around us, delighted that I joined in their game and laughing as I attempted to dance.

Children in Masese 3
new friends
The railroad tracks by Masese 3
We met one of the children, Michael, that Katie Davis, our neighbor, writes about in her book as we were leaving the village and cutting across the train tracks to the main road to return home as the sun was setting amidst the rain clouds. As we walked up a small dirt path, we ran into two Karimojong women walking the other way. They started talking aggressively in their language, and glared at the three of us as we passed, and shoved a black powder in Rachel’s and my nose, laughing cruelly at the looks on our faces as we tried to push their hands away. It was supposed to smell terrible, but I did not notice and took a moment to pray for them and forgive them. Their tribe is known for many being displaced in Uganda, and for their hatred and violence towards Mzungus and other tribes. I got a small taste of racism and being part of a minority culture, and grieved for these women and how their lives and community has become this full of hate.

Cutting across some jungle and through more houses, our young guide Isaac led us to the bodas on the main road, and we returned home after a very full day.

Some lessons of the day…

There were signs of great struggles and hardships in the slum, such as seeing children hard at work and carrying large burdens, hearing that Isaac’s 11 year-old brother walks far into town each day to work, and seeing very simple living arrangements. Yet, I went to Masese expecting to see poverty and to be broken hearted, and what I found was beauty, vibrant life, abundant joy, and breathtaking generosity.

I got to practice forgiveness towards the Karimojong women and pray for their people.

God provided for our every need- keeping us safe, helping us get to Isaac’s jaja’s home without the luxury of boda money or a map, and teaching us more about His heart and this world we live in. I am so grateful for the many ways He provided for our journey yesterday.

The children I met were so full of love, and as they grabbed hold of my hands and my side, it helped me get past any initial fears of getting ringworm or getting sick. I am learning that it is more important to love than worry about getting sick and missing out by staying in my ‘safe’ world.

I am growing in my trust in God- learning to depend on Him during those boda rides, and find peace in knowing I will get to see Him face to face if He takes me then and there. So instead of worrying, I talk to Him and enjoy the incredible view of the lake and sunset.

Our smart boys!
Peace to you,
Lindsey/Smiles ( :

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