Under the Mango Tree
Date: July 8, 2014
Location: Nkozi, Uganda (St. Mugagga’s Primary School)
“We sit over there, under that mango tree,” Miri pointed off into the distance.
Miri (12) is one of my many little friends who study and live at St. Mugagga’s Primary School right next door to where I study and live at Uganda Martyrs University.
“The big mango tree way over there! You see it?”
She led the way, with 15 other primary students surrounding us, each of them tugging at my arms, hugging me, grabbing my hands, and playing with muzungu (white person) hair so different from theirs.
It’s our daily 5:30 PM hideaway, the big mango tree at the front left corner of St. Mugagga’s Primary School.
Under this mango tree we meet every single day of the week at 5:30 PM, myself and my little mikwano (friends) – Rose, Miri, Topista, Brenda #1, Brenda #2 (they really like the name Brenda), Christine #1, Christine #2 (they also love the name Christine), Lillian, Catherine, Clare, Kasime, Alex, Simon Peter, Maxwell, and many others whose names I am still trying to memorize.
Under this mango tree, we hide away. I walk away from Uganda Martyrs University, my research project, my laundry waiting for me, and my family’s and friends’ emails I have yet to answer (sorry for the delays, Mary Prouse). I leave behind my to-do lists, my worries, my fears, and my endless questions. And the children do the same. The children leave behind their long school days, their homework, their laundry also waiting for them, their dishes to be cleaned (by hand of course), their food to be cooked (they actually cook for some of their teachers), etc. They leave behind their confusion and their sadness. Under this mango tree, we hide away.
We hide away from the world and its worries, and instead, we bring our joys, our smiles, our hearts full of boundless love, and our endless, endless laugher. But, of course, the children usually fail to leave behind their questions, since nearly every time we meet under that mango tree they have something new to ask me about America – i.e. “Do you wash dishes in America?” “I heard you have machines that wash your laundry in the USA. Is that true?!” “Is America nice? Can you take me there?!” Questions, questions, questions. They always bring their questions, no matter how much I tell them to leave them behind with their confusion and sadness. But I don’t mind. I would answer their questions for days on end if it meant I had the chance to see them smile and hear them laugh if only for a minute or so. Because to me, these children are more important than any homework assignment or research project or final exam I will ever face in my life. To me, these children are everything.
“Don’t leave yet!” they scream as I stand up to go. “You come tomorrow and the next day and the next day, as promised?”
“Of course,” I say. “Of course. Every day until go back home, we meet right here under this mango tree. This is our spot.”
“Our spot,” they say with huge smiles. “Our spot!”
“Bye, bye for now, my sweet mikwano.” I began to walk away, but of course am tackled to the ground with hugs and hugs galore.
“Mikwano forever and ever and ever!” they scream. “Forever and ever!”
I could barely breathe under the weight of 15 little bodies attacking me with endless hugs, but as my ears filled with the sound of the children’s laughter and my soul lighted up with joy, all I could think was this...As long as I live, I’ll never forget the times we have shared under this mango tree.
Still two weeks to go, yet I know I’ll never forget this sweet, sweet summer in Nkozi, Uganda. Sure, some days are harder than others. I’m still not quite used to taking freezing cold showers and eating rice and beans for every single meal. Yet at the end of every beautiful day, there’s no place else in the world I’d rather be than right here under this mango tree.
Thank You, Jesus, for mango trees. Thank You for Uganda and its children and their laughter, and this sweet, sweet summertime that I’ll hold in my heart every single day until the day I die.
All my love from my heart to yours,