Date: May 30, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda
Sekka. The Luganda word for “laugh.” My favorite sound in the world is laughter. When my Ugandan friends take pictures of the kids in our village, they say, “Sekka! Sekka!” It’s like saying, “Cheese!” in America. But whenever I try saying sekka to the kids here, they laugh even harder because I sound like such a muzungu (white person) when I try to speak Luganda. But I don’t mind…because there’s nothing better than a child’s laughter. It’s like music to my ears. I say, “Olina emyaka emeka?” (How old are you?) and they say “Satu” (3) or “Munaana” (8) or “Kkumi” (10), but they usually end with laughter because my accent is so horrible and so not tribal at all. (However, my Ugandan friend Kush did say I at least looked African yesterday, with my tribal skirts and dresses, so I’m kind of starting to blend in, right??? Nah. Maybe by week 8 the kids will stop staring at me like I’m an albino squirrel). Anyway, I love the children’s laughter. I could listen to their sweet voices and look at their sweet smiles all day long.
In a world ridden with chaos and cruelty, there is something so pure and so beautiful about the face of a child. A child will never hurt you. Abuse you. Betray you. Take advantage of you. The face of a child is filled with innocence, joy, love, and most of all, simplicity. Children are simple, devoid of any sort of ambiguity or deception. Children don’t play mind games. If they love you, they’ll show it. Period. End of story. If they feel a certain way, they’ll say it, and they don’t care how it may be perceived.
Yesterday, David, Fiona, Lily, and I visited the primary school right next door to our university, Uganda Martyrs University (UMU). There, I met a sweet 12-year-old named Rose. Rose has one of the most precious faces I’ve ever encountered, and what a sweet sweet soul she has to.
“You’re beautiful,” she said a few minutes after meeting me. I couldn’t help but laugh because my “beauty” in her opinion is nothing compared to the beauty I see in her. “Wabale,” (Thank you) I just said with a smile.
Later on, while David played soccer with the kids, Fiona checked out a festival happening at the school, and Lily was making friends with everyone who passed (as usual), Rose showed me the klezia (church) at the school. We had to pass through a group of village kids first, who of course shouted "MUZUNGU!" the second they saw me.
It was beautiful. The churches here are so simple yet so breathtakingly beautiful in so many ways. Just like the people. Right now, I’m journaling in the chapel on campus at UMU. Someone is playing the piano. Birds are chirping outside. The weather is perfect (especially compared to the South Bend tundra). Needless to say, I’m kind of in Heaven right now.
Speaking of Heaven, let’s get back to hanging out with the kids yesterday. After Rose showed me the Church, we walked around the primary school and talked about her family, her favorite subjects, her hobbies, etc. She has three sisters – two younger, one older. She used to have a brother, but he died some time ago (very common here). Her favorite subject is math. She loves to dance and sing.
And then, completely out of nowhere all of this came out of her mouth all at once…
“I like my school and my home, but I like my school better because there’s food to eat here.”
“We have no food at home. We are very poor at home.”
“Do you have food? Do you like food? Do you have money like all the people in America?”
“My mom wants me to find a nice European or American to take me in. She has no money for me and my sisters. She says I am a stress at home.”
Needless to say, I was speechless. “You’re not a stress to your mom. She loves you, you know that?” was all I could muster. And later, “What about your dad? Where is he?” “He is lost,” she whispered, with sad eyes. My heart broke.
Yet that was nothing compared to what my heart was about to feel in the next hour. Rose, the other primary kids, David, Lily, and I joined Fiona at the festival at the primary school after my conversation with Rose.
I’m still not quite sure what was happening because it was all in the local language. The only thing I actually understood, the announcer said in English: “We welcome our honored guests from America.” The camera pointed to us; everyone clapped. We were directed to what I guess you could consider VIP seating.
Let’s be real, I was pretty uncomfortable in that moment…disturbed, actually.
There we were, sitting at the head of the festival, with all the most important members at the school and some from the community, and all I wanted to do was sit with the children, hold their hands in mine, and gently remind them that I am no different than you. We are both special, both loved, both cherished, both children of God. We are simply human. I am not above you. You are not above me. We are equal. You are my friend. We are brothers and sisters. Family. I did not come here to “fix” you or tell you how to live your life. I don’t deserve applause or any sort of recognition. I came only to love you, to hold you in my arms and love you and tell you that it's all going to be okay. That’s all. You and I, we’re equals. Always remember that.
People were clapping all around us, but all I heard were these words in my head that I wish I could say to the children who were starting at me like I was royalty or something. I hated that moment more than anything. I know they were just trying to welcome us, but all I wanted to do was run away from my “VIP” seating and be with the children. I wanted to sit on the grass with them and play in the dirt (seriously who cares about a dirty skirt) and run all around the field and hold their hands in mine and look at their precious faces and hug them and listen to their laughter and tell them that it’s all going to be okay.
These children mean everything to me. Their sweet spirits, their innocent hearts, their constant smiles, their endless laughter.
So for them, I will laugh. I will “sekka.” I will live and love fully, just as they do. I will mean what I say and say what’s on my heart. I will live from within because they have shown me how.
Lord, thank You for these children, who have no reason to smile but do anyway. Thank You for love, laughter, and fullness of life. Thank You for sekka. For You and for Your glory, I will sekka.
All My Love,
P.S. Don't worry, the very next we came back and I sat with the kids for hours, talking and laughing. This, my friends, is what Heaven looks like...