Tuesday, 16 March 2010
A walk through the slums of Kampala
>This morning, our driver picked us up to go to the place where Benjamin spent his first 7 months.
First, an aside for life in Uganda: After our driver, a very kind young man named Brian, picked us up, we had gone about 1/2 mile down the road when he ran out of gas. He pointed up the road a ways and said something, then disappeared to grab his fuel bin from the back, hopping on a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) and speeding away. Nathan, Benjamin and I were in the car on the side of a typical Ugandan road, with plenty of traffic and people walking everywhere. We tried not to look conspicuous, but when you’re the only mzungus (white people) around, you kind of stand out. Then, hold a Ugandan baby in your lap, and you’re guaranteed to get stares.
Five minutes later Brian returned, then fashioned a funnel out of an empty water bottle to pour the fuel in and get us on our way. “That was a very good experience for you,” he said. Welcome to Uganda!
After parking on a road I couldn’t believe we could drive on (a huge dropoff from the road, narrow with craters everywhere), we opened the doors to cries of “Benja! Benja!” The local chairman, a woman with a strong passion to help (also the first to find out of Benjamin’s plight), scooped Benjamin out of Nathan’s arms and carried him into the slum. (“This is Uganda,” Brian said. Brian, who came with us and helped translate. We love Brian!)
We crossed through several avenues of shanty shacks, over a bridge made from sticks and a couple pieces of wood over a culvert, past a couple slum food vendors, past several people bathing in the culvert, down an extremely narrow alley to more shouting of “Benja! Benja!” and smiling. We couldn’t help but smile and laugh, too. Benjamin was loved here.
We stepped into a completely dark room and asked to sit down. After my eyes made out the outline of a sofa, I took my spot and smiled while everyone spoke in Lugandan while someone tried to open the window for the little bit of light coming in from the narrow alley. Finally we had some dim faraway light to see their faces: Benjamin’s ja-ja (grandmother), the LC’s daughter, two adorable children waiting for their parents in the UK to come for them. The grandfather said, “He is a strong boy. Not like he was the last time. He was very weak.” They were all smiles, passing Benjamin around and trying to make him smile. He fussed a little bit – I knew it was time for his nap. They handed him back to us, and I rocked him a little bit. “Oh look, he’s calm now,” they said, looking pleased. After he fell asleep in my arms, more comments and smiles, which warmed me a bit. Maybe they think I’m good enough for their sweet Benja? Oh I hope so.
We found out that his grandmother had given him his name, Benjamin Mulamya. We wanted to know what the second name meant, thinking of keeping it. They told us it meant “one whose mother passed away in childbirth.” Oh. While this is an important piece of his history, we’ve decided not to keep it for his name. He doesn’t need to wear that fact every day of his life. (We’ll choose a family name as we did for Audrey and Owen.)
After a short visit there, we went back through the slum and to the LC’s house. She told us Benjamin’s mother’s story – how she went to a small clinic to give birth, because they are inexpensive and women are allowed to go right home afterward. But they’re also not equipped — not by a long shot — when things don’t go perfectly. I felt myself starting to cry. Her death, and Benjamin’s loss, was so preventable. And her story is just one of hundreds, thousands happening every day.
As we made our way back to our guesthouse, we knew that we couldn’t look at our lives the same way again. We have to do something – but what? While we’re already doing something by giving an orphan a home since his family cannot care for him any longer, we can’t turn our backs on all the children we’re leaving behind, either. I feel like I took the first step on a lifelong journey today.